Have you noticed that in this age of lightning-fast knowledge transfer, new tech terms get coined and worn out before most people even understand what they mean (think AJAX)? “Web 2.0” is another one of those terms. Here I will try to explain what Web 2.0 really means and what effect it will have on the job of a web designer.

What is Web 2.0?

The term “Web 2.0” is already being used to describe any site that has big XP-style icons and lots of white space, but the term really defines how a website functions much more than how it looks. Here are the most important characteristics of Web 2.0 sites:

– Social aspects
Web 2.0 websites harness the collective intelligence of the users by enabling user contribution and interaction with the idea that the collective knowledge of the users is far above and beyond any one person or company. In addition, by engaging customers, your site naturally causes a viral networking effect causing word to spread faster and faster. No traditional corporate marketing plan can compete with the effects of this kind of viral networking.

– Web applications instead of web sites
As the dot com crash so painfully pointed out, hype will only last for so long. Eventually you are going to need to provide a valuable service to internet users or they will simply click the Back button, never to return. It’s so easy to do so. Likewise, many smart folks, such as those at Google realized that you don’t need to waste your time making a flashy website with lots of mediocre content – the visitors will come if you provide a valuable service that is easy to use.

– Simple and efficient user experience
Gone are the days of waiting for pages to download every time you click a link or button. Leaving your website takes just one twitch of a finger – users won’t stand for it. Technologies such as JavaScript and AJAX enable portions of pages to update without having to reload, making for an efficient and enjoyable user experience.

You’ll notice from the list above that Web 2.0 is not so much about giant icons and text, or white space and pastel colors, but actual functionality that engages users to build something greater than any one person can.

This all has a few important implications for you, the web designer. First, designing Web 2.0 pages from a creative viewpoint is going to be much more enjoyable. No longer will you be encouraged to cram every little open space on the page with images or content. In the Web 2.0 world, less is more. The purpose of the simple design is to eliminate the noise and clearly explain how to use the website.

Secondly, you’ll need to design with the knowledge that there is going to be a whole lot more functionality placed behind the pages you create than before. For example, instead of cramming six different div tags on a single page, they may be combined into tabs and switched via JavaScript. As another example, you may find that your old friend the Submit button is going the way of the Dodo as JavaScript events on linked images are much more attractive and don’t trigger a page load.

Depending on your level of technical knowledge, you may or may not actually implement the functionality on the pages you create, but you should be aware of how to design for the new Web 2.0 style. Some people call Web 2.0 a meaningless marketing buzzword, but when you get past the obvious visual differences, which are there merely to provide a simple and enjoyable experience, you’ll see that the true concepts of Web 2.0 are what users want in a website, and so they truly are here to stay.

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