Web 2.0

Web 2.0 is a term that’s getting more and more attention thesedays. Not only positive press by the fawning sheep who thinkthey’ve personally discovered something amazing and need to bringit to the unwashed, but a lot of negative commentaryas well. 

Country Road

What is Web 2.0 Well it depends on who you talk to – it couldbe serviceoriented web technologies (if NTP ran onHTTP, we could call it Web 2.0 pre-1985), community collaboration(e.g. Wikis like wikipedia, group tagging like flickr, etc), or aricher environment courtesy of the more prevalent use of moreadvanced technologies (like, cough, AJAX -some people, hanging onto GoogleSuggest’s coattails, decided that it was important that theydeclare a terminology for this “new” technology that had actuallybeen in use for over half a decade).

That last point deserves a bit of attention – why is it thatrecently some great web applications like Google Maps and Flickrhave appeared, offering so much more usability than theirpredecessors What technological revolution occurred to make thishappen Did AJAX just get discovered by some researchers who foundsome magical new way of making browsers sing?

…we’ve had the so-called AJAX for years, and it hasbeen in use by intranet web teams since thelate-90s/early-00s…

The answer, of course, is that we’ve had the so-called AJAX foryears, and it has been in use by intranet web teams sincethe late-90s/early-00s. It was, however, primarily the domainof teams that could mandate that their userbase would useInternet Explorer, as that browser was the leader (by far – youdon’t have to love Microsoft to acknowledge this reality) as aninteractive web application platform. I had the luxury of makingsuch a declaration, and was developing monitoring and control webapplications that used XML data islands, msxml’s XMLHttpRequest, client side XML transformations on demand withchanging parameters based upon user input, layered transparentgraphics for usability, and so on: In real-time you could monitorthe status of tens of giant power generators across the continent,and with a click of a button – well along with a confirmation – youcould control them. This was about 5 or 6 years ago. Iwas hardly unique – in fact I’ve never even considered myself a webdeveloper, and this was just a one-off style solution where the webinterface was the best choice, so I took a breather fromback-end/database development to build this solution.

So why didn’t the technology take off on mainstream websites?One simple reason – Netscape 4.x. Quite a fewcorporations stuck with their decision to back Netscape in thebrowser wars – which they backed largely for its theoreticalcross-platform advantages – even after Netscape was terriblyobsolete and basically dead (for example I did some work forBell Canada a couple of years ago, and the desktop standardthroughout the entire organization was Netscape 4.x. Of coursemany users figured out where to find the hidden iexplore.exe iconand covertly used it instead). If you made a public website whereyou couldn’t reasonably mandate a particular browser, you developedfor the lowest common denominator, and that denominator wasNetscape 4.x (even if you had 0 visitors using that browser, it wasjust good practice to avoid tying to Microsoft’s software, so youtargeted the cross-platform leader. That leader was Netscape).

Now, of course, the big competitor is Mozilla cum Firefox.Featuring modern DHTML capabilities, XMLHttpRequest functionality,and most of the other major web app functions, and offering fullcross-platform functionality, Mozilla completely changed thelandscape. Suddenly the “lowest common accessible denominator” waspretty powerful, so there is no reason to hold back empowering yoursite.