Toney Sisk: What's all this talk about Web 2.0?

(Toney Sisk is a writer for Microsoft Office, and his focus is on Project and Project Server.)

No, Web 2.0 isn't the latest software download from Microsoft. Nor is it a new "release" of the World Wide Web. With the blossoming of Web sites over the past five years that help you create and share information, a group of people coined the phrase "Web 2.0" to embrace the new and lively ways that we use the Internet.

In some ways, Web 2.0 doesn't describe anything that hasn't been around since the Internet began. After all, the original purpose of the Internet was to help people create, collaborate on, and share information. Web 2.0 takes these basic ideas to a whole new level.

On thing is certain about Web 2.0: It gives a people a sense of creativity and ownership beyond the usual e-mail and yearly holiday greeting cards. Let's take a closer look at what the hubbub is all about.

Social networking   These sites allow you to set up personal Web sites that express your interests and activities. A social networking site also helps you meet and interact with people with similar or completely different interests. Facebook, MySpace, and Second Life are popular social networking sites.

Profiles  Profiles appear when you turn your head sideways. Also, they are an online representation of your character and personality — a virtual you! Social networking sites typically require that you set up a profile that others can read and add to their list of friends.

Art of facebook profile

Video and photo sharing  Sharing your mutli-media creations with the rest of the world is one of the fastest and most engaging aspect of the new Web. Whether it's Flickr for your photos, YouTube for your personal videos, or Microsoft Community Clips for your videos about the your latest discovery about how Office products work, spreading the word (and pics) across the Internet is getting easier and more enjoyable.

Ranking and tagging  Not all information you find across the internet is equally interesting or accurate — and there's more information out there every day! One aspect of Web 2.0 is the ability on many sites to rank the value of the site and its contributors. Keeping an eye on site rankings becomes an exercise in sorting through the good, the bad, and the ugly on the Web.

The idea of a "web" implies that you might get tangled up and stuck (and sometimes bitten). To deal with the endless content available on a typical Web 2.0 site, tagging evolved. Photo and video sites, for example, are nearly valueless unless contributors can attach descriptive words to their creations, which site visitors can then use to find the types of photos and videos that interest them. You might come across the phrase "tag cloud" to describe the way many sites present tags as a cluster to navigate around a site's content.

RSS feeds  Wouldn't it be nice if the information you wanted came to you instead of you having to go look for it? Web 2.0 can help you with your laziness! With RSS (Really Simple Syndication), you can have Web pages, videos, podcasts, and other interesting tidbits automatically downloaded to your computer or handheld device whenever they become available.

For example, you can have the latest entries from your favorite blog show up on your computer as soon as they are published! Some applications that are widely used (and are probably already on your desktop, like Outlook 2007) even have RSS feed reading software built in, ready for you to start plunking in your favorite feeds.

Forums  Forums are sites that host discussions on any subject that is possible to think about. Whether it's kite flying or spelunking, you'll find contributors to answer questions and shout out opinions. Forums are gems of the modern Web. You may have to wade through a lot of argument and nonsense across forum boards, but you'll also find the kind of insights into a subject that isn't available in books and magazines (or anywhere else).

Blogs  Think of blogs as someone's thoughts or opinions that is updated frequently, usually many times each day, like a personal journal. Reading most blogs is like listening in on someone else's conversation. Others offer up insight commentary on the state of the world, culture, technology, art, or someone's state of mind. Since other people can comment on someone else's blog, lively conversations can bubble up. Hundreds of Web site offer ways to quickly to start a blog. You can even start a blog using Microsoft SharePoint, since more and more corporations are using blogs to communicate with co-workers and other stakeholders.

Graphic for web article

Wikis  Wikis are the ultimate expression of sharing and collaboration in the Web 2.0 world. A wiki is a Web site that contains articles that can be freely edited by visitors to the site, without downloading software. The ability for any visitor to modify any wiki page is one of the characteristics that has had led to Web 2.0 being described as the "read/write" Web. Wikipedia is one of the best known wiki sites. From skydiving to brick laying and everything in between, you'll find an article on Wikipedia on just about anything you care to learn more about. With armies of "Wikipedians" to make sure the content is accurate, and many people have come to see Wikipedia as a place to begin their research.

These days, many sites offer wikis as a way for users to make changes to Web content. You can Create a wiki page using SharePoint.

Podcasts  It was once said that on the Internet no one can hear you scream. Now they can. Welcome to podcasts. Think of them as free subscriptions to radio shows or personal videos that are posted to a site on a regular basis. You can either view them on the Web site, or you can download them to your favorite digital media player, like a Zune or iPod.

The Internet is your computer   Saving and sharing documents to the Web and even editing them entirely within a browser appears to be the future of our desktop lives. A phrase you'll hear a lot to discribe this trend in computing is "cloud computing". Web applications like Microsoft Windows Live and Microsoft Office Live allow you to do just that: Save and work on documents from any computer that is connected to the World Wide Web--without downloading a bit of software.

The Internet platform isn't just about personal stuff. It's about business, too. The information problems that small businesses and large conglomerates have often differ in scale, not type. Web applications like Microsoft Office Small Business can help small businesses get started handling Web traffic, advertising, and design issues — without downloading anything.

For more advanced applications that a small company might need, such as customer relations software, monthly fees can be charged. "Software plus services" is a phrase often used for this merging of the Internet and desktop computers into a single platform, making software companies much more customer-centric, responsive and productive.