Web 2.0 For The Uninitiated

22 Nov Web 2.0 For The Uninitiated

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If you read anything on web design and website maintenance, you’ve likely heard the term Web 2.0 thrown around. Is the world wide web getting an upgrade? What’s going on?

The term Web 2.0 is somewhat of a misnomer. With software, new versions are released where bugs are fixed and features are added. The web (and the internet as a whole) is not released in such stages. Instead, it evolves intermittently as time goes on. There’s no new version that’s coming out soon. Instead, it is constantly changing. Instead of new features there are new trends. You may have one website implementing a certain feature one week, fifteen the next week and hundreds a week later. The internet is full of trends in technology. What might be popular now may die out (animated GIFs spring to mind), or it may evolve into something better (current blogs have evolved from sites that manually updated HTML web pages).

Instead of an upgrade, Web 2.0 really refers to the current state of trends in the web. If someone wants a Web 2.0 website, they may be referring to a website that has a popular style of design, a social component, or uses a specific technology. Or, of course, some combination of those three.

Lets look at how to design a site that uses Web 2.0 design conventions.

Design

Let’s look at a few aspects of Web 2.0 design.

Page Background

The background of a page is generally either very light (more common) or very dark (less common) This actually just follows a good trend of making text on a page contrast highly with the background for easier reading. A background might have stripes or something similar, but certainly the most common aspect is a gradient at the top, fading down to some other color that continues throughout the background of the rest of the page.

Logos

Logos are very simple. Often they contain nothing more than the name of the website. Words may be spaced closely together, with alternating colors differentiating words. There are only two or maybe three bright colors in the logo. Orange and blue are very popular, with green and red following closely behind. There’s often a small reflection of the logo right below it.

Page Elements

Rounded corners abound in Web 2.0 design. If the background does not have a gradient at the top, some round-cornered area of the site will. Bright colors are used. If there are only two or three colors in the logo, those colors are all that is used in the other elements of the page. Very simple, clean design is a hallmark of Web 2.0.

Social Component

Believe it or not, the social aspect of websites is nothing new. Remember guestbooks? Discussion forums? Of course, like anything else, this component has evolved over the years.

Now, instead of just giving general feedback on the site as a whole, people can comment on specific articles and updates. Instead of letting you know that they like the pictures on your site, visitors can rank individual pictures.

And the advances in technology makes it possible for such feedback to often result in instant changes in the site. Not that this wasn’t possible before, but current technology makes it easier to weed out people spamming with comments or artificially trying to raise the rank of some item.

Whether your site will be considered Web 2.0 or not, giving some sort of option for social interaction can go a long way towards giving visitors to your site a sense of ownership or involvement in the site.

Technology

The technology that is most commonly associated with Web 2.0 sites is Ajax. Ajax stands for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML. So what does this mean in layman’s terms?

In the past, you would load a web page up in your browser, possibly fill out a form, then click on a submit button. At that point, that page would disappear, and a new page would load with information based on what you had filled out and/or clicked on the previous page.

With Ajax, Javascript is used to update the page you’re on without loading up a new page. Say you’re on a discussion board. At the bottom of a series of messages is a place for you to reply. You fill out your reply and click submit. Instead of loading up a new page with your reply on it, your reply is instead quickly added to the bottom of the list.

What does this mean for your website? How can you use Ajax to your benefit?

It’s entirely possible that there’s no benefit for you.

Ajax is something that, when used in the right situation, can make a website run much more intuitively. However, like anything else on the web, it can be abused. Remember all those scrolling marquees on websites in the late 90’s?

Also, to ensure that everyone can access your website equally, you’ll need to include non-Ajax options for using your site as well. That means traditional pages that reload themselves.

The majority of web-surfers will have no problem using Ajax. But your target audience may not be a typical cross-section of web surfers. Your audience may be primarily older people that don’t update their computers as often. Or maybe your audience is full of people that are likely to turn Javascript off. Just make sure you carefully evaluate whether using Ajax is worth it for your site.

Web 3.0

As I mentioned already, Web 2.0 is not really a new version of the web, but a compilation of current trends. We’ve already moved from where the web was when the term Web 2.0 was first coined.

What does the future hold for the web? Only time will tell. It’s important that you keep an eye out for the current online trends, as many users will judge your business based at least partially on how current your website appears.

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