Get to Know Web 2.0

Get to Know Web 2.0

When Google and Yahoo! acquire startups, heads turn. That's what happened with Google's acquisition of Upstartle, maker of the Writely online word processor, and Yahoo's purchase of del.icio.us, an online bookmark storing and sharing service.

Other than being small companies gobbled up by major Web players, the two have something else in common: Both are part of a boom in Web 2.0 services, requiring new skills from coders, interface designers and other techies.

Just what constitutes Web 2.0 is hotly debated among in-the-know techies, but the term generally refers to a new generation of streamlined, easy-to-use Web-based applications and services designed to mimic the look and feel of desktop applications. Typically highly interactive, these programs encourage information sharing and draw on a common set of techniques and technologies -- in particular, AJAX, which stands for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML.

If you've ever shared photos on Flickr or searched photos on Riya, you've used a Web 2.0 application. Other Web 2.0 applications include the Meebo instant messenger, Backpack information management tool and Kiko online calendaring program.

While Web 2.0 has its detractors -- consider this column headline from PC Magazine's John C. Dvorak -- others are taking it seriously, including Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates. In a much-cited email to top Microsoft employees, Gates cited the "disruptive" nature of Web-based services from the likes of Google and various upstarts.

Revolution or Evolution?

But even admirers acknowledge that Web 2.0 is less a revolution than an evolution -- one career-minded IT workers should heed. Your company may not currently be involved in Web 2.0 projects, but forward-thinking techies would be wise to get familiar with Web 2.0 technologies and terminology sooner rather than later.

"The status quo will prevail at a lot of larger companies," says Rob Sanheim, coeditor at Ajaxian, the popular hub for AJAX news and resources. "For many developers, the change will not impact them much at all, at least in the short term."

However, those working at firms where Web applications are mission-critical will likely encounter Web 2.0 technologies soon, if they haven't already, Sanheim says. And for developers seeking to make a mark, Web 2.0 presents an opportunity for those willing to learn -- and build Web-based services -- on their own.

"There is a great opportunity, as public (application programming interfaces), powerful open-source libraries and cheap hardware allow talented people to do impressive things with less resources and less time," Sanheim says. "Write a simple mashup, or do demos to present to user groups. The possibilities are endless."

In case you haven't heard, a mashup is a Web application that mixes information from several online sources. One example is HousingMaps, which combines real estate information from craigslist and Google. Other Web 2.0 lingo include Ruby and Python, both programming languages.

Get to know these Web 2.0 terms and others by checking out sites such as the Web 2.0 Workgroup and TechCrunch. You can also pick up some Web 2.0 knowledge by attending events like the Web 2.0 Conference and Mashup Camp.

Coders, Can You Design? Designers, Can You Code?

Web 2.0 isn't just for coders and entrepreneurs. Interface designers and usability experts may need to learn cutting-edge Web 2.0 techniques in order to create dynamic, interactive Web sites with the functionality of programs previously available only as desktop software.

"I think we'll see an increased demand for designers who can code and coders who can design, as clients will expect a better user experience that demands someone who can code well and handle usability and (Cascading Style Sheets)," Sanheim says. "We'll see an increase in the demand -- and pay -- for people who can code an app from server side to client side and do it well."

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