I wrote a while ago about Web 2.0, and the connections between people that it enables. I still think that’s perhaps the most important social impact of Web 2.0, and the real difference from a user standpoint. But there’s another angle, which is the development side.
When I moved beyond static web pages I learned about Content Management Systems, which are typically a combination of software systems that allow the separation of the content of a website from its presentation, and indeed from the infrastructure that manages all the content and presentation. This site is built on one of those CMSs – WordPress, and there’s a family of such CMSs, built on four open-source technologies: Linux, Apache, MySql and PHP. Put the four initials together and they spell LAMP.
The new thing I learned is that the structure of these software systems is a really important part of enabling the Web 2.0 experience. One aspect of the way we experience Web 2.0 applications is that they update much faster and look and feel much more like desktop applications. In the old web, most sites would have to repaint most or all of a page every time you clicked. Now with Web 2.0 technologies like Ajax, it’s possible to do a lot of much more dynamic things that improve the sense of fluidity and naturalness in the web experience. Ajax is just one of the new technologies, but it’s important because it allows for the asynchronous updating of parts of a web page. Asynchronous is important because it means you don’t have to wait for every click to be processed before making the next click. Ajax also allows an intelligent application to pre-load parts of the page that you may not yet see, so the experience of updating appears almost instantaneous. When you pan across a Google map, it’s Ajax that gets the new parts of the map in the background. So in summary, the web is evolving along two significant dimensions:
- New ways to interact with other people through social networking
- New ways to interact with websites through Ajax and other interactive web technologies.