Web designers, developers, bloggers and even major media businesses have all been surrounded by the “Web 2.0” buzz recently. The philosophy behind the second generation of World Wide Web is that the people who access the internet and use the web shouldn’t passively absorb what’s available – rather, they should contribute, share, collaborate and customize technology for their own purpose or for the communities. The technologies covered by Web 2.0 include (by no means limited to just these) blogs, tags, social bookmarking and AJAX.
The philosophy behind Web 2.0 differs sharply from the old “Web 1.0” method in which a small number of writers/designers created web pages for a large number of readers. Web pages were static and rarely updated, and only the tech-savvy could update or contribute to the development of the web. For example; people would visit Microsoft.com for Windows issues, Adobe.com for graphic design issues, CNN.com for news and so on. But over time, more and more people started writing content rather than just reading it. Everyone had something to say or contribute which resulted to information overload. There was a high need of organizing the data/information contributed by everyone as personal publishing went mainstream. It became increasingly evident that the Web 1.0 paradigm had to change.
Enter the Web 2.0 world, a revelation of the web in which information can be contributed by everyone and distributed over dozens of domains. The web of documents has shaped into a web of data. The Web 2.0 is here to stay and the tools, interfaces associated with it will become the frontier of design innovation. And the evidence is already here with portals, search engines, RSS aggregators, web services and APIs (Application Programming Interfaces). With a change in perspective of the web, there has also been a change in the way websites are being designed.
Following are the main themes covering design in Web 2.0:
1. Providing ‘Web Services’
The early years of the web witnessed sites which were nothing more than a mere collection of web pages. Sites were more like a company ‘brochure’ designed in HTML with some flash content. But in the late 90s (especially towards the 21st century) with the advent of XML technologies and web services, web designing concepts started changing. Web 2.0 is all about sharing, and these technologies facilitated content sharing and transferring between different systems. Visual design was no more an interface to the content but web services became programmatic interfaces to the same content instead.
2. Content is ‘King’
Content was never more important. With the advent of next phase of the web various apps such as RSS, search, videos, and social media (just to name a few) can unlock content from ANY corner of the web. Design in the ‘Web 1.0’ era was all about creating a visually attractive and compelling website on the web. But since content can no longer be restricted in a single place (unless you try escape from the social web which trust me is very harmful), it’s important to concentrate on the content itself. So instead of just building a website, create useful and informative content. Web designers should think beyond sites and figure out how to brand the content instead.
3. Emergence of distributive navigation
With the rise of the social web, it is highly likely that content will be first encountered away from the domain to which it originally belongs. So navigation to reach a specific item is not only limited to the navigation on the site but a user can navigate throughout the web to reach to your content. Navigation/users can come in a form of a feed reader (RSS), searches, and links on blogs etc. Visitors/users might even read content without ever visiting the domain it comes from. Navigation schemes (as we know them) will be used less. The most used navigation paths will emerge solely from user behavior and not from sites or navigations specially designed for it.
4. Importance of Programming
In the Web 2.0 world, words and semantics are more important than presentation and layout. Content which is extremely important (as mentioned above) moves around the web freely and is accessible by programming means. Designers need to be comfortable with various web services and think beyond presentation. Web 2.0 is a world of thin front ends but powerful back ends. Branding of content as well as sites is important to survive. Knowledge of programming hence becomes very important to design sites in this phase of the web.
The effects of the shift towards Web 2.0 are far reaching, and designers and developers are one of the many groups affected by this. Two points to keep in mind when designing a web 2.0 website is that, firstly a bit of technical knowledge is indispensable and secondly treating content as a unified part of website design.