Web 2.0 is NOT just a list of New Features!

As little as 5 years ago the “fancy” application software was found at the office, while we used relatively nasty £19.99 or even shareware software at home – but nowadays people regularly use applications like FaceBook, Bebo, et al.  These systems provide a level of engagement, fun, interactivity, and a higher understanding of human drivers than any serious business software to date has even dared grapple with.  Nonetheless, every software business is now racing to put a Web 2.0 “badge” on their products.

Web 2.0 is a revolution in our understanding rather than a technical innovation, but it appears that very few people actual “get” this – I’ve lost count of the number of experts I’ve heard saying things like, “we need to put some web 2.0 functionality in here”, or “we need to get the teachers using some web 2.0 stuff” – this is not about adding a few extra buttons, or a blog feature, or bolting on a “profile” page – it’s about changing the very heart of a system from OBJECTS to PEOPLE.  

Software systems have for too long been designed by technical people, focused on features, bits and bytes (witness the Becta Technical Spec), but there is a growing realisation that successful software is about PEOPLE.  We now have a new understanding that puts PEOPLE first; that puts FUN, CREATIVITY, and ENGAGEMENT before FEATURES. This doesn’t mean that features aren’t important, of course they are, but they are irrelevant if no-one wants to use the software in the first place.  Software needs to wow people, it needs to be fun and engaging, it must reward the efforts of its users EMOTIONALLY. Witness most of Apple’s products, and of course, Frog’s products (sorry, how can I not? ;) )

People expect more nowadays.  They’re used to things that speak to them on a personal level.  They’re used to things that don’t look corporate and nasty.  They’re used to things that use human terminology rather than techno-gibberish.  They’re used to things being much more, well, cool.

2 thoughts on “Web 2.0 is NOT just a list of New Features!

  1. Nice looking, friendly, ‘cool’ and informal interfaces are not the defining characteristics of Web2.0 – Web 2.0 is about building web pages that users can interact with as opposed to Web 1.0 which was about publishing static content. So you’re wrong to dismiss people talking about Web 2.0 functionality: interacting with things rather than just reading them is a functional change.

    I’m not sure that it’s a result of a change to thinking about people rather than objects. Software developers have always understood what end-users were trying to achieve, they just expressed it in very formal ways, and represented those functional possibilities using terminology and UI conventions that were unnatural to normal users.

    I agree that there has been a move to UIs which speak the users own language, and which are fun and compelling to use as a result, but that has happened in parallel to what we call Web 2.0 – and it’s a shift that can be witnessed outside web development, and outside software development in general. Just look at the packaging of Innocent smoothies for an example of how companies now talk to people. You wouldn’t claim that was anything to do with Web 2.0.

    Companies building snow-frogs and posting pictures/videos of them is all part of the same general shift in corporate behaviour.

  2. I agree that the defining characteristics of web 2.0 are about interaction. We’ve found that providing the technical ability for people to interact does not on it’s own create the desired dynamic and that there is a lot of fluffy psychology that goes into creating systems that engage users gradually.

    Most average users (most of our users are not the types that are playing with web 2.0 at home) are worried about something as simple as adding a comment to a blog, or a discussion thread for fear of being flamed by others. There’s a lot of thought that has to go into bringing these folks in gradually . UserVoice is a great and very simple example of this kind of thing – starting with a simple, anonymous vote on something, and then taking them a step further next time, and so on, until they finally have enough confidence to put their opinions up for all to see – essentially moving users through a funnel, increasing their confidence to interact with each step.

    In a large scale, integrated enterprise system this is a significant undertaking, that in our experience has required a fundamental rewrite of the system to put people at the heart of it. We’ve had to bed all of the interactive elements into the core of the technology, rather than just bolting a few web 2.0 “features” on at the fringes.

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