Web 2.0 Primer: Shifting paradigms - The mental evolutionary process of moving from web 1.0 to web 2.0 in 18 steps (UPDATED Oct 4, 2005))

(This is a very early article and my views on Web 2.0 have expanded greatly beyond where they were at the time I originally wrote this. For the most recent articles on Web 2.0, check out my full Web 2.0 articles category.)

Updates are in red:

I have spent a lot of time lately talking to people about web 2.0 and what it means to them. My company is considering building internal blogs and wikis and so we have been exploring tools for this to happen. And then a friend wrote to me with questions about moving to a real blog. This person is responsible for an international federation which could capture significant value from moving to Web 2.0 tools.

I thought that rather than leave this email in my sent items, it would be worth cleaning up and adding to the (overdone?) conversation about what Web 2.0 is and isn’t.
Comments are welcome!
Dear Friend:
You mentioned your blog as well as the fact that you are involved with a large global community. I would like to give you some backstory first and then make some recommendations.

The short story is that there is a movement happening which is called Web 2.0. It is a paradigm shift in the following way:
  • Pages: “web pages” – actual HTML files that describe a page and that are created by Frontpage, or by hand
  • human-readable
  • content and format are integral (if you add an article to the front page of the website, you have to move everything else around.), therefore changing the “look and feel” of a Web 1.0 site is hugely laborious
  • page is indexed haphazardly
  • high threshold to get content in place (because of the content/format issue and the coding difficulties)
  • nobody knows what has changed on your website. If you try to keep current on a bunch of new websites daily, you might keep up with 5. Don’t you love those sites that say “we’ll be adding content regularly so come back soon.” Ummmm….yeah….I’ll put it in my daytimer.
  • Push: you manage your “newsletter” email list and “push” your letters out. There are privacy issues, opt-out issues, and now CAN-SPAM issues.
  • Not Scaleable: the larger the site gets, the more difficult it is to manage.
  • Fixed Ontologies: If you want to categorize something globally, you had better name it correctly and you need to ensure that everybody else is doing the same thing.
  • Working on your own: You might go to a website to do some work or to add in some information to a form but that is generally as far as the interactivity goes. The most interaction you might get is a forum where the messages update  (I’m excluding Instant messaging and chat here because they don’t fit this nice neat little model.)


  • Database soup & on-the fly HTML: no more “pages” – just a database full of content that creates HTML on the fly, depending upon who the viewer is
  • machine and human readable
  • content is separated from format/design. You build a template up front and then the computer “flows” all new content into it automatically. Therefore if you want to change the look and feel of your entire website, push a button and voila – instant overhaul!
  • indexed instantaneously (or nearly so) by Google and other search engines
  • low threshold to get content in place (send pics from your cell phone or articles from your PDA) so the user tends to generate more content more frequently
  • people know what has changed on your website if they are subscribed to your RSS feeds. It is possible for people to keep up with 200 sites on a daily basis using RSS Readers
  • Hugely scaleable: once the site structure is designed, it can scale very rapidly in terms of members, content, and volume of data without a related increase in management overhead and coding.
  • Tags: let everybody tag their data with whatever tags make sense to them. Will everybody use the same tags? No. But it doesn’t seem to matter because on the whole, people end up using similar ones and that’s “good enough”
  • Working with a group in real-time: A team of people can build documents and web-sites together in real-time. Think of Wikipedia as the best example of this.

There are several phases that people tend to pass through in their migration from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 thinking.I have watched this transformation over and over as I have had conversations with a lot of people on this subject. As far as I can see this is the general thought pattern that people go through over time.

  1. why do I need a website? I don’t need a website
  2. Okay, I need it as a business card at a minimum so I’ll just put up a one-pager
  3. Hmmm, make that a brochure site with sections because I have a lot of stuff to talk about. Waddya mean, it’s going to cost $1000/page? I can get my friends neighbours cousins kid to build it for me for peanuts! He’s really smart you know – you should see the site he built last year in Grade 6.
  4. I’m sure getting a lot of complaints about my site from people using other browsers and other machines and it really looks awful on some computers. Hmmm, maybe I SHOULD get somebody who knows what they’re doing to rebuild the site.
  5. Boy, this is a lot of work to keep this thing running
  6. Okay, it’s time to expand this to be an e-commerce site
  7. My site is much larger now that it’s an e-commerce site but it seems somehow easier to manage. Maybe it’s the database that is helping.
  8. Hey, let’s start blogging!
  9. Boy I would sure like to simplify the rest of my website development so that it is as easy to change as it is to post to my blog
  10. How come my blog is at a different address than my actual website? That seems kind of confusing. I have to tell people to go to www.mycompany.com and also to mycompany.someblog.com.
  11. Okay, my blog is now at www.mycompany.com/blog but my blog pages are cool and dynamic and the rest of my site is starting to look a bit old-school. How come it’s so easy to post to my blog and so difficult to post new content to the rest of my website?
  12. Now that my site is built, I am sure getting a lot more people visiting it. Oh, I see from the statistics page that Google and MSN searches are directing a lot of people to my page…Well, at least to my blog page.
  13. Rats, I have quite a bit of content and I would like to organize it more like a website but I would like it to be easy to add to, like my blog. Because my old site was frankly a real pain in the ass to manage.
  14. Maybe I should build a single-tier web 2.0 site like a  Bryght site so that I can just build the template once and then “pour” content into it after that without having to fuss around with Frontpage or call my developer all the time. I know that the good people over at Club Fat Ass recently did this and they’re thrilled with their new site. (Disclaimer: I’m on the advisory board of this group.)
  15. Now that my site has been rebuilt as a web 2.0 Bryght site, it is a lot easier for my colleagues to add content to the site as well as me. They just open the site, log in, add content, and then it’s instantly there for other people to view. Good thing, because none of my team has a clue how to build a website!
  16. Geez, we could scale this baby out globally. We could have our colleagues and community members in other countries join us and add content.
  17. Okay, we’re drowning in content. And at first it was fun to read the Belgian comments on things but I really just want to see what’s going on in my local area but also have the possibility of looking at what’s going on elsewhere. Maybe we’ll break it all up into a multi-tier website so that we can have geographic sub-groups.
  18. Well, things continue to develop. We’re serving tens of thousands of people, many in different regions and languages, and with different interests. We should break this site up into micro-sites. . Since we serve 4 distinctly different vertical markets, we’ll create 4 micro-sites that will contain content from the master site but that will only allow horizontal content (applies to all verticals) and vertical content related to that vertical into it. And while we’re at it, we could even create some other micro-sites that focus on the type of buyers that we work with. Since we work with mostly CFOs and CIOs, we could create two more micro-sites that contain only the content that would be relevant to their respective roles.

So there you go. We have just witnessed a transformation from “I don’t need a website” to “I have a global master site with 4 verticalized micro-sites built on web 2.0 infrastructure in only 17  18 evolutionary steps.

So, figure out where you are on the evolutionary scale and make a plan to get to the next step. For your own blog, I would recommend that you move from MSN Spaces to something like Blogware which you can do my contacting Roland Tanglao at Streamlinewebco. You can connect your “new” blog to your “old” web 1.0 website for now (see step 10). But at some point, you might want to consider migrating your full web 1.0 website over to a web 2.0 infrastructure (step 14). Call the boys at Bryght when you want to do this. This is not a trivial move!!! It will take a lot of time and effort and new ways of thinking. But the end result will be a dynamic site that no longer requires a lot of work to update and which more people can assist you with adding content to.

As for the work that you do with your international federation, you may want to begin opening up the discussion about how best to bring together your global constituents in a way that is both local and global at the same time. The answers lie in the evolutionary steps laid out above. They would likely want to start with a single-tier site (everybody sees everything) and then move to a multi-tier with geographic subsets. They may never progress on to verticalized or other micro-sites as it may not be relevant to the constituents who make up the community.

Best of luck with your evolution!


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