“Web 2.0” is a term that gets bandied about far too often with far too little associated meaning. Essentially, Web 2.0 refers to multi-directional interactivity between one or more humans and one or more Web applications (with their associated back-ends) — period. The term often pops up in descriptions of any of the following: social computing, blogs, wikis, folksonomies, Web services, RSS feeds, online applications, collaboration, mash-ups and the Web as a platform. Don’t let the diversity of topics given as examples of Web 2.0 distract you from the fact that the key operative term is multi-directional communication. What does this mean for WCM?

For the end user, it means that Web applications such as online banking, which now rely heavily on technologies like Flash and AJAX, provide better customer service by building-in higher levels of interactivity between the user and the data within a browser session and by encouraging more efficient communication between the browser and the host. Whereas before, every user request meant a round-trip to the server, now far more data is sent at once to the browser, often in the form of an object with which the browser can interact. The user then manipulates the data multiple times – transferring funds between accounts, paying a bill, and updating an address, for example – and upon logging out, transactions are sent to the server all at once for processing. Because technologies like Flash and AJAX provide for easier inclusion of rich media in the user interface, the combined effect of these Web 2.0 technologies is reduced development time for programmers, a more satisfying user experience for consumers, server processing efficiency for the host, and bandwidth savings for everyone. Another significant advantage of Web 2.0 technologies for WCM is the tendency to be so highly based on well-defined standards that functional components of Web applications are often interchangeable. When built on Web 2.0 technologies, the “address update” function in the Web banking example above would likely be usable by the bank’s credit card Web application as well. This component swapability is the underlying principle behind enterprise mash-ups, a developer-oriented topic for an upcoming blog entry.