Web 2.0, Part I: Overview

You’ve probably heard the term web 2.0, which refers to more interactive websites (although no single definition exists).  Rather than just browsing static webpages, users interact with and even change them; this is good for the site owner, because not only are interactive websites more likely to keep users coming back, users can actually add value to the site.

A number of tools have been developed that are particularly useful for building web 2.0 sites; today we’ll take a brief look at a few of them.

AJAX, which stands for Asynchronous Javascript and XML, allows for faster user interaction.  Simple processing is done on the client side in javascript without having to wait for the data to be routed to the server and back; in the meantime, data that does need to be transferred is formatted with XML. AJAX allows you to do things like updating parts of a page as new information becomes available, without ever reloading the entire page.

Flash, of course, is still very popular in spite of not being supposed on the iPad.  Many flash applications are now written using Adobe Flex.  Flash is frequently used to add animation, video, and interactivity (particularly advertisements and games) to websites.

Much of the functionality of flash is now being provided in HTML5; while it is still technically in draft status, major browsers are already being updated to be compatible with the new standards.  HTML5 has the advantage over other technologies in that it should (soon) be supported on all systems, whereas Flash and Javascript pages will not be available to all users.

Blogs, of course, are a big part of the more interactive web; we covered WordPress last week, but there are a number of other options as well. Social networking (e.g., Facebook) is huge, and users also want new ways to consume your content (e.g., RSS). PHP has long been used for coding interactive sites, particularly in combination with MySQL databases. CSS, of course, allows you to customize the look of your content without having to do any extra work on the content itself; see the Zen Garden for a nice example of what CSS can do.

In the future, we’ll be providing a more in-depth look at each of these technologies, as well as talking a bit about when you might want to use them.