How can web 2.0 help my organisation?

by Martin White

In this blog I’m going to look at the ways in which the Web 2.0 can benefit organisations and companies. I’m not going to give a definition of what Web 2.0 means but you can find more information at Wikipedia.

Tagging and Social Bookmarking

Wikipedia defines a Tag as “a (relevant) keyword or term associated with or assigned to a piece of information (e.g. a picture, article, or video clip), thus describing the item and enabling keyword-based classification of information.” in other words tagging is another name for categorising things. Tagging has become an important part of web 2.0 sites; by tagging a piece content or page on your site you are giving the user a one word description that either you or they can naturally relate to other relevant tags and content. In this way users can browse and pass from tag to tag and page to page in a more structured way.

Social Bookmarking relies largely on tagging. del.icio.us is an example of a social bookmarking site where users save and tag their favourite URLs they’ve found on the internet (much like the ‘bookmark’ or ‘favourites’ functionality in your browser). All user links and tags are available to view by other users, thus the process of tagging at del.icio.us has produced a giant ever growing directory of people’s favourite links, all tagged into categories that are available to view by anyone.

A good example of the use of social bookmarking is as an alternative to search engines – if I was looking for sites about running I could view all the sites on del.icio.us that users have tagged ‘running’. The resulting list of links is displayed along with the number of users who have saved/tagged the website, which is a good indicator of how useful people find the site.

How can Social Bookmarking help my organisation? By tagging your content and adding it to social bookmarking sites you are making your URL available for people to discover and save themselves. This is good way of spreading your URL and allowing other users to do the same (a bit like word-of-mouth). By tagging content on your site you are also giving more information to the user about the structure and layout of your site.

Social Networking

Web 2.0 is all about empowering the user with more control over the content of the sites they are visiting. Social Networking sites can achieve this goal in a number of ways:

1. visitor ratings and comments – when users post comments/ratings on products and content relevance other site visitors generally view these as more neutral compared to the content by the site author(s). digg.com features a good comments and rating system which visitors use to rank the site content.

2. forums – a place for users to gather and discuss issues related to a site. Used by many sites on the internet, forums are an easy way to give users a voice on your site. Google’s ‘Google Groups‘ is a good example of well developed forums.

3. User profiles – (www.facebook.com) if a site offers a profile for users then a small home page or profile area of the site will be devoted to that particular user. Users can customise their profiles with personal information and (where sites allow it) content like blogs. From the site owner’s perspecitve you can gain valuable information about your user which will allow you to tailor the information you send our to the needs of each individual.

The net effect of these areas is to create a community of users based at your site. Visitors frequent the site more regularly to keep up to date with the changes that are happening in ‘their’ community, the replies to comments they’ve submitted and also to check and update their profiles. For site owners this means more site hits and provides more opportunities to present users with relevant information.

Ajax and Web 2.0 Technologies

A long term goal in the development of Web 2.0 is to utilise the internet as an operating system or platform (like Windows or Mac OS) so that eventually people will be running their applications over the web and will not need to save local copies of documents and files, rather they will be accessible by anyone, on any computer.

In this way coding standards, practices and techniques are being developed and adopted to provide users with more intuitive, easy-to-use sites. Ajax is one example (see the definition at Wikipedia) of such a technique that allows developers to create sites that do not need to reload or refresh to fetch required site content. For the site user this means less important time is wasted waiting around for pages to load. As a section of a page can be reloaded or updated rather the entire page users can find the content their looking for much more easily.

A very good example of Web 2.0 technology in use is the google documents application that recreates a lot of the functionality users are used to from Windows Excel and Word. Window live and iGoogle are also good examples of how new Web Technology has been used to enhance user experience.

RSS

Lastly RSS (see the Wikipedia definition) feeds are created using a file format which can be read across the internet much like HTML. Whereas HTML is used to describe how a page looks, RSS feeds (specifically the XML format they are written in) describe information in a structured way. RSS feeds contain information or content from sites and enable the user to fetch this information without having to actually visit the site.

Internet users can subscribe to RSS feeds using feed readers (many free readers are available), Outlook or even online readers like Windows Live and iGoogle. They are presented with a teaser view of the content and can decide if they want to actually read the full article by following the attached link. Good examples of RSS feeds can be found on the BBC website.

For the user RSS means a further way to filter content to meet their needs. For site owners RSS provides a direct link to inform users of the changes and updates to your site, the net effect of which will be to draw people back more often.

In this blog I’ve briefly gone through some of the most important areas of Web 2.0 and how they can be used by site owners to improve the connection between site and visitor. 

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