What exactly is Web 2.0?

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For starters, Web 2.0 is clearly about a more interactive Web that looks and feels more like an application than a static Web page or Web site.

At the heart of this is the concept of AJAX, or Asynchronous JavaScript and XML-a combination of long-standing Web technologies that, when joined, yields something different than a series of point-and-click Web pages. The classic

example is Google Maps, where users can manipulate graphical maps in real time, zooming in and out and pinging the app for landmarks, directions and more.

"The technology is not new, it's just been recently re-named," said Jason Billingsley, VP-marketing at e-commerce vendor Elastic Path. "`Once people acquire the skills to do it, they can roll out applications that are much richer experiences for users."

In November, Elastic Path introduced a new component of its e-commerce application that uses AJAX to let users go through an entire shopping cart check-out experience on a single interactive screen. The application does real-time ZIP code look-ups, allows users to edit their shopping carts, validates form errors and tallies final prices, shipping costs and taxes-all without a trip back to the server.

"It really eliminates the wait-and-see process at check-out," Billingsley said. "It has the potential to reduce shopping cart abandonment rather significantly."

Another way to describe Web 2.0 applications is that they change the Web experience from a linear page-to-page model to something more "event-based," said Rand Schulman, chief marketing officer at Web analytics company Webside Story. Measuring the success of Web 2.0 apps is thus very different from traditional Web sites, Schulman said.

"You begin talking about new objectives," Schulman said, "things like, what is the user engagement and does a heightened sense of engagement translate to higher [sales] conversions or optimizations" of the user experience?

The challenges presented by these changes can be severe for marketers who have just wrapped their heads around Web analytics and traditional measures such as page views and user site behaviors.

User involvement

Web 2.0, experts say, is also largely about user participation, collaboration and contribution. In that way, blogging is very Web 2.0 (especially when you add comments, ping-backs and RSS). So are wikis and sites heavy with user-generated content such as Flickr, and YouTube. Another common theme is the idea of the "mash-up" or the users' ability to take content and services from different sites and locations and combine them to create something new.

"Web 2.0 is really about the values it espouses. It is collaborative, approachable; it puts the user at the center of the experience," said Shiv Singh, enterprise solutions director at Avenue A|Razorfish, who has worked with companies to build b-to-b Web 2.0 applications. "It's about people taking information and media and remixing it and, by remixing it, making it stronger and more powerful and more usable for everyone else. It's about everyone building the sand castle together."

Applied to b-to-b

While the technologies and "values" of Web 2.0 certainly fit in a b-to-b marketing environment, the challenges are much different than in the b-to-c world.

For the enterprise and for the b-to-b marketer, Web 2.0 is very different than it is for the consumer side. It gets tricky. There are opportunities, but marketers shouldn't just jump deep into it without thinking it through very carefully.

For instance, in a typical multimillion-dollar enterprise-scale deal, the individual you are selling to may have deep relationships with 20 people inside the marketer's company. In that sort of scenario, you need to think carefully about what Web 2.0 adds to the equation, said Avenue A's Singh. For instance, Singh said his group has helped Ford Motor Co. add Web 2.0 components, including a significant blogging component, to its b-to-b dealer portal.

"When you build a Web 2.0 product or campaign, you only get one chance to get it right. Unlike a traditional marketing campaign, it's not easily forgotten," Singh said. "If no one participates or the wrong people participate, you could have a big problem on your hands. That's the scariest thing about Web 2.0 applications-they make you vulnerable." M

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