Watching Web 2.0's rapid evolution

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Concepts such as user-generated content and social networks, which seemed little more than novelties of the consumer world 18 months ago, are rapidly transforming how business marketers engage their audiences and position their products and services. ¶ In this issue of BtoB, we devote considerable space to a package of stories about Web 2.0, "a combination of business processes, principles and technology that enables customer participation and collaboration," as Senior Reporter Carol Krol writes in the main feature (page 1). Our coverage looks at the marketers and media companies that have embraced Web 2.0, as well as the analytics vendors that will measure the impact of these new tools and channels.

There are risks in this brave new world, too. "When you build a Web 2.0 product or campaign, you only get one chance to get it right," says Shiv Singh, enterprise solutions director at Avenue A|Razorfish, in our Web 2.0 primer "What exactly is Web 2.0?" (page 1). "If no one participates or the wrong people participate, you could have a big problem on your hands."

Last week, I spent two days at the ad:tech conference in New York, where a record number of attendees-marketers, agency executives, vendors and pundits-did their best in the crowded exhibit space, panel sessions and after-hour parties to articulate how advertising and media are being shaped and changed by Web 2.0.

While there was no single, unifying theme at this year's ad:tech-aside from the show organizers' ongoing resistance to adding a b-to-b track-one phrase heard frequently was that Web 2.0 sites are "living ecosystems" in which users, following their own interests and needs, "create" the environment using networked applications that leverage the power of the community.

OK, let's have some fun. Let's imagine what comes next, what extends the "blog" metaphor. Actually, this thing already exists. It's called Second Life, a virtual world launched in 2003 that now claims more than 1 million "residents." Second Life allows people to pick digital representations of themselves, called avatars, and work, play, build things and even sell goods.

For those who scoff at the idea that Second Life or platforms like it will have any utility in b-to-b, let me make just two points. First, remember that the blogosphere was dismissed as a consumer phenomenon when it emerged and now is being embraced rapidly and seriously by businesses of all stripes across many industries. Second, read our story on page 3 about Sun Microsystems, which last month became the first Fortune 500 company to hold a media event on Second Life, where it debuted a virtual Sun Pavilion and introduced a software program for online game designers.

Ellis Booker is editor of BtoB and BtoB's Media Business and can be reached at [email protected]

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