The Habits of Highly Effective Web 2.0 Sites

The next Web 2.0 Conference will be upon us in early November and things are busier than ever in the Web 2.0 world.  Along the way, I’ve managed to miss the one year anniversary of this blog, which I began back in late September of last year.  There have been over 2.5 million direct hits on this site since inception, a large percentage of it due to my Web 2.0 lists such as last year’s Best Web 2.0 Software List , but I also get e-mail frequently from die-hard readers as well.  Most importantly however, from all my conversations with people all over the world, it’s clear that Web 2.0 remains more than ever a topic of major popular interest and industry fascination.

While the general understanding of Web 2.0 is improving all the time, we have a ways to go before we have a concise, generally accepted definition.  My favorite is still networked applications that explicitly leverage network effects. But while most of what we ascribe to the Web 2.0 name falls out of these definition, it’s fairly hard for most of us to extrapolate meaningful ramifications from this.

People that read this blog know that I’m in the camp of folks that try to look beyond Ajax and the visual site design aspect of Web 2.0, and try to capture the deeper design patterns and business models that seem to be powering the most successful Web sites and online companies today.  Though concepts such as harnessing collective intelligence and Data as the Next Intel Inside, as described by Tim O’Reilly , most directly capture the spirit of the Web 2.0 era, it does seem to me that there are a few other elements that we haven’t nailed down yet.

At the AjaxWorld Conference and Expo earlier this month, I gave my usual talk about how to formally leverage Web 2.0, with plenty of examples coming from things happening out on the Web.  If you accept that it’s the power and size of the Web today , particularly the number of highly interactive network nodes (who are mostly people), give them extremely low-barrier tools, and we should be able to find plenty examples of emergent behavior; significant events happening suddenly and unexpectedly.  Tipping points are getting easier and easier to reach as site designers learn how to create better network effect triggers, draw large audiences suddenly, and as those same audiences increasingly self-organize spontaneously, such as in the KatrinaList project (suddenly) or Wikipedia (slower but bigger).

And it’s the arrival of Web 2.0 “supersites” like YouTube , which appear suddenly, often riding the coattails of other major Web 2.0 site’s ecosystems, and apply aggressive, viral network effects that show us the true, full scale of the possibilities.  Building a Web site worth over one billion dollars in 18 months is a very impressive result, but it’s really only a single axis upon which Web 2.0 can be applied successfully.  Another axis upon which to apply Web 2.0 focuses less on pulling in every single user possible with a horizontal network effect, but on building a difficult to reproduce but highly valuable data source, such as the Navteq mapping database, or Zillow’s real estate database.  One might argue that these are still very horizontal but these are merely just well known examples.

The variety and depth of the Web is such that not every Web 2.0 site will have tens of millions of users, nor should it.  An effective Web 2.0 site is largely powered by its users, whose feedback and contributions, direct and indirect, make the site a living ecosystem that evolves from day to day, a mosaic as rich and varied as a sites users would like it to be.  In other words, creating a high quality architectures of participation is becoming a strategic competitive advantage in many areas.

I’m often asked, particularly after one of my presentations on Web 2.0, to articulate the most important and effective actions a site designer can take to realize the benefits of Web 2.0.  As a result, I’ve created the list below in a attempt to catpure a good, general purpose overview of what these steps are.  My plan in the near future, is to dive into each one of these as much as time permits and explain how they make highly effective Web 2.0 sites not only effective, but often possible at all.  In the meantime, please take them for what they’re worth, I believe however that they are instrumental in making a Web site or application the most successful possible.

The Essentials of Leveraging Web 2.0

  • Ease of Use is the most important feature of any Web site, Web application, or program.
  • Open up your data as much possible. There is no future in hoarding data, only controlling it.
  • Aggressively add feedback loops to everything.  Pull out the loops that don’t seem to matter and emphasize the ones that give results.
  • Continuous release cycles.  The bigger the release, the more unwieldy it becomes (more dependencies, more planning, more disruption.)  Organic growth is the most powerful, adaptive, and resilient.
  • Make your users part of your software.  They are your most valuable source of content, feedback, and passion.  Start understanding social architecture.  Give up non-essential control.  Or your users will likely go elsewhere.
  • Turn your applications into platforms. An application usually has a single predetermined use while a platform is designed to be the foundation of something much bigger.  Instead of getting a single type of use from your software and data, you might get hundreds or even thousands of additional uses.
  • Don’t create social communities just to have them. They aren’t a checklist item.  But do empower inspired users to create them.

Of course, there a lot of work in the details and these are just some of the important, general essentials.  Unfortunately, a lot of careful thinking, planning, and engineering goes into any effective Web 2.0 site and it’s having these ideas at the core of it, which can help you get the best results.

Final Note:  I’ll be on the road the next two weeks and will be at the Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco from Nov. 7th-9th.  I’ll be there writing coverage for the Web 2.0 Journal and here as much as possible.  If you’re going to be there, please drop me a line if you’d like to meet.

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