The historical origins of the watermill are quite simple: innovators sought a way to harness the force of water to accomplish work more easily and efficiently. Mechanical energy could boost production and reallocate human resources to other efforts. But prior to rotary motion, the watermill was not possible. Water existed and milling existed. Yet the force of the one could not power the other.
While the crafting of the World Wide Web was a monumental achievement, it was largely a technical one. The architecture did not harness “the water”. The ensuing years included a glaring disconnect between an online and offline world, best exemplified by ridiculous, annoying, and uninteresting pop-up advertisements.
This disconnect still exists today but the gap is beginning to close. Web 2.0 aims to build the web around people instead of technology. It aims to connect people in new and interesting ways. It aims to harness the knowledge of people.
Web 2.0 represents a revolution in the interaction between web technology and users. The enabling technologies – AJAX, Ruby on Rails, RSS, and others – are like the rotary motion of the watermill. While key, in and of themselves they are not as interesting as the end results they produce – a better, smarter, more fun, and more efficient web.
The Web 2.0 Watermill
In the case of the Web 2.0 Watermill, there are primarily four areas where technology is beginning to facilitate a vastly improved Internet: knowledge collection, knowledge discovery, knowledge building, and knowledge sharing.
People are analogous to the water of the watermill. They power the Web 2.0 Watermill. Technology facilitates the interaction of people with people, people with technology, and technology with technology. Knowledge is generalized to include all information generated by these three interactions. Where the interaction is of people with people or people with technology, knowledge may be used in the traditional sense of the word. Where the interaction is of technology with technology, knowledge may better be understood as data.
The interconnectedness and interactivity of this paradigm is what makes Web 2.0 so valuable. Web 2.0 powers a world of relevant, rich knowledge. With these synergies, businesses are empowered to have better access to customers. They are enabled to extrapolate better insights into consumer tendencies. Employees have new means to track projects or collaborate. Applications can be built more quickly and cost effectively, while being more useful to users.
Each of these four components will be analyzed more extensively, as the Why Web 2.0 Matters to your Business series continues.