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Web 2.0 for Designers : Comments

By Richard MacManus, Joshua Porter

May 4, 2005


Joshua Street

May 4, 2005 10:56 PM

The notion of “Web 2.0” is interesting, as it’s the inversion of a model written in a book (1) published in 2002.

The difference arises from your future perspective, as opposed to the historical perspective taken by Meikle – the web existed in a pre-commerical state (that being version 1.0) and was used for collaboration (in an academic arena, especially) and shared discourse, prior to the proliferation of “e-commerce” and corporate use of the Internet in a closed manner. The book isn’t simply leftist — is cited as a version 2.0 idea that owes its success to its use of a version 1.0 model of open publishing (the ‘review’ system).

Now, of course, we are seeing the emergence of a new form of publishing and connectivity (as outlined in this article), hence the inversion of perspectives. It’s interesting that such a cycle appears to have occurred!

(1) – Meikle, G. (Edited by Wark, M.) Future Active: Media Activism and the Internet.

Billy Bob

May 4, 2005 11:02 PM

These are great points… but aren’t we missing something? Web 2.0 is, at its most fundamental level, the era of CONTENT: Compelling, thought-provoking, groundbreaking, scintillating written words. As much as I agree with the importance of separating content from its container — we’re still talking about the container. Forget the container. The Web 2.0 will be less about great design and programming (and I say this as a designer) and far more about great, effective writing and creative thought. As people absorb content from more mobile devices and RSS goes mainstream, they’re going to care less and less about where that content originated. Content, stripped of its branding contexts, will have to be good enough to stand alone. That is why the Web development firm as we know it today will look quite different; content contributors, editors and communicators will take their rightful place at the head of the table. Content will finally be king.


May 5, 2005 1:38 AM

Web 1.0 was about content, and a successful testbed for a thousand ideas and arguements, ground for effort and innovation, which tried and failed and succeeded and well.. sometimes did-not, but all which collectively helped evolve the web to it’s next level.

Enter Web 2.0, which is about content, just like Web 1.0, only better. A better awareness of usability and user experience design (for designers and developers alike) and smarter application of ideas as well as practical and feasible convergence.

What I am trying to say is that what characterizes Web 2.0 is the experience, not content and that is what gives it a name in order to differentiate from web 1.0. It takes presentation and access of content to a more approachable, thus usable level. And just like Web 1.0, we are going to try a thousand new ideas which will take it to it’s next level, which will make it… what’s the magic word… better! ;)

Martijn ten Napel

May 5, 2005 3:19 AM

In Web 2.0 it is going be very hard to distinguish quality information from misinformation.

Now we do have voices of authority that we trust: newspapers, certain news commenters, certain publishers that publish in specific area’s with knowledgable editors.

I don’t think this is going to change: feed aggregators or any collected content lack that ‘voice of authority’ stamp: we only trust the news in the feed because we know that the site that delivers the content is to be trusted; once that mechanism gets obscure no one will trust the content.

Jens Meiert

May 5, 2005 7:00 AM

Huh. Most important is to design for people, not to design data.

Joshua Porter

May 5, 2005 7:38 AM

Thanks for the comments so far. I just wanted to touch on the content is king/design for people tension.

Content is king because that’s what people value. We’ve learned this from watching them and being one of them. They value the mechanisms for finding content far less than the content itself.

In terms of Web 2.0, we have a new paradigm in which content is often viewed by people away from the domain in which it lies. As a result, many of the cues that people use concerning trust/authority are gone. Marketing content (making it trustworthy and authoritative) becomes much harder. Therefore, imbuing the content itself with value, designing the data, is paramount. Much of this happens through effective copywriting.

Michael Almond

May 5, 2005 9:48 AM

Excellent article. I got so much from it, thanks.

I am currently writing an article that states some very similar ideas. Mainly that we are in the midst of a 2nd Renaissance. Without publishing the darn thing right here, I will just chime in with one comment, or belief.

“Context” is the key unlocking the door into the next era. We can be leaders if we can incorporate the social, political, culture factors that have brought about this era of rapid growth in the new technologies we are witnessing.

They have exploded and captivated the western world (hopefully, all the world soon) because of pressing human and social needs. Once we recognize this, the future full of wonderful possibilities.

Thanks again for such a great article.

Joshua Porter

May 6, 2005 5:16 AM

Though Richard and I are calling our column “Web 2.0 Design”, Dan Gillmor thinks that we’re actually in something like Web 3.0.

Regardless of what number we’re talking about, though, Dan and Richard and I are all excited by the same thing: the amazing innovation going on right now on the Web. We didn’t use the word “Renaissance”, but in some way that’s what it feels like.

Mark Boulton

May 6, 2005 9:25 AM

Interesting article although I’m struggling with one point.

You talk about content being seperated from it’s presentation and passed around to be viewed on different platforms. No argument there.

What i’ve got a problem with is your definition, or rather implied definition of design, ie. The visual. Not all designers would agree with you there. True, content is seperated from it’s presentation BUT it has to be presentated in some form of UI somewhere, THAT is where a designer can enhance the user experience, not just visually but in terms of usability, application and information design. It’s not about designing data, it’s about designing a user experience which could possibly be on a number of platforms.

I suggest designers become more aware of the data and the possible platforms on which it could appear. But isn’t this a content producers job? Should the designers concentrate on crafting the experience when the data is presented? How different is that to what designers are doing today?

Nick Finck

May 6, 2005 10:21 AM

Mark: I think you may be confusing visual design with system design. I would never hire a web designer to build a system that also works on a PDA. I might hire a web developer to do it (i.e. someone who knows how to code the page on the front end)... but not a web designer (i.e. someone who knows how to visually define a page via typography, color, motion, composition, etc.).

Yes, it would be nice for designers to understand web technologies, but in reality and practice they are much more skilled at doing the visuals than trying to code web pages. Yes, some people can do both and that means they are ahead of the game. I guess it’s all semantics when you look at it. After all, there are still “webmasters” out there who do it all. It’s all a matter of how many hats one person wears and that is where the term “web designer” starts to get bastardized to the degree in which it was never intended.

Joshua Porter

May 7, 2005 5:46 AM

Mark, I think you’re right. If there is a clear distinction between roles on a web team then perhaps the “designer” might not do copywriting, for instance. However, in many cases there is no distinction at all. Some designers do every part of design. In some cases, assuming those distinctions exist might immediately exclude a huge number of design teams that don’t fit that mold.

The designing data phrase is getting some attention…and I’ll try to be more clear here. When we talk about designing data we’re explicitly using that term because that may be all you have control over…the experience might be on someone else’s search engine, blog, or other aggregator. In extreme (or ideal) Web 2.0 cases all you’ll have is the data in your database that others are accessing via an API and turning into something useful. In those cases, you have very little control of the overall experience, and all you’ve got is your data, or stripped-down content. We hesitated to use “content” here because content usually includes the presentation part…

Michael Almond

May 7, 2005 9:02 PM

I hope you read a comment I made recently that proposed the idea that YOU are actually the Web…LOL. How do you read, respond (thoughtfully) to every post I come across, work and have a home life? What’s your secret?

Well, regardless, you are an asset to our social network or whatever one terms it.

And yes, I believe that we are somewhere in the beginning portion of Renaissance 2.0 (Alpha, I think).

I need to save something for an article I am writing about this, so I won’t elaborate, but the similarities are profound and most importantly, inspiring; Periods of explosive growth of innovative technologies, tools and among other things, Humanist ideas.

Thanks again.

Brian Reindel

May 9, 2005 6:39 AM


I actually don’t think you’re too far off the mark when you suggest that in the future WE will be the Web. Let me explain.

I personally believe we are only at Web v1.2, (if we are assigning version numbers). Up until the present day, information exchange has always been the foregoing purpose of the Web. Take the Internet back to its beta, when ARPANET was researching a failsafe method for transmitting data in the event of nuclear fallout. Communication becomes a key factor for survival, and yes, at its core, content would be king in those circumstances. So to me, finding new ways to organize and facilitate the dispersal of that content is really only baby steps. So, why even add .2 to the 1.0? I would say mostly because of commercialization – ecommerce. To me, that has been the only true “advent” since the early days of the WWW. No longer a novelty, the WWW has become a staple of commerce and culture.

Yet, finding a better way to buy a pair of pants is less likely to push the WWW (and us) into a Renaissance. What most people want is a profound avenue for undergoing experiences otherwise impossible or unattainable. Currently, the Web is the closest thing we having to accomplishing that. Consider how we interact with others and our environment and how that transforms technology. We want to be immersed – we want to experience – eventually, we want to become and be a part of something greater than ourselves. When the bandwidth becomes available, that is the road most likely to be traveled. It might sound like science fiction, but when it happens, I’ll be happy to move the Web up a full version number.

Michael Almond

May 9, 2005 9:19 PM

Your thoughts and commentary are most appreciated. I think we aren’t too far from each other in our points of view as well. The stimulation of the human intellect, as demonstrated in your comment, is one of the most exciting aspects to all this. This is not the product of technology, though it may be facilitated and communicated with the help of technological innovation. It is the product of the human mind.

This is meaning; I think people are yearning for more of it in their work and lives. I’m an idealist, what can I do?

While I am no expert on the history of the internet, I am familiar with the history of the Web. While there is a tremendous amount of work and history leading up to and allowing for the birth of the Web, it was an idea that had more to do with it’s “social effects, not just as a technological toy.”

That is how Tim Berners-Lee describes his original dream for the Web. I happen to believe that it being used for that purpose more and more. This is a major change for the better in my opinion.


May 13, 2005 1:33 PM

It talks about the same initiatives that lead the the birth of the internet in a way more than usual.

Another point to back my arguement that the while the system evolves, the essential characteristic remains the same.

Dmitry Yeskin

May 17, 2005 4:09 PM

Yeah good article for customers who just thinking to setp into web 2 world. My advice to this is to by a good book on XHTML first and then make a decision. But we already completely moved to WEB 2. Regards!

Thomas Bowen

May 18, 2005 7:06 AM

I think a lot of this is interesting, and the switch is also happening across all media; not just the web. Content is becoming king because, you are right, that’s what people want. They want an article, or a TV show, or an image. The problem is: people in general don’t know what they want. There is a comment in here (sorry can’t remember who’s) that says “somewhere, someplace, there will be a UI” and that’s the truth.

Right now, people base whether or not they believe in a site’s information based on its design and its information architecture, overwhelmingly. Brand plays a very small second to that. People don’t believe a site unless it’s designed well.

In my opinion, what you’re going to get is going to be very much like the “potal era” of the late 90s – but with better UI and more content.

When you’re choosing an RSS feed, you have to pick it from somewhere, and (hopefully) it’s from somewhere you trust. How do you decide whom to trust? We’re tribal, visual creatures us humans and you’re going to pick that data feed based either on word of mouth or from seeing an ad, or visiting a site.

You’re going to like reading that feed in a better RSS program, or on a site. You’re going to want to download that new TV show by BMW because other people in your web community rated it well. Media is going to come together, but we’re going to have UI in different forms, everywhere.

Visual design will always be king, because unless we see it, we don’t believe it.

Joshua Porter

May 19, 2005 9:27 AM

Thomas…insightful comments. One thing that I find interesting is that the visual design that people will see in Web 2.0, the design they might make judgments about, may not be the visual design of the author of the content.

This feeds into the “designing data” topic that we mentioned. Is there a way to design the data to imbue it with authority despite it being in someone else’s interface? On the other hand, if you’re pulling data from a public API, are you adding credibility that shouldn’t be there?

I wonder what Google and Craiglist folks think about Paul Rademacher’s On the one hand, it looks a lot like Google Maps. On the other, it’s a completely new representation of Craigslist information. Are the two companies helped or hurt by this? I don’t know, but it sure is interesting.

Thomas Bowen

May 20, 2005 8:21 AM

That’s interesting too and my first thought is that it depends on the content. I think you can imbue authority (at least more so) into animation, video and photos. However, I think that’s tough with writing.

Although – after writing that – I’m going to take a step back… Those are imbued with authority because they are difficult – and that’s probably why visual design plays such a large part in web “trustability.” People think “this is nice, someone obviously spent a lot of time or money on this.”

This is inherently flawed, but that’s what is happening now. I would agree with you that if I run a respected “portal” that is pulling information from public APIs – that, yes, I am lending authority where it may not belong.

Let’s say I’m joe-designer. I run a highly successful portal (i’m going to keep calling it that, but I’m not sure it’s the right word – I’m not thinking myExcite here) thousands of visitors visit my site everyday for news and article content. These people believe what’s on my site. However, I’m just pulling these articles from RSS feeds that I trust. A malicious/fraudulent/accidentally incorrect article could easily slip its way onto my site and my users, not checking original sources, believe it. It also brings into question the legal consequences – who’s responsible for the incorrect information? Is it the original author, the feed, or my site?

Anyways, I think I could go on for a while without finishing my thought.

As for your thought – I think that the lofty ideals of google and craigslist are helped a lot by the site. However, the business goals may not be. The user is not exposed to any revenue generating information and the information is pulled out of context (yes, the point of your article :-)). Craigslist, obviously, isn’t an example of this but let’s say that the housing information was taken from an ad-driven business.

On the otherhand, seeing the information presented this way may lead users to want to see it another way or different information – pointing them back to the ad stream.

It’s going to be a different world.


June 17, 2005 2:38 PM

You summarised by saying: “1. Writing semantic markup (transition to XML)”. Well, actually XML has and in the near future will have no formal semantics. Never ever.

Semantic Web is all about this, and still they are far away from anything practical, since every single part of text need to be annotated by machine understandable (with SW ontologies and basic common vocabulary), but still human-given tags.

XML is a comfortable means of serializing data, it has a clear structure and is handy, but there are no semantics with it. Means no true automation of processing, no search beyond keyword search.

You also say – metadata. Fine, but this is tremendous amount of work and still amount of information (also this “good” information) is growing much faster than capabilities of communities to process it. Especially when it comes to adding some smart meaning to the data.

Sorry it doesn’t sound that optimistic…

I think that collaboration will be extremely important. Also we need more automation. And less Google, less ads, more focus on goals, no Web for the Web itself. Less commercial things, more community based. It’s here already to a degree, had only the search engines not hide it so often with commercial stuff… (Yes, SEO is bad.)

Maksim Rossomachin

June 26, 2005 8:30 AM

Quite interesting article. I feel the wind of changes… and working on the Russian translation. Tnx a lot for interesting reading!

Jean-Yves Desbiens

August 16, 2005 9:27 PM

Web 2.0 is just the second coming of hype.

Nothing new, just tired old words and well worn concept repackaged as “new” terms.

If Web designers really cared about their craft instead of foisting crap onto the world.

They would assemble all those neat technologies and very precise way before they`ve been given a “cool” marketing name.

CSS worked pretty well in 1999 or 1998! Out of band refresh, can be done for quite awhile, LAMP exist in just about the same way I`ve seen it since 1998 (a bit more usable, but mostly the same thing). Blogs!! They`ve existed forever. It took forever for IM to be half as good as the original IRC in the late 1980`s!!, etc.

I could go on forever! Hype is the killer. By the time some marketing hack has PR`s the hell out of Web 2.0, the technologies already be getting old!! If anything, Web 2.0 is the second coming of Hype with Web 1.0, or the first Hype wave peaking in March 2000…

Art Morgan

August 18, 2005 2:01 PM

Great article.

I’m now exploring how the Web 2.0 paradigm affects the world of audio content. When I worked at Nuance (a voice technology company) for a few years thought we were going to be able to create a “voice web.” After the bubble burst investors slapped us around and said we had to focus on the boring stuff – automation for financial services and telecom call centers.

But now podcasting is hot, and I am sure we will figure out ways to apply the Web 2.0 paradigm to audio. Any thoughts on this from the authors or other readers? Exciting times!

Joshua Porter

August 25, 2005 4:34 AM

Jean-Yves, I hear your concern about “hype”. One piece that I think you’re missing (or we didn’t articulate well enough) is that Web 2.0 is not just a technological change. You said it correctly: many of the technologies it involves have been around for years.

Instead, Web 2.0 (the Web as Platform), encompasses technological adoption and social change. In other words, when people start using technology to provide open APIs, the way that we interact with content changes. We gain efficiencies that we didn’t have before, and share knowledge in ways we couldn’t have before.

Even still, you can call it what you want.

Paul Ebert

August 30, 2005 5:32 AM

The article was quite interesting. After reading it, I realised that I have migrated toward no-nonsense, informative sites which either aggregate information on a particular topic or which present information in a CMS format. I also use a newsreader and bypass design as I efficiently accesss information. It seems that we have converted the WWW, a wonderfully graphical and expressive medium, into something with all of the architectural charm of grey slab concrete.

lebogang nkoane

September 21, 2005 7:03 AM


I have been vindicated. I have been planning to write an article about these things, I have actually termed it ‘star wars’. Assuming that the programmer vs. designer(stars) war is still in existance, and your article proves what I have been thinking, “the web is coming back to the programmer”.

This is not to say, ‘pretty’ sites are not interesting, but designers need to get back to what they are masters of, communication, and programmers need to get back to making that process possible, to communicate, and that is what I think Web 2.0 is to become.

I do not think the role of the designer is comming to an end, but I think it’s evolving. Designers need to realise that when the delved into the web medium, they are and always will be working in a computer system, that has rules, and these rules they broke (que matrix soundtrack). But, programmers, provided the ability to break them, but now there is a balance. The designer will have to focus on their core definition and allow the programmer to help them do so.

I think if they do so, then the ideas of Web 2.0 will work, removing the need for the content to be accessed through a browser but through anything, in the lies my passion, because I do believe if all content on the web did not depend on the web itself, then that idea of’ bridging the digital divide’ in Africa would be realised. Then the poor (or those in developing countries) would be able to access this information without the need a new technology, a computer and internet connection, of which don’t come cheap in these areas.

am I rambling? maybe?

Word. Well written, and inspiring.

Mike R

November 11, 2005 12:59 PM

Insightful article.

I feel there will be some distinction, however, between the user’s ‘landing page’ and their surfing for services and entertainment.

We should build versatile sites that accommodate all users, but keep in mind the surfers who just want a fun place to hang out or want to take advantage of a company’s service.

A user may want RSS feed on their favorite band ‘the pink monkeys’ on their landing page. Then may visit the site for pics, video, or other content.

This is another avenue to drive traffic back to the host site. Maybe this is Web 1.5.

Possibilities! I’m getting goose bumps!

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