Say what you will about the Internet industry, but it's always been good at hyping itself. In the late 90s it was dotcoms. Eight years (give or take) and thousands of bankruptcies later, it's Web 2.0, which - appropriately, given the distributed nature of the Web - is more of a concept than a technology, leading to dozens of anecdotes from IT company execs who have people phoning them up asking if they sell any Web 2.0.
In fact, unless you're a code monkey (and not that there's anything wrong with that, we're just saying), it's best not to think of Web 2.0 in tech terms. There's a whole list of "enabling technologies" you can name that make what we know as Web 2.0 possible, but the term itself - coined by Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly Media four years ago - is best understood by thinking of the Web as a platform for hosting services and communities that can harness collective intelligence from users who participate and control their own content.
Think blogging, social networking, photo/video uploads, wikis, avatars, and so on - pretty much anything that allows people to interact with content and each other online with a few easy mouse clicks - and you're getting there.
Whatever the hell Web 2.0 is, it's big news and, many hope, big business. Take social networking - specifically MySpace, one of the top Web 2.0 poster children known mainly for the fact that Rupert Murdoch's News Corp bought it in 2005 for $580 million. In August this year, News Corp reported that MySpace earned around $440 million in revenues (mostly ads) for the fiscal year ending June 30 - compared to $23 million in 2004. eMarketer expects it'll be earning a conservative $820 million in ad revenues a year by the end of next year. In the US alone, social networking will be a $1.3 billion business by then.
The next logical step - which is already in progress - is to take Web 2.0 mobile. The math isn't all that hard - mobile operators see a potential cash cow in user-generated content services, and all the Web 2.0 brand names you can think of (MySpace, Facebook, Bebo, YouTube, Flickr and of course the big portal guns like Yahoo!, Google and MSN) see mobile as a natural extension of their services.
"Social networking has become very popular in a fairly short space of time in the fixed space, especially with the younger demographic who also tend to have mobiles, and a mobile is something that's always with you, so it makes sense to follow them and help them fill in that dead time," says Dr Windsor Holden of Juniper Research, which reckons that mobile user generated content (UGC) services like social networking, personal content distribution and mobile dating will rake in $576 million this year and a whopping $5.7 billion by 2012.
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