In 2005 I'll be sharpening my blog's focus some more, onto the topic of Web 2.0. I'll explore what Web 2.0 means in detail in later posts, but for now a quick definition of Web 2.0 is: using the Web as a platform.
A good way for me to launch into the new year is to review the Web 2.0 successes of 2004. Here then is an informal 'best of' for Web 2.0, a selection of companies that used the Web as a platform to their advantage this past year.
Best Web 2.0 BigCo: Google. The two big players in the Web 2.0 space this year have been Google and Amazon. 2004 for Google saw the release of Gmail, Orkut and Google Desktop Search, the popularization of AdSense, and an IPO. Amazon's main contribution to Web 2.0 this year was their enhanced Web Services released in October - including Version 4.0 of the Amazon E-Commerce Service. This allowed clever developers to create web apps that leverage Amazon's product data - the best example is probably Amazon Light 4.0.
In the end I chose Google, 1) because they're competing very successfully with Microsoft, who may as well be termed 'The Anti-Web 2.0' because they're using the desktop as their platform and not the Web, and 2) because of the sheer innovation of Google's web-based apps - Gmail is a web app that has as much richness as a desktop app, if not more.
Best Web 2.0 LittleCo: Ludicorp. They started off 2004 in the middle of building a multiplayer game / social software app called The Game Neverending, but they ended 2004 running a highly successful photo-sharing web app called Flickr. I'd argue Flickr currently has the most buzz of all the social software apps on the Web today (and there are a lot of them!). So I don't blame Ludicorp for shelving GNE, but I for one wish I could have both Flickr and GNE - sigh! (witness this post I wrote over a year ago as an example of the enthusiastic response GNE was getting at that time!).
Close runner-up in the LittleCo category is del.icio.us, the social bookmarks manager. [of course del.icio.us is not actually a company, but by "LittleCo" I mean small start-up style companies as well as individuals who have produced a product or service on the Web] Over a year ago I first tried del.icio.us as a linkblog solution, but I rejected it because it was a 3rd-party solution (i.e. I didn't have 'control' over my content). Well I have to eat humble pie on that one, because it turned out that del.icio.us caught on like wildfire in 2004 and the sheer scale of users brought many community benefits - e.g. it functioned as a recommendation engine for the blogosphere and its tag-based system proved to be a rare example of successful topic mapping.
Most Promising Web 2.0 Company: Feedburner. This was a tough one to pick, because there are so many new ventures using the Web as platform. I've been raving about Bloglines all year, PubSub has been building a technically very sound service mostly quietly in the background (but that's about to change in '05, by the looks of it), Six Apart has been making hay while the sun shines with TypePad, Pegasus News is getting a lot of buzz with their "Journalism 2.0" venture, and services like Feedster and Technorati continue to push the envelope.
But for me the most promising of them all is Feedburner, which burst onto the scene in 2004 with the one essential service that bloggers were missing - a way to track RSS statistics. Feedburner also enables splicing (e.g. of Flickr photos and del.icio.us links), advertising, web friendly UI for feeds, and other useful feed enhancements. In this new world of microcontent branding, which I believe will be an integral part of Web 2.0 in 2005, Feedburner is showing the way.
This post has allowed me to reflect on what a milestone year for web technology it's been in 2004 - it's been the Year of Web as Platform. But while it's tempting to think that the desktop apps peddled by Microsoft and others have been vanquished by web apps like Gmail and Flickr, we all know that Microsoft in particular will not go down without a fight. And the richness of applications not run on a web server still holds a powerful sway with some developers.
However in 2005 I think we'll see a continuation of the success of Web-based software, because of the social networking that such software enables and because of its 'run anywhere and anytime' nature.
One thing you can be sure of in 2005 - if it's Web 2.0 trends and analysis you're after, you'll read about it right here on Read/Write Web! :-)