I wrote this in May whilst attending Java One in san francisco. I should have posted it then, its interesting to see i was not to far out with my thoughts.
Hurrah for web 2.0. At last we have a flag we can follow to the next level of experience across the web. It is after all, only a flag, there is nothing new in technology terms; it is more a renaissance of old technology, which has been given a new lease of life through a stabilisation of browser technology. Now all browsers, not just IE, have the capability to create an asynchronous call-back (completed through the XML HTTP Request object) and this coupled with increased bandwidth allows these calls to occur with responsiveness.
Because of this we see a multitude of web 2.0 /AJAX sites, the most prominent is arguably google maps, however, like many others it is far more standard dynamic html than Asynchronous calls. But, dynamic html got a bad name (back in the nineties) through over use (remember all those flashing websites), but its resurgents through re-branding under the AJAX acronym is a major driving force for the sites we see today.
I have termed Google Maps and Gmail AJAX rather than web 2.0, This is a consciously decision, web 2.0 is something more than an application, its almost the spirit behind the site, the idea of the wisdom or crowds and community. Startup sites can gain millions of users within weeks, through little more than word of mouth. Why? The main reasons, they manage to capture a spirit of community or are just plain useful; you tube, Digg, delicious and flickr (which was purchased by Yahoo for millions of dollars) come to mind. But, even though these are very popular sites, there is still the question of financial viability (that overhung the dot com era). This is a big question, there are many sites playing on the idea of virtual community, but is there any revenue opportunity other than marketing and advertising. YouTube use approx $1m in bandwidth a month and at that rate will burn through the venture capital money in 11 months time, so what happens then? If the companies cannot convert there popularity into financial success through acquisition by Yahoo, Microsoft or Goggle, they will need to have found a working business model. If they don’t manage this they will likely disappear as fast as they gained success. But finance is not the only issue; a good idea can be copied and improved upon. Google has just brought out notepad, which is a direct competitor to delicious, a very popular site for link sharing. With the larger players copying ideas the smaller guys will do well to be concerned.
So where next? I think there will continue to be overt innovation for some time to come as people push the boundaries the standardized technology, frameworks will mature to aid development (Dojo, Scriptaculous, Google Web Toolkit, Back base and the upcoming Microsoft Atlas). There will see more adoption from larger companies who will start with small goggle suggest type functionality but move onto full applications. This adoption will be key, it pushed the technology into the market place, makes it standard practice, and this enables the take up within bricks and mortar companies. It will also require some standards around the use of the technology and belief that performance and maintainability are achievable; there will no doubt be teething issues for development teams as they learn there way around the technology best use; remember J2EE. But these standards will no doubt be driven by the large tech companies. Also from the technology standpoint developers demand IDE to allow productivity gains, these are at present weak, but I would expect these to rapidly follow.