Oct 1

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

Web 2.0: Compact Definition?

I said I'm not fond of definitions, but I woke up this morning with the start of one in my head:

Web 2.0 is the network as platform, spanning all connected devices; Web 2.0 applications are those that make the most of the intrinsic advantages of that platform: delivering software as a continually-updated service that gets better the more people use it, consuming and remixing data from multiple sources, including individual users, while providing their own data and services in a form that allows remixing by others, creating network effects through an "architecture of participation," and going beyond the page metaphor of Web 1.0 to deliver rich user experiences.

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Comments: 48

  Johannes Ernst [10.01.05 09:27 PM]

According to Tim O'Reilly's "compact" web 2.0 definition, NetMesh is most certainly a "Web 2.0" company...

  Ben Bangert [10.02.05 10:05 AM]

That's a great definition, though it also seems that many people pushing various web technologies (AJAX) seem to think that's a Web 2.0 thing even though its been around for years. Your definition is the most accurate for what I'd consider the "true" Web 2.0 applications (, Upcoming, etc.)

  Lee Bryant [10.02.05 01:43 PM]

Good definition - thanks. It captures the most interesting elements of what we are all feeling our way towards. Actually, it is more like a mini manifesto than a definition ... in a good way.

  Ross Mayfield [10.02.05 08:06 PM]

Web 2.0 is made of people!

  Dan Zambonini [10.03.05 01:11 AM]

Although I don't really subscribe to the nomenclature of Web 2.0, I'd agree with Ross:

Web 1.0 was about connecting computers and making technology more efficient for computers. Web 2.0 is about connecting people, and making technology for efficient for people.

  Jim Meyer [10.03.05 05:51 AM]

Following up on Dan's comment, I wonder if this will be the realization of the occasionally observed gap between technology spending and realized productivity. In this light, it almost feels that the discontinuity is simply pent-up desire for a way to connect supply to demand on an individual basis.

  Gavin Bell [10.03.05 05:53 AM]

Nice definition, though it focuses more on the architectural than the people side. Continually updated and beyond the page metaphor are key, as this makes you think about the objects, not the pages, and a fluid idea of what they represent rather than a static page.
The people side is important, I need to see a value in my contributions to the whole. I've been toying with this idea in terms of open public document collections, what I've termed social documents.

  Alessandro Ferino [10.03.05 06:22 AM]

Tim O’Reilly’s definition of Web 2.0: “the network as platform” is very powerful. It gives the idea that whatever the apps we are using they are able to recognize our personal data and features. Internet access is definetely the key to get and share our content independently from the pc-laptop-wireless device we’re using.

  Tim O'Reilly [10.03.05 09:04 AM]

Dan, and Ross --

I have to respectfully disagree. Web 2.0 is definitely about people -- I believe that the central principle of success in web 2.0 applications is harnessing the collective intelligence of users -- and in my talks, I've often pointed to "the mechanical Turk, a 19th century chess playing automaton with a man hidden inside, as a metaphor for modern web applications, with programmers hidden inside them, performing their daily tasks. (See also my debate with Dave Stutz about how even these web applications harden over time.)

I believe that time will show that Web 2.0 started out with exactly the opposite of Dan's formulation: "Web 1.0 was about connecting computers and making technology more efficient for computers. Web 2.0 is about connecting people, and making technology for efficient for people."

Web 1.0 was envisioned entirely as an application that was created and consumed by people. People hand-wrote web pages to communicate with each other, and the only way to consume a web page was by sitting in front of an interactive application, the web browser. Web 2.0 grew up precisely through the realization that computer programs could also access the web. Screen scraping was the parent of web services. The whole idea of mashups is that web sites are programmable components. For that matter, even the static, hand-generated web page has been replaced in many cases by the computer generated database-backed page (except for blogging, and even there augmented by computer mediated content such as trackbacks and blogrolls). I've heard that one of Google's working principles is that if a person has to touch it, they are doing something wrong. They write programs to develop all their content.

I certainly agree that Web 2.0 is about making technology more efficient for people, but it's by the mediation of the computer-to-computer processing of Web 2.0.

Where Web 2.0 is ending up is far more complex than would be suggested by either proponents of "the data web" or the "people web". In fact, the very essence of Web 2.0 is that we're making people part of the machine, and the machine part of the people, in new ways, blurring the boundaries between the two. Harnessing collective intelligence means that users are continually improving the application by their very interaction with it. Meanwhile, our communication, our knowledge acquisition, our social network, is increasingly computer mediated.

  Andy Fitzhugh [10.03.05 11:15 AM]

Whereas Web 1.0 systems are designed to hold information hostage so that other systems cannot appropriate value from it, Web 2.0 is about software getting out of the way of information so that information can attain its optimal value.

For instance, my e-mail should not have value only within the context of GMail. My photos should not have value only within the context of Flickr. By my definition, I believe Flickr is Web 2.0 while GMail is not.

  John Hagel [10.04.05 07:12 AM]

This definition really helps to clarify what is different about Web 2.0 applications. It suggests that, like Janus, the software faces in two directions at the same time - on the one hand, consuming and remixing data from multiple sources while at the same time providing data and services in a way that allows remixing by others. This characteristic is key to understanding the bootstrapping power of Web 2.0 - something that Web 1.0 only hinted at with its linking structure. This cumulative creation potential is the real significance of Web 2.0 - and its implications extend far beyond the realm of application developers and technologists. I have written more about this at Web 2.0 Redux .

  Simon Bisson [10.04.05 10:09 AM]

I may be a heretic, but I don't actually believe there is such a thing as Web 2.0. There is something that I'm starting to think of as Computing 5.0 (see A New IT World for where I'm thinking aloud on definitions and technologies - a bit empty at the moment, but I've only been posting since the weekend!) - and what you're defining as Web 2.0 fits nicely as the UI layer for this service-based, loosely-coupled, virtualised world we're building.

  Walter Underwood [10.04.05 11:53 AM]

Web 2.0 is just Internet 1.0 running over HTTP. It is back to protocols and data.

  Hooman Radfar [10.13.05 09:53 PM]

Howdy Tim, I tried to define Web 2.0 compactly as well. It is a fun exercise. Here are my initial thoughts:

Web 2.0:

  1. A platform enabling the utilization of distributed services,
  2. the phenomenon describing the transformation of the web from a publication medium to a platform for distributed services,
  3. characterized as a technology, service, meme, or entity that leverages, contributes, or describes the transformation of the web into a platform for services.

I am probably biased by my internal corporate memes, and would love to hear what people think--cheers!

  Dan Zambonini [10.14.05 04:22 PM]

Hi Tim -

Yes, I take your point about switching my previous comment around to get a more accurate definition - very good point.

I suppose where I was coming from was looking at the difference over the last, say 7 years of developing solutions for customers, which has pretty much covered the alleged 1.0 to 2.0 shift.

In this time, I have seen a definite shift from 'technology' focus/requirements, to 'people' focus/requirements (A Good Thing). In the late 90s, we saw lots of requests for 'must be XML, use XSL and output to multiple channels', 'must integrate with CRM system X', 'must have flash based advert', etc. In other words, lots of customers asking for very specific technologies, I guess because the media was hyping technological advances.

Nowadays, the requirements are more focused on the people, 'must allow easy authoring of content', 'must support email tracking', and so on. There is far less emphasis on which language the solution should be delivered in, or how it should solve the problem - it just needs to work for the people who use it!


  Paul Browne [10.31.05 03:07 AM]

Not wanting to throw cold water on the Web 2.0 party, but are we not better finding an alternative term?

The danger is that the 'Web 2.0' will become caught up in marketing hype, and lose any meaning that we would assign to it. Instead, it could easily become shorthard for 'Dot Com Bubble 2.0'.

While I am all for clear names, it could be case that a more technical name could avoid this 'all photocopies being call Xerox' problem

  David Dixon [11.15.05 07:44 AM]

Here's how I see it:

A new easy to regulate internet protocol requiring no software or storage on your machine and where all your files, software, websites, mp3files etc. are located on a network, that functions like cable tv does now, with a pay as you need service (from your ISP).

companies that pioneer it profit, your computer is about the size and weight of a papperback book, everyone has cheap easy access to files, software, websites, mp3files etc., but all the content is strictly moderated, much like TV is now.

  fawn [12.02.05 09:25 PM]

I am a student just researching Web 2.0. I was wondering what anyone thought the effect of web 2.0 is/will have on marketing or advertising on line.

  Golum [03.22.06 01:05 PM]

No, i don't see it. There is far less

  Craig Hubley [03.26.06 06:52 PM]

The word "web" has a meaning in the context of infomration and knowledge management. Of course we can talk about today's World Wide Web or "public web" as "web 1.0", take the grandest idea of "service oriented enterprise" or "service oriented architecture" as "web 3.0" (as Jeff Schneider calls it), and then define "web 2.0" as something in between. Fine, that'll happen no matter what we agree on. But what's the essential thing that makes a "web" different from non-webs?

I argue it's the links, the fact that expectations of responses like "what happens when I press" link names, or (to a growing degree), buttons like "post" or "preview", are growing among users in common. It's those expectations that define a web. So, for instance, the "GFDL corpus" of text that is contributed via all sorts of projects (but mostly via Wikipedia) is a "web", because it has a lot of links and a very large number of associated words (like "discuss" and "version" and "revert" and even "troll" and "vandal" and "neutrality") that also have operational meanings (though often disputed). THE TECHNOLOGY DOESN'T MAKE IT A WEB.

The links do. The words on those links do. The same words on the buttons do. The same words in the URIs (web addresses) do. A web is a coherent body of links named (or semantically "typed") with a coherent type of behaviour recognizable by users as being "the same" for things of "the same type".

So, yes, web 2.0 goes beyond page metaphor and has all those technical advantages (uniform semantics at least for agile computing and loosely coupling a lot of web services together, lets software be delivered as services, applications on-demand etc) but don't forget the main lesson of Microsoft:

- version 1.0 is so bad you just have to change it anyway and it attracts all the complaints in the world

- version 2.0 actually defines the concept that you are trying to fix, and mixes all metaphors so badly that its unusable, attracting competitors and more specific complaints

- version 3.0 limits the metaphors to those that are compatible, and rely on a very few verbs (HTTP or REST principle) and only one or two basic types of process (updating webs, browsing webs) if that

- version 3.1 actually works and takes over since it's so focused on only those very few principles

Personally, I'm spending my time on that elusive single interfacing language. But not to knit the applications together. To knit groups together.

  Site [04.13.06 10:02 PM]

Hi i take a minute to make a note at your guest book, as i always take info from this site. your site is very pleasant and very cool!

Good Luck!

  Brauer [04.25.06 05:16 AM]

Useful definition Tim. And an interesting discussion. We will have to see if the term web 2.0 survives as it sets the stage for a versioning approach to developments on the WWW. Anyone for Web 3.0?

  Arun [05.10.06 03:32 PM]


Just for the record, when was phrase "WEB 2.0" first coined. All the articles seem to takel aboout Oct 2004, but that was the name of the conference so it must have been coined earlier. Many articles name the source as the brianbstrming session between Tim and folks from Media International. When did this brainstorm take place?


  The SEO Guru [10.19.06 10:13 PM]

What is domain name speculation in web2.0???

  Andy Wong [03.14.07 09:23 PM]

I agree that Web 2.0 is more about people. People Web is a distinguish term against Data Web. There are quite a lot technical definition of Web 2.0 around, however, I think Tim just tried to give more easy and friendly terms to describe the new trends of using Web (1.0). Web 2.0 is more about how to use, to make it more people friendly, more people abstraction. Those technical definitions and components built on top of Web 1.0 are for these trends.

Web 2.0 can be considered as a fashionable label. And it is not necessary to narrow the techniques to Web protocols only. SMTP, Email and IM etc. can all play part of it. The whole purpose is to make Network/Web/Internet/WhateverNet be more people friendly. Web 2.0 is a shinning label we would like to wear and show.

  sujatha [04.18.07 02:57 AM]

web 2.0 is percieved as " web as a platform" ,This should not be a misnormer that web was not a platform earlier and is now one . Web 2.0 is more of an evolution enabling greater reach to people,process and technology

  Patty Seybold [04.19.07 04:31 PM]

Good definition,Tim --thanks! I missed this when I did my "build" on Web 2.0--So, I'll add this link...

You left out customer/user empowerment--but I presume that's subsumed under "architecture of participation."

What about the loosely-coupled nature of Web 2.0??

What about the "culture" of Web 2.0--which you have helped to create?? See my riff on Web 2.0 as a cultural phenomenon as distinct from a technology phenomenon (distributed objects redux).

I also hate definitions, but readers find them useful, so I joined the game--adding Biz 3.0--Customer outcome-driven BUSINESS strategy as distinct from Web 2.0 -- Customer-empowered WEB strategy.

  gizmofreak [04.26.07 06:35 PM]

What about web 3.0
There are advance sites like ZCubes ( that allows user to do a lot of powerful things in a very unstructured way. Do you think they claim right to be a web 3.0 site (although i saw them at web 2.0 expo)

  NavTej Kohli [05.09.07 12:07 AM]

Tim, I really like the compact definition, but I wonder if it isn't too complex still. It feels like your comments here are even simpler and more refined for a non-tech audience and would allow those people to grasp the fundamentals of Web 2.0, if nothing else.

For example, I've been spending a ton of time investigating social media websites (just search for Tej Kohli or Navtej Kohli and you'll see what I mean) and the takeaway I always have is the same - that people, participating in the creation of content or structure is the defining feature of Web 2.0. Whether its RSS and blogging or AJAX and mashups or UGC for reviews, it's consistently similar in approach.

Big fan, BTW.
Navtej Kohli -

  Manish Parkar [06.18.07 02:15 AM]

Nice definition of web 2.0 and also good comments made on the same. Can you all please tell me what will be next in web 3.0 revolution....

  DiPi [06.18.07 05:13 AM]

well - the definitions are "poniting in" - but i do have sometimes :) the thought that acctually could be also not a tecky-definition too. Let´s try to write it: Web.2.0 = the form of getting user generated content and platforms for the pourpose to decrease "men-work" and costs - and to increase budget with very low, virtual investment.
Hope you dont "kill" me for this definiton :)

  Roy Sykes [07.09.07 09:05 PM]

Web 2.0 is simple. It is about networking people and content as opposed to networking technology/computers (Web 1.0).

  Oscar Antolinez [08.19.07 09:50 PM]

Esta es mi definicion:
“La Web 2.0 es el resultado evolutivo de la Web formada inicialmente en la década de los 90 hacia una nueva generación de sitios y aplicaciones de Internet en las cuales se ve reflejada una nueva actitud por parte de diseñadores y programadores que busca hacerla más participativa, útil y limpia.”

  Sharath JV [08.21.07 01:02 AM]

Web 2.0 is Philosophy which harnesses Collaboration, Syndication and Knowledge Sharing in an effective way to help Web/Internet evolve differently by utilizing cutting edge technologies.

  Nicholas Fazzolari [10.30.07 11:36 PM]

I discovered the definition of web 2.0 for the first time today. It instantly became obvious to me that "Web 2.0" has been a part of many things I have been doing while behind my computer for about 2 to 4 years.
Is web 2.0 a product of the introduction to wide used database's and web applications?
I'd answer yes.
Take a look at, a gaming community which is host to the well known "half-life" FPS game. For example, steam releases SKD's for most of their games, which allow you to rebuild the initial game, or develop and entirely new game using the core structure of the engine. Furthermore all of their code and theory is readily available in their developer wikki. The wikki links to all of the community portal sites, which allow you to upload your custom content and share it with other users.
Is it safe to say web 2.0 is here and beating strong. Yes.
One thing that needs to be discussed more are the social dynamics linked to the "Rapid creation of user content through a large and stable web applications".

  Melanie [11.17.07 12:52 PM]

Web2.0 definition:

User is king.

Nuff said.

  Tim O'Reilly [11.17.07 06:23 PM]

Melanie --

Many people are of your opinion, but I don't think you're right at all. User as contributor doesn't mean that "user is king." In fact, it means that "he who best harnesses the user is king." Another way of saying this is that "every long tail is attached to a very large dog."

Yes, the user benefits from sites that are built from user contribution, but the user neither controls nor gets all the benefit.

We all contribute to google -- whenever we post a page on the web, whenever we link from one page to another, whenever we click on a google ad, and even whenever we do a google search -- and this knowledge is applied for our benefit. But it's also for the benefit of google itself, and its advertisers.

Saying that "the user is king" because of Web 2.0 is like saying that "the user is king" because of the highway system (personal transportation vs. group transportation systems like railroads.) Or more proximately, it's a bit like saying "the user is king" with personal computing vs. mainframe computing. Yes, the user got more control and benefit, but Microsoft ended up as king, deposing the old king IBM.

Even at the simplest, most direct kinds of user contribution sites like wikipedia or craigslist, the user isn't king. Just try writing your own entry on wikipedia.

  Melanie [11.17.07 07:37 PM]


Thank you for this response - especially this:

"The user benefits from sites that are built from user contribution, but the user neither controls nor gets all the benefit."

I entirely agree and now realise that my brevity lacked an essential modifier:

User (should) be king.

I think this question of definitions is actually concealing the battles that go on around paradigm shifts. Seems to me this is just another chapter in Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

Facebook is a great example of the disparity between the promise of web2.0 innovation and the interests of the people controlling them.

You're right, it's a false crown. It's a toy crown.

  Manmohan Singh [12.07.07 02:21 AM]

Web 2.0 is an environment to facilitate collaborative learning

  Cliff Hall [01.06.08 07:36 AM]

>>Just for the record, when was phrase "WEB 2.0" first coined. All the articles seem to take about Oct 2004...

Here is an article on where the writer is talking about Joe Firmage, and mentions 'what he calls Web 2.0'

The URL of the article has 2008 in it, but the text of the article is preceded by this byline:

Newsmaker: Portals in space
By Paul Festa
Staff Writer, CNET
Published: July 28, 2003, 9:00 PM PDT


  Tim O'Reilly [01.06.08 08:27 AM]

You're right that Firmage independently started using the term Web 2.0 about the same time we did, in 2003. We weren't aware of his usage (which was very different than ours) when we first started using the term.

Firmage was using the term to describe his new 3D portal software, which would "replace" the WWW. Obviously, it never caught on. If you read the article you point to, you'll see that he talks about giving anyone to build a "world class AOL or MSN." Is that the web 2.0 we know today?

At about the same time, Dale Dougherty came up with an idea for a conference that was based on the premise that there was a second coming of the web, out of the depths of the dotcom bust, and that that second coming would be based on the companies that truly understood the web, instead of trying to make it over into a warmed over version of AOL or MSN.

We started planning for the conference in 2003, and actually launched it in October 2004. That's when the buzz began.

The term really took off when I wrote the paper "What is Web 2.0?" to accompany the second conference, in October 2005.

If you look at Google Trends -- -- you can see that buzz began in the first quarter of 2004 when we actually announced the conference, has a little spike right around the time of the conference, starts up again as PR begins for the second conference, with a little spike again right over the conference dates and the publication of What is Web 2.0, etc.

FWIW, the google trend graph also shows just how bad google is at figuring out what's an appropriate news story to tie to any of their peaks...

  Presse [01.06.08 08:19 PM]

I think best definition of web 2.0 you can find here ->

and here you can find ZDNET YouTube Video ->


  mustak [02.23.08 05:12 AM]

The best definition I've come across so far for Web 2.0 is "the philosophy of mutually maximizing collective intelligence and added value for each participant by formalized and dynamic information sharing and creation." (Högg, R. Meckel, M., Stanoevska-Slabeva, K., Martignoni, R., 2006. Overview of business models for Web 2.0 communities. Proceedings of GeNeMe, p.23-37.)

  Craig Tobias [05.11.08 12:15 PM]

I hear a lot of discussion around defining Web 2.0; I think simpler definition is better such as “user based collaboration and content generation”. There are a number of people who want a clear cut definition on exactly what Web 2.0 is and everything encompassed by Web 2.0. This is analogous to asking for a list of every animal that exist now or has ever exist before they are willing to talk about dogs or buffalo. Even today new species are being discovered. If I may barrow the famous words of the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Steward, “I may not be able to fine it, but I know it when I see it.” Web 2.0 is still growing and evolving this is why it is still so hard to define.

The biggest issue facing Web 2.0 is not technology. Most of the technology used in Web 2.0 has been around for quite some time. It is the application of this technology which is special. Here is the analogy I use for those who say that there is nothing new in Web 2.0. Using this approach one could argue that there is no such thing as a democratic state. That before the 1700s there were people, states, and governments and democracy is just made of these three elements. Well, we know that it is not the elements but their application which is different.

Craig Tobias
Solutions Architect
Cisco Systems.

  Carol [11.07.08 02:32 PM]

I really want to thank you for your definition, although I have to admit that the comment
you made earlier was more helpful to my understanding of web 2.0 than any definition.
But when I look at the web 2.0 meme map I always start wondering what you mean by "you control your own data". I'm sure that you are aware of the terms and conditions of social networks and the fact that as soon as you put something on the internet you are not in control of it at all anymore.

  Tim O'Reilly [11.08.08 09:32 AM]

Carol - "You own your own data" is, I suppose, an aspirational element these days, as more and more applications seek to own their users. But I believe that the fundamental, decentralized nature of the internet as platform will prevail. We see the tension between edge ownership of data and centralization playing out right now in OpenSocial, for instance.

But it does seem to me that there's a lot of power in Peer-to-Peer architectures that is still unexploited. I see lots of interesting startups and projects trying to invert the paradigm and put the user back at the center.

It's going to be interesting to watch this tension play out over the next few years.

  eric imbs [11.09.08 02:32 PM]

This definition has captured the essence of Web2.0 for an audience with web savvy. It is stuff we already know, articulated in a clear and concise form, and that's why it rings to us.

Most of the business people we deal with who want to step into the Web2.0 space, are not familiar enough with some of the vernacular used in the definition for it to really ring to them in a business context; it's still a bit mysterious to them.

I think further explanation is required to help them form some opportunities in their thinking and make it foolproof for the novice reader.

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