Design & Functional Elements of Web 2.0

In W3C’s Web 1.0 standard, a small sector of specialised individuals created content for a large number of companies and people. For instance, anything graphics related would take users to, for news and to address Windows-related problems. However, as resources in the form of blogs, RSS feeds, etc became available to the public, the amount of information published to the web increased. As a result, the W3C developed a new standard – Web 2.0.

Web 2.0 allows data to be split into microcontent and then split over various domains. Examples include RSS, Google Maps and social bookmarking tagging websites. Interfaces like these are changing the way we store, access and share information and it has ceased to matter which domain the source is coming from.

Naturally, this holds huge interface changes for designers since interfaces now need to be constructed keeping the amount of information being “out sourced” across multiple domains, in mind. Think of it as a platform for content, and with that in mind it becomes easy to see how design will change. An interface can now be constructed with stores of information coming from widely different sources – companies, individuals and governments and presenting them in a way that could never be done on a single domain.

Take for instance. They have created an interface (Amazon Light) which allows users to change the standard interface according to personal preference by making its database publicly accessible.

There are a few design trends and functions that now need to be implemented for a Web 2.0 website.

Transitioning to XML

One of the biggest transitions to Web 2.0 is realising the transfer to a semantic markup like XML, ie better being able to describe content. Although HTML and XHTML do the job marginally well, descriptions are limited to pre-existing, pre-defined syntax such as headers, listings, paragraphs, citations and definitions and there is no other way to describe the content of most documents. Sure, you can limitedly define the content of simple documents, but we’re not talking about simple documents here, are we? With Web 2.0, not only is this possible but it’s critical to accesssibility.

With non-Web 2.0 websites, you are forced to scroll down manually looking for which content is new and what you’ve already seen before. RSS, an XML format allows users flexible accessibility features by allowing them to subscribe to (participating) websites’ feeds by typing the URI into an aggregator. The aggregator will then routinely poll the site, check if anything is new and display the content thus saving you a lot of time.

Providing Web Services

In the early years of the dotCom buzz, websites were referred to as “pages” and the web a virtual world complete with shopping malls and banks.

But as the years went by and we entered the 21st century, and information became not only more widely available but also publicly accessible, the face of the web changed. XML content made the data shareable and editable between different systems. Instead of visual design being the basis of interacting with content, programmable Web services have become the interface by which content can be accessed. Now anyone can build an interface for content that comes from any domain through a web services API.

Prime examples are Amazon and eBay who have made their content accessible through their APIs and have spawned A9 (for Amazon) and Andale (for eBay). Andale provides auctioneers with the highest bidding products and how much they’re selling for, using the information from eBay.

Jumbling it All Up

With Web 1.0 it was all about designing great looking websites whereas with Web 2.0 it’s all about delivering great experiences. Noting the difference is instrumental to web development with the new standard.

Because of the increasing content now available, and the opportunities the new standard offers, it is now important to effectively market content versus marketing the website itself. RSS is a great example of marketing content by informing you of what has been newly added to the website; it enriches the user experience. Additionally, searches can now be implemented in conjunction with RSS thereby allowing users to view new results by pre-defined categories.

Changing Navigation: Putting Users in Control

Since most of the content that will now be available will most likely not be found in its original domain, the original navigation for accessing that content will no longer be as the designer intended it. The navigation might now come in the guise of a feed reader, a link on a blog, a search engine or some other form of content aggregator.

The primary disadvantage to this of course, is that users will no longer be able to identify what material is where considering the fact that websites are now dependent on content, the link might be anywhere. However, developers have found a way around this situation by tracking what content is most viewed by users, and they can place links to it in a more publicly accessible and easily navigable place.

Users & Metadata

More power to the public is the tagline of the new Web 2.0 standard which now allows content to have metadata not according to the designers’ specifications but by the users’ own experiences thanks to sites like Flickr, and other social bookmarking websites.

There is now an increased chance that content will be more accurately described, tagged and referenced.

A Shift towards Programming

There is now a clear separation between structure and style which donates an emphasis from the visual to the information itself. This is a key paradigm shift as now developers are writing content more attuned for machines as opposed to people.

What this means for designers as hinted above, is to now start marketing content more effectively. They now need to get familiar and comfortable with web services and syndication (e.g RSS), in effect start pragmatically thinking much along the lines of developers.

The potentials that Web 2.0 brings with it are huge, true but there are certain design and functional considerations to adopt. So before you decide to jump in and move with the flow, understand the key concepts first so you don’t live to regret your decision later.

Author: Maryam Piracha