I’ve upgraded my interweb connection to Web 2.0 in the last few months. Although no-one can really point to what Web 2.0 is (even though there’s a validator for it), many people feel that they know it when they see it. I now defend the term against cynics because I think it’s genuinely useful. To me, it’s a combination of little things: blogging and feedreading, a good quality web browser, in-place dynamic web sites (mostly driven by AJAX), to name but a few. For a technically minded person, I’m atypically late adopting, and so I’ve only recently happened on two powerful aspects of Web 2.0:
Social bookmarking. I now use delicious, so I can manage my bookmarks properly across the many computers I regularly use, as well as discover high-quality sites other people have stumbled upon.
In-browser Flash-based video. You can argue until the cows come home about the technical superiority of this method, but the success of YouTube shows that it’s the way forward. I use to shy away from web-based video because of the hassles involved: Download or stream? Do I have the right codec? Which media player to use? Flash-based video solves this problem.
However, the Flash-based video technique does highlight a problem that users of Web 2.0 sites are likely to encounter for a few years as they become more prevalent: interface inconsistency. It’s been long recognised that consistent user interfaces are a good thing, but everyone thinks that they can make a better scroll bar, and although Flash has been around for some time, it’s so far mostly been relegated to those websites created by designers who value form over function.
Now that there’s a great use for Flash (no, hang on, really great), and AJAX is becoming more widespread, we will go through some years of pain before the UI conventions are worked out and those who stray are vilified, rather than held up as paragons of originality - it seems to have already started with the hourglass, as well as on some of the cruddier YouTube-imitating sites (several of which don’t let you skip forward in videos). This phase of inconsistency has happened plenty of times before in UI history, although never in an uglier way than some of the first web sites. Brace yourself, it’s coming again.