"Web 2.0" is one of the major buzz words circulating business at the moment. When I first heard it a number of years ago, I dismissed it as vacuous marketing and asserted that the present state of the Web is part of its natural progression. I did, however, commit myself to learning more about Web 2.0 and have become a convert. Web 2.0 is about revolutionising our roles in the global economy.
THE GREAT EQUALISER
The Internet has become a medium through which private individuals can contact and do business with any other person in the world who may be interested in their goods and/or services. One need only look at eBay to realise the sheer scale that can be reached with the technology available: before, it was very difficult to sell second-hand items: I remember struggling to sell my Saxophone using classifieds in the late 1990s but now, using a resource such as eBay, I could be reaching potential buyers on opposite sites of the globe. At the time, I had to resort to selling my Sax to a music shop and got significantly less than it was worth purely because they had a monopoly and I couldn't find another buyer on my own. 10 years later and everything has changed: I could have found a buyer almost single handed and sold the sax as much as double what I received then. Suffice to say I regret selling my Sax at all - let alone for the measely price I got for it.
HOW YOUR ROLE HAS CHANGED
You have a completely different role to play in the new online economy than has ever really existed previously. We were all elated in the 1950s when mass-production turned us into consumers who work to buy more stuff. Things have moved on and, through the Web, pioneering entrepreneurs (and more than a few down-right charitable souls) are creating opportunities where we can be far more involved in our transactions. We are faced with becoming "prosumers".
It may sound like another horrible buzzword but it reflects how we can play a far more active role in the marketplace - even as private individuals! Think about it: you may have been whittling wood as a hobby for years and the Web presents opportunities to sell these craft items without needing to open a shop. You could set up your own website or use a service like eBay.
But it goes so much further than this. When you buy a book from Amazon, you can write a review to let other users know what you thought (and those users can ever review your review!). If you use the Z-Shops feature or eBay's services, you can offer feedback on your seller. There are also similar portals for larger business-to-business transactions. In any of these instances, you could be interacting with other businesses anywhere in the world!
And still the opportunities continue: social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have become overnight sensations offering just as many opportunities to forward-thinking businesses as they do to individuals.
Done properly, a Web 2.0 initiative can be maintained purely by the volunteers you attract to the scheme. For example, Wikipedia has minimal paid staff and relies heavily on numerous volunteer content creators and moderators and, moreover, the Linux operating system - fast becoming a viable and cost-effective operating system - is almost entirely supported by volunteers (although it is worth noting that large, blue-chip companies such as IBM have begun employing staff solely to support these open source initiatives).
GETTING YOUR BUSINESS READY
A Web 2.0 solution is not to be undertaken lightly; if you begin to open your business to review/feedback and client interaction, you need to be ready for at least some of that feedback to be negative and for that feedback to be in the public domain. However, by creating blogs and feeds (using free services such as Blogger or Twitter), you can create a way for loyal customers to track any new information that you have to provide to them. Be sure that you have regular updates (at least once every two weeks) and try to make sure that you create direct and compelling content that ties in directly with your website.
And if you're really interested in learning more about Web 2.0 opportunties, I strongly recommend reading: Wikinomics.