Web 2.0: Business Tools That Save Time, Money

Still doubting the power of the Web? Then pick up a copy of Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” issue.

The newsweekly bestowed the past year’s honor on participants of the “new digital democracy” and highlighted the impact of Web 2.0, the concept of the Internet as a platform for interaction and collaboration, with linchpins like YouTube, Wikipedia and MySpace.

To some, the heralded phrase alludes to user-driven content on the Internet, featuring innovations like wikis (Web sites that allow anyone to edit content) and blogs (journal-like Web entries)—and a departure from the static pages that embody the current state of the Web. Others argue that Web 2.0 simply implies a vision for a better Internet, with the precise definition still evolving.

Most of the hoopla around Web 2.0 comes from consumer circles, but the impact on business is unmistakable. Consider this: Jobs calling for Web 2.0 skills spiked 4,200% from June 2005 to June 2006, according to O’Reilly Media.

So, how do you “do” Web 2.0? First, you need a development framework for building rich Internet applications, Web-based programs that run like they’re on a desktop, refreshing page views without resetting the page through the server.

These frameworks come in different flavors, including Flash, a multimedia development platform; and JavaScript, a Web-development language. And developers and managers say they’re helping organizations build Web applications faster and cheaper than before.

Just ask Adam Pellegrini. In August 2005, the strategic director for online for the American Cancer Society redesigned the Atlanta-based organization’s online bookstore.

The bookstore, built on Adobe Systems’ Flex 2, a development environment based on Flash, lets visitors read book descriptions and drag selections into a shopping cart without waiting for a server to refresh the page.

Before using Flex, Pellegrini says the society’s Web presence—built on HyperText Transfer Protocol, or HTTP, which had to call back to the server each time a user clicked a different link—wasn’t engaging enough. “We wanted something that’s really flashy, catches your attention and makes an emotional impression as well as an educational one,” he says.

Using Flex made another impression—on the organization’s bottom line. Building applications in-house saved the society more than $500,000 in outsourcing costs. And building applications on Flex was 10 times faster on average than their experience with HTTP technology, often reducing weeks of work to a matter of hours.