Thursday, December 28, 2006

Real Web 2.0: Bookmarks? Tagging? Delicious!

Learn how real-world developers and users gain value from a classic Web 2.0

In this article, you'll learn how to work with, one of the classic Web 2.0 sites, using Web XML feeds and JSON, in Python and ECMAScript. When you think of Web 2.0 technology, you might think of the latest Ajax tricks, but that is just a small part of the picture. More fundamental concerns are open data, simple APIs, and features that encourage users to form social networks. These are also what make Web 2.0 a compelling problem for Web architects. This column will look more than skin deep at important real-world Web 2.0 sites and demonstrate how Web architects can incorporate the best from the Web into their own Web sites.

When people list classic Web 2.0 sites, one that never fails to come up is (see Resources for a link). This site, despite its relative youth, is the best established social bookmarking site. It allows people to post links and add tags to those links. It provides Web feeds for link collections, including automatically aggregated tags such as the special popular tag, for links that have been posted by many users. It provides a simple and open API. also serves as a demonstration of how fuzzy a term Web 2.0 is. You might be expecting a slick, Ajax-driven Web page with Web boxes winking seductively at you. At one point, was nothing at all like that; it was very simple and functional. The front page has recently been dressed up quite a bit, but throughout most of its history it has had a very plain interface.

The idea of sharing browser bookmarks is not new. During the dot-com era, services such as Backflip emerged with which people could host and categorize their bookmarks online. Backflip was free of charge, but the breakthrough of sites such as is that the information is even more free than that: freely available for use in innumerable ways, and for sharing in innumerable patterns. Open APIs, Web feeds (such as those built on RSS and Atom), and tagging with automatic aggregation are the foundation of the more exciting developments on the Web, and these too often get lumped in with user interface tricks such as Ajax. These collaborative features are sometimes hampered by the typically limited interface of the Web, so sometimes a few fancy touches make it possible and attractive for more people to get involved with Web 2.0, and the value of such sites is often proportional to the number of participants.

The substance of an effective Web 2.0 site, and the points of interest for Web architects (as opposed to, say, Web designers), lie in how readily real developers and users can take advantage of open data features. From widgets that users can use to customize their bits of territory on a social site to mashups that developers can use to create offspring from Web 2.0 parents, there are ways to understand what leads to success for such sites, and how you can emulate such success in your own work. This column, Real Web 2.0, will cut through the hype to focus on the most valuable features of actual sites from the perspective of the Web architect. In this first installment, I'll begin with one of the ancestors of the genre,

The front door

In this column, I'll refer to the main page of a Web 2.0 site as its façade. This is because, like the façade of a building, it's only the front face, and much of the actual business goes on in the less visible areas. I use almost every day, but I almost never bother with its façade. I use a Firefox plug-in to post interesting sites to I follow items on the popular tag within my Web feed reader, and I use a simple Python script to automatically post my postings to my Weblog each day. This is what I mean when I say that much of the real business in Web 2.0 goes on behind the façade. Nevertheless, the front door is where you enter, so that's where I'll start.

The main page of tries to distill the major trends in tagging by users. It lists hot now Web pages that many people have recently bookmarked. It also lists some tags the editors deem particularly interesting. There is the mandatory Weblog by the site owners, and a recent entry celebrates the fact that the site now has 1 million registered users after just three years in business. is definitely an illustration of how having good architectural features for open data supports a community of contributors (developers of tools, plug-ins, mashups, and more), which brings in more users, which leads to more contributors, and so on in a virtuous circle.

Home sweet home

Registered users have a home page that is accessible using a very simple URL scheme: A very sensible URL scheme is one of the site's enduring strengths, and leads to value beyond the façade, as I'll discuss later. Your home page includes your recently posted links and your tags. Figure 1 illustrates a portion of my own page.