The first incarnation of the Internet -- Web 1.0 -- was the Internet of the 1990s, characterized by static, brochure-like Web sites. Today's Internet experience is loosely identified as Web 2.0, a phrase coined by O'Reilly Media in 2004 that refers to a second generation of Web-based services, such as social networking sites, wikis, communication tools, etc., that emphasize online collaboration and sharing.
To test-drive some of the simpler Web 2.0 applications, simply visit Google.com where you can create spreadsheets online (spreadsheets.google.com), as well as save and export to other well known spreadsheet formats such as Microsoft Excel. Likewise, Word documents can be created with Google's Document Web 2.0 application (docs.google.com).
In a journalistic experiment of sorts, James Fallows of Technology Review Magazine tried to live in a Web 2.0 environment for two weeks. He did not use any of the applications installed in his computer. Instead, he used Web versions of everything. Among his many test-drives, Fallows: skipped newspapers and garnered all his daily news and gossip from RSS feeds and customized news sites; listened to radio by podcast; referred to Wikipedia when he had questions; stored his files on online sites; wrote his articles in an online word processor; and shopped for everything except for food on eBay.
In the end, Fallows' experiment was quasi-successful, albeit challenging. The most important finding, however, was that it could be done.
In today's environment, many of the traditional functions performed on a computer can be done with Web applications, including some hospitality applications that were traditionally unthinkable over the Web. Can a hospitality operator also live in an exclusively Web 2.0 world, forgoing the applications installed on their computers and opt for Web-based versions instead? Fortunately, you don't have to, at least for now. But you can test drive many Web 2.0 applications, and there are huge advantages to some of them -- especially for smaller businesses.
Developments in Web 2.0 are also changing the traditional Application Service Provider (ASP) model. WebPMS ( www.webpms.com ), for example, is a property management system offered to hotels. The application exists solely on the Web -- no server installation is needed. The service requires very little training and setup, and can be customized for each hotel. Once the customization (number of rooms, type of rooms, etc.) is complete, the service is ready for use.
I'll confess -- I had doubts about the service before test-driving it, but in the end was very impressed with the speed, quality and user-friendliness of the system. The pricing structure is simple, organized on a per-room basis. Interfaces to the hotel's other systems, such as point of service and credit card authorization, are readily available.
What about connection problems? I posed the question to several hoteliers using the system. These particular properties employ a broadband connection on the front end backed up with a secondary connection. They reported no problems. Even more promising, connections will only improve as installation of fiber optic networks continues to spread across the U.S.
We've been hearing about the ASP model since the late 1990s and I predict that it will not be mainstream for some time. However, in the next five years, I foresee that many applications will be moved to an ASP environment in Web 2.0 format. Who knows -- by that time, we may have Web 3.0 or even 4.0.
Cihan Cobanoglu, Ph.D., CHTP, is assistant professor of hospitality information technology at the University of Delaware. Share your questions and comments with Dr. Cobanoglu online at htmagazine.com or email him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org .