With Google’s purchase of video-sharing website YouTube for $1.6 billion, the “Web 2.0” goldrush is officially underway, and everyone is scrambling to freshen up their tired old online venture.

But with the rush to make websites “2.0 compliant,” companies are throwing privacy and security considerations out the window in hopes of riding this new wave of catch-phrase coolness.

If you aren’t familiar with Sillycon Valley’s latest and greatest VC-fundable buzzword, Wikipedia says that Web 2.0 refers to the next generation of Internet-based services, such as social networking and community-based sites, that let people collaborate and share information in new ways. Wikipedia itself is a prime example of this new era of interactivity and collaborative community.


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Legend has it, however, that the best definition of Web 2.0 was overheard last Spring in a bar in San Francisco. “I’m not really sure what it is,” one drunken dotcommer reportedly said, “but I’m told it’s going to revolutionize the Internet business in India.”

Indeed, outsourced programmers from Bangalore to Mumbai, and everywhere else in the world, are riding the 2.0 wave by adding new customization and personalization features to every tired old website they can get their hands on.

One of the classic signs of a website trying to position itself as a 2.0 venture is the creation of an API, an Application Programming Interface, through which it allows other websites or software developers to access its capabilities and exchange data.

Excellent examples of APIs include the capability for website designers to incorporate Google and Yahoo maps and driving directions directly into their existing website. When your favorite restaurant embeds driving directions on their homepage, you may have an API to thank.

The proliferation of APIs and other types of data feeds, including Real Simple Syndication (RSS), have created the Internet cultural phenomenon known as the “mash-up,” in which sometimes multiple data sources are pulled together to create entirely new services. A great example is Zillow.com, which pulls property tax data, housing sales reports, and overlays it atop street maps and satellite images to show home values and to visualize real estate trends.

There’s no question that by making the content of their sites more easily accessible through APIs, companies are helping to create some really new and exciting services for consumers, all the while expanding the market for their existing products and services.

In my opinion, however, not every mashup, API, or user-driven experience is a smart idea.

Recently a colleague of mine suggested I try a service called Meebo which allows you to send and receive instant messages from all the major IM services through one interface. All you have to do is give Meebo your usernames and passwords for all your accounts and let them be the intermediary for all your online interactions thereafter.