As someone who launched the Web's first commercial Web site in 1993, Tim O'Reilly's comments in this May commencement speech for the UC Berkeley School of Information are helpful in understanding Web 2.0's potential.
Here are the quotes I like the best:
"When we first began thinking about Web 2.0, we asked ourselves what distinguished the companies that survived the dotcom bust from those that failed. And we came up with the surprising observation that in one way or another, each of them was good at harnessing user contributions, applying some of the same insights to consumer applications that leading edge software developers have applied to open source software projects like Linux.
... But even more important than their enthusiasm, the users of successful internet applications supply their intelligence. A true Web 2.0 application is one that gets better the more people use it. Google gets smarter every time someone makes a link on the web. Google gets smarter every time someone makes a search. It gets smarter every time someone clicks on an ad. And it immediately acts on that information to improve the experience for everyone else.
It's for this reason that I argue that the real heart of Web 2.0 is harnessing collective intelligence.
And it's for that same reason that I argue that Web 2.0 represents not just a turning point for the computer industry but for the world as a whole."
You can interpret O'Reilly's words either as visionary, or unadulterated hype of the highest order. Have a read of the entire speech first.
(Nathan Rudyk is President of market2world communications inc., Canada's social media agency, founder of Ottawa's OCRIRadio.com tech business podcast, and VP Community Relations of Government 2.0 Technology Think Tank)