Web 2.0 is the next generation of the web that allows users to dictate content. Traditionally, the newspaper editor spick the headlines and Hollywood executives tell you what movies to watch. With this next generation of websites, you and your friends, along with everyone else on the internet, will be able to pick what you want to see. The internet is giving power to the people- like voting in a political election. Viva la revolucion!

Here are a few websites that you may have heard of, but may not really know what they do.

MySpace brought this generation of websites to the public eye, but they were not the first website of their kind – Live Journal & Friendster actually kicked things off. MySpace is essentially personal websites linked together through friends. It gives you a voice to share your thoughts, feelings and interests online and your friends can share theirs with you.

MySpace allows you to find old friends that you have not kept up with .. You can see where they work, pictures of their kids and hear songs from their favorite bands. Don’t worry, you can restrict the stalkers, or anyone else from seeing your page with privacy controls. Privacy is a huge part of the web now and for many of these websites, you can block everything or just some things until you establish/ or approve a friendship with the other person. Websites like Facebook even allow you to create limited profiles so you can be friends with your best friends “cool” dad, but he can’t see the pictures of you on Bourbon Street from last weekend.

This is making its way into the human resources department of many businesses, too. Before hiring an applicant, many companies “google” the applicant’s name and might check their profiles on MySpace or Facebook.. Without strict privacy settings, future employers can find out a lot about an applicant and how likely they are to call in “sick” to work.

Facebook started as a web tool to stay connected with college friends after graduation. Now it has snowballed to encompass almost every college and university in the country, as well as high schools, large companies, and most recently the general public. Facebook shares many of the basic concepts of MySpace; it allows users to share interests and connect with each other, but it has gone a step further. Facebook’s “News Feed” feature allows you to quickly stay current with friends each time you login. For example, I saw a friend had changed his relationship status to engaged and within one week nearly 100 friends congratulated him on his engagement.

Imagine calling each of those people to tell them that news. (That is so five years ago.) Also, instead of waiting for Aunt Martha to send you pictures of her precious grandkids in the Christmas card, you can see get a notice from your cousin Erin that she just posted 5 pictures of her son at Easter. Pretty cool!

Also, many non-profits, businesses and politicians have developed groups and fan pages to build their own online communities. In doing so they’ve built an army of supporters, making it easier to “rally the troops.”

LinkedIn is the business networking cousinto MySpace or Facebook. Here, you can create a business profile (similar to a resume) and find connections. You can recommend friends, colleagues or vendors so your network can find similar services and products. If you are looking for a new CPA, you can search your connections and find a friend of a friend that is recommended. Wouldn’t you rather find a CPA through a friend than through the phonebook or web search? If you know what BNI is, then you will easily umderstand LinkedIn, it’s the web version of BNI’s word of the mouth marketing.

Wikipedia is every curious person’s favorite new website. If you don’t know something, you do now. This website is a user generated encyclopedia. Whether you have a term paper on New Orleans’ Jackson Square or you’re curious about the origin of an old wives’ tale, it’s all on Wikipedia. You need to be a bit discerning, however, because its content is user generated, but by being user policed, it is fairly accurate. Controversial issues tend to be a bit opinionated depending on who last updated that item. The accuracy and depth of each item is amazing, considering anyone can update the text. Do not try to add false information because most items are corrected weekly if not daily.

Digg is the newspaper for internet users, but the headlines are dynamic. Users read articles on different websites and if they like it or find it informative, they click the link saying they “Digg It”. Each digg counts as a vote and the news article with the most diggs is the headline for the website. Each headline follows in that order. You may look at CNN or the New York Times and see an article about the 2008 presidential debate while Digg has an article about a cool new video on what you can do with magnets. Digg.com displays what is what is most important to it’s users that week. You may think of it as a joke of a news website, but as the presidential race nears (not 2 years out), it will be the headlining article. This shows the validity of user edited content.

StumbleUpon is similar to Digg in that users suggest websites and articles to other users, but that is where the similarities end. When you find a website you like, click your StumbleUpon link and add it to the list. When you have some free time or want to check out some cool websites in a certain area, you just click your StumbleUpon button and there you go. It’s a cool way to find great websites or even to promote your own website.

del.icio.us is essentially a social bookmark manager. Just as you add websites to your favorites menu, del.icio.us allows you to share your favorite bookmarked websites. This is also a great way to keep track your favorite websites when you use different computers at home, work, and at a friends place.

Flickr is a photo website. Instead of just showing your photos to friends and family, Flicker uses tags to find related images. If you search “New Orleans” you will find over a half million photos taken by people like you and me. How can this be useful? Imagine planning a vacation to St. Louis, you can see what other people are taking pictures of and where you should go. This is also a great way to stay in touch with family & friends. As they update pictures of themselves, their kids, and their vacations or hobbies, you can see waht they’ve been up to. Like Facebook and MySpace, users add groups and can adjust their privacy settings to limit who can see their pictures.

YouTube is best known to the non-web savvy from the headline, “Google To Acquire YouTube for $1.65 Billion in Stock”. For the web savvy, YouTube is a place to view amateur videos (stop it! you’re dirty), clips of your favorite comedian or actor and a place that, most recently, schools are tapping into nationwide. Yes, schools are adding tutorials to help their students with homework.

Many other websites build communities with funny articles, games, pictures and videos found on the web. Try Ebaums World when you have some time to kill. If you find a video you like, click the Facebook button and seamlessly add it to your Facebook profile or message your Facebook friends with it.

Yes, we are connected more than ever especially as cell phones become internet enabled mobile devices.

Each of these websites use user generated content. Remember writing the text for your website? It is hard, I feel for you, but imagine updating your website daily or hourly. Ouch! With users updating the text, you no longer have to. These developers gave tools and the power to the people to dictate what is news and self regulate themselves. Thomas Jefferson would be proud!

Also, all of these websites are free to their users. You might wonder how they can make millions of dollars or be bought for billions – simply by selling ad space. The internet is the new form of media that targets the 13-30 crowd. Just like the radio, TV and newspaper, advertising makes it all possible.

One great part about advertising through many of these websites is the targeted component. If you open a new dress shop here in New Orleans, you can advertise, on Facebook, directly to females in their twenties who are members of the New Orleans network. This actually benefits the user, because the web is giving them ads they can benefit from. That same demographic probably doesn’t care about watching the Final Four at a bar in Mississippi, so your money isn’t wasted on the wrong demographic. Try getting your radio station or newspaper to target a market like that!

On another note, many Web 2.0 innovators and developers do not call this a movement, because they have learned from the 90s dot com bubble & bust. They don’t want to repeat history. They see the web evolving, but not in the phases as the media does. The new internet companies of today know why companies did not succeed during the bust – they didn’t have a plan. Many internet companies had a semi-unique idea and would grab as many investors as possible and form a company with no idea how to make money. Many innovators and investors saw companies like Amazon making millions of dollars and the internet as the next gold rush, so they jumped in without slowing down to think about the future. A bank does not give you a business loan without a clear, distinct business plan, but in the 1990s investors were so desperately trying to find the next diamond in the rough that they ignored good judgment. The best survived and left us with Amazon, Ebay, Yahoo, and the enormous king of the internet – Google.

On the political front, candidates are vying for the younger generations and engaging them using the 2.0 programs previously mentioned. This literally gives voters a voice directly to the candidates (or at least their staff). Imagine being able to tell your Governor how you feel about upcoming legislation or encouraging a candidate to pick your side of an issue. It’s all doable and easier than ever with the new web. Just take a quick look at Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s website bobbyjindal.com or Presidential Candidate Barack Obama’s website barackobama.com to see how they’re utilizing Web 2.0 applications.

Call it “Web 2.0” or not, but we ARE witnessing the evolution of the internet. With the web’s dynamic nature, it will constantly evolve. The only question is “how soon and how far will the web be integrated into our daily lives?” Only the future will tell.

If you would like to know more about these and the other hundreds of Web 2.0/user-generated websites, check out Wikipedia or let me know.