The Best Web 2.0 Software of 2006: Gmail

Dion Hinchcliffe has produced a list of his picks for the best web 2.0 software of 2006. Dion’s definition for web 2.0 includes the harnessing of collective intelligence via collaborative features, the centrality of information rather than the software itself, innovative assembly techniques, rich user experiences, software across multiple devices, perpetual beta, leveraging the long tail, and cost effective scalability.

In the categories that might most interest web workers, Dion picked Zoho as the top office suite, netvibes among web start pages, and Amazon’s S3 with JungleDisk for online storage.Gmail

My pick for top web 2.0 web app for web workers in all categories is… Gmail!

What? Email isn’t web 2.0!

Well, let’s see how Gmail matches up with Dion’s definition for web 2.0:

Harnessing collective intelligence: Email is the grandmama of all online collaboration tools. It remains one of the most popular ways to get something accomplished when multiple people are involved. If you need to work with someone you don’t normally work with, what tool would you likely choose first? Probably email. As you get to know them better and work more closely you might start IM’ing and even using shared doc tools or wikis… but email’s the one tool that everyone has and everyone uses.

Information over software: It doesn’t matter what buttons you click, what your compose window looks like, or what email client and server you are using… what matters is the text and attachments that get transmitted and to whom they are sent. Email of any brand is mostly about transmitting information, not so much about the features of the software.

But if you do choose Gmail for your front end, you get a service that knows it’s about the information, not the software itself. The Gmail interface is text-dense: it puts your information front and center, displaying as much as possible on one screen. Gmail knows it’s about the data coming in and the data already there, not about cute little icons or inflexible folders. It lets you search and tag and it supports massive amounts of storage so you rarely have to think about throwing away precious data.

Innovative assembly techniques: Though not positioned as a mashup platform, Gmail is so widely used that people have come up with all sorts of creative ways of extending its capabilities or using it to extend other software. Check out these hacks including using Gmail as a Windows partition for storing data via the Windows Explorer, using Gmail as a notepad, or extending it to support Getting Things Done with a Firefox extension. Plus Google has integrated Gmail nicely with Google Calendar and put instant messaging right into email–an innovative assemblage of software if I ever saw one.

Rich user experience: Google has mastered Ajax with their interfaces. Does this mean you get gratuitous video or annoying images? Not at all. You get a fast interface with incremental update and keyboard access. That’s plenty rich for my tastes.

Software across multiple devices: Obviously, you can access Gmail on any computer you like. With Gmail for mobile, you can access it with smartphones and PDAs too. Now Dion may have been thinking of software that uses loosely-coupled web services across multiple units of underlying hardware to get the job done… a federated approach to building and deploying software. Probably Google does use lots of servers to support all the various Gmail users. What’s great for me is that I know nothing about their server setup or the modularity of their software itself, just as I like it–I’m not a hardware engineer or a sysad or even a back-end web developer.

Perpetual beta: Do I even need to address this? Yes, Gmail is in perpetual beta. That’s not a bad thing–you can count on getting new features on a regular basis. It’s not altogether a good thing either, although security bugs happen even in non-beta software.

Leveraging the long tail: I’d have to stretch to say how Gmail shows this alleged characteristic of web 2.0, but does Zoho or Amazon Web Services do anything specific in support of the long tail?

Cost-effective scalability: Check this out. Arizona State University is switching over to Google Apps for your Domain for their email. They pay less than $10,000 a year for support, though you can get it for free without support, and they will eventually switch 65,000 users over to it.

If you accept that Gmail is, in fact, web 2.0 software, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it’s the “best of show web 2.0 2006.” For me, it is. It is the one web app that I would least want to give up.

What about for you? What’s your top collaborative, information-oriented, mashable, richly interactive, multiply accessible, perpetually improving, long tailish, cost-effective and scalable web app for 2006?

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