06 May, 2009

Making Peace with 'Web 2.0'?

'Web 2.0' - The term still excites many, but to be honest when I hear it now I wince. It was originally a call by Tim O'Reilly for businesses to realise that the Web had changed. So for example, the real power of the web was not tapped from putting company brochures online, but the Web could be a platform supporting services that grow in value as more people use them. It was a message that pointed out to media businesses that people want to create and share their own content, not just consume yours. Looking at the way the education industry uses the web, it is still a call that we still need to hear. We keep students in small groups in VLE sections, rarely connecting with other groups of students. We supply them with content, but VLEs are not designed with user generated content in mind.

So why does it make me wince, even when the message is still valid, and it's implications still able to open up the potential of the web for learners?

Well, Tim O'Reilly never defined what the term Web 2.0 meant. People explored the possibilities of Web as Platform and everything that came with it, and the term came to mean a lot of different things to different people. For example, my above explanation of the Web 2.0 message will be radically different from other people's. From this mix of meanings the term becomes meaningless, and when I hear it I'm not sure what the speaker actually means.

So what do we do with 'Web 2.0'?

My opinion now is that we should stop using the term because it is hindering communication, not helping. We should say what we mean. If we want our students to use online services like social bookmarking which are valuable because many people use them, and the reason is that we think it will help their research into a subject, it is better that we explicitly say that. Often when we use these vague terms, we are preventing ourselves from realising that we don't really understand what we are saying in any detail, or at least preventing others from understanding what we are actually trying to communicate.

Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it's a useful 'shorthand', and everyone understands pretty much the same thing from it. Maybe I should make peace with, and embrace the term 'Web 2.0'?

What about you? Do you use the term? What does it mean to you?

[Image by luc legay]

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