What is Web 2.0? Ideas, technologies and implications for education (TechWatch report)
Within 15 years the Web has grown from a group work tool for scientists at CERN into a global information space with more than a billion users. Currently, it is both returning to its roots as a read/write tool and also entering a new, more social and participatory phase. These trends have led to a feeling that the Web is entering a ‘second phase’—a new, ‘improved’ Web version 2.0. But how justified is this perception?
This TechWatch report was commissioned to investigate the substance behind the hyperbole surrounding ‘Web 2.0’ and to report on the implications this may have for the UK Higher and Further Education sector, with a special focus on collection and preservation activities within libraries. The report argues that by separating out the discussion of Web technologies (ongoing Web development overseen by the W3C), from the more recent applications and services (social software), and attempts to understand the manifestations and adoption of these services (the ‘big ideas’), decision makers will find it easier to understand and act on the strategic implications of ‘Web 2.0’. Indeed, analysing the composition and interplay of these strands provides a useful framework for understanding its significance.
The report establishes that Web 2.0 is more than a set of ‘cool’ and new technologies and services, important though some of these are. It has, at its heart, a set of at least six powerful ideas that are changing the way some people interact. Secondly, it is also important to acknowledge that these ideas are not necessarily the preserve of ‘Web 2.0’, but are, in fact, direct or indirect reflections of the power of the network: the strange effects and topologies at the micro and macro level that a billion Internet users produce. This might well be why Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, maintains that Web 2.0 is really just an extension of the original ideals of the Web that does not warrant a special moniker. However, business concerns are increasingly shaping the way in which we are being led to think and potentially act on the Web and this has implications for the control of public and private data. Indeed, Tim O’Reilly’s original attempt to articulate the key ideas behind Web 2.0 was focused on a desire to be able to benchmark and therefore identify a set of new, innovative companies that were potentially ripe for investment. The UK HE sector should debate whether this is a long-term issue and maybe delineating Web from Web 2.0 will help us to do that.
As with other aspects of university life the library has not escaped considerable discussion about the potential change afforded by the introduction of Web 2.0 and social media. One of the key objectives of the report is to examine some of the work in this area and to tease out some of the key elements of ongoing discussions. For example, the report argues that there needs to be a distinction between concerns around quality of service and ‘user-centred change’ and the services and applications that are being driven by Web 2.0 ideas. This is particularly important for library collection and preservation activities and some of the key questions for libraries are: is the content produced by Web 2.0 services sufficiently or fundamentally different to that of previous Web content and, in particular, do its characteristics make it harder to collect and preserve? Are there areas where further work is needed by researchers and library specialists? The report examines these questions in the light of the six big ideas as well as the key Web services and applications, in order to review the potential impact of Web 2.0 on library services and preservation activities.