H800: What are web 2.0 technologies and why do they matter?

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Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Week 18’s reading on H800 concerns web 2.0 and answering the question ‘What are web 2.0 technologies and why do they matter?’

A simple definition is that web 2.0 refers to technologies and tools that are now available through a web browser with the numbering system indicating a progression or versioning element (as in software development).

“Web 2.0 tools comprise novel applications and services that run in a web browser. By invoking the language of software versioning, ‘2.0’ implies that the technology heralds a step change in what we can now do with the web”. (Crook in TLRP-TEL 2008 Report , Education 2.0? Designing the Web for Teaching and Learning)

We can understand more clearly what web 2.0 might be if we look at what is meant by web 1.0. This was the first web and was characterised by websites that essentially reproduced non-web models: online shopfronts, electronic versions of documents, brochures converted into websites, directory listings (Yahoo and Craigslist). Essentially, web 1.0 still had a publication and producer versus consumer/buyer model but just using a different format.

Web 2.0 is an evolution and adaptation of this model where the boundary between producer and consumer is fluid, mixed and then formed into a mutually dependent relationship. For example, Amazon gets better because the buyers of books rate, write reviews, follow other reviews which enables Amazon to give personalised feedback and recommendations.

So Web 2.0 technologies are not only the tools that have evolved (Amazon is still speciously a bookstore) but the ways in which the ‘networked-ness’  permeates has enabled new ways of using the tools in a more participatory manner that has two continuing effects:

  • the tools change in themselves and keep changing
  • new ways of acting emerge as a result of the tools including new tools

The ways tools evolve and people’s use of them in new ways is fluid, circular and unpredictable.

Crook’s description of four areas (playful, expressive, reflective and exploratory) does a good job of summing up four distinct areas where these everyday activities play out online using web 2.0 tools as he maps tools to these aspects. So collaborative gaming and Second Life map to our playful aspects while Youtube and mashups are forms of collaborative expression. On the reflective aspect, blogs, social networks such as Facebook, and wikis enable reflection while tagging, social bookmarking and folksonomies fulfil collaborative discovery and exploration.

Web 2.0 matters in a number of ways for education because it:

  1. Challenges traditional ways of doing things (free economy, e-books are not really owned, long tail is profitable) and affects business models includung education.
  2. Enables a more participative approach than consuming media to a co-creationist model (Youtube, blogs). Expression, publication and creation are integral aspects of education.
  3. Rapidly evolves so the meaning changes as well (concept of perpetual beta). This has implications for course design and educational products.
  4. Is consumer/participant driven (ratings, clicks) so consumer’s needs more important and become part of the design. Education will need to take more account of student preferences.

Web 2.0 technologies and ways of doing things have permeated all sorts of areas : business 2.0, parenting 2.0 (OK, I threw that one in) and education 2.0. Web 2.0 is more than another medium or another format for doing things. It is new way of doing things altogether, but we don’t necessarily know the way forward, where we are going or what the likely outcome is to be.

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