Web 2.0 does not represent a change in the very fabric of the World Wide Web itself, but refers to a shift in the way we utilise and engage with the World Wide Web.The key characteristics of Web 2.0 as outlined by Wolcott in his 2008 CBS News article “What is Web 2.0?” are:
- Web-based applications can be accessed from anywhere
- Simple applications solve specific problems
- Value lies in content, not the software used to display content
- Data can be readily shared
- Distribution is bottom-up, not top-down
- Employees and customers can access and use tools on their own
- Social tools encourage people to create, collaborate, edit, categorize, exchange, and promote information
Though some of the essential capabilities were present in the retrospectively titled Web 1.0, they were implemented differently (Wikipedia). Web 2.0 saw user created content becoming less static and more collaborative.
One of the key benefits that underpin Web 2.0 is interactivity. In 2004, O Reilly and Battelle argued that the range of user generated content that was beginning to emerge could be harnessed to create content of value (i.e Wikipedia). This could be facilitated by more social tools which encouraged the user to create, engage, and reimagine, and by encouraging network effects. By tapping into a broader network of individuals, Web 2.0 has facilitated collaboration and enhanced dissemination. It has democratized data in many ways and has allowed for an organic interchange of ideas. This can be seen in the manner in which crowd-sourcing capabilities have intensified in recent years.
The move from PC driven software packages to open access platforms has had a significant impact in the way we disseminate and educate. Take for example the use of GoogleDocs or Spreadsheets. We have utilised this resource as part of the Digital Humanities MA course on a number of occasions to enhance engagement with students for example in the establishing of the Digitalis Institute in 2015. The use of these platforms and tools allowed for unparalleled interaction between class members who may otherwise have been incapable of attending meetings or having their voices heard. They facilitated up to date corrections and recommendations while linking the edits to an individual to ensure any amendments could be verified by the user. Other tools such as slack provided similar benefits to the recent Digitalis Institute and increased communication between students and educators/course coordinators.
Of course Web 2.0 has not gone without criticism and unsurprisingly, Tim Berners Lee has been one of its most vocal critics to date. While supporting many of the underpinning concepts of Web 2.0, he denies any real deviation from the original concept or provisions the World Wide Web was designed to facilitate at its genesis;
“Nobody really knows what it means… If Web 2.0 for you is blogs and wikis, then that is people to people. But that was what the Web was supposed to be all along… Web 2.0, for some people, it means moving some of the thinking [to the] client side, so making it more immediate, but the idea of the Web as interaction between people is really what the Web is. That was what it was designed to be… a collaborative space where people can interact.”
While it is clear that the internet was designed with interaction and collaboration in mind and despite having created the blueprint for this, Web 2.0 seems to have brought us closer to that vision. Maybe its a simple case of semantics, but there is a visible shift in attitudes and utilisation in the World Wide Web in more recent times. It certainly feels less static and restrictive than it did for me in the early 90’s.
Other critics such as Andrew Keen, are far more concerned with the social impact of Web 2.0, believing that is has ‘created a cult of digital narcacissm’(Wikipedia). While there is no denying that a degree of narcissism goes hand in hand with social media presence, there is also an unparalleled degree of inclusion, unity and knowledge transfer. Things that far outweigh that narcissism. The idea that the World Wide Web has now created or nurtured a population of amateurs and undermined the concept of specialisation and indeed experience has left me bemused. Quite simply put, you would not hire someone with an iPhone to photograph your wedding any more than you would use a long time customer to design a marketing strategy for your company. Mediocrity is not celebrated. Quality controls still exist in the same way peer review still exists. We are no more or less responsible for validating the source than we were before the social media movement. The onus is always on the individual. Web 2.0 and its approach to open source tools and software, did not minimise or negate that responsibility. This of course is a broader issue relating to the cult mentality of social media and the (near comparative) ‘jingoism’ it seems to inspire in people, and I cannot entertain that discussion here. I have my own reservations on the matter but my reservations lie with the individual and not the tools that they use to ‘qualify’ themselves. Web 2.0 is not the issue. It feels like their anger is misplaced.
Criticisms aside, I am an advocate of the Web 2.0 concept. And though it may not represent a physical change in the way the World Wide Web operates, it does to me represent a shift in attitudes towards data and has established dynamic forms of knowledge transfer.
In 1999, DiNucci predicted a revolution in the World Wide Web. She saw it becoming fragmented, and its outward form multiplying. While it took time for her predictions to fully come to bare, the benefits and advances are undeniable.
The Web we know now, which loads into a browser window in essentially static screenfuls, is only an embryo of the Web to come. The first glimmerings of Web 2.0 are beginning to appear, and we are just starting to see how that embryo might develop. The Web will be understood not as screenfuls of text and graphics but as a transport mechanism, the ether through which interactivity happens
~DeNucci 1999, 32
DiNucci, Darcy (1999) “FragmentedFuture”. Print 53 (4): 32.