Introduction to Web 2.0 and Social Networking

by | Oct 1, 2007 | Articles

In the 13 years we have been providing benchmarks for learning and development teams, one thing has remained the same – the disparity between the aspirations of the L&D team and the impact learning is having on the organisation.

In some areas that gap is closing and in others, it stays stubbornly wide. So how can learning leaders start to close that aspiration gap?

Most informed sources will refer to Tim O’Reilly, the Irish based entrepreneur, as the originator, with others favouring John Battelle or Eric Schmidt with even Tim Berners-Lee, the ‘Father of the World Wide Web’ getting a mention. I sense that Stephen Downes, from the National Research Council, in Canada can make a decent claim, and even our own Stephen Fry, that celebrated master of the Bafta film awards and star of stage, screen and TV puts forward his own definition, so I don’t see why I can’t have a go!

Wikipedia (a phenomenon in its own right) defines Web 2.0 as “a second-generation of web-based communities and hosted services — such as social-networking sites, wikis and folksonomies — which aim to facilitate collaboration and sharing between users”.

Put simply, I think Web 2.0 is all about the ‘Net Generation’. A generation that continually creates their own media and content in a variety of different ways. That’s why we’ve seen the emergence of social networking and wonderful ‘things’ like wikis, blogs, podcasts, vodcasts and the like. Our learning experiences in the past were predominantly face-to-face in the classroom, but we now live and grow in a virtual world. We need to think it terms of the sheer scale of what is happening right now. For example, blogs exist in their millions, or even tens of millions. It doesn’t mean that it’s all good of course. I rather like the phrase from a journalist in the New York Times who said that “never was so much written by so many and read by so few”!!

From a learning perspective we initially had a lot of dry, predominantly text based content online, with complimentary graphics, sound and images, but most of the content was fairly static. Now we’re in the middle of a fundamental shift from a static content based web to a dynamic communications based web, and therein lay one of the fundamental things to grasp. So what is at the heart of Web 2.0?

In essence it’s the creation of open and freely accessible online courseware, with a number of core technologies that effectively make Web 2.0 a reality. Let me offer a brief explanation on these technologies, and if you don’t know them all today, they will become increasingly apparent in the future:

• Social Networking – online social networks are for communities of people who share interests and activities, or who are interested in exploring the interests and activities of others. Social networking is characterised as being a collection of various ways for users to interact, such as chat, messaging, email, video, voice chat, file sharing, blogging, discussion groups, and so on. Here’s an example close to home. In the UK, 7 years ago, Friend Reunited was launched to become one of the leading ‘social networking’ websites, although on a global scale it is dwarfed by entrants from the US, such as MySpace, Facebook & Bebo. Myspace is the global leader with over 189 million users. These free services use the Internet for online communication through an interactive network of photos, weblogs, user profiles, e-mail, web forums, and groups, as well as other media formats. MySpace is a very active site, and additions and new features are being added constantly, but Facebook is rapidly gaining ground. There are concerns about security and personnel information but the growth in such services continues unabated. In effect, social networking means that each person creates a list of friends (with something like Facebook), and that each ‘network’ is unique in character for each individual.

• Tagging – A tag is a keyword or term associated with or assigned to a piece of information (e.g. a picture, article, or video clip), thus describing the item and enabling keyword-based classification of information. Basically you see a resource, pick a word to describe it and publish it! In the recent past such resources would have been categorised but now people create tags or ‘tag clusters or clouds’.

• AJAX – meaning Asynchronous Java Script & XML. Well don’t worry about the technology, just be aware what it can do for you! AJAX allows individuals to reload parts of web pages, rather than the whole page, which allows for interaction and updates. You can just imagine updating a ‘straw poll’ on a web page, which dynamically updates that part of the page. You’ve probably seen it in action, and now you know what technology is behind the scenes. AJAX actually allows for collaborative writing.

• JSON – meaning Javascript Object Notation, which is actually quite clever! The other technologies I’ve mentioned above only work on a single website at a time, but JSON allows users to move data from 1 website to another.

• Openid – not ready yet, but this will allow each person to declare and create their own identity or URL. Apparently Microsoft and others have endorsed Openid, and as I understand it, I would have a single login id across the whole of the World Wide Web! Now that’s mind-blowing, so I’ll watch how that evolves with interest!

Web 2.0 really leaves e-learning at the crossroads. Historically we saw the development of tools and systems to still support classroom based delivery (LMS’s etc), but now we’re likely to see the development of tools and systems that support immersive learning (i.e: learning by doing), with blogs, podcasts, games etc.

The way networks learn is the way people learn. They are both complex and they both rely on connections!

Nige Howarth
e-skills ‘Towards Maturity’ project team


This article was originally created by the Work based e-learning project at e-skills UK and is reproduced with kind permission.

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