Most of us remember a childhood spent in a world without a web. Pages were made of paper and browsing involved an actual stroll through the library. Life was simple, and we liked it. Then along came the Internet, quickly followed by the World Wide Web. The web brought massive amounts of information into our homes. It took a little getting used to, but eventually we embraced the technology. It was really pretty simple after all, you just found a page you wanted to read and you read it. When we finished reading we went on to another page and read that one too. For years this cycle repeated itself for most of us.
Now it seems that a new revolution is underfoot. Our pages are getting smarter. They are asking for our opinions and sharing our pictures. We are being invited to join groups and subscribe to feeds. This is starting to get complicated again.
To help sort out all of the new technology and decide what is useful, the Princeton Public Library presents “Web 2.0 Demystified” on Tuesday, September 5, at 7 p.m. as part of its “Tuesday Technology Talks.” The seminar, led by tech-savvy librarians Sophie Brookover and Peter Bromberg is free and more information can be found at www.princeton.lib.nj.us/events/index.html.
Brookover and Bromberg lead a discussion into the basics of blogs, RSS, Flickr, Furl, podcasts, MySpace, Del.icio.us, IM, tagging, wikis, and all things web 2.0.
Brookover, a teen librarian for the Camden County Library System, was named one of Library Journal’s “Movers & Shakers” for 2006. She also founded and co-authors the blog Pop Goes the Library (www.popgoesthelibrary.com), where she discusses and promotes the use of popular culture in the library system.
Bromberg is the assistant director of the South Jersey Regional Library Cooperative and can be found regularly blogging at Library Garden (http://email@example.com) where he shows off his enthusiasm for evolving technology. He also chairs the electronic publications committee for the American Library Association.
Web 2.0 is not something we have to download, it is already there and eagerly awaiting web users. “Web 2.0 is really the transition that the web is making from what was previously a one directional conversation to a two directional discussion,” says Bromberg. “It’s been described as a democratization of the web.” Web users are no longer stuck in the traditional I write and you read format. They are now all free to read and comment. They are also able to post their thoughts, pictures or videos and allow others to comment on them. There is a lot out there and it is not as mysterious as web users may have thought.
RSS or Really Simple Syndication is “the glue that holds the rest of Web 2.0 together,” says Bromberg. RSS functions as the Associated Press of the Web. A user can subscribe to the RSS feed from any blog or website and receive a notification when a new story is posted. An RSS feed aggregator will collect all of the new headlines and display them for review. Like the Sunday paper, the headlines can be browsed without reading the full article. A popular aggregator is Bloglines (www.bloglines.com ), which is free.
Tagging is another basic element of Web 2.0 and “gives people the power to add their own keywords to describe photos and web pages,” explains Brookover.
During their preparation for this seminar she and Bromberg actually created their own tags for items on the web that they wanted to share with each other. Instead of E-mailing dozens of links daily, either one could log on and do a simple keyword search that would bring up the other’s newly found items. The more we learn about the new web, the more useful tagging will become, they are convinced.
Flickr, at www.flickr.com, is currently the hottest photo sharing site on the web, due in large part to its incorporation of tagging. Users upload their photos and apply tags that describe them. Other users can then see the pictures if they search for a keyword that matches one of the photos tags, as long as the person posting the photos has chosen to share them.
Flickr offers various sharing options. You can choose to share a photo with the world or just some close friends. While Brookover says that she may opt to share photos of her backyard with the world, a picture of her home clearly showing the street address, “not so much.” It’s all up to each Flickr user — share with close friends, with everyone in the company, or with every single human with Internet access.
After the file is shared, anyone viewing the photos can add tags and comments, turning your photos into a mini blog.
Blogs are a concept that most people are now familiar with and are the classic example of a two-way conversation on the web. A blogger does not enjoy the luxury of having his comments go unchallenged. Anyone can add a comment on both the posted article and the comments posted by other readers.
Sometimes the conversations in the comments area are far more interesting than the actual blog post. There are now tens of thousands of blogs online. Users just find the ones they like, and subscribe to their RSS feeds. Automatic updates on the latest news are sent right to everyone who has subscribed, and there is no need to regularly return to the site to look for new posts.
Del.icio.us and Furl are two more websites dedicated to tagging, this time for other websites. Instead of bookmarking a page in your browser, you can save it to Del.icio.us (Del.icio.us) or Furl (www.furl.net ) and share it with the world. While showing off your favorite site may be fun, the true joy comes from searching the already saved bookmarks.
When you see that a huge number of people all like a particular site, you can be reasonably sure that it is worth visiting. Unlike Google (www.google.com) and other search engines, the page rankings are chosen by the users, not an obscure algorithm that can be manipulated by a savvy webmaster.
While it is difficult to cheat a search engine, it is harder to get 10,000 people to spontaneously agree to bookmark a page. There is that democratization Bromberg is talking about. Communication is the first step to forming a community, and that is what the new web is about. Everyone has a voice now and it is easy to find an audience.
YouTube, at www.youtube.com, is a communication craze that has spread faster than wheeled backpacks. It allows users to not only post pictures and comments, but also to share video.
A recent example of YouTube’s reach involves Senator George Allen (R-VA), who is less than thrilled with the website. In a classic example of how web 2.0 is changing the world, Senator Allen was recently shown making a insensitive remark to a worker for his opponent, Democrat James Webb.
A years ago the comments would have gone by unnoticed. Senator Allen was speaking to a group of supporters who would prefer to laugh off the comments, which they did. The mainstream media either wasn’t present or didn’t find the comments worthy of the evening news. In the not so distant past Webb’s staffer, S.R. Sidarth, would have gone home insulted and lived with it. Not today.
Sidarth had a video camera with him and captured the comments for all to see on YouTube. The video developed a following and created enough buzz that the mainstream media outlets all picked up the story and reported on it for several days. It is probably safe to say that the laughing has stopped at the Allen camp. Senator Allen later called Sidarth to make a personal apology.
Wikis, another web 2.0 phenomenon, have been less controversial — so far. A wiki is a website that can easily be edited by its visitors. The best known wiki, Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org), contains about 5 million articles written in 229 languages. Most of the articles can be edited by any user to the site. While Wikipedia is a great source of information, there are other more specific wikis — and you can even create your own, and can determine just what people or groups of people can access it.
While trying to organize a dinner party for 10 couples recently, Bromberg set up a wiki. Each couple invited to the dinner was E-mailed a link to the wiki and a password. The original page listed several options for dining locations, dates, and times. As each potential dinner guest entered the site, he or she was able to comment on a preferred time and location. Eventually a plan was worked out that accommodated everyone.
Bromberg says that this is much better than the old way. In the past party planning could easily involve making three phone calls to each couple. If each call lasted 10 minutes, the host would have spent five hours on the phone. Not counting the inevitable games of phone tag.
MySpace, at www.myspace.com, combines blogging, picture, and video sharing with a large helping of social networking. Users have flocked to the website.
MySpace has also received a fair amount of press recently, most of it bad and related to the number of predators who stalk the site. Brookover says that the coverage has been “shrill,” as predators are a small minority, and teens have the option of only allowing particular people or groups to contact them or view their information.
Brookover also points out that while the site is largely for teens, it holds great value for those trying to connect with them. As an example, the Hennepin County Library in Minnesota has developed a presence on MySpace (www.myspace.com/hennepincountylibrary) to keep younger members informed and interested in library events.
However, the bad press seems to be taking its toll and some teens are moving over to Facebook (www.facebook.com). Taking privacy settings one step further, Facebook requires all members to have an E-mail address with the .edu extension, which is reserved for students and faculty of recognized educational institutions. The hope is that the requirement will weed out online predators.
Mobility is key to the success of web 2.0 applications. Most of the programs mentioned here may be used seamlessly from any computer with Internet access. There is no need to drag a computer with you to find your information. You simply log into your account and pull up all of the information as if you were sitting in your den at home.
You want to show a friend which golf clubs you plan on buying, log on to Furl. Just back from the beach? Click on over to Flickr and show off your latest pictures right from your friend’s computer. No need to lug a laptop around to find your information.
In the spirit of exploring the new web, this entire article was written using Writely (www.writely.com), a free online word processor that allows users to share or collaborate on documents, post them to a blog, or send them to the world via RSS. Writely has just re-opened registrations, which had been closed for most of the summer due to a crush of people trying to gain access to the site.
While explaining cool and useful web 2.0 tools like Writely, a beta Google project, would take a lot more than one evening, Bromberg and Brookover are eager to lead Internet users through the basics.
There has to be something that you have been waiting to shout to the world. Go ahead and do it, you now have the power.