Magazine article Computers in Libraries

We Need to Go beyond Web 2.0

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

We Need to Go beyond Web 2.0

Article excerpt

Web 2.0 continues to stand out as a dominant theme in libraries today. Almost any conference that touches on libraries and technology gushes with presentations on blogs, RSS, social computing, wikis, user tagging, and other manifestations of the Web 2.0 brand. Some of the most exciting new developments I see in library automation today involve some aspect of this new way of thinking about the Web--building an environment that's more focused on the user, that embraces dynamic content over static pages, that not only delivers content to users but also seeks content from users, and that fosters engagement, participation, and collaboration.

As adopted in our realm, these concepts are often labeled Library 2.0. We've seen enthusiastic adoption of this genre of technologies in libraries. Blogs are standard fare on library Web sites. Wikis have become a popular approach for intranets and staff Web sites, and they facilitate collaborative projects of all sorts. Libraries are involved in Second Life and other virtual environments. Reference services regularly engage users through instant messaging and texting. We've opened up some of our resources to user tagging, ratings, and folksonomies. Librarians have become proficient in delivering and receiving content through RSS and other XML-based protocols. Web 2.0 technologies came at a time when librarians were struggling to meet the expectations of a new generation of library users and to become more relevant and engaged with their users.

That said, I worry about some of the pitfalls involved in this view of the Web. In the May 2006 edition of The Systems Librarian, I wrote about my concern that many libraries lacked even the basics of a functional Web presence: "Web 2.0? Let's Get to Web 1.0 First."

This month, I want to push the topic in the other direction. Web 2.0 risks hampering the true potential of the Web by casting a particular approach or subset of technologies as preferred and neglecting others that may have higher strategic value. While the technologies branded as Web 2.0 represent a positive step in the evolution of the Web, they are but an incremental shift in a much larger continuum of progress.

Most of what we call Web 2.0 technologies can be seen in applications that were widely deployed long before Tim O'Reilly coined the term in 2004. Notable figures such as Sir Tim Berners-Lee don't see Web 2.0 as a helpful concept:

      Web 1.0 was all about connecting people. It was an interactive
   space, and I think Web 2.0 is of course a piece of jargon, nobody
   even 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. (8-22-2006,
   developerworks/podcast/dwi/cm-int 082206txt.html)

The last thing that we need is a static view of the evolution of the Web. I don't necessarily see it as helpful to plant a signpost that marks the passing from one phase to another as if it were a border crossing. I see the evolution of the Web as gradual and nowhere near complete. Labeling it "2.0" makes it sound as if we've reached a new plateau that will be level for a while. I hope we're not on level ground but are continuing to climb an upward path toward an even more effective computing infrastructure. When I look at the current suite of trendy Web technologies, I don't see a mature environment. While there's lots of promise, there is lots of hard work ahead of us to forge the technical environment that will best help librarians meet the needs of their users.

Web 2.0 has become a trendy marketing concept. If you want to cast your product or idea as cool, just call it a Web 2.0 technology, regardless of how deeply it embodies the full range of ideals. I see Web 2.0 as helpful to the extent that it helps librarians let go of very outdated views of the Web and move forward in the adoption of newer technologies and services. …

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