What is Web 2.0, and what makes it different from previous web technologies? What implications do Web 2.0 technologies have for educators and staff? Let's start with this short movie titled, "The Machine is Us/ing Us." The movie it itself is an example of Web 2.0 applications, created and posted by a professor at Kansas State University. Though technical at times, the movie gets at some key aspects of Web 2.0 that don't get enough attention in the popular discourse about Web 2.0.
So, what's all the fuss about "Web 2.0." What was Web 1.0 anyway?
The last few years have seen a revolution in who produces the content of the world wide web (WWW). During "Web 1.0," technical people such as webmasters controlled all of the content. You had to know HTML or a web site editor such as Dreamweaver to post content on a web site, and you needed a special kind of network access called FTP (file transfer protocol). Now, any user can get a blog, make a podcast, post a photo gallery, share a video, or edit the world's largest encyclopedia without special desktop software or technical knowledge. Personal publishing and citizen's journalism are the new standards.
In Web 1.0, you could only post content to one web site at a time. If you wanted an article to appear on more than one site, you had to manually copy it there. With Web 2.0, standardized data formats have appeared that make it possible for content stored in one place to appear on different web sites, in different forms. A good example is news feeds. Now any site can include the top news articles from a source like the New York Times automatically. You can even use a "feed reader" such as Bloglines, Google Reader, NewsGator, or Thunderbird to download content feeds to your personal applications. You can download audio playlists from around the world into your own copy of iTunes. A couple of acronyms to know here are RSS (real simple syndication) and XML (extensible markup language), the two standards that make this content portable.
Connecting With Others
The Internet has always been about connecting people together. The success of email and chat are largely due to their ability to put people instantly in touch with each other. Now, the web has joined the party. Web sites are no longer static presentations of information. They are meeting places, social networks, and communities where people exchange messages both live and at different times. MySpace and Facebook are the best known of these social networks, but specialized communities exist for educators, some form ad-hoc networks by blogging, and anyone can now run their own network using free services or software. Moodle is a good example of an online community tool that is specifically designed for teachers and students.
The term "open source" refers to the ability of any individual to look at the programming code that makes a software application work. Most desktop applications are "closed." You can't open up Microsoft Word and figure out what makes it run. Most open source software is also made freely available, and anyone who wants to improve it and release a new copy can do that. Why is this important to schools? It allows a school with programming expertise to modify applications to perfectly suit its needs, customize the graphic design to create a consistent look and feel among multiple web sites, and write custom software that can integrate with downloaded applications. The result is a school web site that can connect people and provide information in exactly the way the school community wants.
Open source software is often free to acquire, as the technologies used to build open source applications are themselves free, and many are built by vast numbers of community volunteers. Since the culture of open source is to allow anyone to modify the software application, volunteer programmers will improve some aspect of the program and then submit it back to the community as a "module", or component. The most popular open-source applications such as Wordpress, Moodle, and Drupal offer hundreds of specifically tailored modules that allow one to do almost anything you want with a particular program.
In upcoming articles, we will take a look at specific web 2.0 technologies and investigate how they might help support teaching and learning in a school like Catlin Gabel.