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Making Web 2.0 work for you

January 23, 2007

If you’ve spent any time on the Internet recently, you’ll have come across the term Web 2.0 – or the Internet, version 2. In case you’re not a geek and were confused by the term, basically it refers to the move towards ‘user generated content’.

In the first version of the Internet, it was mostly only companies and institutions that had the resources to create web content, and most of this content was fairly static – you couldn’t interact with it. You visit the website – which was often little more than a lonely flag waving in distant Cyberia – read the information, and maybe send an email if you needed to know more. Or a fax….

But this has changed with the recent surge in web content created by ordinary people, made possible by software that means you don’t have to be a web designer to put something on the Internet. If you want to share your photographs with other people, you can put them up on Flickr. For videos, there’s You Tube, and for interesting, user-generated facts and figures, Wikipedia and it’s various spin offs. There’s also the excellent (legal) music-sharing site last.fm, which I encourage everyone to sign up to. It’s never been easier for ordinary people to make their mark online.

In addition to this, blogging software has meant that people like me – who don’t know CSS from RSS – can create pages that link to and cross reference content created by other users, meaning that ordinary users have an increasing amount of power in determining what is seen online.

This is mirrored with news aggregators like Reddit, where users vote stories onto the front page, and services like Google Home, where you can transform your popular search engine into a tool that keeps track of your favourite newsfeeds, tells you the weather and helps you find directions.

All this leads naysayers – usually those with a vested interested in guarding the portals of knowledge – to warn that we are headed for Wikiality, a strange place where reality is decided by popular vote and user-generated content. But as a long term fan of halucinogens, that’s what I think reality is anyway.

I think all of this is a good thing. Despite increased control and monitoring of cyberspace by the authorities, and the fact that there are more laws governing the physical intrastructure that supports virtual reality, i.e. the responsibilities you have for content hosted on a server you own, it’s leading to an increasing democratisation of cyberspace. This is a good thing as long as we don’t forget we need to democratise old fashioned reality as well.

My far the most popular – and siezed upon by the media as the cultural phenomena of our time – is My Space. The stats around use of the site are phenomenal, but I’ve never got My Space. I put a page up just in case I was missing out, but it seems to be like an online teenager’s bed room, where you can make 8963 cyber-friends in an afternoon.

And that’s precisely what I don’t like about our increased enthusiasm for cyberspace. For all it offers, it’s still limited to what you can see on a screen, and too many people forget to interact with the real world – sometimes with fatal results, like the girl who died playing the online game World of Warcraft, which now has a staggering 8 million subscribers! There’s an alternate reality you can spend all you time in, along with 8 million other people, and interact in real time. Only, you need to get some one to feed your physical body.

Incredibly, an online funeral was held for her in World of Warcraft and attended by thousands – you can watch it here.

Another bizarre example is Second Life, which is exactly what it sounds like: an alternate, web-based reality where you can buy property, set up business or even get involved in politics: recently, there was a confrontation in Second Life between Second Life Left Unity and a fascist organisation that was trying to set up shop there.

You can read about it a Guardian article with one of the weirdest headlines I’ve ever seen: Exploding pigs and volleys of gunfire as Le Pen opens HQ in virtual world.

So for me, the online world has got to serve the real world, and not the other way around. That’s why for me Couch Surfing is one of the killer apps for Web 2.0. Like My Space, you build up a profile of yourself, but the aim is to meet people in real life and share cultures with them. If you’re prepared to host a visitor from somewhere else in the world, you advertise your couch on the profile, and anyone heading for your neck of the woods can contact you and ask if it’s available. You check out their profile, and if you like the look of them, you invite them to stay.

In the same way, if you’re going travelling on a tight budget – or just want to meet locals – you can search for a couch to surf. Since signing up, we’ve had visitors from France, Sweden and Germany, and it been amazing. Highly recommended, and the perfect example of cyberspace enhancing physical reality by bringing people together.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Rhys permalink
    January 23, 2007 3:45 pm

    A well explained piece about Web2.0 – suitable for the non-familiar.Personally, I’m well into web2.0 sites. Like you, I’m not very technically minded webwise, but really like sites’ like Flickr, del.icio.us (bookmarking) and Tagzania.com (maps & tags – I translated interface into Welsh).CouchSurfing sounds very cool, but I’d be a bit nervous about it myself, and my girfriend would definately not have it.The new template looks nice by the way.

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