What is Web 2.0?

This blog post is the introduction to a lecture on Publishing and Web 2.0 I am delivering to students on the Digital Humanities MA, and is partly intended as a venue for online discussion in the comments section. All are welcome to join in the discussion.

When I posted the question, “What is Web 2.0?” on Twitter at the weekend, the first reply was from @espenore, who wrote:

A buzzword 10 years ago 🙂

Leading me to muse:

Does this mean that 2004’s “Web 2.0” is 2010’s “The Web”?

More seriously, most online definitions of Web 2.0 focus on the dynamic nature of Web content:

“The second generation of the World Wide Web, especially the movement away from static webpages to dynamic and shareable content and social networking”


“Web 2.0 does not refer to any specific change in the technology of the Internet, but rather the behavior of how people use the Internet”


“Le web 2.0 se caractĂ©rise principalement par la prise de pouvoir des internautes”

The idea that the Web is not controlled by a top-down, monolithic publishing industry, but an organic, uncontrolled, intelligent network authored and edited by all users is a powerful one. (On of the nicest descriptions of this is The Machine is Us/ing Us .) There is a lot of monolithic content on the Web, of course, and this is sometimes among the more professional and reliable material out there, but almost every web search returns pages from Wikipedia and blogs high in the results list.

It has become the norm to see the Web as a place to post content, to add comments, to correct errors and omissions (or introduce errors and misinformation). Obviously, this is no longer about new technology or tools; all this dynamic functionality has been around for a long time (in Internet terms) and is both the norm and visible on the vast majority of the Web, so the rhetoric of “version 2.0” is broken. Rather it is a subset of the kind of activity that takes place on the Web: leaving comments rather than just reading news; editing rather than just reading Wikipedia; reviewing rather than just buying books; even searching the Web with cookies enabled.

In this lecture we’re going to discuss the implications of this dynamic and semantic Web on publishing, and especially academic output. We’ll look at a few examples of blogs (The Stoa Consortium, AH Net, DH Now), wikis (Digiclass, Academic Publishing, Uncyclopedia), and talk about the kinds of scholarly activities that are appropriate to publishing in these media.

Watch the comments to see how convincing this all turned out to be.

(My slides for this class are available as an Open Access Google presentation.)

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15 Responses to What is Web 2.0?

  1. I’m the first commenter! do I win a prize? 🙂

    also look at lists on twitter…

  2. Name says:

    Wiki’s are a platform for the general public to begin research and therefore it is the responsibility for the more informed public (scholars) to contribute to these wikis. The goal of any scholar is to publish their thoughts/ideas/research and the wikis should not be overlooked as a tool to achieve that end.

  3. Simon Mahony says:

    An interesting session!
    Never mind what is understood by Web 2.0 – what do you mean by “semantic web”?

  4. Front Row says:

    It is interesting to see how academics are utilizing blogs on the web today, although it would seem that, from the examples in class, their main attraction is the aggregation of links. Is this an indication of people’s weakened attention spans? Will full text blogs be replaced by microblogs in the future? Furthermore, is the value in blogs for the reader or for the writer? Does it matter?

  5. Name says:

    The semantic web is Web 2.0 it is a way for one to link information via relationships.

  6. @Simon Mahony: my slides number #22-23 in the presentation linked above tried to define this concept.

  7. Name says:

    @Front Row:
    It depends on different people and their motives. One can make announcements via microblogs and full text articles on larger blogs. We just have a more fluid way of publishing things rather than going through publishers etc. It’s more flexible. It doesn’t really have anything to do with attention spans.

  8. Front Row says:

    If the semantic web is a way of linking information via relationships, how do you standardize the language so it’s accessible to the basic user? It would seem necessary in order to build from the bottom-up.

  9. @Front Row: I’m sure a lot of blogs are far more valuable to the writer than to anybody else. Is that a weakness?

  10. Name says:

    How is this different than normal publishing? Is it then the weakness of acedemia?

  11. @Front Row: re Semantic Web: unless you have an intelligent enough aggregation tool to interpret the non-standardized linking information into some kind of coherent pattern. (But then, I suppose, we’re back to the “dumb links” model, so we haven’t gained much…)

  12. Irene, Isabel, Paola says:

    Positives of Web 2.0 for scholars:
    – Wide audience, aopen access/source
    – High exposure for publication.
    – Engaging with public.
    – Student communication and interaction.
    -Instant feedback from peers.

    Responsibilities, ‘service’:
    – Correcting Wiki.
    – Raising standards of e-publication.
    – Keeping up to date with blogs, reading and contribution.

    – Takes time to keep up with abundance of sites.
    – Online publication not respected.
    – Quality not guaranteed with free publication.

  13. @Name: re wikis: thank you! I think responsibility is a key concept here. It is easy to criticize (e.g. Wikipedia) as a poorly researched source of information, but if you know enough to be able to make that critique, you ought to be improving it. All scholars should, as I argued, be prepared to play a role in society as well as in the academy.

  14. Name says:

    @Front Row about sementic web:
    There are ways in which they are trying to standardize the sementic web via specific ontologies, metadata with key phrases like “is a” or “created by” There are ways, they’re just not very widely spread yet.

  15. Front Row says:

    @Name Our question was based on the examples provided in class – it seems as though what many academics are building are blogs that act as portals. Surely one can click on any of these for full text, but our assumption, perhaps wrong, is that most internet users keep moving. Like sharks.

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