What Is Web 2.0?

The term 'Web 2.0' originated in a conference brainstorming session, run by O'Reilly Media Inc., publishers of technology-related books). It's not easy to describe succinctly since there are, as yet, no set standards that define a Web 2.0 application. Web 2.0 refers to the emergence of a set of applications on the web which facilitate a more socially connected web where everyone is able to add to and edit information online (Anderson 2007). Some, such as Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the Web, argue that Web 2.0 is simply a "piece of jargon". He said, in a podcast interview (2006), that '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'. Scepticism aside, however, there is widespread acceptance that the internet has latterly become dominated by a group of applications that emphasize participation.

These Web 2.0 applications share the following characteristics:

1. Power to the user
Web 2.0 is all about the user. Whereas Web 1.0 was dominated by content provided in static pages, Web 2.0 applications have democratized the web by prioritizing user-generated content, ownership and social connectivity. In an interview with Stephen Reiss of Wired magazine (2006) on NewsCorp's acquisition of MySpace, Rupert Murdoch stated that:

To find something comparable, you have to go back 500 years to the printing press, the birth of mass media…Technology is shifting power away from the editors, the publishers, the establishment, the media elite. Now it’s the people who are taking control.

2. Harnessing collective intelligence (O'Reilly, 2005)
Web 2.0 applications rely on user-generated content and interactivity. Drawing on James Surowiecki's 'wisdom of crowds' theory, Web 2.0 applications leverage the power of the masses. A prime example of this is del.icio.us, a collective online bookmarking system, which makes use of user-generated metadata ('folksonomies') to organize the web.

3. "Web as a platform" (O'Reilly, 2005)
Rather than just passively using the web to source information, Web 2.0 users are able to run rich internet applications in their browsers. These applications, such as blogs, wikis and aggregators, have a participative element, which encourage users to add, edit or simply rehash content (mashups). The focus is on microcontent (Alexander 2006) - blog posts, microblogging (eg twitter), wiki edits, podcasts, photos, news feeds - all of which can be repurposed elsewhere using web feeds (RSS, Atom) or AJAX-based applications. Obvious examples are Facebook applications (enabling users to import data into their profile), and dedicated aggregators, such as SuprGlu or Pageflakes.

It's important to note that the student demographic will be accustomed to Web 2.0 applications. These 'digital natives' (Prensky 2001) are likely to use email, instant messaging, VOIP, mobiles, social networking accounts, blogging and virtual identities, on a regular basis. However, many 'digital immigrants' are also active in blogging communities, social networking sites and virtual worlds1. Language instructors can leverage these increasingly familiar tools - blogs, wikis, podcasts, networking, second Life - to provide access to authentic sources of language. The following sections will explore how these technologies can be used enhance the language-learning process.

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