Monday, November 23, 2009

New column on Web 2.0

This column appears in the SALALM newsletter. After consultation with various people, we've decided to publish it here too. Please let me know if you have any comments, questions or requests for future columns!
Alison Hicks
alison.hicks (at)

Hands up if you’re bored of the phrase “web 2.0” already? Who’s tired of thinking that if you’re not twittering/on facebook/creating iphone apps you’re tragically unhip? Who believes that web 2.0 is an overused, useless catchphrase that just gives students another excuse not to study and has no place in Latin American librarianship today? If you answered yes to any of these questions then this new column is for you!

Everyday we’re bombarded with journals and presentations and colleagues advocating that web 2.0 is the solution to all our problems, from student engagement to cataloguing, to world peace. Libraries are signing up in their droves to ensure that they have a facebook page and a twitter feed and if you don’t have a blog, well, you’re so twentieth century. Web twopointopia has taken over the planet- but is it worth it? Is it really the miracle solution that libraries have been looking for? And, does it really have a role in academia or in Latin American librarianship?

In this new column, I aim to explore the concept of Web 2.0 and to provide specific examples of how 2.0 can be useful for SALALM librarians today. I plan to show that there is academic value in some of these tools and to provide easy, non-technical introductions to the concepts so you can play along too. In future weeks I intend to cover how Web 2.0 is impacting book reviews and language learning tools among other things. I also want to hear what you would like to know about- so please feel free to challenge me to cover a tool or to solve a problem for you.

In this first column, I thought it would be useful to give a simple definition of Web 2.0. So, firstly, take a deep breath and forget everything that you know about Web 2.0. Because the most important concept about Web 2.0 is that it isn’t a thing, a tool or a trend that is limited to technology; rather, it is a state of mind. There are five main characteristics that define the state. Web 2.0 is collaborative because its ease of use ensures wide participation that depends on teamwork rather than individualism. It is communal because web 2.0 creates empowering connections between people with similar interests. It is creative because it uses and reuses material in novel ways. It is unControlled because there is not one centralised power controlling the web. Finally, and most importantly, web 2.0 is a conversation that changes us from passive to active consumers, giving us an online voice. It is for these reasons that Web 2.0 is a powerful force in society today, and has a growing role in academia and libraries.

Web 2.0 is permeating other areas of our lives too. Tivo, the digital video recorder is a great example of the 2.0 mindset. Traditionally, TV provided a package of information. Passive consumers had little flexibility about when or how they watched programs. With TIVO, however, live TV can be paused and shows are automatically recorded. TV companies are giving up control. Similarly, business is becoming more aware of 2.0. Companies used to be strictly hierarchical with all communication strictly monitored. They expected consumer brand loyalty. However, the most flexible businesses are giving up some of that control to enable a two-way conversation between the consumer and the producer. Zappos, the online shoe seller enables every service representative to have as much power to solve customer problems as the CEO. Wordpress, the blogging software, opened up its online support forum. This shows that it has glitches in its software but it also enables a faster response time and glowing testimonials. These examples show that Web 2.0 is changing markets, consumers, employees and companies. For these reasons, web 2.0 is much more than just a tool. I hope that the following columns will show how we can tap this sentiment in Latin American librarianship.

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