Nov 072007

Like any hyped technology, Web 2.0 has a lot of buzzwords. They include the tag (as in tag cloud), the folksonomy, the long tail (more about that in a later post), and social software.

Social software is there to support networking and social activities via the internet. Lots of people spend lots of time interacting with friends online, whether they’ve ever met them in person or not. For people who are embedded in that world, it’s a natural way to interact. For everyone else, it can be slightly creepy to think that complete strangers read everything you write and know a lot about you. Lots of real-life friendships have blossomed from online activities, and more than a few problems have occurred as well. The social aspect, that is people interacting with other people, is probably the most important aspect of Web 2.0 sites.

The idea behind tags is to label things, so they’re loosely related to categories or (even more loosely) ontologies. Tags typically aren’t applied by specialists; in keeping with the Web 2.0 philosophy they are applied by the person writing the blog post, or uploading the photo, or storing the bookmark. So you get near-duplications, misspellings, incorrect usages, double meanings etc., but at least you do have some sort of categorisation applied to these bits of content. And many people go to quite a lot of effort to see what sorts of tags other people use, and then pick the same ones where possible. This then ends up being a folksonomy.

Web 2.0 Tag CloudThis image shows a tag cloud, which is a collection of tags where the tags in big fonts are the more important ones (usually means they show up more often). Unlike say topic maps or RDF, the spatial distribution of the tags doesn’t usually mean anything, although in theory you could use it to show relationships between the tags. Since generally there is no formal relationship between them (other than that from natural language) this would be tricky to automate and most people just fiddle with the cloud to make it look nice.

The other buzzwords on the slide are the important ones from a couple of years ago, these days there would be a few more. There’s also a version of the slide with the words linked to the relevant Wikipedia articles.

One of a series on Web 2.0, taken from my talk at the CSW Summer School in July 2007. Here‘s the series introduction. Coming up next: social and collaboration aspects of Web 2.0

Nov 062007

At the CSW XML Summer School this year I gave a talk on Web 2.0, in the Trends and Transients track. I’ve been pondering whether to write it up as a series of postings or not; there’s so much hype and information around Web 2.0 that many people are bored silly with it now. I decided it’s probably worthwhile since I found some ways of organizing the features commonly associated with Web 2.0 that I haven’t seen elsewhere.

I’ve created a series of posts, of which this is the first. The links will become active as I publish the posts.

  1. Buzzwords
  2. Social and Collaboration
  3. Technical
  4. Process
  5. Issues

The big thing about Web 2.0 is the concept that lots of people want to have a say, and that many of them have something valuable to say. The idea is that systems that give people a voice, and that enable them to take part in discussions, have value. It’s no longer the case that only specialists or celebrities can have their opinions published, ordinary people can too. This idea that users can create the content that other users read or view has its detractors of course, but they tend to be outnumbered by the proponents (or is it just that the proponents are louder?).

The marketing hype tends to overshadow everything of course, and now we’re getting into the silly season where every new idea is labelled with its own Web x.x variant. Pretty soon we’ll be replacing the number and appending the year, just like happened with operating systems, then with names taken from obscure or made-up languages. Web 2.0 as a feature set is, however, worthy of attention, even if the marketing hype gets a bit much.

I’m not going to discuss new developments such as Google’s OpenSocial API in this series; it’s too new for me to be able to say anything useful on whether it will change the big picture, or just the details.

If you’re looking for a publication with a lot of detail, try O’Reilly’s Web 2.0 Radar Report. It’s expensive, but it has a lot of material and references in it, as well as recommendations for best practices. Worth reading if you have to make bet-the-company business decisions about this stuff.

Jun 012007

Last night I was part of a panel speaking to the SLA WCC. This is an interesting bunch of people, the librarians for various companies, government departments, and of course universities. The panel (everyone else was a librarian) was speaking about blogs and wikis and how they are being used within their organizations. To be more precise, the other four speakers talked about how their organizations use these technologies, while I did a bit of a wrap-up at the end with lots of pretty pictures, talking about some of the things people need to think about when deploying. My slides are here; be warned that the file is fairly big (all those pictures!)

With five speakers in not much more than an hour, we didn’t have a lot of time to go into detail. Check out the programme for the list of speakers and a brief summary of what they talked about.

One thing I found interesting when talking to people at the meeting was the almost universal theme of how hard it was to get the IT department to do things. The successful deployments either had the initiative come down from on high, so IT had to implement it, or they were using outside-hosted free services (which has its own issues).

And then there was the issue of getting people to contribute to the wiki or blog; not as easy as it may sound. Tracey Carmichael talked about how the BC Securities Commission uses a wiki internally to track new types of investments, and pointed out that many people who have strong opinions in discussions didn’t want to commit those to a wiki. She thought maybe they were nervous of writing something that was later found to be incorrect; I wondered how much is due to people not wishing to be seen to speak for others. These sorts of issues probably also have a large organizational culture component to them — in Sun I haven’t noticed any reticence to using wikis (except for maybe a lack of time and motivation for contributing content) so they are used a lot for projects in my experience.

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