Monday, February 20, 2006

What is Web 2.0?

Is there a new version of the Internet? Not really, but the term 'Web 2.0' has been defined by many people involved with technology and the services available on the Internet, and there are no two definitions that are the same. So, you are asking yourself, "How am I supposed to figure this out and how can I use all of this information to help me in my classroom." Well, lets look at some of the similarities of the definitions of Web 2.o to try and figure out what it is and why are so many people talking about it. Most of the definitions include terms like: 'Architecture of Participation,' 'Social Networking,' 'open source' and 'platform independent.' None of these terms really gets people excited about all of the cool things happening in Web 2.0, to most it is just a bunch of techno-babble that couldn'e effect me in the least. But the one term that is key to almost all Web 2.o definitions and is what makes Web 2.0 cool, is 'AJAX.' No, not the cleanser, but it is an acronym that stands for: Asynchronous JavaScript and XML. AJAX allows the 'porting' or delivering of traditional computer applications; like calendars, word processing tools, spreadsheets, address books, etc. through a web browser or other Internet connected device, like a cell phone or PDA. The content on the page refreshes (updates) itself automatically without refreshing the entire page. AJAX also allows individuals to create and subscribe to content on the Internet through blogs and Really Simple Syndication (RSS) and podcast feeds. What this all does is allows your web page to perform many different functions in 'real time' automatically. The ability to work 100% online means that it doesn't matter what type of computer you have and what hardware and software are installed on the machine, you can use these tools. The best part of Web 2.0 is that most of the tools and applications are FREE to use.

Web 2.0 Applications can be broken down several areas. Best of Web 2.0 for 2005 is a list of services in several areas of Web 2.0 development. Another list of all of 2006 Best of Web 2.0 covers many of the same sites. Business 2.0 also published a new list of the top 25 new 'net technologies.' While this list is not exhaustive, it gives a list of a few applications in each area. Each of these articles lists several general areas of Web 2.0 web sites, yet it is probably better to create three general categories of Web 2.0 applications and list the different applications in each catrgory. The first group of applications are: Personal Productivity Tools. These sites provide services to individuals allowing them to do most of the things they do on a single computer online. You can store this data online and access it from any Internet accessible computer. The biggest benefit is if you use multiple computers or other Internet connected devices in your life, you can share information between all of the devices. There are online Start pages, like: Netvibes, Protopage, Goowy, Google Desktop and ItsaStart. Most of these start pages will allow you to customize the user interface and move the smaller content windows around the larger web browser window. Also in this section there are online word processors, (Writely, Writeboard ) Calendars (30 Boxes) and To do Lists (voo2do, Ta-da Lists, ).

The second group of Web 2.0 tools you'll find on the Internet are what are known as 'Social Media' or 'Peer Production News.' These sites allow indiviuduals (like you and me and our students.) to create and manipulate news stories from other content on the Internet. You will hear terms like 'remixing' and 'mashup' to describe what these tools do. Social Bookmarking (news) sites like Digg,, and SlashDot are becoming very popular. Other sites deal with different types of media, like Video, (YouTube) Music and Photos. (Flickr, TagWorld) Blog filters like Bloglines, Technorati and Memorandum allow users to select 'feeds' to subscribe to and get information they are interested in. The one example of Social Media / Peer Production that most people know about is Wikipedia, the online user developed encyclopedia.

The third group of sites allow users to select and store Media of all types. A few of the sites listed above in the Social Media section also fit in this section ( YouTube and Flickr). But this is the fastest growing part of web 2.0. There are sites that will allow you to store different types of media for free and share them with anyone you want. As mentioned above, YouTube allows you to store video. Flickr and BubbleShare store still images with some outstanding add on features like magnifiers and photo albums. There is a new site that will allow you to store and serve Podcasts to anyone you choose, called Pod-serve. A new site is offering free online storage is giving away 1GB of storage on line for any purpose, if you want 5GB with no file size restriction the cost is $5 a month. Google has offered many different tools to increase personal productivity, including GMail with over 2GB of storage space. There have been third party utilities designed to use the GMail storage space as an Internet drive. It seems that sometime in the next few months that Google will also offer free online storage space to anyone that asks for it.

So, now you are asking yourself... "What does this have to do with me in my classroom?" What all of these things will allow any student or teacher to have access to, create, innovate and share any media over the Internet. This will create a much richer learning and teaching experience for teachers and students. Imaging having the ability to find and create an animated video to illustrate a particular point and having that video available to all of your students. We are already doing some of this with School Loop, but the addition of all other types of media will make this experience much richer. We have all had the time when we saw something in a newspaper that precisely illustrates a concept you have been working on in class and you want to share it with your students. You simply make note of the URL and post it to your 'Blog.' Using these tools educational activities will be come deeper, richer and more focused then they have ever been in the past.

No comments: