In Response — The Need for “Web 2.0”

That’s David Thornburg to the left, me on the right, and I think Gary Stager (another master musician) is just behind me.

Upon entering my office at 4:45 this morning, I was amazed to find 29 comments on one of my recent posts, First Year Teachers.  I’m certain that its a record for me.  It’s not only the number of comments that distinguished this post, but also that David Thornburg reads my blog.  I have known Thornburg for years and sat raptured more times than I can count at his stories about a period of time we reside in, one that damands a new education system, different from what prepared us in the 1950s and ’60s.

David has known me for only a few years, and he has generously given me invaluable advice.  What I’m doing now is in no small part because of his contributions over the past many years.  You youngsters out there — if you’ve not seen David Thornburg speak, then hock your watch, buy a bus ticket, and head to the nearest ed tech conference that’s featuring him as a keynote.

I’ve also enjoyed making music with David, though I really can’t get the hang of bossa nova on my keyboard.

As for David’s comments on my blog, I think that he is both right and wrong, which is something that I seem especially skilled at doing.

I’ve read the stories about where the term, Web 2.0, came from, and I accept that it is part marketing.  But even though Reilly has trademarked the term, Web 2.0 seems to lend itself to endless interpretations.  It seems that almost any interview with new web enthusiasts, evangelists, and developers begins with, “So, what’s your definition of Web 2.0?”  This mushiness, of course, is not comforting to educators, who need things to fit on a multiple choice test.  However, I think that a highly flexible term can be useful to the rapidly evolving information environment that the Web has become.

That said, I would counter Thornburg’s assertion that “..Web 2.0 is pure commercial marketing hype, and NOTHING more.”  It is true that there is little about the new web that is technically brand new.  But I think that it is important, especially as educators, to think about the Web as something more than just the machines, infrastructure, and protocols that make it work.  It is a growing information landscape that, I believe, has changed pretty dramatically in the past half-dozen years.

So I’d like to take just a few minutes to respond to David’s listing of tools — and I urge you to read his full text at the original blog, First Year Teachers, comment 11.

Flickr? I can show you the e-mail arguments between Marc Andreeson and Tim Berners-Lee regarding Andreeson’s argument that the web should allow photos to be displayed…

A multimedia web obviously won out, and there have certainly been online photo album services for many years.  But what’s new with Flickr is that it represents far more than a personal family album.  It’s a global photo album, where we share the images of our experiences with a world of people who are interested.  Little here is technically new, but the site begs to be used this way.  What’s more, I can form virtual photo albums with Flickr based on people, places, events, concepts, and even based on David Thornburg.  I can even train those photos to find me, as new pictures, tagged with specific words, are uploaded.

del.icio.us? I’ve been sharing bookmarks since the discovery of pi. puhlease…

True!  But del.icio.us is far more than just sharing bookmarks.  It’s a growing library of web-based resources that are loosely (but effectively) organized around tags that are applied by those who contribute.  ..And here is one of the qualities that I would lump with Web 2.0 applications — that they invite, rely on, and respect the cooperation and contributions of the community.  Not only are social bookmarking systems like libraries in how they are collected, but also in that I can check out, so to speak, web resources based on topic/tag and even based on the contributor, and I can train those web links to appear automatically in my own web sites and online handouts.  This is new, this ability to organize dynamic documents that reshape themselves based on the contributions of others.

Blogging? Oh, you mean “bulletin boards?” These were wildly popular when Marc Andreeson was in elementary school.

Well, yes!  But how many people were participating in those bulletin boards — and who?  You did and I did, because we were willing to invest the time in learning to use computers, modems, and communication software.  It was nearly six-months from the time that I purchased my first modem, before I was able to login to my first bulletin board.  David Thornburg probably had a hand in inventing the first modems.

Blogging democratized the Web.  Before blogging, you needed to have technical skills in HTML or the ability to operate sophisticated editing software to publish on the web.  Today, you simply need to be able to type — and it’s free.  Now certainly there was no firm line when the web became democratic, though It’s interesting to point to the beginning of Blogger.com.  But what’s truly interesting is that there are individuals who, with the use of blogs, are now enjoying a larger readership than many nationally recognized newspapers, and they’re making a living at it.  This is new and it is important.

Oh, I know, Second Life! Yesiree. That has Web 2.0 written all over it. Except that Neal Stephenson wrote all about it in Snowcrash, published in 1992. His vision of a parallel virtual world became reality a few years later with a program called the Palace that kids all over the world were using to create virtual worlds. My book on the topic was published so long ago it is out of print. You can, however, still buy Snowcrash.

Hey!  I loved Snowcrash.  And to tell the truth, when I’m asked to define Web 2.0, I almost never include Mult-User Virtual Environments (MUVEs).  I suspect that a case could be made for it, but I usually do not.  Some have said that Second Life represents Web 3.0, but I suspect that what ever constitutes the NEXT generation hasn’t happened yet, and it may be a real surprise.

Look, David, you are a very bright guy, and you have fallen victim to the hype factory. Here’s a suggestion. Be sure you understand the difference between mere qualititative quantitative change (doing old jobs better and faster) and qualitative change – truly doing new things.

This is true enough, though you probably overstated the “bright guy” thing.  There is little that is technically new here (though I haven’t mentioned RSS), but it’s not the technical that I’m interested in.  My goal is not to assure that all of the teachers in my audiences know what a blog is, what RSS is, how to create a wiki, or even publish a podcast.  Hell, that’s all going to change anyway.  My goal is to convince educators and education stakeholders to understand that these incremental advances in technology have affected our information experience.  It has become far more participatory, reader controlled, and it conducts human interactions in ways that were never possible before — and it is having profound affects on many aspects of our culture.

It is absolutely critical that educators and education stakeholders understand this, because the learning experiences that you and I enjoyed in the 1950s and ’60s are absolutely insufficient and in some cases in appropriate to preparing our children for their future.  We need to make the case that as information experiences change, the literacy skills that are necessary to accomplish goals through that information experience must also change — and if a little hype helps us do that, then hype me up.

There are new things to talk about, as you know from attending my sessions.

Right you are, there are new things — more than one.  Yours is equity, helping us all to understand that we can provide our students and teachers with access to digital content, even within a society that seems unwilling to pay for it.  You’ve taught us that there are alternatives with less than “state-of-the-art” machines and open source software.  I respect this and I respect you for this and every other issue you’ve educated us about.

But I’m going to continue to push on this idea that while open source software is providing us with new opportunities, open source content (Web 2.0) is also challenging us to think about what and how we teach our children in different ways.

I know, financial security means giving people what they want. Load a speech title with buzz words, and you get great bookings.

HEY!  There’s a lot of bandwagons I refused to jump on that would have made it a lot easier to get my kids through college and provide a secure future for my wife and me.  So just because I’ve chosen one issue and you chose another, doesn’t make you right and me wrong.  We could both be right!

Again, with respect and gratitude!

Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.