According to Tim O’Reilly, the idea of Web 2.0 emerged out of the dot com bubble. He noted that companies that survived the collapse of the technological sector during the 1990’s had in common particular methods, concepts and technologies that allowed them to be cutting-edge compared to their competitors (Aanin-Yost, 2010). There are no hard definitions of Web 2.0 and the term is frequently surrounded by hyperbole and buzzwords. To act as a Launchpad for discussion Collins English Dictionary defines Web 2.0 as:
“the internet viewed as a medium in which interactive experience, in the form of blogs, wikis, forums, etc, plays a more important role than simply accessing information”
This definition certainly highlights one of the central characteristics of Web 2.0: that it is dynamic. Rather than seeing the users of the web as polarised between content producers and content consumers, the technologies that underpin Web 2.0 allow web content to be dynamic, with users playing the role of both producer and consumer. To use a simplistic example of the difference between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0, Britannica Online would represent Web 1.0 and Wikipedia Web 2.0 (O’Reilly, 2005). Britannica articles are produced and published in (relatively) static form to be read by web users. Wikipedia in contrast is continually changing and any web user can act as a content producer, adding their own knowledge to an article. The blog is another example of how users are no longer simply consuming information on the web but actively publishing. Blogs are so successful because they provide a user friendly ‘what you see is what you get’ interface, allowing users with no prior experience of html to publish web content. Moreover the diary style format provides something instantly recognisable.
Another defining characteristic of Web 2.0 is that the web acts as a platform. In the world of Web 2.0 it is supposed that most computing activity will occur through the web rather than applications stored on the users pc. In this way the computer becomes less of a platform in itself and more akin to a portal to access the web. While we have yet to see a complete deviation from using computers in a traditional sense, there is certainly a continuing move towards the idea of ‘cloud computing’ as exemplified by the idea of the Google’s Chromebook, a laptop based on an operating system which, rather than using natively installed software, relies upon web applications such as Google Docs (Shiels, 2011).
The final key characteristic of Web 2.0 which has already been touched upon is the idea of collaboration. In What is Web 2.0, O’Reilly talks about the idea of harnessing the collective intelligence of a products user base through feedback, user reviews, and user-crafted social networks and points to how sites such as Amazon, Flickr, and Facebook depend on user participation (Casey and Savastinuk, 2006). Indeed sites such as Facebook provide virtually no content of their own and are completely reliant upon user contribution and collaboration. They are therefore a perfect example of a website which provides a service for others to share information rather than publishing themselves.
So how do Web 2.0 technologies influence the library and information profession? Web 2.0 technologies have certainly caused lively debate amongst library and information professionals. Some have heralded the technologies as vital if libraries are to remain relevant in the modern age. The term ‘library 2.0’, coined by Michael Casey on his blog ‘library crunch’ in 2006 places web 2.0 as central to the work of libraries and librarians (Aqil, Ahmad and Siddique, 2011).
There are numerous examples of Web 2.0 technologies being applied in the library environment. For example the City University Library catalogue features social tagging, allowing users to apply their own keywords to books and items to aid other users.
The concept of the tag as a non-hierarchical form of content description is not new to the information profession who have used concepts such as keyword indexing and subject headings. What makes tagging different however is that it allows users to contribute their own ideas and concepts to the material which may better reflect their information needs forming what is known as a folksonomy (Aqil, Ahmad and Siddique, 2011). Other examples of increasing the participation of users in their library service include the ability to rate and review items and share their favourite items with others through social media such as Twitter and Facebook. The principle behind incorporating features such as these is to harness the knowledge of users in order to supplement and improve library services (Casey and Savastinuk, 2006). These techniques are also increasing the interactive nature of library services. Instead of the OPAC functioning as a simple portal to access the library catalogue database it becomes a platform on which users can tailor the way they access and use the libraries information. It is important to note that in the case of social tagging for example, Web 2.0 technologies are not replacing existing library and information methods such as cataloguing with controlled vocabularies, but are rather being used to complement existing techniques. Moreover it would seem that techniques such as these are not necessarily revolutionising the way in which users interact with libraries. Generally these technologies are ‘tacked’ onto existing OPACs providing a degree of interaction by the user which is always secondary to the primary function of the OPAC.
A more interesting example of the possibilities afforded to libraries in the Web 2.0 environment is the open-source software Scriblio (http://scriblio.net/). Underpinned by WordPress, Scriblio seems closer to realising the ideal of Library 2.0. The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Library have implemented Scriblio into their SmartCat catalogue describing how it “features Web 2.0 technology, such as faceted searching, interactive tag clouds, user comments and RSS feeds” (http://catalog.ust.hk/catalog/?page_id=2). On an example catalogue entry we can see how they have implemented some of the features of Web 2.0 into a library environment (http://catalog.ust.hk/catalog/archives/836286). For example it offers the ability for users to share a catalogue item over a large number of blogging and social networking sites, the ability to write comments on an item in a similar way to writing comments on a blog and even a QR code providing the title, location and call number on a mobile device. Unlike the City University library catalogue, the fact that Scriblio is built upon WordPress means that the web 2.0 features are much more tightly integrated into the user interface and allow users to play a much more active role in shaping the library service.
Web 2.0 is also providing libraries with a platform to publicise their services. The City University library for example is using twitter to reach out to its student population and provide announcements such as changes to opening hours and new acquisitions. For Casey and Savastinuk one of the great benefits of libraries participating in social networking is that it encourages regular customer feedback preventing what they consider to be a tendency for libraries to “plan, implement and forget”. Some libraries are encouraging feedback from users through means such as instant messaging to provide a digital reference service. Another innovative use of web 2.0 technologies which has potential applications for libraries is the idea of the mash-up. According to Merrill, a mash-up is an interactive web application which draws upon content from external data sources and combines them into a new service (Merrill, 2006). Currently the uses of mash-ups in a library context have not been explored fully and tend to be confined to councils plotting public library locations onto Google Maps for example.
This essay has looked at some of the practical applications of web 2.0 in a library and information setting. To conclude I would like to think more generally about the theoretical implications of web 2.0 on the nature of library and information services. To some degree the concept of Library 2.0 is not a revolution in library and information services but rather an evolution building upon the work that information providers have been performing for years. For example the incorporation of instant messaging into a library service is not necessarily creating a new role for the librarian but rather better allowing them to accomplish the role of reference service in the Web 2.0 age. However there certainly are some paradigmatic shifts brought about by these new technologies as noted by Jack Maness. Library 2.0 is in essence not simply about extending the reach of existing library services but rather about allowing users to have a collaborative input. As Maness states “The biggest change this will lead to is that rather than creating systems and services for patrons, librarians will enable users to create them for themselves” (Maness, 2006). This means librarians will have to relinquish some degree of control over the information contents of their service. I would also argue that there are also a number of areas where we must be cautious. The world of Web 2.0 is rapidly changing. As we have seen with Myspace, it is possible for a web service to very quickly fall out of favour and no longer be relevant. It is important therefore that libraries look long term at the implications of incorporating a site such as Facebook into their library service should that service disappear or be replaced. Another major hurdle when combining web 2.0 with library services, especially in the public library environment is privacy. As Litwin has noted one of the primary features of web 2.0 which makes them so useful is that users are sharing personal information about themselves (Litwin, 2006). It is this personal information that makes it possible to tailor services to meet their needs. However this leads to implications for library services about how they tailor their services to individual needs while at the same time ensuring that users do not inadvertently reveal too much information about themselves.
Aqil, M., Ahmad, P., and Siddique, M. (2011), Web 2.0 and Libraries: Facts and Myths, Journal of Library and Information Technology, Vol. 31, No. 5, Sep 2011, pp. 395-400.
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