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What is Web 2.0?

People use the term “Web 2.0” regularly in conversation and writing. What does this term really mean? Contrary to what some people might envision, it is not a newly released version of the Internet. It is, however, an innovative way people use the Internet and other technological tools to engage with one another in an online space. As Michael Knievel describes Web 2.0 involves being a critical producer, not just consumer, of electronic texts. The days of searching for information on the Internet and reading it are the “old” days—the days of Web 1.0. This passive consumption of information has faded into the background as social online interaction has exploded. Examples of “Web 2.0” abound: blogs, wikis, and social media sites, to name a few.

When searching for information on Google or any other search engine, blog posts proliferate the results. While an untrained reader may not recognize that the material they are reading is a blog post, many online writings actually are pieces of a blog. Blogs are web logs; this means they are online written recordings of information. The topics of blogs vary as widely as people do: cooking, politics, movie reviews, reflections of a mom, tips for becoming a gardener, and the list goes on and on. If one merely reads a blog post, then that is a web 1.0 experience. Yet many people no longer just read blogs, they engage. Most, if not all, blog posts have a section at the bottom that allows readers to share their thoughts, comments, and opinions, and many do just that. Some people ask for further clarification on tips or directions, while some argue their point of view on a current issue, and others offer messages of support and encouragement. No matter what people write, this written interaction propels them from consumer to critical producer. As Greenhow and Gleason elucidate,  “texts can be interactive as users can ‘write back,’ thus blending authorship, readership, production, and consumption.” Blogs provide this opportunity to write back and engage, thus making it an interactive experience, which embodies the spirit of Web 2.0.

Another type of website that promotes interaction are wikis. Wikis allow a variety of people to develop, write, and share their ideas in one easily accessible location. As the YouTube video “Wikis in Plain English” shows, people in a group used to share ideas through a barrage of group emails. This interaction was cumbersome and time-consuming. Wikis, on the other hand, allow groups of people the opportunity to read what others say as well as an opportunity to contribute without providing the inbox clutter and requiring people to dig through old emails wondering which is most current. With a wiki, the most up-to-date information is visible to all, and it can be edited by all. Any group of people can use a wiki: a class, a work group, a committee, friends, or just people with a common interest. The key to a wiki is collaboration. Without that, a wiki will die. The emphasis on collaboration makes this tool another strong example of Web 2.0, as it asks people to do more than just read and consume; it encourages people to contribute and produce.

The term Web 2.0 really came to life with the creation of social media sites. These revolutionary sites transformed online communication and interaction. The essence of social media sites is to be social and to engage with others. Stephanie Vie describes online social networking sites like Facebook as Web 2.0 technologies that allow individual people an opportunity to create multimodal expressions by offering text, images, sounds, and hyperlinks to compose their message. For Facebook to work effectively, participants must engage with one another. Some people post pictures; others share links; some offer life updates; many provide feedback to their network with comments or likes.

The fairly instant success of social media sites like Facebook and MySpace led to an explosion of other social media sites. Another well-known and frequently used social media site is Twitter. As Ebner said, “Twitter is more amenable to an ongoing, public dialogue than Facebook because Twitter is primarily a microblogging platform” (as qtd. in Junco, Heiberger, and Loken). The constant in-the-moment updates of tweets allows users a chance to respond and produce many comments. For this reason, some teachers promote its use during class lectures; groups organize online chats with the use of a particular hashtag; some television shows have encouraged viewers to save their favorite contestants through tweets with a hashtag. The focused interaction of tweets coupled with the ease of searching previous tweets by hashtags makes Twitter a highly collaborative social media site. While users could be just consumers on Twitter or any other social media site, most want to engage and share, thus making these social media sites the perfect example of Web 2.0.

Over the last decade, the use of online sites has progressed. Passively ingesting the words on the screen is no longer enough; people wish to contribute too. This desire to create, share, comment, and engage can be seen on almost every online site. From the comments box, to hyperlinks, to multimodal social sites, people are producing on the Internet. These contributions are the definition of Web 2.0. Now understanding the meaning of Web 2.0, it’s time to reflect: Are you a Web 2.0 user?