Bebo White: Is Web 2.0 the Future of the Web?

Bebo White is from Stanford. He is known as the first webmaster of the United States. And, he really does look like Santa Claus.

He started with renaming his presentation: The Big Ideas in Web 2.0. But he admits to hating that name (Web 2.0). He thinks a lot of it is just hype. But, certainly there are plenty of Web 2.0 start ups…he has a similar list of logos to Terry Anderson, yesterdays’ keynote. (I would have blogged that one, too, but the conference was having wireless issues.) The question is: how many of these companies will survive? He uses the example of Stumble Upon, which basically allows you to discover random websites. Google bought it for 75 million. But he says, don’t define Web 2.0 by the companies. And, he says that he can define it by what it is not.

It is not the Semantic Web. It is not a new collection of technologies. Above all, it is not just defined by some collection of tools like blogging, wikis, etc. The definition is still evolving, and it started off to promote a conference by O’Reilly. To him, however, it is more of an attitude or an answer. The question to which it is the answer is “What’s the web good for?” It may not be good for making money. It is more about the user rather than the creator.

(Just a quick aside: EVERY presenter I’ve seen has read their powerpoint slides to me! EEK! Why did I get up at 8 AM when I could just read his powerpoint? And, I’ll bet all these people have made fun of powerpoint at some point in their lives.)

He quotes Tim O’Reilly on Web 2.0. He thinks it is hype: Newsweek calls it a revolution. But Bebo thinks it sits right at the top of the Gartner Group’s Hype Cycle.

So, what’s his take? It’s the natural evolution of the web that gives the user more power. The idea of Web 2.0 helps us understand the future web and prepare for it. Prepare our data, prepare psychologically, prepare our tasks. The drivers of Web 2.0 include technological (computing power, cheap devices, and xml-type standards) and environmental (the dot.com bust, the long tail, the proliferation of content, and the expectation of fulfillment that Google and eBay can make recommendations).

(Another aside: DFKACP: The device formally known as the cell phone. Today, of course, is the introduction of the iPhone.)

Here are the big ideas: useful data that can be manipulated, harnessing the collective experience, using the web as platform. So, how does Web 2.0 match with educational technology? He worries that it’s just another collection of tools because that’s pretty superficial. He believes that since education is a basic group interaction that’s what Web 2.0 is good for. It’s about people interacting with other people or with data. The emphasis should be on learning design, then using the tools for building knowledge. But the tools are not sufficient unto themselves.

Example: YouTube...the poster child for Web 2.0. But he points to the Internet Archive that allowed people to upload their videos. It never caught on. Why? Because it was just an archive. There was no community built around it. The same thing between MySpace and the Internet Archive. It isn’t just about the data; it’s about the users of that data.

He points to OhmyNews: anybody can be a reporter and the work gets vetted by a real newspaper editor.

Discusses Google and their mission: “all the world’s information universally accessible” Why can’t systems give us better answers? (ie, there’s only one capital of British Columbia but we get a million page hits when we ask the question) He pointed to the mechanical turk and askville in Amazon: these are sites that are not letting the failure of development of technology stand in the way of people’s expectations for how technology should serve them.

The rich user interfaces of Web 2.0 are also important for education. The web is the metaphor for simple universal interfaces.

Programming for the web: why can’t we use web-based data as data streams? You write a program and one input stream is coming from here and another is coming from over here. Compares it to Unix’s pipes and concatenation. Web 2.0 and the Semantic Web are trying to do that. We don’t want to search: we want to get the job done. Uses the example of preparing for a trip. The data is out there but we don’t know how to get to it. He thinks mash ups are an excellent way of recognizing patterns of data and combining them in a new way. Gives the example of Weather Bonk.

Discusses social and collaborative tagging: this is an example of where it can provide us with a glimpse of the future and distinguishes between taxonomies and folksonomies.  We are using the information for ourselves and our community.   For instance, the use of “cool” as a tag.  The taxonomy would hate that. But for your small folksonomy group would understand it.

Microformats: we don’t have to think in terms of pages.  We think in terms of useful bits of information. The web provides a structure or a scaffolding and rather than talking about particular technologies, we are talking about relating informaton.

Conclusions: He would like to pose a grand challenge to systematically help develop new patterns and strategies that are suitable for personalized learning.  That doesn’t necessarily mean how are you going to use wikis?  Help understand new kinds of learning experiences can be created?  How can they be enhanced with the right tools?  These tools and applications may not exist now but given the evolution of the web, they might soon.

Where we are right now is that we are trying desperately in a very evolutionary way to define what the future web is.  There’s no guarantee that Semantic Web is ever going to work. There’s no guarantee that no one knows what Web 2.o is.  The interaction is what will lead to the future of the web.

Ended with Vannevar Bush, “As We May Think”: “yet specialization becomes increasingly necessary for progress and the effort to bridge between disciplines is correspondingly superficial.”   It’s the little things that will lead to Web 2.0.

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