Basics for Beginners: What is Web 2.0?

What is Web 2.0?

When the Internet emerged in the early 1990s, it was a place where people could go to look information up. People looked up movie times, information, businesses. Eventually, people loved having so much information at their fingertips that formerly had to be looked up by hand or required a phone call.

Sometimes, like on message boards, users could write and leave information, but it was not easy to do and pretty rare for most non technically savvy people.  This first Internet, also callled "Web 1.0" (after the habit software developers have of numbering their software) is also called the "Read Only Web" because most users could just read information.  The programming language of Web 1.0 was HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) and slow internet speeds also meant that uploading files would take a very long time and was not worth the effort.  So, users read information.

Then in the late 1990's, some websites emerged, like  that let users do more.  People could list and rate products and sellers on ebay.  People who read books could write reviews on Amazon.  Web users could now "write" on the Internet and leave their personal thoughts behind.  This was the beginning of Web 2.0, although the term was not coined until September 30, 2005 when entrepreneur Tim O'Reilley released his article "What is Web 2.0:  Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software."

Now, many websites like Wikipedia, Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter allow web users to share information.  The programming language of Web 2.0 is XML (Extensible markup language and another closely related language called XHTML.)

Web 2.0 has influenced web media in profound ways because people now no longer want to just read a web pages but interact with them.  We call websites that bring us back to use them continually, "sticky" web pages.  The most highly trafficked sites allow their sites to interact with other sites and allow readers to comment and communicate with other readers.  For example, news articles in the Wall Street Journal let a reader send the link to Facebook or Linked In, two popular networking websites.

Web 2.0 websites can be combined using small programs called API's (application programming interfaces) that fit together various websites like jigsaw puzzles.  You can see how this works with a site like Twittervision, which is a combination of the popular Twitter microblogging service and Google Earth.  This is called a mashup and people are able to mix popular services together in this way.  (Flickrvision is another example.)

In Summary
The important thing to remember about Web 2.0 is that it is the Read/ Write web.  Average, everyday people can not only read information but write.

Some important things for students to understand related to today's lesson (this is NOT a comprehensive list!)
  • Hypertext based, contextual writing
  • Proper ways to connect, network, and share information
  • Internet etiquette (called netiquette)
  • How to customize or "mash up" the internet using something called RSS readers (we'll cover this in a later lesson) like igoogle, Google Reader, Netvibes, or Pageflakes.
  • How to successfully share and publish multimedia and text in various forms on the Internet 
Writing a five paragraph essay is just not enough anymore.  A whole new form of writing has emerged!

But I can't understand the language?  What are people talking about?  I can't learn this!

The scariest thing about Web 2.0, I think, is often the new vocabulary that one must learn.  Blogs, wikis, podcasts, vodcasts, mashups, API's - all of these things sound like some foreign language.  But, new words are introduced throughout history, with the phrase "curriculum vitae" not being documented until 1900 as was the word "hot dog."  The word "media" wasn't invented until the 1920's!!  Think how strange those words must have sounded to someone who had not heard them before, now, they are commonplace, as these words will be in 5-10 years.

As educators, we know that vocabulary is one of the single most important indicators for academic success and we teach students new vocabulary all of the time.  Shame on us if we are going to ask our students to learn new words daily, and we cannot wrestle with a few new words ourselves!  We must stop making excuses and get those neurons firing to learn some new terms!  Education is not just for the young - stop preaching it and start practicing it!

Assignments for Beginners
Select one or more of the following challenges for beginners.  When I am learning something new, I always get a new notebook and write the topic on the front of the notebook.  I call this my "learner's notebook."  Find a learner's notebook ( a small spiral bound notebook will do) and make it yours. 

1) Expand your vocabulary

Start a list of "new words."  After two days of writing down new words that you know relate to the Internet, and compiling a list of at least 10 words, take ten minutes to use Google to define the words.

To do this, go to Google and type define: and the word.  For example, define: blog would give me some definitions of blogs.

Write a few notes in your own words beside each word to note to yourself what it means.  Put a star beside two of the words that you know you want to learn more about next.  Go on a website, this blog post, or another place that is appropriate and share what you've learned.

2) "Write" on the Web Somewhere

Go to a place you feel comfortable:  Amazon, the blog of someone you read, a newspaper you read, or even a youtube video, if you don't know where to go, you may do this here.   Write a meaningful comment of at least 150 words or more, write a book or product review on Amazon.  You will be more successful if you select something you're passionate about.

After you leave the comment, check back for the next three days by going to the site (you'll learn an easier way to do this later.)  If someone responds to you, you may certainly leave a message back.

Note in your notebook what website you commented on, how you felt when someone did or did not respond to your comment and your overall conclusion.  How do you think the notion of "audience" plays into the Web 2.0 experience?

3)  Through the eyes of a child
Ask a teenager or child to show you their favorite website. DO NOT pass judgment, just listen.  Note the ways they are reading and writing.  Who is their audience?  Ask them why they like the site? How long do they spend on the site each day?  What types of other people do they communicate with?  Do they know anything about the other people?  How is the website "sticky?"  Is it "mashable" with other websites?  (If you don't know the answers to these last two questions it is OK.)

4) Ask questions
What questions do you still have?  Ask them below or if you are at a school, call in your IT support, most technically savvy teacher and ask them this question.

"What does Web 2.0 mean to you and how do you think it should change what we do here at our school?"

Take notes, and also bring your paint scraper just in case you have to scrape them up off the floor when you ask this question.  If you wish, you may preface this question with,

"I don't know much about what is happening with this new internet, but I starting to learn, so be patient with me and let me learn at my own pace.  I wonder if you would let me ask you some questions as we go."

Super Bonus:  
If you're really brave or are an intermediate and already have a blog - write about your experiences or create assignments that you think a person who is learning about Web 2.0 should do.  Tag it  web2_intro with your technorati tag if you know how, or just copy the one I have below.  Feel free to share the link back to your blog in the comments below.

Further Reading / Viewing
The following are some popular resources for sharing basic information on Web 2.0.  If you have one to suggest, please post the hyperlink in the comments.

Did You Know? by Karl Fisch
One of the most popular videos in education about the impact of Web 2.0 on education is a movie by Karl Fisch entitled Did You Know?  Karl is the Director of Technology for Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado.You can download copies of this video to share with your school board or organization at Karl's wiki

For some history on Web 2.0, see the original post that started it all:

O'Reilly, Tim. "What Is Web 2.0: Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software." O'Reilly 30 SEP 2005 9 Jan 2009 <>.

Books to purchase
Tapscott, Don and Anthony D. Williams. 2007. Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything  New York: Penguin.

Friedman, Thomas. 2007. The World Is Flat 3.0: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century New York: Picador.

Photo is licensed from istockphoto, you do not have permission to copy this photo.

The origin of this article
As I've been talking to some of you, and reading the thoughts shared both here and on Steve Dembo's blog about the daunting task of getting up to speed on all of this "new stuff," I have thought that it is important to have current material for beginners.

So, I'm going to share a series of blog posts for a while (in the midst of my others) targeted to beginners.  To me, it should also be useful for teachers who may be experts but who want to discuss Web 2.0 with their classes - after all, we all teach beginners of some kind, don't we? I will label all of these posts beginners (see the bottom of this post.)  This means that you can click on the word "beginners" at the bottom and find the other posts.)

I invite Web 2.0 veterans to share their stories about how they teach about Web 2.0 and beginners to share the questions that you think aren't answered below. I fully expect to revise and improve this post over time and welcome feedback about how to make this series useful to others.

We need more conversations to not only include the advanced but to give those who are working towards change content to help beginners improve and learn.  Join in and share your own explanation and insight!

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