Web 2.0 Technologies: How We See Them

Introduction

Web 2.0 technologies have developed and changed over the years, but these changes were influenced by the demands and expectations of users. Web 2.0 was initially intended to facilitate and expedite information sharing and to allow users to interact with one another. Through certain developments in technology and culture, Web 2.0 started to become a useful tool for people to express themselves through art and media. The whole concept of public self-expression has evolved into blogging and forum participation. Unfortunately, advancements in the influence of Web 2.0 aren’t always positive: today, users are able to remain anonymous on the Internet and are not always held accountable for their online actions.

For many people, life revolves around Web 2.0 technology. Web 2.0 has created careers and even alternative lifestyles. As usage of Web 2.0 goes from exclusive to inclusive, from limiting to liberating, people are always finding new ways to incorporate it into their everyday lives. This contributes to a demand for more intense, stimulating media experiences and we can be certain that modern Internet technologies will evolve to accommodate for such demand.

Use

The reasons for Web 2.0 usage haven’t necessarily changed since its inception. Web 2.0 first emerged so users could interact more readily with web content through search engines and open forums, for example. The uses of Web 2.0 technology haven’t really changed, but the technology itself has progressed greatly. Web 2.0 has grown to accommodate many forms of interaction and users now are able to use multiple types of Web 2.0 technologies.

Social Networking

In previous years, Web 2.0 technology provided ways for users to upload and post their information as a ways of communication, but this was mostly static. New developments on websites such as Facebook.com allow for users to constantly update their “statuses” as a way to create a dynamic environment. The ability for users to upload information with their cell phones or smart phones contributes to the said dynamic social environment. Users no longer have to be at an actual computer to edit online information, but rather out in the "world," updating as they go.

News/Info

As technology has evolved, newspapers have resorted to uploading their content onto websites where users can now go and leave their thoughts and comments in response to particular stories. In the past, newspaper readers sent in “letters to the editor” that were possibly published in the coming weeks. Now users can upload their thoughts through commenting or email and immediately see the results displayed on the page. Wikipedia.com is another user based information source where users can edit articles.

Leisure

Another outlet for interaction is Youtube.com. After signing up for a Youtube account, users may either respond to videos through text responses or even upload a video response. This opens up a whole new way of communicating one’s thoughts about a subject.

Habit

Which sites do we frequent the most?

Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter seem to be where we spend the overwhelming majority of our time. Students also report spending time on news-related sites such as CNN, MSNBC, weather.com, and the online versions of newspapers and magazines. Leisure-oriented sites such as Digg, fmylife.com, people.com, usweekly.com, Hulu, YouTube, and Pandora also received considerable usage by students in our class.

Is there a pattern in how often we visit these sites?

Many of the students in our class report cyclical or completely random patterns of interaction with Web 2.0 sites, citing ‘surfing’ as a mindless activity that is sometimes beyond our conscious control. Checking our emails or logging into Facebook seems to be automatic for some of us when we get up in the morning. We are also constantly connected to certain sites through iPods or cell phone applications; using Web 2.0 technology is so ingrained into our daily routines that we simply don’t notice these interactions whether it be on the computer or on a phone.

Is there a trend in why we use Web 2.0 such as boredom, curiosity, shopping, etc.?

The vast majority of the students who have accounts with social networking sites, such as Facebook or Twitter, use it as a form of mindless distraction or procrastination. Because it's so automatic for most of us to log into our accounts, our actions, then, are also automatic. We don't really think when we're using Facebook or Twitter because, for us, using either site is a no-brainer. These social networking sites, in addition to other Web 2.0 technologies, are also used for communication. Because we are so attached to and dependent upon our Web 2.0 technologies, using a phone just to talk to people seems obsolete (at least according to our reports). Instead, we use Web 2.0 to "talk" to our friends and family, not just because of our attachment and dependency on it, but also because of its convenience. We're already on our computers for most of the day or at least have internet access on our phones; why not just use the internet to communicate with people we know? While some of us use Web 2.0 to fulfill our curiosity or to shop or to play games, for the most part, boredom and communication seem to be the two biggest trends in using Web 2.0.

Generations

The internet is no longer a special place. With millions upon millions of users, what used to be an exclusive club has now become an overcrowded community. As the popularity of the internet and its Web 2.0 uses continues to grow, the average age of its users has begun to shift from the middle to the poles. Younger and older generations both are becoming more familiar with the internet and as members of the first generation of digital natives; we are not totally sure how we feel about this. Now, instead of being surrounded by peers, our parents, teachers, siblings, etc. are overrunning our browsers and inboxes. We now have to watch what we say and do because we aren’t sure if big (or little) brother is watching.

The large problem that our generation has with those older and younger than us is trust. It is difficult to trust those outside of our age group, and with the internet becoming such a personal place, that trust has dropped more and more. Anonymity is now a thing of the past on the internet, and this might be the core issue with the generations. We have trouble identifying with and understanding each other, so interaction in an online space can become very difficult. This lack of understanding can even extend to the intended use of certain sites. The established norms and practices of online communities can be greatly disturbed when there is a flood of those who do not understand what that community is for.

Facebook is probably the internet’s most popular online community. When Facebook was first introduced, it was directed toward college students; it allowed people to make new friends and keep in touch with old ones. However, when the site went public, everything changed. The differences among each generation’s use of Facebook are dramatic and based on a set of norms for each age group. College students, the group Facebook was made for, tend to only use the original Facebook features such as wall posts, picture tags, and the occasional poke. Younger generations began to join Facebook and expanded the ways they connect and interact with friends through Facebook by using the original features as well as Facebook applications such as Farmville, Daily Horoscope, and Crush Finder in ways that mirror MySpace. Older people, such as baby-boomers, acknowledge few norms on Facebook and sometimes display a lack of understanding about appropriate interactions with younger generations. Each generation’s behavior can be explained through their previous experience or lack thereof with Web 2.0 technologies.

At first, there was little concern about parents, teachers, or anyone not in college for that matter. Being able to view what was posted on your wall or what you posted on your friends' walls was normal and not censored. It was not a big deal to talk about the raging party you hardly remember from last weekend accompanied by pictures that provided evidence of your awesome time. Now, the Facebook community consists of people of all ages. The content posted on Facebook is now more censored due to the presence of parents, grandparents, younger siblings, and even potential employers. Since our generation was the first to use the World Wide Web, it seems that we were not prepared for the world wide part.

Production vs. Consumption

As a general rule, most students in this class consumed far more content than they produced. Could this be because our generation (the first digital generation) actually lacks the complete techno immersion that the generation behind us will have? Perhaps. But instead of wild speculation, let's look at a cost-benefit analysis.

Producing content on a regular scale consumes a degree of time and energy. Let's use a simple "comment" as our unit of production. It should be apt, comments can be produced on a whim and do not cost much time or energy to really write.

However, making said comment count is something else entirely. People have posited that the Internet has flattened the top-down hierarchy. This may be true, but hierarchy always emerges when there are limited resources to compete for. Today, people who produce content for the web must fight for a space in my 2-3 hrs of web time. This “awareness” is the new commodity; just ask advertisers.

My goal is to get a good “awareness” return on my investment. If no one sees my comment, my effort is wasted. If I comment on Digg, how likely is it that everyone will see it? The truth: next to no one. All of Digg’s content is user rated, from the articles down to the comments themselves. The comment with the most Diggs goes to the top of the comment section (unless you change the filter in your account). There are a couple of factors in getting a top comment:

  1. Make my comment relevant and useful to the subject. I must have a level of awareness of my subject + a level of wit and writing ability. Cost=time and energy.
  2. I must post my comment early. The earlier I post, the more traffic my comment is likely to get. However, that means I need to dig deep and find the recently submitted articles likely to get a lot of Diggs. Cost=more time and energy.
  3. I need a network of friends to help me by Digging my comment so it reaches the top sooner. In order to build this type of network, I need to be incredibly social. Cost=substantial time and energy.

As we see, there’s a lot more to producing a successful comment than meets the eye. It takes a fairly substantial amount of time and energy to produce successful content, and we must balance this against what it takes to go through between work, classes, standard social endeavors, etc. Perhaps the energy exerted in producing Internet content could be better spent earning me more money, getting better grades, increasing my social status or increasing my chances at a relationship. Which is a better aggregate result? For some people it’s the popular comment. For others, it is something else entirely.

As a cultural standard, that balance may shift over time. But at the moment it may help to explain our lack of a desire to produce content.

Expression

Web 2.0 technologies are essential to interpersonal correspondence and information retrieval in today’s never-ending search for universal connection; however, as the modes of communication and interaction change, so does the way we express ourselves publicly. Accessibility and exposure are prerequisites to social inclusion in the digital age, and with the cessation of isolation, the notions of secrecy and privacy have all but disappeared.

Details once considered too “privileged” to share interpersonally are now posted in globally visible forums. The concept of “sharing” information is no longer simply accepted, it has become overbearingly expected. Many Internet users have become so comfortable with this “public exposure” that uploading damaging personal information or incriminating photographs no longer provokes concern for permanence or consequence. Open-ended networks like Facebook have encouraged this by giving individuals the tools to explore the avenues of digital expression, forcing the nature of the material offered to become progressively intimate. For example, the online personal diary website, [http://www.digitalexpressions.nu], indiscriminately lists users' thoughts to the public; although the site requires membership to access full entries. Displayed thoughts range from highly personal issues like adultery, sex, and suicide to exactly what someone ate for dinner.

Social norms, however, are beginning to hinder expression; likewise, fear of backlash from negative public images has caused many to retaliate in ways that quell our First Amendment rights. In 2006, a student in the Hermitage School District in Philadelphia, PA was suspended for ten days after creating a mock MySpace profile for his high school principal. Additional punishments included having the student placed in an alternate education program despite good performance in class, banned from all extracurricular activities, and forbidden to attend graduation. In this case, the school district attempted to control free off-campus students’ speech that was directed at or about the school and/or its officials. But no harm was done to the principal and the school functioned properly in spite of the incident – a principal having his pride hurt as a result of a student’s imprudent behavior is not a strong enough case to violate freedoms of speech according to the courts.

Despite the school district’s inability to control speech, the case did bring up an interesting issue concerning Web 2.0 use: the authenticity of users. This concern about the ability to trust users is most obvious in connection with online dating sites. eHarmony’s claim that over 200 site members are married each day is highly contingent on the honesty of those members. These users get to know a person by their profile and if they feel that they have enough of a connection, they meet; a process that requires honesty and a build-up of trust. However, Neil Clark Warren, eHarmony's founder, discovered through a survey of divorcees that "200 people [are] in the very happily married category, 200 [are] pretty happy but not totally, 200 [are] not very happy at all but not ready to quit, and 200 [are] in the very discouraged group." It appears as though eHarmony has done little to change the rate of divorce among married matches.

Regarding social networking, despite high expectations from others, many use websites like Facebook and MySpace to paint themselves in an overly favorable light and actively mislead others, sometimes to dangerous ends. The Crimes Against Children Research Center, claims that “one in five U.S. teenagers who regularly log on to the Internet say they have received an unwanted sexual solicitation via the Web.” Many of these solicitations occur over interactive chat rooms, commonly monitored by administrators and hopefully, by parents.

The potential benefits of Web 2.0 technologies, however, seem to outweigh the dangers for now. The desire to feel connected to other people has changed the way we express ourselves in the digital world.

New vs. Traditional Media

Different Benefits

The Internet offers its users to have a "voice."
http://www.psfk.com/2010/01/social-networks-preserving-the-future-of-traditional-media.html

New media offers a communal experience but requires traditional media to facilitate discussion.

Much of society spends a great portion of the day on a computer, so convenience and money become factors in opting for digital media.

Traditional media is better able to regulate copyright infringements than the Internet.

Effects on Society

Consumers now seek a more stimulating media experience and therefore look for ways to engage with different media on more intense levels. The Internet allows users to contribute online by quick commenting on news stories, allowing for more interaction than its print counterpart. This creates conversation between users by not only giving feedback to the source of the news, but also to the community.

The Internet also allows for anonymity, so users can comment freely on any topic and not experience the public judgment that would ensue from a traditional letter sent to a print news source. While this online experience does facilitate community engagement, it is also a method for enhancing individuality and the freedom that comes along with utilizing one's abilities online.

For further reference:

The FCC will not bailout traditional media
- Steven Waldman, senior advisor to the FCC Chairman, said that there is theoretically no harm in losing newspapers and traditional broadcasters as long as something else is immediately available with the same function of delivering news and other information. http://www.broadcastingcable.com/article/448011-Waldman_No_FCC_Bailouts_in_Store_for_Media.php

Social networks can preserve traditional media
- Chris Connelly, an ESPN reporter, states that the arrival of the “first person singular” with the Internet allows everyone to have a voice. Connelly says that people cannot have their “first person singular” “take on the world” unless there is a communal experience for them to discuss, like a big sports event, or a popular TV show that people want to comment on in some way. According to him, this is just an opportunity for the industry to become more innovative, not a way for the industry to totally disappear. http://www.psfk.com/2010/01/social-networks-preserving-the-future-of-traditional-media.html

Each media outlet has its own niche with audiences
- Phil Cooke, a writer and media consultant states that TV did not replace the radio, and he does not think the Internet will displace television. The media landscape will be altered – now media is a “two-way conversation”

The way we interact with online media is different, and our expectations for an online experience affect the way we use media in a digital form.
-http://www.slate.com/id/2193552/

External Links

Generations

"Friended by Mom and Dad on Facebook. Students Worry About Parental Snooping, Devise Ways to Protect Privacy."

Production vs. Consumption

Link to Digg Website: http://digg.com/

Expression

to_catch_a_predator.jpg
To Catch A Predator - The Gay Teacher

The Tell-All Generation Learns to Keep Things Offline

Bartiromo, Maria. "Founder of EHarmony's Advice on Marriage: Avoiding the Horror of Divorce | Dreamers | Reader's Digest." Jokes, Cartoons, Food, Health, Sweepstakes, Word Power | Reader's Digest Magazine Articles. Reader's Digest, Feb. 2008. Web. 10 May 2010. <http://www.rd.com/your-america-inspiring-people-and-stories/founder-of-eharmonys-advice-on-marriage/article51666.html>.

Interestingly, international concern exists about Google and YouTube's support of free speech world-wide in this German made video with surprisingly excellent American accents.
Google and YouTube vs. Freedom of Speech

References

Generations

"Friended by Mom and Dad on Facebook. Students Worry About Parental Snooping, Devise Ways to Protect Privacy."

Expression

ACLU of Pennsylvania Urges Court To Uphold Free-Speech Ruling In Student MySpace Case

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