Web 2.0: When Will We Ever Get There?

Ray Schroeder, Professor Emeritus/Director Office of Technology-Enhanced Learning, University of Illinois at Springfield

 (for Sloan-C View, October 2007)


Tim O’Reilly, who is credited with originating the term Web 2.0 back in 2004, is renowned for his reluctance to provide a succinct definition of the term.  Contending that the concept should not be limited by precise borders, he uses terms such a “gravitational core” and graphics such as complex meme maps to describe the concept (O’Reilly September 2005).  But, in a weak moment, O’Reilly finally succumbed to pressure to try to form a compact definition, which, as it turns out, is not very compact:


Web 2.0 is the network as platform, spanning all connected devices; Web 2.0 applications are those that make the most of the intrinsic advantages of that platform: delivering software as a continually-updated service that gets better the more people use it, consuming and remixing data from multiple sources, including individual users, while providing their own data and services in a form that allows remixing by others, creating network effects through an "architecture of participation," and going beyond the page metaphor of Web 1.0 to deliver rich user experiences. (O’Reilly October 2005)


O’Reilly’s definition suggests that re-mixing of data; changing applications; and new mixes of people are at the essence of Web 2.0.  Perpetually evolving, emerging, re-forming, re-inventing; that’s Web 2.0.   And, that’s where the rub comes for many users.  They ask, “When will we finally get there?”  The answer, of course, is that “We are there, but, we will never get there.”  Much like the quark (still mostly a mystery to me) which can be one place, two places, or neither at one time; Web 2.0 is a state of constant motion and change.  There is no there, no final destination. 


Digital immigrants (Prensky 2001) come from a world in which documents, technologies, and life events come with a permanency, a date certain, a final version.  There was a sense of security and stability in the annual report; the once-every-decade census; the completion of learning recognized with the award an academic degree; the conclusion of work with retirement.  The proverbial “book is closed” on another year or decade or segment of life.  Web 2.0 is the epitome of the digital age.  It is all about accelerating change; constantly striving for improvement, expansion, inclusion, leveraging existing resources in new ways.  When confronted with the ever-shifting sands of Web 2.0, many immigrants are uneasy, off-balance; some even say nauseous. 


Adapting to the Web 2.0 environment means casting off the security of stability, while retaining the excitement of daily discovery and constant change.  Those who have made the leap of faith to Web 2.0 have come to terms with the concept that our tools will be different (newer and better) next semester and the semester after that.  In fact, with RSS applications, the semester never really ends (Schroeder 2007).  


So, yes, we are there, and we will never ever be there.  Such is 21st century life, shared with quarks and mashups. 



O'Reilly, T (2005, September 30). What is Web 2.0?. Retrieved September 22, 2007, from What Is Web 2.0 Web site: http://www.oreilly.com/pub/a/oreilly/tim/news/2005/09/30/what-is-web-20.html


O'Reilly, T (2005, October 1). What is web 2.0?. Web 2.0: Compact Definition?, Retrieved September 22, 2007, from Web site: O’Reilly Radar: http://radar.oreilly.com/archives/2005/10/web_20_compact_definition.html


Prensky, M (2001). Digital Natives Digital Immigrants. Retrieved September 22, 2007, from Marc Presnsky Web site: http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf


Schroeder, R (2007). Semester without end. Retrieved September 22, 2007, from Semester without end Web site: http://rayschroeder.googlepages.com/semesterwithoutend