Web 2.0 and what it means for brokering and intermediation

Led by Peter Ballentyne and Chris Addison, Euforic (www.euforic.org) / R4D (www.research4development.info/)

Peter began by suggesting that ‘web 2.0 is difficult to explain – the best thing is to see it and to do it’, so he promised to use examples as much as possible. He briefly described some of key principles that underpin it, including the importance of: user generated content, user re-mixed content, and tools that enable inter-connections and interactions between users.

By employing web 2.0 tools he explained how anyone can become an author, publisher or broadcaster, and that they enable a different way of interacting with knowledge. Website visitors become participants, and ordinary people (who might be policy makers or researchers) can become communication specialists, without the need for institutional infrastructures.

Chris described the key aspects of web 2.0 as: creating content individually, working online with others, making sense of content by referencing it with keyword ‘tags’, using tools to help content travel across the web, and combining previously separate data and software to create new ‘mashups’ of information in often very visual ways e.g. on Google maps.

Peter then outlined a wide range of examples to highlight what web 2.0 tools can do, who is already using them and for what purposes. These included: user-generated comments and feedback (e.g. on Amazon), blogs, video, wikis, slides, photos, social bookmarks, RSS, personalisation and mashups.

He described ‘shared notions’ of web 2.0 i.e. that content flows across platforms and organisations; that the barriers to entry are minimised and reciprocity among peers is encouraged; and that a mindset exists that recognises diversity, values the knowledge of others and encourages collaboration.

But he also raised a number of implications of the shift to web 2.0, including changes required in attitudes and behaviour towards openness, formatting of information so that it has a passport to travel, and in movements towards communities and users, and their tools and ways of working. Effectively, Peter called for all of us to become different kinds of people, with a new skill set focused around web2.

We then had a buzz session, where we shared our own experiences of using (or not) web 2.0, the challenges and fears we face in working with it. In particular participants who were not regularly using these kinds of tools had concerns about barriers including web accessibility and institutional roles / responsibilities.

Chris and Peter then gave a couple o brief examples of using web 2.0 in practice (the DFID Research 4 Development Portal and the Brussels Development Briefings group sites). In both examples it was clear that not only could web 2.0 increase the overall traffic to existing websites, but that there was often more interest in the user-generated content (e.g the comments on reports, or videos of workshop participants) than the output or event they pertain to. They also explained about how Euforic itself is geared towards maximising the power of web 2.0 in all their activities.

In a last group discussion we explored possibilities for Web 2.0 within our own contexts. Participants suggested they felt is was difficult to move to web 2.0 when many people have yet to master more traditional web technologies, but also that it was clear in principle what benefits could be. It was also clear that web 2.0 could hold benefits for community groups who currently lack voices online. We ended with a particularly interesting open question about whether there is a need for content itself to change in line with new more participatory technologies available through web 2.0. Thoughts and comments please!

Adrian Bannister, IDS


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