Web 2.0 is simply an enhancement of the existing internet and has been born out of the increased use of the World Wide Web. It represents any form of collaborative interaction where users of the internet are not just viewers but also contributors. Some of the applications enabled by Web 2.0 include social networks, blogs, wikis, RSS feeds, and podcasting. The most popular Web 2.0 websites include Facebook.com, Myspace.com, YouTube.com, Wikipedia.org, and Amazon.com. The introduction and favorable reception of these sites has led to their increased use in business and social networking, and has served to grow the Web 2.0 segment of the internet. The functions of Web 2.0 are being used for many business operations such as media sharing and by online retailers to promote products and elicit feedback. The fastest growing application of Web 2.0 is used in social networking where people can connect and share information with people such as on Facebook.com. As this technology and the number of users continue to increase, businesses and consumers should be aware of the pros and the cons of such information sharing.
The biggest advantage of Web 2.0 is the ability of people to become more aware and informed by interacting with many users to gather and spread information and ideas. As a result, the population as a whole has become more informed. Users can view multiple sources of information instead of a single, possibly biased, source. The free flow of ideas allowed by Web 2.0 will allow users to express their thoughts and ideas without the fear of repression, and will allow people to gain access to information that they would not have been able to view with traditional media outlets. An example of web 2.0 acting as a beacon of freedom is the growth of blogging in China. While the Chinese government controls some aspects of the internet (such as sites about the Tiananmen Square Massacre), they have allowed Chinese citizens to express themselves online in the form of blogs, and while the blogging subject matter may be related to entertainment or sport, many citizens feel empowered, simply by having their opinion out there. This will allow people to make better more informed decisions concerning their lives and the world around them. Some say that Web 2.0 will make the internet a true 'digital democracy' (2). Such distribution of information is also leading to more transparency in government organizations and corporations (1). Users can access data on what certain governing bodies are considering and the activities of various public corporations.
Another benefit of Web 2.0 is the ease of communication. An increasing number of users can meet and keep in touch with other people around the globe for little or no cost. Websites such as Facebook.com and Myspace.com have allowed people to connect with other users to share information, pictures, videos, and anything else the user wishes. According to Wikipedia, a social network is a social structure made of individuals that are connected by friendship, kinship, etc (12). These and other Web 2.0 sites allow mass communication that has few rules and is not overseen by any corporation or governing body, creating an unrestricted flow of information (2). Such applications create a form of community and can foster relationships between individuals while permitting culture dissemination through interaction and information sharing (1). Additionally, the communication capabilities come at little to no cost. This adds a huge benefit, as people in different countries can communicate (via text, audio, and or video) through web 2.0 tools, without worries of extravagant charges previously common in landline or even cell phone services.
The ease of sharing and gathering information is another benefit of Web 2.0. A user can access the desired information from any connected form of technology at any time. "A key Web 2.0 principle: the service automatically gets better the more people use it."(O'Reilly,2005). This constant ability to access allows people to utilize the technology whenever it is most convenient for them. All that is required of the user is a network connection to the internet and, for some sites, a login account to see the specific information. Additional applications can be built on the existing internet infrastructure and applications that make up the existing Web 2.0 interface (2). This is causing an increase in the number of applications offered, such as the countless social applications available on Facebook.com. In addition, the Web 2.0 sites are usually not complicated to use. For example, Wikipedia provides a lot of information in one location for people to read and also offers those who want to add information the option to do so simply by clicking 'Edit'. Further, the costs for such website users are usually minimal, and it is also not very expensive or complicated for the website provider to maintain such a site. Lastly, with Web 2.0 capabilities, an information search will yield far more results than a search without user contributed material. This has resulted in less time and energy being spent searching for and managing information (3).
Web 2.0 has been so widely adopted partly due to the idea of personalization. Users enjoy being able to create and use applications that are suited to their individual personalities, allowing them to embrace their unique needs and interests (1). An example of personalization capabilities is demonstrated with RSS feeds, which stands for Really Simple Syndication. This technology basically allows a user to subscribe to a particular feed or multiple feeds to receive updates automatically from favored sites into one place (9). A user simply clicks on the RSS feed link for a particular website and will then receive automatics information from that site. This technology is gaining in popularity as more websites offer RSS feeds and is one of the many ways a user of Web 2.0 can tailor information to suit their personal tastes and personalities. Another way personalization can enhance the internet for users is through sites such as my.yahoo.com. Sites such as this allow users to have a centralized location to access their email and stock portfolios while simultaneous checking on their fantasy sports team and personalized news.
Web 2.0 is also a great way for users to collaborate with one another to use the knowledge and resources of many individuals while in the work or educational environment. An example of such collaboration is Google Docs, which allows multiple members to upload or create documents and add or edit the documents in real time, eliminating the need for email attachments or multiple documents (11). This not only makes projects easier to keep track of but also allows all group members to share their perspective. This concept can be utilized not only in an office setting, but by students and teachers for teaching and learning purposes (3). The necessity to conduct team meetings face to face has now been eliminated by such services as Google Docs. The idea of virtual meetings can go farther than collaborative sharing of documents, with interactive web capabilities through programs such as Skype, so not only could you edit documents in real time simultaneous you can also interact via real time video during the process. Productivity can be maintained as long as users have access to the internet and have a Google account. This use of accumulated resources and individual experiences can only help to further the spread of knowledge, and the education of the users.
While Web 2.0 does give many benefits to the user, it can also present serious disadvantages. The first issue deals with security and privacy of the user and their shared information. Since most social networking and other Web 2.0 sites, such as blogs and wikis, are offered free of charge, there may be a lack of security of information (2). "Georgia Tech's Information Security Center released a report entitled GTISC Emerging Cyber Threats Report for 2008, in which Web 2.0 was cited first as one of the threats to watch in 2008, topping botnets, directed messaging attacks, and RFID attacks."(Nagel,2008). For example, while users have to input a user name and password into Facebook.com or Myspace.com, they are still at risk of having unauthorized people view and misuse their personal information. If the privacy settings are not set correctly, any person may join a group and view all the shared information and links on the group page. In addition, most users reveal sensitive information such as an address or other information that a hacker could use to commit identity theft/fraud. The wealth of information available on these and other websites makes them a target of hackers who wish to use the information to do harm (2). Additionally, with so much interaction being done over the internet, some criticize that Web 2.0 has led to a lack of face to face communication and inter-personal skills in our current society. Web 2.0's effect on communication has been compared to the effect the calculator had on mental arithmetic ability (13). More and more users are spending an increasing amount of time each day on Web 2.0 websites, creating problems for businesses and other organizations because of the use of the internet by employees in the office (1). Such inefficiency leads to wasted time and ultimately, lost revenue for the company. Achieving this work/play balance is something that companies will have to learn to deal with as Web 2.0 becomes even more popular.
Another controversy with Web 2.0 is the unlimited sharing of information can lead to legal problems especially with regard to intellectual property, such as copyrights (2). The music industry has been especially critical of such sharing websites that enable users to download music for free and then share with other users. With free access to music and movies, people are less willing to pay for them causing the music and movie industry to lose profits (2). Recently, these industries have taken action against such websites as Napster.com and Limewire.com by pursuing copyright lawsuits against those who illegally share files.
The fact that anyone can add anything to Web 2.0 sites creates a disadvantage with respect to inaccurate unreliable research because Web 2.0 does not require a contributor to be a professional in whatever information they post. When unqualified users add or edit incorrect information it has the effect of making the data inferior and unable to be relied upon (3). This low quality of information is often mistakenly considered by users to be accurate and cited as scholarly research, when in fact it is not. Web 2.0 has, in a sense, created a community without rules for users to follow (3).
Another disadvantage of this is that with all of the information available to the user, much of the accurate and useful information is overlooked (1). For example, if a user were to search for information via a search engine, there could be thousands of pages of information returned, causing the user to spend valuable time not only searching for the right information, but also making sure that the information is accurate. Web 2.0 does not offer any type of filter against the unreliable data or a way of alerting the user that posted information is of low quality (1). Therefore, users must exercise caution when relying on information found on Web 2.0 websites and the internet in general.
As with any applications available online, Web 2.0 is dependent on the capabilities of the internet and the interconnectedness of the network. Should this network fail or become temporarily unavailable, the available information becomes inaccessible (2). Many factors, such as too many users, weather, or hackers, can create connectivity problems and even site crashes that make Web 2.0 unavailable. In addition, a connection to the internet is required in order to use Web 2.0. This requirement puts those with no internet connection at a disadvantage, whether due to location, insufficient resources, or some other factor. On the side of the provider, there are requirements for large databases and reliable servers (3). For example, in order to serve the more than 300 million users on Facebook.com, the site needs to be able to store and retrieve all the user provided information quickly. These technological resources can become costly for the provider to run and maintain (3). While most Web 2.0 sites are relatively easy to use and navigate, there is a level of technical expertise and training that must be attained before a user can effectively use it. Another consequence of using Web 2.0 is that there is no hardcopy backup (3). For example, in the event of a server crash, a user's online information may be lost and unrecoverable. This potential for data loss should be a warning to companies who are attempting to go 'paperless' by putting all files on a company-wide intranet with Web 2.0 capabilities. In such a company, several backup copies of data should be kept on external devices to ensure that important data is not lost permanently.
Though web 2.0 may have its disadvantages, its applications and uses bring a great deal of value to community and society. Many of these values have been previously discussed.
Web 2.0 allows people around the globe to become more aware and informed about the world around them and also allows for ideas and information to be spread easily. The accessibility of this information allows people to make more informed decisions concerning their own lives. Government organizations and corporations have become more transparent, allowing citizens to make more informed voting decisions and investors to make better decisions with their money.
In addition, web 2.0 allows people across the world to communicate with ease. People can communicate with family while they are away and keep in touch with distant relatives that they don't see too often. People can meet others and make friends across the globe, learning about their cultures and learning more about the world in general. Web 2.0 in a sense creates a smaller globe and allows different cultures to interact and gain better understandings of one another.
A key way that web 2.0 brings value to society is through entertainment. Sites like Wikipedia allow those with a thirst for knowledge to get basic information on anything and everything. One can learn more about science, history, current events, and pop culture with a simple click of the mouse. Social networking sites like Facebook provide hours of entertainment by allowing individuals to communicate with friends, post comments and thoughts, look at pictures, watch videos, and play interactive games all in one place. Video sharing sites like Youtube can provide hours of laughter and entertainment by allowing people to watch entertaining videos posted by others from all around the world. Blogs allow individuals to access the thoughts of other individuals and find people that share common interests and ideals.
Web 2.0 also brings great value to the business community as a whole. Social networking sites and the like allow business partners, suppliers, and buyers to stay in constant contact with one another and share information and ideas. These sites can also provide a platform for businesses to seek out new business partners and new business opportunities. Web 2.0 communities can be used for new product feedback, shortening the product development time and targeting valuable marketing resources (10). Targeting bloggers and other influential Web users can help to control an organization's image and influence publicity for the positive (10). Lessons from Web 2.0 community and social networking success stories can be leveraged within the enterprise for more efficient knowledge worker collaboration and overall employee satisfaction (10). Web 2.0 forces advertises to think of new and inventive ways other than pop ups and banner ads to get information out about their products by integrating advertisements into web 2.0 sites (8). Members of the music and entertainment industry can also use web 2.0 to facilitate business by seeking out new talent through video sharing sites like YouTube.
Finally, web 2.0 has added value to society is through reduced costs of communication. Individuals can communicate with each other from long distances without worrying about paying for postage, with the added benefit of doing so in real time. Businesses can also reap the cost saving benefits of these technologies. Sites with video conferencing capabilities such as Skype can allow business, suppliers, and buyers to communicate with one another free of charge and reduce travel costs by allowing collaboration from long distances.
When it all boils down to the basics of Web 2.0 such as social networks, blogs, wikis, RSS feeds, and podcasting, the Pros outweigh the Cons. Although there are still many Cons to Web 2.0, the advantages and endless future possibilities are too great to pass up. Keeping in touch with friends, finding information at the click of a mouse, with just an internet connection required, is something to be very excited about. With all that said you must also reiterate there are measures that everyone should take to protect themselves when involved in Web 2.0 applications, but most of all, just use some common sense. Web 2.0 will continue to grow business operations and consumer ease at sharing and gaining information. Remember though, with every wonderful technological innovation comes a set of pros and cons.
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