Tuesday, April 7, 2009

At the Intersection of Web 2.0 and Information Fluency

I've had the opportunity to lead a number of workshops this year entitled, "Power Searching in a Web 2.0 World." Sometimes the sessions are 45 minutes long; other times I've had 6 hours. No matter the length of time, it's difficult to wrap one's arms around Web 2.0.

There are a host of new tools that debut weekly in the Web 2.0 world. Just staying current takes hours. And while people are generally interested in what's new, they also want to know how information fluency intersects with this world. That takes a chunk of time by itself.

I usually start by comparing two worlds: Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. There are some simple comparisons. For example, in Web 1.0 you can only lurk. You can't leave your mark. In Web 2.0 you may lurk, but that's not really the way to discover the value that's there. Leaving your mark creates value. That's typically accomplished by blogging, contributing to a wiki, saving a bookmark, uploading an image or a video or commenting on someone's else efforts to do so.

Here are a few more global insights about Web 2.0 from an information fluency perspective:
  • As much as Web 2.0 is all about contributing, equally important is networking. These two words sum up most of what there is to know about Web 2.0. At the intersection of Web 2.0 and Information Fluency, the purpose of the environment cannot be overlooked. Finding the 'right' bit of information may require participation and networking; and that takes time.
  • You may get to know an author by joining his or her network, you may build trust by being a participant. The investment of time may result in the formation of your own personal learning network--which could be very powerful and long-lasting. Some of the people who benefit most from Web 2.0 have built large networks of colleagues who provide help on demand. For example, I've seen Will Richardson use Twitter during a workshop to harvest responses from his network. The larger your network, the more powerful it becomes (also know as the network effect). Applying Information Fluency skills in this environment can consume a great deal of time. But you may end up with much more than the piece of information you set out to find.
  • You have to limit your choices. How many networks can you realistically join? I have memberships in Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Diigo, Delicious, Flickr, Wikipedia and Linked In. I rarely post in most of them. You have to choose where you want to spend your time. Linked In is a good investment if you're trying to build professional (business) relationships. I see a lot of Ed Tech folks in Twitter. I connect mainly with members of my family in Facebook.
  • Web 2.0 is a public place. The information you contribute tells something about you. The more you share, they more others will know, if they're interested. You may try to hide your identity, but your readers will discover a lot about you even if they never learn your real name. You have limited control over who is able to access your information.
  • Speculative searching doesn't work as well in Web 2.0 as it does in Web 1.0. Part of the reason for this is that search engines return the most recent information first. For example, if you are looking for a post that's more than a month old in Technorati, you have to page down and down (Google Blog Search makes it possible to search by date range). Another reason is that searching based on tags is less likely to return predictable results than keywords drawn from the context of a whole page. Tags are keywords, of course, but they are chosen by the author to characterize the information as a whole. You aren't searching the whole information. Search for a specific photo in flickr sometime. It's hard to do. You may find pictures with similar qualities but not an exact match. Try it (here's the challenge in this post).
  • A better use of speculative searching is not to start with ideas that are too specific. Use Web 2.0 to open your eyes to new information. Exploring tagclouds is a brainstorming activity.
  • Finally--and by no means is this the last word!--the wisdom of crowds is active in Web 2.0. The more people and perspectives that weigh in on a topic makes the information more reliable. This is the principle of collective intelligence behind the genius of Wikipedia. This is the phenomenon behind what becomes a popular item in DIGG. This may even be why Fake Steve Jobs has over 52,000 followers in Twitter, while other Steve Jobs have only a fraction of that. Has the crowd found the Real Steve Jobs? See for yourself.

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