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Web 2.0 cultures and conventions

May 25th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

The Guardian newspaper has published a very level headed article about the findings of the recently published UK report on “Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World.”

I haven’t read the report yet (it is on today’s to do list) but according to the press release “findings from the report show that students typically spend four hours a day online, a figure that looks set to rise as teenagers make increasing use of Web 2.0 technology in their daily lives.  One of the challenges for the higher education sector is therefore to ensure that staff can keep pace with the advancing technology which many of their students rely on every day, using the technology to enhance the student learning experience.”

The Guardian interviewed Martin Weller and Brian Kelly. Much of what they said was predictably sensible. I was, however, intrigued by this quote from Brian Kelly.

“Some university student unions are also warning students about online ethics and the danger of slagging people off online, or posting pictures of drunken nights out that they wouldn’t want their mother or future employers to get their hands on, he says. “We’ve had no time to develop a culture. Everyone knows how to answer a telephone but it takes time for those conventions to come about, and there are no conventions for cyberspace.””

I think he is wrong. One of the remarkable things about Web 2.0 and social software is how fast cultures and especially conventions have evolved and become accepted, despite the novelty of the applications. Take Twitter. Twitter is still new and fast growing and despite the lack of any rules (or hardly any) a vibrant culture has emerged. RTs. FollowFriday. Hash tags. And so on. Just take the hashtag convention. That is emerging in a context of social use and is negotiated informally within the community of users. This is where i think Twitter get it right and Facebook get it so wrong. Twitter encourages the community to negotiate its rules and conventions. Facebook tries to impose the rules though manipulating access to APIs and data and ends up producing something which we feel we do not own. And it is the ownership and sense of ownership within the community which enable us to define our own digital identities, rather than having them imposed on us. Enough for now, but I will return to this issue.

NB Congratulations to Jisc on their latest website overhaul. The incorporation of Twitter comments and a general more Web 2.0 approach have transformed the Jisc site into an interesting and vibrant space – that is not something you can say for many institutional or agency web sites. European Commission – take note.

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