I attended an event (#cfbweb2) last week organised by the HEA subject centre in Bioscience. This may sound like a rather odd place for someone with only a C in GCSE Biology to hang out, but the event was designed to get bio-scientists involved in Web 2.0 and I was wondering whether there were any ideas that I could steal for the careers field.
One of the problems with Web 2.0 is that most people perceive it to be primarily a technical problem. For those who haven’t dabbled a reasonable assumption is made that it is some kind of difficult bit of software that you have to learn. As the term “Web 2.0” is so vague it probably scares people off who either thing “it is all so complicated that I’ll never understand it” or “I haven’t got time to get into all that right now!”. However this set of objections proceeds from a misunderstanding. Web 2.0 does not really pose any technical problems (all of the technology is pretty simple to use) what it does pose is a conceptual and social problem. What is Web 2.0 and who can | use it with?
Web 2.0 does not really introduce any dramatically new technologies to those who have seen websites and emails. What it does do is suggest very different ways of using that technology. It pushes us to think of our working lives as a conversation, to embed our actions in a social context and ultimately to recognise and embrace the performative aspects of what we say and do. Web 2.0 is a socialisation of work and learning and as such represents a huge conceptual leap for most people.
Before Web 2.0, you went on a course and learnt a new skill or bit of information. Now you are being encouraged to reflect on it, write a blog and share your learning. This has the potential to deepen your own learning but also to pass it on to others and then extend it as they comment and feedback. I’m not going to try and write a summary of the implications of Web 2.0 here, I’m just trying to make the point that it is essentially a social change rather than a technological one. We are being asked to act differently rather than just use different tools. We are being asked to change the way we lead our lives rather than (as most technology promises) to make our lives easier.
For those who are sold on Web 2.0 (like myself) this is a wonderful brave new world. It promises to be both more fun and more productive than the old unsocial way of doing things. It offers huge benefits for professional communities where the annual conference need no longer be the one point in the year that you talk to others like you. You can be in constant communication with your peers – ideas can be developed, practice shared and new developments chewed over and responded to. The many are undoubtedly more powerful than the few and a technology that enables us to tap into this should be enormously popular with bio-scientists, careers advisers or any other professional community.
However for most people the world of Web 2.0 is a distant and strange one. As they move closer to it, it appears to be filled with banal chatter, blatant self-publicity and endless geek in-jokes (and that is just my Twitter stream). Event like #cfbweb2 are designed to get people past this – evidencing the value through a lived experience. However, it is incredibly difficulty to manufacture these penny drop moments. We get caught up in technology and tools and find it difficult to develop the social experience within the confines of a training day. People come away having tried the tools, but not really having experienced the value of Web 2.0.
So one explanation as to why most people aren’t convinced by Web 2.0 is that it is difficult to explain. However this probably doesn’t capture the whole reason. Web 2.0 requires a dramatic shift in the way people conduct their working lives. They have to spend more time reflecting, communicating and performing in order to gain benefit. They have to conceive of themselves in social rather than individualistic terms and trust that the community will advance their own interests. This is a lot of change for most people and we know that change is difficult.
However, it is also worth thinking about who makes this change most easily. These are the people who are likely to be the nodes around which the Web 2.0 world develops. I’m developing a hypothesis that Web 2.0 activity is likely to correlate with people who are high on extraversion and openness (see OCEAN). This means that we might have to talk about it in very different ways for different types of personalities. Simply making a rational case for people to adopt is not likely to be enough. For different kinds of people different Web 2.0 technologies might be the hook. For example at #cfbweb2 there was a demo of CiteULike which is a social citation tool. It seems likely to me that this is going to appeal to people with much lower extraversion than those who take to blogging. Is building the Web 2.0 about finding the right gateway drug for a whole host of different people?
So the question is will Web 2.0 ever break through into the majority or is it destined to be confined to a noisy, geeky bunch of socially active, extravert early adopters?