This is an article that I authored that appeared in Centerstage Magazine. It is reprinted here for your reading pleasure. Be sure to visit Centerstage for my monthly technology column.
Web 2.0: The Revolution will be Computerized
The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised
will not be televised, will not be televised
The revolution will be no re-run brothers
The revolution will be live
–Gil Scott-Heron, Small Talk at 125th and Lenox, 1970
These are the last lyrics from an often referenced piece by
Gil Scott-Heron as recited by him against a background of
African Drums in 1970. Before ending his poem with these final lines about irrelevant media dictates and commercial messaging that ignore social injustices, Gil says, “The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat.” Well my friends, the revolution has indeed begun, and though not televised, it is live and changing with every passing now; each of us has an opportunity to drive. The revolution has come in the form of a socially networked, collaborative, participative internet commonly referred to as Web 2.0. Whether you choose to be aware, are an active participant, or decide to “stay home” and “cop out” is entirely up to you. This article will teach you how to navigate through Web 2.0 services and applications for more efficient networking, collaboration, and visibility.
What is Web 2.0?
Let’s start with what it isn’t. Web 2.0 is not a product that you can purchase or download that will solve your website problems or generate traffic or revenue–that’s marketing hype by people who want to be part of the Next Big Thing. In fact, Web 2.0 is not a new version of the old internet (Web 1.0), but it builds upon what the internet does best–sharing content and allowing users to follow linked networks to even more content. Web 2.0 goes a step further by using the internet and high-speed data connections to optimize opportunities to share and contribute to user-generated content. This user-provided content is often more entertaining, more informative, and more dynamic than the static pages that have characterized the Web 1.0 internet in the past and our preferences for user-generated content (both reading and developing) are evident in the popularity of weblogs (e.g., Blogger, Typepad, WordPress), social networking sites (e.g., MySpace, LinkedIn, Facebook), video sharing (e.g., YouTube, Google Video) in addition to podcasts, tagging, open source encyclopedia entries called Wikis and as many as 1,200 related and other unique applications indexed by various Web 2.0 directories that are searchable online. The key is using these applications and services to become more efficient, save money, strengthen your connections, improve visibility or quite simply to get your message out on your terms, when you choose, to as wide an audience as you want. That’s the revolutionary power of Web 2.0. I’ve been reviewing some of the most popular applications and services to evaluate what benefits they offer–all are free and relatively easy to set up and maintain. Whether you have a website or not, you can enhance (or create) your web presence by taking advantage of what these sites provide in three revolutionary steps:
1. Articulate your Message and Establish a Presence–Blogger, Typepad & WordPress
I’m using all three of these services currently and each has its advantages and disadvantages. If you don’t have a web presence, starting a weblog or blog is one of the fastest and easiest ways to get started. If you do have a website and want to generate additional traffic, create a weblog as an offshoot of your site and link to your site from the weblog. Your search engine ranking will improve and you can use the weblog as syndicated content for your site. Each of these services offers hosting on their own servers so that you can access your blog from anywhere and don’t have to worry about purchasing hosting space. Each allows you to choose from a variety of pre-formatted templates that offer some customization in terms of fonts, colors, images and add-on features in order to allow your blog to convey your interests and/or products appropriately. Over time and as bloggers become increasingly proficient and comfortable with the look of their blog, new and creative interpretations of a look or theme may be restricted by the standard themes offered unless you’re extremely comfortable with changing the underlying code; however, there are some very popular blogs that use standard templates. Blogs are first and foremost driven by the content provided by their authors, whether frequent posts by a self-proclaimed expert on a narrowly defined topic or the daily ramblings in the life of an individual whose writing connects with or entertains an audience that provides consistent traffic and referral exposure. Get a blog, create some content, and feed an audience of one or many. The Web 2.0 revolution is based on user-generated content and blogs provide the venue.
2. Assert your Sovereignty and Take Ownership of your own Personal Space–MySpace, BlackPlanet, MyBlogLog, Squidoo
Where blogs are author-driven and allow for an element of interactivity through author posts of news and opinions with comments on those postings provided by the reading audience, social networking sites like MySpace, BlackPlanet and Squidoo take this a step further by allowing authors to share of themselves while linking to and building interactive communities of like-minded people who share their interests. These personal page sites incorporate most of what you can do with a weblog–date stamped postings, video, pictures, links, and comments–while also allowing visitors to connect with other community members who are related to your personal network of contacts. Contact between members is further enhanced by internal email, access to user profiles, groups and web forums. These services take virtual networking to the next level and allow for the development of mutually beneficial relationship through online collaboration. MySpace is well executed and easy to navigate but too much of a haven for unsolicited, non-related notes from other members for my tastes. I like the member search features offered by BlackPlanet but configuring a good looking user page seems a challenge for most novices. MyBlogLog will help you get the word out about your weblog or website while growing your network of friends and associates with shared interests and is one of my current favorites. Squidoo is the newest of these and offers what I believe is the best combination of business and play for those who are more concerned with demonstrating expertise, improving visibility and generating revenue than with having a social space. The Web 2.0 revolution will be characterized by user-generated content that is acted upon by the masses and improved through collective intelligence (or degraded by collective dumb–it works both ways).
3. Inspire a Grass Roots Campaign: Play Tag–Digg, del.icio.us, technorati, StumbleUpon
Playing tag means understanding the importance of meta tags in how information is classified on the internet and what you can do to impact the classification scheme of your data as its perceived within the scheme. Meta-tags are descriptors used in the behind-the-scenes source coding of every web page. Tags are at the heart of how information is searched and organized on the internet. A tag is defined by Wikipedia (another Web 2.0 application where any individual is free to contribute to online encyclopedia entries) as: “a (relevant) keyword or term associated with or assigned to a piece of information (like picture, article, or video clip), thus describing the item and enabling keyword-based classification of information it is applied to.” Most of the applications and services described in this article are focused on user-generated content which is quite simply whatever you decide to write or post to the internet. When you make a post, most of these systems allow you to “tag” the data by assigning key words to whatever you are posting so that when others look for or search on that keyword using a tagging directory, they find your content. Digg, del.icio.us, technorati, and StumbleUpon are just a few of the more popular tagging directories. A visit to these sites will give you an indication of what’s popular on the internet and you would do well to make sure that your weblog and site content are tagged using common and not-so-common keywords which will be indexed and discovered by users of these tools and the site logic that feeds search engines. Tagging is revolutionary because not only can you tag your content by assigning keywords, but those who visit your blog or site can tag the entire page or individual parts of the page by using these same tools and thereby validate a collected categorization of keywords on this topic through their participation.
Web 2.0 applications and services offer each of us more opportunity than ever before to create, manage, and collaborate on media messages we generate that are easily shared with others who think like we do. Information today is live, and dynamic. Now the tools for relaying information in its natural state are beginning to challenge our conventional thinking and passive engagement. That’s a true revolution. Will you be ready to drive?