I’ve always wondered what it is about web 2.0 that people in education are so fascinated about. There are lots of articles out there about the history of the Web, of Darcy DiNucci originally coining the term (1999) and then Tim O’Reilly pushing the term in the O’Reilly Web 2.0 Conference in 2004. Google, Bing and Yahoo! them for more information or pop into your local library and dig out books like Where Wizards Stay Up Late (Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyons : Simon & Schuster, 1996 ISBN 0-684-83267-4). You will hear people talking about the read/write web, interactivity, convergence, folksonomy, mashups … the list goes on. Some of this will come across as buzzwords to a heck of a lot of people.
Some will take Web 2.0 as a lot of jargon (Sir Tim Berners-Lee has been quoted as such in fact) and I can sort of agree to that. I started off in the world of the internet mainly getting involved in things like UseNet, and the discussion forums. I read with interest about how Requests For Comments (RFCs) were all about people discussing and sharing ideas about what the standards needed to be to get things working on the internet (though there are a few ‘interestingly unique’ RFCs … http://www.faqs.org/rfcs/rfc1925.html is a good place to start!). Whilst it was done via email, fax, phone and face to face meetings … the key thing is the discussion and sharing. It is almost as if the Web is only just catching up to an idea that has been around on the internet for years, and that Sir Tim really did take it into account when the first ideas he had were put into practice.
So, we have the idea of communication, sharing and re-sharing which is now a reality. What does this have to do with Sharepoint? Well, it doesn’t matter what system you use, what platform you prefer, where you think the next step is in the wacky world of the interweb … one thing is obvious and that Sharepoint stands head upright and shoulders back when it comes to ticking the boxes and producing the goods. I’ve been around the block a bit and have used (and continue to use) a variety of systems … and I really like a lot of them, but Sharepoint still stands out for me. Ok, forget that it can look all too ‘business’ and that the backend side of things can get very funky, but that is why you have companies out there that do the design work and construction so that you can pick it up when you need to. The discussion about whether you need to design something yourself or can be happy taking something off the shelf is a discussion for another day really.
Looking at the usual tools that people talk about … ok, Wikis – check, Blogs – check, Embedded objects – check, Surveys – check, Discussion areas – check, Assigning Objects – check … and then you start getting into things like document management (versioning, permissions, audiencing) and they sound a tad cold and clinical … almost business like, but we are talking about sharing stuff now.
Ok, so some of the mashup tools that people like to work on … take the API from one site and use data from another to do something funky … at that point you need to start having the tools built into sharepoint to make the most of it. To be honest, there are lots of tools out there that already do this and I am just looking for somewhere to drop the results. When I am blogging I tend to do it into my wordpress based site, if I want to get a bit of a discussion going on then into one of my sharepoint pages it will go … partly as stimulus and partly to fine tune the target audience … and yes that does mean that I don’t want all my worldly thought to be indexed by every search engine around. It might be that I only want to share items with a few people out of a group. Easy, pick up a content editor web part, drop in the embed code from whatever website I am on and then fine tune who I want to see it. It means I get to show teachers one things, techies another and colleagues something different again.
It can be made as easy or complex as you want … and since I am a geek I make use of Lists … a storage area for data, which can be tagged, overlayed with other data, has a range of tools for managing it and then putting it forward in a way that I want (for me or for others). I have a lot of information about what different bits of technology are being used well in schools. I am now working on how to share that with others and to allow people to update their own information … I am not having to code massive databases, create a lot of queries or fancy front-ends … I just have all the data, give the right people access to edit their own stuff, give them a selection of options to see and then let them get on with it. Information can be heavily tagged, can be re-used into other lists so that colleagues can use it for their own work … in fact … I’m pretty sure that you could call it a mashup (and yes … I know that Mashups are meant to be via APIs and different sites … but since it can all be done via RSS … then I could always use something like Yahoo! Pipes! to create a data mashup to publish on another site if you want to get really picky about it!) and the tagging can mean you get a great taxonomy … and it is yours to create and adapt.
So … I am trying to see what web 2.0 stuff sharepoint either doesn’t do directly or it can’t be the publishing portal for … and I am at a loss. Things I have published range from youtube, voki, ustream, flickr, etherpad, Frappr (though no longer free!) … and this is before I get into the other fun stuff I am now starting to do more of. Once you get into using Office Communication Server as part of sharepoint (MOSS) then you can start having more fun. Using a meeting space to share documents and discussions prior to a meeting is one thing, but to then use LiveMeeting to share those documents on someone’s desktop, pass control of it around and allow others to annotate on the fly … if that isn’t web 2.0 I don’t know what is.
And yes … I know what the final retort is going to be from some parts … you have to pay for it.Of course you do … in one way or another you pay for most things, with Google it is your browser environment being peppered with ads, with facebook it is you time to plough through all the Farmville stuff from others to see important things (weddings, births, etc) and having to deal with targeted ads, with some of the Open Source solutions it is your time to set up and maintain (or the cost of someone else to do it for you) or the time it takes for a new block / module to be coded (again you can always pay for stuff) … in fact the cynic can say that there is nothing in this world that is completely free, it gets paid for somewhere down the line … just not right now by you! Paying for something does not remove the web 2.0 credentials for something … and you have to balance off what you want it to mean for you.
For me, sharepoint is part of the web 2.0 world, and I want to look for more things to do with it.