What is Web 2.0 or Social Software?

By Lynda Brown

| Blogs| RSS or Really Simple Syndication| Podcasts| Wikis|

In any library throughout the country there is a need for technology and a better way to utilize this material so that is can be explained to the customer, added successfully within the library that is utilizing it, and to make the library more successful. With the advent of out global internet neighborhood it has become more increasingly obvious that the technology has greatly by-passed the libraries that are supposed to be utilizing the information. So what can we as librarians do to help with this problem? Well, we have gone past the days of posting to bulletin boards and using just simple one-on-one emails to reach our patrons and now we must seek out new ways of attempting to connect with them to make their experience at the library a more satisfying and productive encounter.

One of the ways of doing this is to explore, learn about, and incorporate into our libraries Web 2.0 technologies. So what does this mean? Definition: ‘Refers to various, loosely connected types of applications that allow individuals to communicate with one another, and to track discussions across the Web as they happen.”[1] Huh?!? Well loosely stated they are programs that allow for a kind of social connection and are sometimes referred to as Social Software or Web 2.0 products. We see these kinds of software everywhere today from podcasts, blogs, wikis, and even other types of RSS feeds. These software types are going to revolutionize the librarian and their jobs within each individual library.


A user-generated website where entries are made in journal style and displayed in reverse chronological order. "Blogs provide commentary or news on a particular subject, such as food, politics, or local news; some function more as a personal online diaries. A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, web pages, and other media related to its topic. The ability for readers to leave comments in an interactive format is an important part of most early blogs.”[2] There are many varieties of blogs: Vlog (w/video), Linklog (w/links), Sketchblog (w/portfolio of sketches), Photoblog (w/photos), and Tumbleblogs (short). One great blog is found on the Ann Arbor website where they have incorporated their blog as their sole means of giving and gathering information.

Since 2000, the role of blogs have become increasingly mainstream, as political consultants, news services and candidates began using them as tools for outreach and opinion forming. Politicians like the UK’s Labour Party’s MP Tom Watson who began to actively campaign by beginning to blog in an attempt to bond with his constituents. Blogs are the new news source and have been behind removing Dan Rather from CBS to following the tragedies of Hurricane Katrina and the December 24th Tsunami.

How do they work? There are many free blog services: Blogger, Selectoblog, Edublog [open to teachers or anyone wanting to establish a teaching tool], and many of the free email services provide a free blogging service like yahoo, g-mail, Aol, and others. Setting up a blog is as easy as deciding to post your diary for all the world to read and then pursuing it; there is no new software or hardware needed for the computer and it is extremely easy to set-up.

In the future, “Blogs now have Trackback, a technology created by Weblog so bloggers can now know which other blogs are linking to them, and easily join in the discussion on those sites as well. Trackbacks can build list of recently updated blogs, and create a centralized way for users to find new posts on a topic of interest.”[3]

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RSS or Really Simple syndication

They are feeds that are nothing more than lightweight, standardized XML markup that can be used to publish and syndicate content. Most blogs support this natively; for those that don’t, there are a number of services that provide an RSS feed for blogs. Instead of having to go to a number of websites, blogs, etc. to check them for updates, a user can subscribe to the feed from those sites and receive updates as they happen, automatically. Commonly known to us as a listserv like the one that SLIS uses to keep its students and teachers updated on what is going on within the school.

The advantages of utilizing this technology is the absence of spam, very few ads, and the user must sign-up to receive this feed; there is also no email address harvesting and phishing going on with the feeds. “If we were to convert some of our many emails to an RSS feed it would provide a small measure of relief to overflowing inboxes and increasing the likelihood that someone will actually read the emails in the first place.”[4]

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They are “a digital media file, or a series of such files, that is distributed over the Internet using syndication feeds for playback or portable media players and personal computers. A podcast is a specific type of webcast which, like ‘radio’, can mean either the content itself or the method by which it is syndicated; the latter is also termed podcasting. The host or author of a podcast is often called a podcaster. The term originated with Apple’s portable music player, the iPod, and is distinguished form other digital media formats by its ability to be downloaded automatically, using software capable of reading feed formats such as RSS.”[5]

The mechanics of the podcast are quite easy to understand. First you make a file (video, audio, or text), second you make it available on the internet publicly or privately, finally using a content provider like I-tunes or also some other type of aggregator to make these podcasts available—these can be internet or intranet localized. The hardest part of generating a podcast is choosing an aggregator, which is a software program like iPodder, Twis, or Odeo [but the most popular of these is a Mac product called garageband that is available with any Mac bought since the summer of 2006].

The reasons for using podcasts in businesses, libraries, or for personal use is because they can be delivered automatically, are available immediately, they can be replayed anytime, they can be stored for convenience, and they can be archived easily. They future of podcasts are limitless. They have practical uses within every business in every industry globally.

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“A simple database designed for collaborative development and decision-making. It allows for rapid generation of new Web pages through a simple scripting language.”[6] These are editable websites that allow users to build content and collaborate on a large scale. Like Blogs, they are easy to use and update, often displaying changes in near real time, thus validating the meaning of Wiki (quick). “Wikis also rely heavily on hyperlinks and were created initially by socialtext.com.”[7]

A common argument about wikis are that the information posted is wrong. But this just isn’t true; when information is posted it is quite common for someone reading the Wiki if they find a mistake to quickly make the changes to keep the information up-to-date and accurate. Anyone interested in starting a Wiki of their own can find help from PeanutButterWiki, Socialtext, Wetpaint, and Wikia. Any of these sites will be happy to help in the creation of a Wiki tailor made for your club, business, or organization.

So what is a personal Wiki? This is a Wiki that allows people to richly link information on their desktop or mobile computing devices the same way a community Wiki links information across the internet. Thus people who like the Wiki philosophy of organizing information may find personal wikis or TWikis useful. “The types of TWikis available are VooDooPad [Mac] and StoneNotes [PC] and they mainly offer advantages in drag and drop support for images, text, and video.”[8]

In the future, teachers will allow more information from wikis when they realize that the information found on them is quite valuable and a fair assessment of a topic. Anyone interested in pursuing Wiki technology might want to consider a Mac for their next computer because Mac is embracing the Wiki by developing its own software, known as Hydra, that will be available with the new operating system the summer of 2007.

The reality is that all of the social networking components listed above are free to anyone who wants to utilize them. They make keeping in touch with people easy and even fun to do. But before utilizing them consider the environment that they are to be used. Is the hardware to expensive? Know the readers and remember that some topics aren’t amenable for heart-to-heart discussions and free-for-all exchange. Know the expectations for discussion and always consider the audience before beginning. Also, make sure that there aren’t any technological constraints in utilizing this technology. These can be used in a pilot program for fostering a learning process but are only as good as the people using the software. Finally, recognize that each of these technologies are best used in delivering information automatically and in a timely manner. That is exactly why they were created and continue to be popular.

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[1] Tepper, M. (2003). The rise of social software. NetWorker Magazine, Sept. p.19-23.

[2] Blog. (2007). Wikipedia. Retrieved on April 16, 2007. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blogs.

[3] Cone, E. (2006). Rise of the blog. CIO Insight Trend. April p54-60.

[4] Freuenhelm, E. (2007). Your co-worker, your teacher: collaborative technology speeds peer-peer learning. Workforce Management. 86, no2, J29, p19-23.

[5] Podcasting. (2007). Wikipedia. Retrieved on April 16, 2007. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Podcasting.

[6] Fernando, A. (2005). Wiki: the new way to collaborate. [Electronic version]. Communication World, May-June, pgs. 8-9

[7] Lamont, J. (2007). Blogs and wikis: ready for prime time? Www.KMWorld.com. Jan p14-16.

[8] Personal Wiki. (2007). Wikipedia. Retrieved on April 16, 2007. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_wiki.

For Further Reading:

Blog Articles and Books:

    Cayzer, S. (2004). Semantic blogging and decentralized knowledge management. Communications of the ACM. Dec, 47, n.12, 47-52.

    Gillmor, D. (2006). Banking on blogs. CIO Insight Trend. Feb p37-38.

RSS & Podcasting Articles and Books:

    Podcasting Directories. (2007). Wikipedia. Retrieved on April 16, 2007. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Podcasting_directories

Wiki Articles and Books:

    Swisher, K. (2004, July 29). Boomtown” ‘wiki’ may alter how employees work together. Wall Street Journal, pg B.1.

    Tapscott, D. & Williams, A. D. (2007, March 26). The wiki workplace. Business Week Online, Retrieved on April 14, 2007, from http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?vid=4&hid=9&sid=209f13d7-7e81-49a2-8ea9-d2d6a9ca0def%40sessionmgr8

    Wiki. (2007). Wikipedia. Retrieved on April 16, 2007. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikis

Misc Information on Web 2.0 and Mixed Articles:

    Conlin, M. (2005, November 28). E-mail is so five minutes ago. Business Week, 3961.

    Guenther, K. (2005). Socializing your web site with wikis, twikis, and blogs. Online. (Weston, Conn.) 29 no6 N/D p51-53.

    Harris-Jones, C. (2006). Knowledge management past and future. Www.KMWorld.com Jan. p20-24.

    Saran, C. (2006, November 7). Drive business change with web 2.0. Computer Weekly. Article 00104787. Retrieved on April 14, 2007, from http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?vid=4&hid=12&sid=f52fe3bc-5228-4e91-87f4-d65542013dc0%40sessionmgr2

    Vauhini, V. (2006, September 12). Offices co-opt consumer web tools like ‘wikis’ and social networking. Wall Street Journal, pg. B.1.

    Wilkins, J. (2007). Blogs, wikis, and RSS: the impact of collaborative technologies on the ECM industry and on content creation and distribution. Www.KMWorld.com.

For Further Information email me at a1kindred@gmail.com