At the Spring Teachers Conference in Bursa last weekend I showed participants some easy and free tools for creating web content and making our experience on the web more personal and productive. The tools are part of a technology shift called Web 2.0, which is a movement described by some as 'taking back the web."
However, sometimes 'taking back the web' isn't so easy, as can be seen in the 2006 Internet annual report by Reporters without Borders. According to the report, technologies developed in China to monitor and restrict web sites, blogs, and even web searches, are now being exported to other countries determined to decide what their citizens read, write or share.
Among the targets of criticism is the European Union, which passed a directive that makes Internet service providers ("ISPs") responsible if anyone uses their service illegally. This is analagous to making the telephone company responsible for illegal conversations, or the postal service responsible for the illegal content of letters. This directive forces ISPs to restrict their customers' free speech in order to avoid incrimination themselves, putting them in the roles of both police and judge. Will this lead to Blogger censors screening your blog posts before they can be published?
Another international organization that wishes we would trust them more, that is, the United Nations, is also looking for ways to protect us from thinking too much. BoingBoing reports that:
The UN's Intellectual Property Organization has reconvened to discuss a treaty that will kill innovative Internet audio/video offerings -- like podcasting, YouTube, Google Video, and Democracy Player -- in order to protect the business models of a few entrenched broadcasters.
One of the most important effects of Web 2.0 is that consumers of content become creators of content, and these creators thrive on the content of other amateur content creators. This threatens not only states who want to control content (that is, what you read and what you think), but also companies whose paradigm dictates that everything (including thoughts) must belong to someone, and cannot possibly belong to everyone.
I'm off to Bursa to give a presentation on Tools for Internet Conviviality. The question is still, how convivial is the Internet?
Ivan Illich adopted the word conviviality to mean the autonomous and creative intercourse among persons. He describes conviviality as a state of individual and social well being where persons are once again in control of the tools that fulfill their physical emotional and spiritual needs.
These tools are not just physical objects; they include language, administrative structures, and other "soft technologies" that are work implements. Illich believed that modern technology that is developed chiefly for the sake of efficiency and that economies of scale can be used out of proportion to the good that is added to a person's life, with the result that men work for machines instead of the other way around.
The Internet is a good example of sophisticated technology that, until recently, has reinforced the dominant-dependent relationship between those who control technology and those who consume its products. However, new tools on the Internet (often referred to collectively as Web 2.0) are reversing the situation: there are many technologies available now that allow users to personalize their Internet intake and actually create their own content. Millions of individuals (yes, mostly Western, but that's changing) create their own content in their own voice (as if a million amateur writers had their own publishing companies) and these same "amateurs" are also the audience, critics, fans and collaborators of other amateurs.
The distinction between content creator and content consumer are beginning to vanish as individuals seize these new tools to make the Internet into what they want it to be. Firefox, the open source web browser that is designed for such creator-consumers, expresses this in the clever slogan "take back the web."
To read some excerpts from Ivan Illich's Tools for Conviviality and Deschooling Society, click here to visit our workshop wiki. One of my favorite lines was first published in 1970:
What are needed are new networks, readily available to the public and designed to spread equal opportunity for learning and teaching.
Yesterday I led a workshop for TED Ankara's Politics and Diplomacy Club (TED PDC) on how to use Web 2.0 tools for research to support projects like the Model UN and our upcoming European Youth Summit. I planned for around 12 students; we got (I think) around 25. The topic struck a chord with the participants, who were ready to break out of the Google and Wikipedia rut.
It didn't take long for the presenter/leader role to transform into facilitator, and then just troubleshooter as the students worked through my "scavenger hunt" tasks and started exploring and learning on their own.
Social bookmarks and feed aggregators were the big hit of the day, followed by a smattering of wikis and blogging. I was gratified and somewhat amazed to see how some of the students caught the ideas so quickly: even before the workshop was over they had already identified ways to apply these new tools to real and specific needs. We're now looking for a block of time when we can work at a whiteboard to sketch out how 25 people can organize and share resources and simultaneously delegate tasks and track progress.
So in less than a day, we progressed from collaborative tools to collaborative knowledge management. Not bad for 10th grade!
Share your bookmarks with others (& with yourself). Work at one computer at work, and another at home? Ever needed a bookmark that's on the other computer? Or have you ever tried sharing a list of weblinks with someone else? Try del.icio.us
, which allows you to set up a free account where you store links to websites with your own customized tags (descriptors).
If you're clever you already have
your dozens (hundreds?) of bookmarks organized into folders in your
web browser's bookmarks/favorites menu, so you already have some idea about tagging. With
del.icio.us you can add several tags to a single bookmark, and you can make up the tags as you go along. Your website lists then show up as a webpage; the list of sites that corresponds to each of your tags is basically a separate webpage with its own url.
Here's an example: A colleague asked for my help in finding websites that students could use when planning for university study in the U.S. I did some searching on the net and used del.icio.us to tag the sites that looked most useful. To see the result, just click here.
When you're done, go back to the top of the page and click on my username (themingway) to see all my bookmarks, or click on another one of the tags in the list on the right side of the del.icio.us screen. And (surprise!) you can subscribe to an RSS feed for either the entire list or for any one of my tags, so you'll know if I have added more sites to one of the lists.
To find other social bookmarking services like del.icio.us, check out this list from Wikipedia.
Update (05/2006): Elise at Simply Recipes writes how to use del.icio.us tags to organize recipes online, sorting them by ingredients, nationality, or whatever system she wants. Since del.icio.us is social, she can share her bookmarks with other recipe collectors. Click here to read Elise's blog post and join her del.icio.us network.
The PocketMod is billed as a "free disposable personal organizer", and is a very cool Flash application that lets you design a pocket-sized 8-page notebook from a single sheet of printer paper. You can choose designs for calendars, to-do lists and such, drag them around to different pages, then print the page, fold it and go.
I loved this as soon as I saw it, but I first wanted to test this for a few days before making any recommendations. I'm not giving up my Sony handheld computer, but PocketMod notes worked great for impromptu notes that I could easily transfer to my PC or PDA later.
Chad and others at PocketMod are adding new templates regularly, and they report that a new version will be released soon that will allow us to design our own pages. I can't wait!
Like blogging and RSS, wikis are part of a technology wave that is giving us the ability to work together via internet in ways people never dreamed when email and web browsing first became mainstream.
Wikis are websites that allow users -and not just the website administrator- to change the content of the site. The most famous example is Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia that lets users
update and edit its information. That sounds risky, but actually it's not.
If a wiki attracts a lot of regular traffic, visitors begin to share the responsibility of keeping the site free of improper material. Wikis usually allow some restriction of activity, for example by requiring registration or a password in order to allow editing. But both more open and more closed wikis seem to share a feeling of a neighborhood that watches its parks and playgrounds to make sure they stay safe and clean.
Here's a wiki you can try out: it's The Teacher's Lounge, hosted by Rob Lucas. Rob designed the site for teachers to share lesson plans and ideas with other teachers. Instead of sending material to Rob for him to add to the website when he has time, he is allowing you to directly add the material yourself.
After Hurricane Katrina in the US, dozens of wikis were created to use as bulletin boards to reunite families, match evacuees with people willing to provide housing, and to share other critical but constantly changing information quickly and to a widely diverse audience. Two of these are Think New Orleans and the Hurricane Katrina Help Page. While the content is sobering, it is worth thinking as well about other vital applications for this technology.
And the name? Wiki is short for wikiwiki, which in Hawaiian means something like quick.
Moving my blog to a new location got me thinking about which tools I've reviewed over the last several months were the most useful for me. There's no question that it's rss.
Until I found out about rss (also known as really simple syndication) I was becoming a blog reading junkie, following links from
one blog to another, adding the interesting ones to my bookmarks,
trying to remember which blogs I needed to follow up next, and losing track
of a lot of good stuff. At the same time, I was subscribing to more than a dozen email newsletters, and had signed up for email notification from certain websites that update their content frequently.
Web technology now allows automatic tracking of websites that change
frequently, such as news sites, blogs and e-magazines. You can tell which websites
are available for this kind of tracking because they have an icon somewhere
that uses words like syndicate, feed,RSS or webfeed.
You then sign up with a web based service like Bloglines or Feedster (they're also called feed readers or aggregators), and choose which websites you want to track (subscriptions). After that, every
time you log on, you can scan all the updates to your
subscribed sites on a single web page. Instead of going one by one to
different websites or email messages to see what's new, all the new content comes to you in one place.
After researching and trying a few feed reader sites myself, I chose Bloglines because
it's free and web-based, so you don't have to
it lets you organize your subscriptions into
your own categories;
many websites with email update notifications are now
available as rss feeds, so you can reduce email clutter;
you can save time because it's easier to scan blogs quickly;
you can publish your own free blog as a kind of journal with web clippings
To get started, you can go directly to the About page at Bloglines and read the introductory information. Otherwise, see Amy
Gahran's Contentious blog about feeders, or click here for her tutorial on rss feeds.
To keep learning more, check out my del.icio.us bookmarks that I've tagged "rss" by clicking here. Better yet, subscribe to that del.icio.us link so you can get updates automatically!
23 Oct 2005 update: Steve Rubel lists several ways that using RSS feeds can enhance your life. Click here.
3 Nov 2006 update: Right now there are about 83,000 people like me who have public
subscriptions on Bloglines, and about 35% of these people (like me)
organize their subscriptions into topical folders, and (like me)
average about 20 feeds per folder. Now the clever people at the University of Maryland have created Feeds That Matter.
FTM interprets all that information about nearly 3 million individual
feed subscriptions to generate lists of the most popular feeds in the
most popular categories. If you are researching one of these
categories, you can quickly find the most reputable bloggers for that
category and find information and resources that have already been
filtered by like minded people.