Web 2.0 – My Interpretation of the SLA Pre-Conference with Greg Merkle

Web 2.0 and the Information Professional

On 11 June, Greg Merkle, the Associate Vice President of Product Design at Factiva, ran an SLA 2006 pre-conference workshop titled “Web 2.0 and the Information Professional”.  The sold-out event took a fascinating stroll through the chaotic elements of a self-evolving web landscape focusing on several key attributes separating Web 2.0 from the comparatively sedate world of the pre 2.0 universe.

Greg states in his own blog that “The paradox is that what Web 2.0 represents is in fact governed by the Web 2.0 Meme–by <everyone from> idealists to sensationalist marketeers and all who fall in between.”  If statements like this leave you feeling confused, you are not alone.  Several of the attendees came into the arena unprepared for the sometimes contradictory symptoms embodied by the viral shifts in behaviors, activities and components at the heart of hydra that is Web 2.0.  The information super-highway has been replaced by a strong and shifting current of thoughts, ideas and applications that have the ability to mutate and self-deregulate faster than ever imaginable.

At the core of the discussion were the 2.0 characteristics of extreme trust, collaboration and sharing, the instant gratification of plentiful rich software-like user experiences and the exploitation of standards based RSS and AJAX.  The power and freedom afforded by this shift in thought output has put the individual in a position to create, publish and disseminate information without the need for webmaster status, a large budget, societal permission or, in some cases, conscience.

The buzzwords and net darlings of yesteryear have been temporarily neutralized in favor of concepts like blogging, wikis, SEO, tagging and syndication.  Once upon a time, a web destination was judged by its “stickiness”.  This meant that a site made you want to stay or return at a later date because of its look, feel, and ability to elicit a creator’s desired behavior from participants.  Now though, the goal is to have users pull your information directly to themselves and their own environments through RSS feeds and visualization clouds.  It is not “Who wants to come to my party?” as much as “Who is quoting me and using my concepts to illustrate a point at many parties?”  Now the collective collaborators’ presence can be felt without the need to put in a personal public appearance.  All we need to do is focus, point and make sure people follow the direction of our gaze.  Instinctively, many will also look in the same direction and a few may even attempt a closer look.  That what makes Web 2.0 both incredible and frightening.

Hearken back to Jean Shepherd and the “I, Libertine” joke where he and his WOR late night listeners decided to play a prank on the New York Times best-seller list.  He suggested that they go to bookstores around the city and start asking for a book that didn’t exist, by a fictitious author.  The final outcome was “I, Libertine” being mentioned in literary circles the world over and its eventual presence on numerous best-seller lists.  Welcome to Web 2.0 and the power of the publisher whoever he or she may be.

During the 3-hour workshop, Greg took the group on a tour of several environments where the 2.0 personality was strong and obvious.  From Mashups and Eurekster Swicki to Rollyo, the group was not only able to see examples on the web; they were also responsible for generating a Wiki from a single directed thread that included input from several of those present.  Indeed, they became a part of the Web 2.0 stream of consciousness while participating in the pre-conference workshop.
The event ended with many participants enthusiastically engaging in their own Web 2.0 investigations using several of the sites, engines and environments suggested by Greg in his presentation.  While the discussions and engaging activities surrounding this pre-conference were in part the result of a collective direction initiated by Greg, the event unfolded as it should have keeping in mind the main ideas behind the overriding topic.  Web 2.0 is not Microsoft, Yahoo, Google or Mac.  It is you, and me and what we make of it all across the strands of the Web.

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