How we communicate in a Web 2.0 World

January 29, 2007

On Thursday, January 25th, 2007, Wayne MacPhail visited Sheridan College as a guest lecturer and provided an overview of the 2.0 web and its sociological implications and current uses. Mr. MacPhail has a varied background and is well versed in topics from programming, design and web development to fundraising, education and innovative technologies. He can interestingly enough discuss the animated work of Bill Plympton as easily as he can discuss x-ray cross sections of the human brain.

Initially, he traversed web 2.0 as a marketing term and its validity from a societal point of view. He discussed how it promotes and encourages communication and collaboration. This is a reoccurring theme in his ethos of bridging geographical gaps and bringing people together to manifest and create digital societies and environments. He also noted how Web 2.0 encourages the creation of shared content. He found current themes in interface design, mentioning that a lot of current colours appear pastelly and are seemingly retrograde. Also, he covered how 2.0 supports tagging and social book marking, which again brings people together with an emphasis on immediacy and communication.

However, he did also investigate the seemingly negative connotations associated with the Web 2.0. Some of these negative aspects involved the limited functionality and how companies can surface to be nothing more than flash in the cans, so to speak. This just puts an emphasis on the economical benefit and the pursuit of commerce that one may find in the current system. He referred to a lot of the material that these companies may produce as being mere flavors of the month and as he said ‘too hip by half’, which implies that something may be visually cunning, but lacking on value.

Mr. Macphail continued to discuss the Web 1.0 and it’s seeming drawbacks. What he found dealt a lot with how the content was very authoritative and static, what he called brochureware or shovelware. He interpreted it to be like a one-way broadcast that didn’t necessarily engage people with others, but restricted them to a passive viewership. This system allowed for little collaboration and set up a framework for poor interaction.

He then carried on discussing the importance of tags and the impact that they are having on the current web and, transcendentally, society. He valued them as a fundamental idea with strong societal implications. He noted that traditionally the ability to keyword has existed for some time and can be found in libraries for example in the form of the dewy decimal system. He also conversed how tagging allows people to come together and use organization for good. He cited how within 48hours after the devastating floods that occurred as a result of Hurricane Katrina, people throughout the world were united on websites like ‘flickr’ through the common word Katrina. This promulgates how human beings demonstrate an inherent ability to intuitively choose a word that would resonate collectively and bring people together to a mutual understand in a situation. As he stated, this can be beneficial because suddenly one’s intelligence is a part of a greater intelligence and that is conceptually binding.

He then proceeded to discuss the nature of RSS Feeds and the importance that everyone should be using them and its benefit in saving one’s time. RSS Feeds basically refer to ‘Really Simple Syndication’ and allow a user to have websites send information to them whenever new information arises. This again puts an emphasis on collective intelligence and raises the notion of immediacy and how information has become easily available.

In his final discussion he introduced the most recent development of ‘Second Life’, its growth and the impact that it is currently having on society. Second Life is a relatively new phenomenon that allows individuals to engage in a virtual world and mirror the activities and functions that one might in the tactile world. He mentioned how some people have profited substantially because of this and how interest in ‘Second Life’ is growing exponentially. He described its use and functionality in a multitude of ways and displayed how the Alzheimer’s Society of Ontario was able to raise funds for its organization through a virtual fundraiser in which virtual people attended and donated money. The potential to reach a greater audience for beneficial causes is substantial and quite apparent. He also correlated current work that he is doing for McMaster University. This project indicates an obvious interest by educational institutes to invest in this virtual world and how Second Life has had such an impact in such a seemingly short time.

Overall, he reiterated how this is a signifier of a world that needs to create communication with efficacy, but what concerns me is the potential to lose a physical presence with one another. Yes, it’s beneficial to unite and adjoin those who may be separated by vast amounts of land, but what about engaging with those around you? Would you not be giving up the potential to interact with actual people in search of strengthening bonds with virtual people? These are some of the concerns that may be raised as a result of this heightened virtual world that is amplified with immediacy. In closing, Mr. Macphail was very informative and provided a beneficial amount of information and his understanding of society’s current and past intricacies is quite evident, but the future has yet to be paved and the ability for humanity to engage more on an inter-personal level is definitely a promising concept.

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