I was asked recently in an interview:
“You’ve written quite a bit about Web 2.0 tools and medical librarianship […snip…] Are there ways in which you see health sciences librarianship 2.0 as differing from Library 2.0?”
I answered that I’m actually not all that fond of the the “2.0” suffix, whether it is applied to “Web,” “Library,” “Medicine” or “Health.”
This answer was lame and incomplete, something I’m not proud of. Even though I’m not entirely happy with it, maybe this one will be better.
The term “Web 2.0″ is a metaphor representing the idea that the Web is in it’s “second version”. It is not, in my view, a particularly good metaphor.
Some trends commonly associated with “Web 2.0″ are tools for collaboration (and other “social” activities), applications that live online and in your Web browser, rounded corners (and other aesthetic choices), and the blurring of the line between content consumer and content creator. The term “Web 2.0″ can be a useful shorthand with which to describe these tends and in aggregate and I’m not opposed to the idea that these trends are, taken together, significant enough to collectively merit a term referring to them. My impression is that this term is most especially useful when marketing Silicon Valley investment opportunities to potential investors.
Some other critics of the term have asserted that “Web 2.0″ as a term is meaningless. I disagree. This piece by Tim O’Reilly does a great job of explaining what he means when he says “Web 2.0.”
- The Web hasn’t been upgraded. There’s no new version of the Web. The longer a medium is around, the more interesting things people figure out how to do with it. This isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) surprising. Tim Berners-Lee, the person generally credited as having invented the World Wide Web, saidThe entire transcript of remarks by Berners-Lee on this topic is available here.:
“Web 1.0 was all about connecting people. It was an interactive space, and I think Web 2.0 is of course a piece of jargon, nobody even knows what it means. If Web 2.0 for you is blogs and wikis, then that is people to people. But that was what the Web was supposed to be all along…the idea of the Web as interaction between people is really what the Web is. That was what it was designed to be as a collaborative space where people can interact.”
- Many things that are new and cool on the Web are not “Web 2.0.” Sometimes, new and cool things are the Web are just new and cool and really don’t need a numeric versioning suffix.
- Although some might see it as semantic nit-pick, I believe that there’s no such thing as “using Web 2.0“I may not like the title of Phil Bradley’s book- but I think the book itself is quite good. (Way too expensive, but quite good.) and that Web 2.0 doesn’t have “features”.At least Berci has the excuse of not being a native speaker of English, so I don’t usually give him a hard time for such things. He’s also a really nice guy with a great blog that I subscribe to. “Web 2.0″ isn’t a program, a movement or a standard. It is jargon used to describe a set of trends in the sorts of things people are doing on the Web.
There’s nothing wrong with jargon in and of itself- but the term is now so widely and varyingly used that it needlessly creates more confusion among those who most need clarity. More and more, I read things about “Web 2.0″ that drive me up the wall.
And now we’ve got people talking about “Web 3.0″
There are a number of things about Dean Giustini’s recent BMJ Editorial on “Web 3.0″ with which I am unhappy.I should also point out here that it is a lot easier to criticize an editorial in BMJ than to write one. I admire Dean, I admire the way he promotes librarians as agents of technology and change, and I admire that he makes himself visible in this way to the greater world of healthcare professionals.
First, to continue and enhance the confusion that now comes with every use of a versioning suffix by using “3.0” is a significant disservice. Librarians should be demystifying confusing terms and clarifying definitions. I’m disappointed that neither BMJ nor Dean decided to describe some of the the ways that evolving Web technologies may impact healthcare. Instead, the article appears impressive to people who aren’t familiar with the buzzwords (most of BMJ’s readership are not, I am guessing, professional technologists) and says almost nothing to those for whom these buzzwords are all too familiar.
Second, the entire editorial about “Web 3.0″ or “The Semantic Web” lacks a definition either term. Is the assumption that perhaps these terms are familiar to the average BMJ reader?
Now, with apologies, some fisking:
“Each new version of the web should be a better iteration of its predecessor, and web 3.0 should be no exception.”
Except that there has been, as Berners-Lee points out, no new version of the Web. Part of the problem with the hype surrounding “2.0” is that people who should know better forget that it is a metaphor.
“In medicine, we should focus on the ability to locate trusted clinical information, while creating the means to produce new knowledge.”
What, because we don’t focus on these things now…?
“Information retrieval in web 3.0 should be based less on keywords than on intelligent ontological frameworks, such as the National Library of Medicine’s Unified Medical Language System, Medline’s trusted MeSH vocabulary, or some other tool.”
I do not believe that we will live to see a time where the World Wide Web is thoroughly indexed and made searchable with a controlled vocabulary like MeSH. It is a poor analogy for what technologists mean when they speak of “the Semantic Web” and it is a disservice to lead librarians to think that searching the Web will eventually be like searching MEDLINE. It won’t.
“The question of whether http://del.icio.us and www.connotea.org—two popular social tagging sites—will be useful in web 3.0 remains doubtful.”
This statement confused the hell out of me. Allan Cho (with whom Dean collaborated in writing this article on the Semantic Web) has said one of my favorite things on this topic:
“…use of folksonomies could help overcome some of the inherent difficulties in ontology construction, thus potentially bridging Web 2.0 and the Semantic Web. By using folksonomies’ collective categorization scheme as an initial knowledge base for constructing ontologies, the ontology author could then use the tagging distribution’s most common tags as concepts, relations, or instances. Folksonomies do not a Semantic Web make — but it’s a good start.”Confession: I literally clapped my hands while sitting at my desk the first time I read this quote by Allan and wished I’d written it.
Nicely said, Allan.
“In medicine, finding the best evidence has become increasingly difficult, even for librarians.”
I don’t think I can agree with this premise. I think that Web tools have made the best stuff increasingly easier to find for those with the skills to use the tools.
“Despite its constant accessibility, Google’s search results are emblematic of an approaching crisis with information overload, and this is duplicated by Yahoo and other search engines.”
Huh? How are Google search results emblematic of information overload?
“Consequently, medical librarians are leading doctors back to trusted sources, such as PubMed, Clinical Evidence, and the Cochrane Library, and even taking them to their library bookshelves instead.”
Okay, maybe- but how is this a “Web 2.0″ trend? Haven’t librarians always struggled to get their patrons to use the best tools?
“Unless better channels of information are created in web 3.0, we can expect the information glut to continue.”
Dean has previously blamed “Web 2.0″ for “information overload”, now he seems to say that Google is responsible for an “information glut”. Both of these assertions are just silly.
The Web makes a whole lot of information easily available to a whole lot of people (which I see as a good, desirable thing) and many people lack the information skills to get just the stuff they want- but to assert that “Web 2.0″ or Google cause information overload (with absolutely no support) is just beyond my ability to comprehend.
Because in the hands of a skilled user, Google is a powerful tool for filtering out the chaff. Because I routinely use “Web 2.0″ tools (like RSS feeds from del.icio.us or blogs) to benefit from the readings and tags and opinions of friends and colleagues- this helps me stay focused just on the good stuff. How else would I keep on top of all the stuff this blog covers?
Okay. Enough fisking.
What about “Medicine 2.0″ and “Health 2.0″?
“Medicine 2.0″ bugs me perhaps even more than “Web 2.0″. It is a way of marketing tools that apply newish Web trends to the needs of health professionals. How does the term serve anyone but investors and those who have something to sell investors? Why the heck should healthcare professionals embrace and adopt this marketing schtick when they could instead demand terms that are clear and descriptive?
“Health 2.0″ is term for hyping the application of newish Web trends to the needs of healthcare consumers. Again, it appears to be useful in selling investment opportunities. Do the rest of of need the term? No. We can instead refer with more clarity and simplicity to Web sites and Web services for healthcare consumers.
So what about “Library 2.0″?
I think that I have come to agree with T. ScottThough I still think T. Scott was, in this instance, unfair to Casey and Savastinuk. The work is important and good, but the term is not. I urge librarians, particularly bibliobloggers, to use the term carefully (if at all). We don’t need it to describe the application of Web trends and technolgies to library work, we REALLY don’t need it in order to describe making libraries more patron-centric, and when we use it (usually failing to explain/define it) we add to the confusion and needlessly alienate potential ALLIES for improving computer literacy in libraryfolk and in patrons.
I like Wikis and blogs and RSS and APIs and mashups and portable data and rich user experiences and social networking tools and online productivity tools and social bookmarking. I’m fascinated by the new and interesting things people keep doing with the Web. I believe that librarians need to be technologists and need to know what “Web 2.0″ means- but that doesn’t mean they need to add to the existing confusion. It means they need to help smooth it away.
Jargon is fine in small groups of specialists- but information professionals, I think, have a special responsibility to help others overcome and dismiss jargon when it gets in the way of sharing information. Not only to bring the benefits of these new technologies to all our colleagues, but to all our patrons.
For that reason and to keep me sane, please: No more talk of “Web 3.0.”
In case it isn’t obvious by now: I’d like to hear your thoughts, whether you agree or disagree with mine. Leave a comment, wouldja’?