Information Power in a Network Society
Posted by lisamrohloff
Defining Web 2.0
The term Web 2.0 was coined in 2004 by Tim O’Reilly. In 2005 he defined the term as follows:
“…the network as platform, spanning all connected devices; Web 2.0 applications are those that make the most of the intrinsic advantages of that platform: delivering software as a continually updated service that gets better the more people use it, consuming and remixing data from multiple sources, including individual users, while providing their own data and services in a form that allows remixing by others, creating network effects through an ‘architecture of participation’ and going beyond the page metaphor of Web1.0 to deliver rich user experiences.”
O’Reilly provided us with a positive and exciting definition. We were at a stage in our information journey that most of us couldn’t have predicted. Later, in 2009, O’Reilly added the following to his definition of Web 2.0:
“the Web as platform, the harnessing of collective intelligence and taking advantage of the wisdom of the crowd, the importance of data (calling in the next ‘intel inside’), and the end of the software release cycle, among others.”
Pitfalls and Dangers of Web 2.0
But, as time went on and more and more people became active on these platforms, we learned about the pitfalls and dangers that were lurking.
In June of 2016, Nicholas Proferas wrote a paper that brings to light some of the pitfalls and dangers for users of WEb 2.0 technologies entitled, “Web 2.0 User knowledge and the limits of individual and collective power.” In it he provides his overall assessment of how knowledge power is largely in the hands of the Web 2.0 purveyors and that is isn’t always accurate. He brings up some great points, such as the fact that Wikipedia has difficulty getting enough contributors and the ones they do get are 90% male. So there is a gender gap in the Wikipedia contributor population. Many people don’t trust Wikipedia as a source because anyone can add and edit the information. Porferas goes on to discuss how platforms are constantly changing and users aren’t always aware of the changes or know what they can do to keep up with them. Many users don’t understand the technology they use, and it can be difficult to figure out how to keep information safe while using it. In addition, users have little control over the information they produce and publish, and although privacy policies are made available, they are often vague. Proferas writes that the purveyors of these platforms have the ultimate information control.
While Nicholas Proferas overall assessment of Web 2.0 is mostly negative, and he highlighted how it inherently creates a situation where knowledge power is in the hands of those who administrate the platforms, Howard Reingold, in his book, “Net Smart How to Thrive Online,” takes a different approach. He shows how our information society has transformed into a network society, largely because of Web 2.0 technologies. Reingold takes us on a journey that began with cave men drawing on a rock wall, and it continues through the present. He makes a key stop at the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press five hundred years ago. Prior to that time, 30,000 books existed in Europe. Within 50 years of this amazing invention, ten million books existed! This single machine made knowledge sharing easier, and people’s knowledge grew exponentially as a result. This was the beginning of humankind recognizing and labeling ourselves as an information society.
Our Continued Digital Evolution
With our evolution into a Web 2.0 world, we’ve evolved again. According to Reingold, we’ve gone from being an information society to a network society. A network society allows for more than just information sharing; it allows us to connect as human beings at a whole new level. Reingold writes, “Online networks that support social networks share properties of more general network structure as well as the specific properties of human networks.”
Although Reingold does address the pitfalls and problems that exist within this Web 2.0 world (such as identity theft, and the unwanted use and mixing of our creations), he provides a healthy, more balanced approach that also shows the amazing new benefits. He gives the example of a man whose son had cancer. The man networked online with a whole group of people – doctors, nurses, friends, family, other parents who had a child with cancer, and more. As a result, he gained a valuable support system that provided him with knowledge, friendship, emotional support and even money that the group had raised.
So, although this new network society we have available to us through the Web 2.0 world holds some possible dangers, there are many benefits as well. It isn’t going away, and those who learn to use it responsibly can enjoy the benefits relatively safely.
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