UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

We Can Be Right And Wrong!

Posted by Brian Kelly on 1 Jul 2008

There has recently been a series of blog posts which have reflected on the differing views on and approaches to use of Web 2.0 within our institutions.

Initially I gave a talk on What If We’re Wrong? in which I described the legitimate concerns that have been raised related to Web 2.0 (privacy concerns, dangers that services may not be sustainable; etc.). I argued the need to listen to such concerns, refine the ways in which Web 2.0 services may be deployed and developed risk assessment and risk managements strategies.

Martin Weller responded with a post on Web 2.0 – Even If We’re Wrong, We’re Right. Martin argued that even if, for example, some Web 2.0 services aren’t sustainable or if services suffer from performance problems (as is currently the case with Twitter) we can’t expect that we can go back to the previous environment of brochure-ware Web sites and disenfranchising users from the creation of content..

I then asked What If We’re Right? and asked what would be the implications of adopting an over-cautious approach to Web 2.0 in which we found that others (our competitors, perhaps) were successfully exploiting Web 2.0, while we were wasting time and resources in developing small-scale conservative alternatives – which we can’t even guarantee will be used by out user communities. (And I should add that I was pleased that this post was picked up by Michael Stephens on the Tame The Web blog).

Owen Stephens joined in the debate with his post on Even If We’re Right We’re Wrong in which he cited evidence from a number of JISC-funded reports on the use of the Social Web by students – and in particular the negative reactions from students if use of social networking services was imposed on them.

The final scenario, it seems to me, is to suggest that We Can Be Right And Wrong!  This approach would build on evidence such as that described by Owen but rather than responding with a blunt approach to concerns (“students don’t like use of social networks being imposed on them – so we’ll have nothing to do with social networks“) a more sophisticated approach would be adopted (“as the students do seem to find social networks useful and appear to welcome the availability of advice and support, but on their terms, we’ll (a) not ban the tools; (b) provide mechanisms – such as RSS feeds – whereby support can be provided and (c) we’ll ensure our institution provides a new media literacy policy“).  And, of course, there still remains the opportunity to make use of social networks in other areas, such as by the research community and engagement with one’s peers (this latter use case is the one I found most useful).

The approach of taking a number of different scenarios and exploring the implications of those scenarios was something I came across at a JISC workshop some time ago (JISC had funded consultants to develop and deliver a series of scenario planning workshops). And I think that many of those involved in Web 2.0 development are willing to explore a broad range of issues.  The danger is, I feel, those who may be sceptical of a Web 2.0 approach who aren’t willing to explore the implications if they are wrong. And I have come across people and organisations who seem to have been ignoring the developments we have seen over the past few years.


2 Responses to “We Can Be Right And Wrong!”

  1. Web 2.0, social networks, and so on, have already been embraced by students on a personal level. This has led to a couple of issues:

    1. Students don’t want specifics imposed upon them (as you point out);
    2. Students don’t appreciate the changes from what they see as a platform for personal and social interaction, to a platform that’s been hijacked by educators and officials as a method of contact and coming closer.

    It doesn’t matter that much of this is in order to provide a better service for students and end-users. A shame, yes, but just the way things have developed. That’s why I see this post as closest to reality. We can be right and wrong, because there is no firm ‘answer’.

    Development and innovation are clearly required ongoing, despite the difficulties along the way. Organisations that do ignore the developments of recent years are even more likely to fall behind and, ultimately, lose out.

    But it’s still important to proceed with caution (so long as it’s balanced, as you mention above). With so many Web 2.0 tools out there, the point is that individuals can pick and choose the services they want/need. The act of organisations imposing particular functions in a specific package is missing the point. Users want the freedom to specialise according to their specifications. It goes beyond obvious mashups…even the simplicity of Twitter has led to vastly different uses and new tools off the back of it (regardless of performance problems and, in fact, sometimes to counter those issues). Once this fluidity is taken away, much of the ‘Web 2.0’ badge may as well be gone.

    The big question is, in what ways can we achieve a solid base that users can embrace and then *further develop themselves*? This is especially important for (surely the majority of) institutional services that will be closed-off within a walled garden.

  2. […] Jump to Comments Brian Kelly, of the great blog UK Web Focus, has recently been reflecting on the different approaches that universities have in using Web 2.0 tools (I’ve commented on the matter there […]

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