Last week I attended the Online Information 2007 conference. I’ve participated in the conference previously – in 1998 when I participated in a panel on Enabling The User In the Quest For Quality and in 2002 when I gave a talk on Approaches to the Preservation of Web Sites. However I always felt that, as the conference had such a strong emphasis on areas such as knowledge management, Intranets and commercial solutions, the event did not reflect my main areas of interests and so wasn’t the most effective dissemination channel for me.

This year, however, I was invited to moderate a session on Library 2.0: Fact or Fiction. And as the conference theme this year was Applying Web 2.0: Innovation, Impact and Implementation. I thought it would provide a useful opportunity to see how this particular conference and its target audience, which includes many from the commercial sector as well as librarians and information professionals in the higher education community, were responding to the opportunities and challenges posed by Web 2.0.

What I discovered was a conference which is now embracing Web 2.0. I should have been alerted to this change when I was information that an Online Information 2007 Facebook group had been set up in advance of the conference and significant numbers joined this group (474 at present). The Facebook group seemed to provide the main forum for discussion prior to the event, in particular people who couldn’t attend the event asking for details of the conference bloggers (the tag OnlineInfo2007 was used as the official tag and a number of bloggers gave details of their blog on the Facebook discussion forum during the conference.)

Opening Plenary Talk By Jimmy Wales

Jimmy Wales, chairman of Wikipedia, opened the conference with a talk on Web 2.0 in action:free culture and community on the move. I’d not heard Jimmy speak before, but I have to admit that I found his talk inspiring and very closely aligned with my views on openness and user engagement. And it seems I was not the only one, with a number of delegates raising their hands when asked if they had edited content in Wikipedia. Jimmy began his talk with a quotation from the Britannica editor Charles van Doren, who argued that the ‘encyclopaedia should be radical‘. This vision, Jimmy Wales suggested, has until recently, been lost. The success of Wikipedia has been due to a return to the radicalism, with Wikipedia being based on the notion of openness in the GNU sense: it is free to copy, modify and distribute.

Jimmy’s new passion is Wikia, a free Wiki hosting service which aims to support the development of communities with shared interests. The example he gave was for communities built about shared interested in The Muppets! A trivial example, perhaps, but the Muppets Wikia site is found in Google’s first page of results and currently has 15,749 articles. How should we respond to such apparent indications of success, I wonder? I did look for information on Rapper Sword dancing in Wikia – no significant results, but I did discover the Morris Dancing Wiki, which was created in April 2007. Should the morris dancing community in the UK, where the morris dancing tradition originated, engage with this open community or leave it to morris dancers in the new world to appropriate our cultural traditions? Or, on the other hand, is Wikia just a fad which is unlikely to gain the sustainability that online services provided in a more traditional way (e.g. through funding from cultural heritage funding bodies)? We don’t know the answer to that question – but Wiki is definitely a service I’ll be paying closer attention to in the future.

Jimmy’s final comment, as described in the IWR blog, related to the notion of trust and wikis, with a comparison with a real world example: when building a restaurant you don’t worry that the steak knives customers will be using are potentially dangerous, and such customers need to be in a walled garden to minimise potential risks to others.

Library 2.0: Fact or Fiction?

Library 2.0: Fact or Fiction? was the title of the session I chaired, immediately following the opening plenary talk. Stephen Abram gave the opening plenary talk in this slot on Web 2.0, Library 2.0 and Librarian 2.0: Preparing for the 2.0 World. This talk was pretty much a repeat of his opening plenary talk at the ILI 2007 conference, although, unfortunately, he only had 30 minutes for this talk, rather than the 45 minutes he had at ILI 2007 (and even then he had to race through his presentation at a rate of knots). Stephen argued that the world has changed and the library community needs to embrace such changes (or get out, and stop trying to prevent the inevitable). Although the content of his talk was very familiar to me I was pleased that he mentioned the human aspect: “Librarian 2.0 is the guru of the information age” Stephen wrote in the accompanying paper. He concluded “It is essential that we start preparing to become Librarian 2.0 now. The Web 2.0 movement is laying the groundwork for exponential business growth and another major shift in the way our users live, work and play. We have the ability, insight and knowledge to influence the creation of this new dynamic – and to guarantee the future of our profession – Librarian 2.0 – now.”

The two other talks in this session (Lars Eriksson on Mina bibliotek.se – a library web site of the future and Philippa Levy on Web 2.0 and the Information Commons: a learning and teaching perspective) then provided examples of how the library and education professions is engaging with Stephen Abram’s vision: Lars’s talk described a Library 2.0 service which is being developed in Sweden and Philippa stepped outside the online world to describe the Information Commons, a “brand new, innovative building that combines IT resources, library facilities and a variety of study spaces to support a wide range of independent and collaborative learning experiences in a 24/7 environment.” This focus on the physical environment complemented Lars’s talk nicely, I felt.

Library 2.0: Fact or Fiction? The feeling from this session was most definitely that it was a fact.

Other Sessions

I was pleased to discover a similar positive approach to Web 2.0 in several of the other sessions I attended. After lunch I attended a session on Tools, Technologies and Costs of Web 2.0, with talks by Karen Blakeman and Andre Bonvanie. Karen’s talk was familiar to me, as we have both spoken at a number of events recently. If you are interested in the contents of her talk I suggest you read the post on How Do You Start Your Day? on the InfoToday blog. Andre’s talk on RSS: The Glue for Enterprise 2.0 gave a more business-oriented presentation in which he described how RSS was the key technical component for Enterprise 2.0.

The 2.0 meme continued in the final session of the first day on Web 2.0 In Action. I was particularly interested to hear that the promised benefits of Knowledge Management (KM) had failed to deliver, and that the Knowledge Management community is now exploring the potential of Web 2.0 within the organisation – and we heard that KM 1.0 is dead; long live KM 2.0!

These ideas were discussed further in the first two talk on Calling all social media doubters:wiki@Vodafone keeps employees on the same page (use of Web 2.0 technologies by Vodafone) and It’s more than technology: how ERM (Environmental Resources Management) has embraced Web 2.0 to address environmental issues (whose content is described in the title). Jane Dysart has described these talks, together with the final talk in the session which provided top 5 tips for finding time for Web 2.0.

Conclusions

Big business seems to be finally getting Web 2.0 – and this is a couple of years after the higher education community started to discuss these issues. There were a number of interesting talks on the human side of Web 2.0 and much discussion on these issues during the conference. The most interesting comment I heard was that well-qualified final year students and recent graduates are now expecting to make use of Web 2.0 technologies such as social networks in their first job, arguing that these technologies have helped them in their degrees and they would expect to be able to exploit these technologies and the social networks they have developed, in their professional lives.

Now does this mean that graduates who have not had the opportunity to develop their social networks and to develop their skills in using such technologies will be at a disadvantage?