The collaborative Web 2.0

On: October 17, 2007
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About Laura van der Vlies
Laura van der Vlies is currently a New Media master student at the University of Amsterdam. After finishing the New Media bachelor program and finishing the propedeuse year CMD at the Willem de Kooning Academie in Rotterdam, this is the year to finally really learn the inside of new media today. This summer I participated in the Digital Methods Initiative. This really made me learn to use knowledge in a different way. With interests in the topic of journalism on the web and certain forms of censorship I hope to make valuable contributions to this blog.


According to Wikipedia, collaboration is a structured, recursive process where two or more people work together towards a common goal – typically an intellectual endeavor that is creative in nature – by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus.
Important in the description is the ‘fact’ that collaboration does not require leadership because without, a better result is achieved because of decentralization and egalitarianism. Who else knows this better than the source itself? Wikipedia is a big collaboration between people who add their knowledge to ‘the free encyclopedia’. People work together on an entry with the same goal, to share their knowledge with the rest of the world. An other form of collaboration is open source software. Someone writes an application and makes the code public. Now others can use this code and change or improve the original application.
It seems like collaboration is the new word of Web 2.0. But is this new web really that collaborative? Isn’t this just what we want to see? One big collaboration between all the different users of the internet, who share their knowledge and help each other, without looking who is the real person behind a nickname or avatar. It would be a nice vision, but unfortunately it isn’t true. For example Wikipedia. It is possible for every user to contribute, but it is just a really small group of people that actually do contribute. Read for example this article about a power user, who is one of the few people who add a lot to Wikipedia. So there is a small group of users who make most of the entries. Not really the perfect example of a collaborative project if you ask me. Even one of the founders of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, thinks it isn’t really collaborative:

“But, he insisted, the truth was rather different: Wikipedia was actually written by “a community … a dedicated group of a few hundred volunteers” where “I know all of them and they all know each other”. Really, “it’s much like any traditional organization.”

But if Wikipedia, one of the most promising collaborative projects, isn’t real, does it exist in other forms on Web 2.0?
Can applications like Last Fm be considered collaborative? Last fm is a social-music-share-website where users can collectively build the world’s largest social music platform and share their taste with each other. When you like a song you can ‘recommend’ it or ‘love’ it. Other users that like the same song can listen to the other songs you like. So people are helping each other to find music they like to listen to. Or take for example This is a social bookmarking site were people can store their bookmarks and share them with other people.
But is this really what the collaborative web is about? Share your taste in music, favorite bookmarks or knowledge? Can this ‘power’ not be used for greater things?
There are a lot of programs that make collaboration easier. For example Google Docs. [click here for an explaination video about Google docs] Users can upload a document and send a secured link to other users they’d like to see and work on the document. All the users can see changes right away. So this means no more multiple versions of one document and getting confused over what is the latest version. According to my own experiences, it really works. During a project that took several months we had to keep track of all the things we did and had to work on an accompanying document together. We used Google Docs to do this and it saved us a lot of emails and even traveling-time to work together. Skype also contributed to the process. Thanks to having chat conversations and calls we could talk about the project without being together. During the period we used Delicious to save url’s.
Is this maybe what is meant with the collaborative web 2.0? Maybe it aren’t the ‘greater things’ that make the collaborative web for what it is. It are the small things that make life online easier.

A few articles on the subject that are worth reading:
The Wikification of knowledge
Why Wikipedia isn’t like Linux
Wikipedia reputation and the Wemedia Project
Who writes Wikipedia?
A contributor to Wikipedia has his fictional side
Participation Inequality
Real web 2.0: Wikipedia, champion of user-generated content
Web 2.0 conference preview: Tools that make the collaborative web work for you

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