Web 2.0 style

One task for summer: drafting “Beyond star flashes: the elements of web 2.0 style,” which is going in the special issue of C&C being published early next year. Abstract:

In his “Web 2.0 how-to design guide,” Ben Hunt identifies fifteen stylistic elements shared by web 2.0 sites—from simplicity to “star flashes,” circular badges reminiscent of price stickers. But Hunt’s definition of style is limited to surface features; a site designed using his guide would certainly look like flickr, YouTube, or Skype, but might not embody the approach or functionality of those sites. While writing studies can and should embrace web 2.0, we must understand what Francis-Noël Thomas and Mark Turner would call its “conceptual stand,” its fundamentals of “writer, reader, thought, language, and their relationships” (4). Using web 2.0 sites widely used in writing studies, I identify four essentials of the conceptual stand of web 2.0 and discuss their importance for teaching writing:

  1. User-centered design, and user-contributed content
  2. Recognizing that networks are transformative
  3. Understanding encoding and providing encoding infrastructure
  4. Acknowledging the complexity of aggregation

How not to think about web 2.0? Try Trebor Scholz’s article in First Monday, which follows the surface feature definition: web 2.0 involves dotcoms, so it must be Evil Capitalism. I can’t disagree more with his assertion that “many of the technology components of ‘Web 2.0′ have existed since the early days of the Web.” Not only is that simply wrong (as Scholz himself points out about bandwidth), but it misses the point: technologies itself aren’t important; it’s their combinations and uses, their implementations and increments. Scholz is so caught up in painting “web 2.0” as a meaningless buzzword (and, for some reason, going after O’Reilly) that he never really deals with what the term points at: the feeling that many contemporary sites which operate in a fundamentally different way than the web used to, and the widely shared nature of that belief. Frankly, O’Reilly’s definition isn’t much relevant; the concept no more belongs to him than the web belongs to Tim Berners-Lee.

Scholz also laments the commercialization of the web and attempts to cash in on users’ labor. Of course there are gonna be folks who try to make a quick buck on web 2.0 as copycats; that’s no different from any other commercial enterprise. Like any clones (think television) web 2.0 clones are often shameless and hollow imitations of the original–put a lower-case “i” in front of it,or drop the “e” from a trailing “er,” and collect that data. (Don’t forget the star flash!) Of course many of these sites suck. But instead of an indictment of the original, better to point out what should be copied; better to focus on the back end not the front, a distinction Scholz ignores in the O’Reilly comment he misquotes (turning “a crappy name” into “a crappy idea”). Hence my list of four, distinct from the list in Matthew Allen’s article in the same FM issue. The point here is to document what web 2.0 sites are actually doing and why it bears upon writing, given the emergence of web 2.0 as not only a visual style but as the kind of style Thomas & Turner define. I embrace a key assumption of user-centered design: I’m less interested in what the users say than what they do, and users are doing some pretty interesting things with the web today.

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