Commentary

My Personal Web 2.0 Revolution

As a 20-year-old college student, I am naturally an Internet user, and for a while I thought I knew everything there was to know. I had Facebook, Myspace, AIM, GMail and knew how to type in CNN.com or Yahoo.com for any news or searches I needed. I didn’t even look at viral videos on YouTube. I was content in my little slice of the Internet and hadn’t really ventured outside it for years. My thought was that what I didn’t know existed couldn’t hurt or confuse me. I was a late or non-adopter of new Internet trends and wasn’t willing to go into the expanses of Web 2.0 willingly. Until, that is, a group of friends drug me into it kicking and screaming.

Four months ago, I was sitting with a few of my friends who are certainly early adopters of technology when a discussion arose about Web 2.0. I had heard this catchphrase but had never really researched it so I naively asked what exactly it was. The once lively room fell dead silent, and my question was met with blank stares. It felt like I had uttered a curse word in church. When the silence was finally broken, I was barraged with “how can you possibly not know about Web 2.0?”

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Once they all realized that I was truly clueless, I was handed my laptop then surrounded on the couch by my friends and their laptops pulling up iGoogle, Google Reader, Google Calendar, Twitter and information on updating my iPod Touch. Within 30 minutes, I was well versed on the basic usage of each and subsequently signed up. I was became a user of Web 2.0.

The next few days were extremely unproductive as I spent hours adjusting my apps for my iGoogle and iPod Touch, feeds for Google Reader and finding friends on Twitter, as well as just generally learning how to use everything. After the initial excitement wore off, I found myself wondering if it would be easier to just go back to the old way of life. Web 1.0 wasn’t so bad, and I was much more productive. It wasn’t until a week or so later that the true benefits of each application really started to shine through.

After signing up for iGoogle, I set it as my homepage for both my laptop and desktop. Every morning I would wake up and the first thing I would be met with was my e-mail, the news, the weather, sport scores and the word of the day. What normally would require me going to Gmail.com, CNN.com, Weather.com, ESPN.com and Dictionary.com was now at my fingertips on one page. Now I really didn’t care about sports or the weather before iGoogle but after seeing it morning after morning I started realizing that it really did advance my everyday life. Knowing it was 30 degrees outside as opposed to 50 degrees meant I could prepare instead of cursing all day at the inability of my windbreaker and T-shirt to keep me warm in below freezing temperatures. Knowing the Pacers beat the Lakers at the buzzer meant I got to impress my fraternity brothers who were used to me being the knowledgeable one on politics, not sports. These small and simple insights every morning made my life that much more enjoyable and easy. My usage of iGoogle has dropped off the most of any of the features I signed up for, but its potential impact hasn’t lessened any.

Google Reader has by far been the most influential of the Web 2.0 features I signed up for. When tragedy or heroism strike, I don’t just get one view of the event but several, and I’m able to choose coverage that is at a level of depth I want. Plus, it helps me put the importance of that news into perspective. If every news source writes several articles about a topic, then I know they believe it’s important enough to put those resources towards it. Seeing the opinion of respected journalists considerably helps inform me and form opinions on items I am unaware or uncertain of. One of the best features though is my ability to choose feeds that include neutral news coverage as well as opinion editorials and humorous blogs. With my intended career being in Washington DC, knowing and comprehending international events and mentally playing out the scenario in my head has helped me when discussing politics and has proven Google Reader to be an integral educational source.

Although I was quick to change some of my web usage habits, it took me another month and a half to fully adopt Google Calendar. Before the switch, I carried two planners with me everywhere: one for homework and one for meetings. I saw no use in using an online calendar because I would still have to write everything down and upload it later, adding time to the entire process. On the last day of the semester though, I decided that it was a perfect time to make the switch. Google Calendar as by far become my most utilized Web 2.0 feature. I not only have a better idea of how busy a day will be, but planning for events that happen over an extended period of time is easy. Another benefit is my ability to see my friend’s shared calendars and find time for us to meet as well as friends to invite me to events. This takes some of the pressure off me to try to write everything down and keep it in order. This pressure lessened even more when Google announced the ability to sync the Google Calendar with the iPod Touch’s built in calendar system.

The feature of my revolution that has the least benefit but some of the best novelty has been Twitter. I am still constantly asked what Twitter is and my best response is a variation of Facebook’s status updates - but that doesn’t fully answer the question at all. The ability to receive a text when one of my friends updates is a unique feature to Twitter and something I wish I could replicate to other facets of my web usage. Also just learning about what different people are doing or thinking at various times throughout the day has made me think more broadly about a range of different topics. Entire conversations change at the buzz of my phone because someone’s tweet was filled with insight or wonder. Although I am usually a “tweet-consumer,” I do enjoy updating as well. The best feature is being able to send out a broad invite to people to do anything from hanging out to grabbing lunch or just meeting for coffee should unexpected free time arise. So while is has little measurable benefit, just the potential that it holds is enough to keep me hooked

The final touchpoint in my Web 2.0 revolution, was updating my iPod Touch to the iPhone 2.2 software, allowing me to download apps from the iTunes Apps Store. When I listened to music, I preferred to use my older iPod Mini over the Touch because of its better battery life and smaller size. However, with the addition of apps, the iPod Touch became less of a music player and more of a pocket-size laptop. With the ability to sync Google Caledar with the built in calendar as as I mentioned earlier, I have a digital version of that planner I used to carry around to write down meeting times in. Overall, the incorporation of Google Reader, Google Calendar and Twitter apps with my iPod Touch made my Web 2.0 revolution truly mobile.

The last 4 months have been truly life changing. From being afraid of change and adaptation to embracing it openly and looking for new web features to try out, I often find myself asking how I lived without Web 2.0. It also makes me realize how impressive it was that I stayed abreast of news and scheduling my days given my extremely busy schedule and inefficient method of news consumerism and scheduling. I find that since my personal revolution has occurred, I have been spreading the Web 2.0 word to others. Family and close friends are now using some or all of the features I was exposed to. I also now look back on that night 4 months ago that started out normally but ended extraordinarily and hope other friends have that same type of experience when they learn about Web 2.0 from me. Overall, the most exciting aspect is that Web 2.0 is still expanding, and there are a plethora of current features that I have yet to test and try. If those features have remotely the same impact as these most recently adopted features have had, then I’m still in for a wild ride. Guess I should buckle up.

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