The term “Web 2.0” does not refer to any technical advancement, but instead to a change in the way software developers and end users are using the World Wide Web. The idea behind this new model for the Internet was that everyone would be equal and would have the opportunity to share their opinions or administrate their own websites. User generated content is an important aspect of this, where a site requires a certain amount of input from the user to create the content. Obvious examples of this change are social networking and media sites such as Facebook or MySpace, video-hosting sites like YouTube as well as blogs, Wikipedia and Google Maps’ Explore function. Most of these websites allow other users to comment on or reply to the original object.
In this essay I intend to explore these sites and their role in modern society, particularly focusing on the way they are affecting our relationship with themes such as identity, reality, truth, secrecy and privacy. In 2009, it was estimated that a quarter of the world’s population use the resource of the Internet. It has never been easier for people to connect across the world. Millions of strangers now have the ability to come together and share common experiences and interests. Thus far, people seem to be far more open on the Internet than would be socially acceptable in reality. There is something about the format, which allows people to lose their inhibitations.
I have held an interest in this subject ever since I was first linked to Frank Warren’s www.postsecret.com in 2005. This site asks users to send secrets on one side of a postcard to Warren’s home address and to use a certain amount of creativity in their efforts. Postsecret is the most popular example of a confessional site, but I am also interested in things like Twitter and Facebook, where it is easy to quickly display one’s life to the world, or online banking, which asks a person to trust the internet with all their finances – even when they are aware fraudulent “phishing scams” exist. I find it fascinating that the Internet offers a chance to change your identity, to become whomever you desire. This feature can be used innocently, in online games such as Second Life, where the user creates a persona, which can be as life like or as fanciful as they wish, or for the most sinister means such as fraud or for grooming.
Discussions such as this are so new – the internet was only set up in a meaningful way in the mid-1990s – that it can be quite difficult to find relevant, academic literature, which can be regarded as more than just opinion. A Google search of “Web 2.0” using the Timeline application yields results no older than mid-2005, with the majority falling between 2007 and 2008. As we begin to harness this new model of the Internet, and technologies adapt to work within in it we see new fascinating behaviours emerging. It is now we must decide whether these are an acceptable model for the future, or whether we should attempt to steer ourselves in a different direction.