Panel at HCI2007 - not as we know it, 3-5 Sept 2007, Lancaster, UK.
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keywords: Web 2.0, user experience, end-user programming, AJAX, social networking
Anyone working in human-computer interaction, whether an academic or a practitioner, will lead a life infused if not dominated by the internet and the web. In society more broadly, internet shopping has become ubiquitous and the web has ceased to be a matter of news and has become simply the normal way in which we find out the train time or fill in a tax return.
However, the web itself is changing; young people live in the world of MySpace and Facebook; applications that once ran on the desktop are now running interactively online. Whether this is a step change or simply an evolution, something is happening, and whether it is over-hyped or under-studied, certainly Web2.0 is hot news .
What is Web 2.0
The term Web2.0 was coined by O’Reilly Media  to describe a change in emphasis in web applications and technologies. They used a number of pairwise comparisons to visualize the differences: Wikipedia vs. Britannia online, taxonomies vs. folksonomies etc.
Part of this is a technological view: the “web as platform” changing the ways applications are delivered and, perhaps, become services rather than applications in the process. Part is a social view where the web is seen much more as created from the ‘bottom’ up by the individual users, rather than top down from large companies.
The two sometimes get confused and it is not clear whether these are two separate phenomena or in some way linked. However, certainly in the growth of mashups, these come together as applications are chopped and diced and remixed by savvy users.
Web 2.0 gets linked occasionally with the Semantic Web, although the two are almost the antithesis in terms of spirit and ethos. While the Semantic Web emphasizes rigid standardised semantics, Web 2.0 is more abut emergent phenomena. This is perhaps epitomised by that central Semantic Web concept of the RDF ontology, in contrast to the proliferation of very individual tagging schemes of Web 2.0 applications and their emergent folksonomies.
However, the Semantic Web and Web 2.0 both share common ultimate goal in making the web a more open platform with interchangeable services. Indeed there is ongoing work on mining folksonomies to find emergent ontological structure within them (for example ), so it may even be that Web 2.0 and the Semantic Web converge.
HCI Issues for WEB 2.0
Social Experience as Product
Issues of user experience have taken centre stage over recent years, not least because the web has been gradually transforming former software products into services. Wherever end users have choice, user experience becomes critical. In addition, many Web 2.0 sites are about social networking, personal identity. Functionality is important, but the function may be fun, meeting someone or ‘hanging around’ … click counts do not give adequate measures!
It is important when considering this to understand the difference between ‘chocolate bar’ and ‘baked bean’ products. If you have a room full of children, you can give them baked beans knowing at least most will be satisfied – baked beans are good enough. However, if you give 100 children pocket money and let them loose in a sweet shop they all will get something different – if a chocolate bar is ‘good enough’ no one will buy it, it has to be best for at least someone. Traditional application design has followed the ‘baked bean’ model looking at broad user groups and often purchased at a corporate level. With low barriers to entry and broad choice, web products have to be the best for some, not good enough for all.
The User as Designer
AJAX and Toolkits
Democratisation of Media
Increasingly events are being reported using and through personal images: the shaking video of the dust- and panic-filled fall of the Twin Towers, or the approaching tsunami. Now, through YouTube and blogs, our individual and personal recordings become the shared memory and history escapes the hegemony of the media barons and government propaganda. But is there a danger in these democratised, but fragmented, images and vignettes; do we risk losing the threads that have traditionally been provided by the established media?
Web 2.0 Debate
There is a growing recognition of the need to understand how usability and Web 2.0 phenomena interact and whether we need to change some of our conceptions of usability in order to meet the challenges of Web 2.0. The topic has already sparked several panels at Web conferences and sessions on related topics at CHI  and DIS . There have also been recent articles in Interfaces  and Interactions  and we can expect many more to come. Perhaps predictably Nielsen has complained that Web 2.0 is 'neglecting good design' , but work reported in this conference  suggests that some apparently ‘bad usability’ in Web 2.0 sites is actually good design! Nielsen’s remarks have triggered substantial comment from the Web20 community and even a comic strip .
We hope this panel will contribute to this debate and if not answer every question at least expose crucial issues for the future … for your say join the debate in facebook.
Alan Dix 11/8/2007