What I learned in 2008 (about Web 2.0)

2 02 2009

Grand Round is a weekly collection of the best writing in the medical blogosphere. The coming Grand Rounds (February 3rd, 2009), hosted by Not Totally Rad has the following theme:

February is the first anniversary of my blog. Therefore, the loose theme for submissions will be anniversary-related: write about something cool or important that you’ve learned in the past year.

Well, I have learned a lot in the past year. The most profound personal experience was the death of my father. I experienced how it is to loose a beloved, but I also learned that death and grieve can affect people so deeply that it changes their behavior. I now understand this behavior (anger, mental confusion) is a manifestation of deep grief, which is transient and natural. Luckily our body and mind appear very resilient.

I will restrict to another thing I’ve learned: Web 2.0.
Just like the “Samurai Radiologist” I started a blog in February 2008. Thus Laika’s MedLibLog also celebrates its first anniversary.

Useful Web 2.0 tools

This blog was started as a tool to communicate thoughts, new found skills and ideas with other (>150) SPOETNIK course members, Spoetnik being a Learning 2.0 project to encourage library staff to experiment and learn about the new and emerging Internet technologies.

During the library 2.0 course I learned the basics of blogging, chatting, RSS, Podcasts, Wiki’s and social bookmarking. Each week another item was addressed. This learning program had a direct and positive impact. For instance, I could inform my clients how to create a RSS-feed for PubMed searches. By taking RSS-feeds/email alerts to interesting blogs, wiki’s and journals I kept better informed.

Hard to imagine (now) that I hardly new anything about web 2.0 one year ago.

Web 2.0 is not just a set of tools.

In the beginning I considered blogging largely as a selfish activity. It also appeared a lonely activity. As long as we discussed a course assignment there always was an interaction with at least a handful of other participants. But as soon as the program came to an end, I started to write more and more about medicine, EBM and medical library related matter, which didn’t appeal to most of the other course members. I wrote about things that interested me, but the writing would be absolutely useless if nobody would read it. Thus, how to get an audience?

There were I few things I had to learn and there were a few people who gave me a push in the right direction .

  • Wowter, who gave feedback to my posts right from the start and who encouraged me to continue blogging, posted a list with 17 tips for beginning bloggers (in Dutch) of how to increase visibility and findability of your blog. I became aware that ‘linking’ to others is what is making the web 2.0 world interconnected.
  • Second Dymphie, a Dutch Medical Librarian, encouraged me to start twittering. It took quite a while before I grasped the value of twitter as a networking tool. Twitter is not meant to say “what you do”, but it is a way to share information of any kind. Before you can share it, you first have to find interesting tweeple (people on twitter) and it did take a while before they followed me back (partly because my first tweets weren’t that interesting). Thus I had to learn by trial and error how to become a prolific twitterer.
  • Third I read a very interesting blogpost on “I’m not a geek” of Hutch Carpenter called Becoming a web 2.0 jedi, showing a simple but very accurate chart of the ever deeper levels of involvement one can have with Web 2.0 apps and the Web 2.0 ethos, as Hutch calls them. “Down are the lower levels, those of passive involvement, level 2 is giving up little pieces of yourself, while level 3 is a much bigger sharing experience. Share your own life, share your knowledge, share the stuff you find interesting. A big leap for a lot of us used to being more private. May the force be with you.”
    Seeing his post I realized that my journey had been quite different (figure below, made in September 2008). During the Spoetnik course emphasis was given to the tools themselves not to the ways you should use and share them and contribute to others. We skipped the reading of blogs and wiki’s, the lurking on twitter, but started with chatting, RSS and blogging. Although Web 2.0 tools are the basis, Web 2.0 is more an attitude than the usage of tools, it is about sharing information and thoughts.Or as Dean Giustini says it: It is about people.

The Ecosphere of Twitter and blogs.

I also experienced that all web 2.0 tools are not stand-alone tools, but can reinforce each other. This is for instance true for RSS, bookmarking tools , blogs, but also twitter (a microblogging service). A recent post of Sandnsurf (Mike Cadogan) at Life in the fast Lane uses a brilliant ecosystem metaphore to describe the twitter-blogging relationship. He describes the blogging ecosphere, where twitter decomposes information from journal articles and long blog posts into readily digestible information (nutrients and humus). See Figure from his post below (but read his post here for the whole story). Just like the Jedi chart this diagram illustrate exactly what web 2.0 is about.

Lessons to be learned

I have learned a lot. Am I now a real web 2.0 Jedi?
I’m not sure. In the ecology-model my blog is a young tree, surrounded by many others. But some ecologic dangers are luring.

  • The relative success of my blog results in “an abundance of light which results in a pressure to keep producing enough good quality posts”.
  • I’ve subscribed to so many RSS-feeds I seldomly read them.
  • I have so many twitter-followers (app. 300) that I can’t keep up with all of them as much as I would like to.
  • I read so many things, but haven’t got the time to work them out (or I simply forget).
  • I find it difficult to separate chaff from wheat. Many blogposts and web 2.0 information are not very accurate and superficial. Furthermore people often echo a subject without careful checking or without adding value.

Or in the words of sandnsurf: the death of a blog can ensue due to excessive exposure and Twittaholism. I hope It will not go in that direction, but I have to figure out a way to coop with the overwhelming amount of information and find a balance. That will be part of my (web 2.0) learning process in 2009.

One other thing:

I forgot to mention one very important experience. During my web 2.0 journey I virtually met many interesting, kind and helpful people from all over the world, from US, UK, Eastern Europe to India and Australia. Closer to home I also ‘met’ many very nice Dutch and Belgian people. I never liked the idea of intentional networking, but in web 2.0 the networks arise spontaneously. In a very natural and gradual way I became a member of a large health and library community and that feels good.

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