In their book, The Social Life of Information, John Seeley Brown and Paul Duguid discuss how human social systems shape the way we use technology. To date, it has proven difficult for web-based communities to capture the social exchange of information that occurs in human social systems, while simultaneously providing a way for members to retain a degree of privacy and control within the group.
Released in a limited beta last week, My Web 2.0 is a new Yahoo! Search product based on social networking, tags, folksonomies, and group collaboration. This new "social search" engine allows users to save their links and then share (or not!) them with people they know and trust by placing them in a community knowledge pool dubbed, My Community.
Like its sister product, Yahoo! 360, MW2 allows users to determine who is in their social network, as well as control access to their saved links. A user can save links in one of three formats: Just Me (only you see the links), My Community (you get to share your links with your contacts. And vice versa), and Everyone's Web (wherein your saved links are visible to the entire MW2 community).
Members of a community can search, structure, and self-organize the group pool via tags (keywords). MW2 also provides avenues for members to share resources via synchronous tools, like Yahoo Messenger (IM).
In a nutshell, MW2 is based on three very simple, yet overlooked principles: 1) humans are inherently social creatures; 2) the continued viability of any social system is rooted in an individual's ability to trust the members of the group and control their level of interaction; and 3) social networking should be placed in a situated context or community of practice.
Possible education applications of My Web 2.0:
Constructivist Learning Tool: A teacher can place links in a My Community pool as a jumping off point for students. As students begin to research a topic, they can add content to and search the community pool. In this manner, students are scaffolding their own knowledge and the teacher is working as a facilitator, instead of a sage on the stage. In this way, MW2 also becomes an organic learning tool, evolving with the interests and needs of the community.
Asynchronous Message Board: The discussions/comments feature readily allows members of the group to discuss the article link that has been submitted to the group pool. This is a quick way to set up a newsgroup type experience to foster student collaboration.
Finding the Invisible Threads: Social search and RSS feeds allow users to focus on their specific interest/intrinsic learning goals & may play an important part in online student support, self-regulation, and retention.
Discussion amongst peers can make the often invisible community threads more visible and accessible, and may lead students to find others in the group who share the same interests. As students move towards intrinsic learning goals, they can still contribute to the group knowledge pool.
FlickrEDU: A teacher can also include links from a Flickr group or Yahoo! Audio link to supplement content in a MW2 My Community knowledge pool. For example, this could be particularly useful in a MW2 group for historic preservation, media studies, or botany. And vice versa, wherein a Flickr group could use the MW2 knowledge cache to supplement their group photo pool.
Training Tool: As part of a teacher development tool a trainer could create a cache of articles, or technology "how-to" resources, creating tags to categorize training topics to make them easier for the user to locate information.
MW2 is a work in progress with the usual bugs, tweaks and features to be worked out. Moreover, it's clear that Yahoo! is utilizing the recently acquired LudiCorp brain trust, headed up by MyWeb 2.0 lead architect Caterina Fake (co-founder Flickr) to spearhead the development of their new "social search" product.
In many ways, MW2 is leading the way for a new generation of social technology tools wherein the community (online or off) decides how technology will support the social life of their digital information.
MW2 provides users with new tools to effectively organize and retain knowledge in the otherwise leaky ecologies of shared information. In the end, My Web 2.0 will prove to be an important step in the convergence of human social systems, knowledge management, and web-based technology.