I had a great time at the Umbrella conference yesterday giving a presentation on, of course, Web 2.0. The session was very well attended - I think there were about 120 people who turned up - to the extent that some were sitting on the floor! Thanks to all of them for their interest and enthusiasm. I got asked a fair number of questions, and many of them were the kind of thing that I'm asked on a regular basis, so I thought it might be interesting to list my most asked questions here. If you've got a question, do ask it, or if you're a presenter, are there any questions that you get asked that I've missed off this list? Maybe between us all we can do a 2.0 FAQ.
How can I trust these resources to keep going? Quite simply, you can't. Equally however you can't expect anything else to keep going. Companies fold, irrespective of subject area - travel agents crash, corner shops go out of business and so on. Even big companies stop producing new versions of software or simply fold applications.
However, although there are hundreds of Web 2.0 companies out there, not that many have folded. Those that do often give fair warning and suggestions on how to move content from one place to another. Most keep going because once you've got something up and running, that's often the expensive bit done - they've got the bandwidth (which isn't that expensive), and the hardware (ditto), so what they're looking for is investment and users. They're keen to get both, so one could argue that they're actually going to be more reliable while they're trying to prove themselves. Realistically though yes, some will die. In which case, simply switch to someone else. Yes, it can be a bit of a pain, particularly if you have invested time in something, but it's not going to be the end of the world.
None of that is the point however. If you're thinking like that, you're thinking Web 1.0. The point is that these applications are there, waiting to be used. Go and use them. If something fails, tough, move to something else. If you're working with someone and the application they have chose fails, it's not because they're stupid or can't do their job, it's the territory that we're living in now. These things happen. Don't expect perfection and accept that, as in all other walks of life, things go wrong. We deal with it, we adapt, we move on.
These tools are not authoritative. No, they're not. Some of them - shock horror - started in garages. Just like Google. That's not the point. These tools gain authority as people use them. The point is that YOU have the authority. Research tools before you use them, talk to other people, go onto the web, see what is going on. Ask for advice. Try something out and see what you think. Then make a choice. If you have an incredibly important project, don't use one. Use the tried and tested. For everything else, explore, try, and if it fails, you've learned - move onto something else. In many cases these tools are just that - a tool. A hammer isn't 'authoritative' - it just bashes things. What is created as a result may well be authoritative though. Decide what you need the outcome to be, choose a tool that will do it, achieve the goal and move on. Maybe use that tool again, maybe not.
I don't have time to learn all these things! Yes, actually you do have time. You have the time for several reasons - a lot of these things don't take long to learn - they're designed for people who don't know what they're doing. They're designed so that you can look at it, poke around for a bit and then get on with it. Once you start to use one, you'll be saving time. Put that to good use. Secondly, you have time if you stop doing something else. Nothing stays the same, or at least it shouldn't. If you have repetitive tasks, look around and see what Web 2.0 resource will do the job for you. Repeating searches? Do the search once more, get the RSS feed, end of story. Keep checking email to see if you've got anything? Use a widget to check it instead. Finally, and this will be a shock to the jobsworths out there, but if you have a computer at home, try some of this stuff there. I use my startpage for work/home/hobby; it's useful for everything.
Too much information! No, it's not too much information, it's just that you need to put mechanisms in place to deal with it. Use RSS feeds to check the BBC news, don't go to the site. Use other peoples weblogs to keep you up to date with what's going on. Accept that you *will* miss stuff. Big deal - if it's actually really important, you'll find it again, or you'll hear the buzz. I missed Facebook for ages - I knew it was there, didn't go and check it out. I finally got sick of hearing about it, so I went and had a look, and use it a lot now. So sure, I jumped on a bandwagon. Big deal; I'm on it and I'm going somewhere - that's what's important.
How do these things make money? They have investors, some of them, who are in it for the long haul. Some hope to be bought by Google/Yahoo/etc (and sometimes they are!). Some monetise by having adverts. Some will offer a free version and a premium version. Some will exist on donations. Some are just hobbies, run for fun. Some don't actually require a lot of money for upkeep.
I don't know which ones to use! Neither does anyone else - it's all exploring. Talk to others, check out the buzz, search weblogs, see what others are using and just explore. Again, that's not the point. There is no *right* tool to use any longer. The days when we all defaulted to Microsoft Word are long gone. Use something, anything, that works for you, for as long as it works. When it stops working, or doesn't do what you want, move on. Brand loyalty? Doesn't exist.
I'm not allowed to do this stuff This is the one that I really hate hearing, for a whole bunch of reasons. It says a lot about an organization that they don't want their staff to explore, to grow and to do things better. Be subversive and *just do it*. Then go back and say 'I've done this wiki/blog/Google docs/whatever, and it does xyz'. It's a lot harder for an organization to say stop doing something that works than it is for the organization to say don't do that because we don't know if it will work.
Another point is that much Web 2.0 stuff doesn't require you to have technical backgrounds or knowledge. You CAN do it, I promise. You might have to start by doing it in your own time, but you can do it. Organizations, and some people as well, need to stop worrying about how something is done, and be more concerned about it being done.
How can I use this resource if it's only in Beta? Everything is in beta mode. In fact, your entire life is in Alfa mode, so get used to it. Not being finished doesn't make it wrong, it makes it alive. Being finished means something has ended, is dead and developed to its fullest, which probably means it's not worth using because it's time has passed. Beta is forever, so just get on and do it.
My university/place of work/organization wouldn't want to be associated with some of these tools. So what? Create a Zimbio resource, a Squidoo lens, a Pageflake pagecast, a Flickr group, just don't badge it with the name of the organization, or your name come to that. Just say to a user - I found this really useful custom built search engine - I'm sure it will help with your project. Know who made it? Nooo... no idea guv. Just do it. Really. Please.
I'd love to use Flickr/Facebook/Zimbio/etc but they're banned. This is another one that send me screaming around the ceiling. Find out why they're banned. Is flickr banned because it uses too much bandwidth? That's like saying don't write on paper because you might use it up. Get more bandwidth - it's one of the most important resources in your organization. Is it banned because it's just for photographs? Actually, it's a superb information tool. People ban things because they don't understand them. Play around with them at home, understand them in more detail than the IT dept or the manager and make the case. In fact, you should make the case that because you're in the information department, you need unfiltered access to everything, and the IT people should just make it happen. It's not YOU who should be on the defensive, it's them. That's one reason why Web 2.0 is such fun!
So - that's my current top ten questions. Which will doubtless change real soon now. And that's fine, cos this is 2.0.