The Internet is for Use

By Michelle Boule | A post from the field of Computers In Libraries 2007.

Lee Rainie, from the Pew Internet and American Life Project was the first speaker at this year's Computers in Libraries conference. His talk, as expected, was bursting with numbers that illustrated how people use and interact on the Internet. On Thursday, the Pew Internet and American Life Project released a new study called “Teens, Privacy and Online Social Networks: How teens manage their online identities and personal information in the age of MySpace”. As a result, much of Rainie's talk focused on young people.

Man at a computerTo set the tone and get some laughs, Rainie showed the Ask A Ninja: Special Delivery 1 “What is Podcasting?” YouTube video. At the beginning of the video, the ninja says, “People over the age of twelve have asked the Ninja, ‘What is
podcasting?' ”

According to Rainie, there are six hallmarks of Web 2.0:
  1. The Internet has become the computer.
  2. Tens of millions of Americans, especially the young, are creating and sharing content online.
  3. Even more Internet users are accessing content created by others.
  4. Many are sharing what they know and what they feel online.
  5. People are commenting and sharing their knowledge and content online.
  6. Americans are customizing their content and online experience, thanks to Web 2.0.

#1 – The internet has become the computer.
The number of people who use the internet is almost the same as the people who use computers. The number of people who have access to the internet has doubled in the last four years. Because of broadband, people are sharing their stuff. The internet is social.
Gone are the days when people only used their computer for computing. Now people are on the Web, writing, creating, and being online. I think many of us have a hard time conceiving a computer without the Internet. Some of us have a hard time thinking of the Internet outside of broadband. This mindset also serves to increase the technology gap between the haves and the have nots. Libraries should be keeping this gap in mind, even as we drool over the next toy.

#2 – Tens of millions of Americans, especially the young, are creating and sharing content online.
More than half of teenagers have profiles on social networking sites. Overall, kids are managing their profiles in a smart, robust way. Content creation for pictures, videos, artwork, and writing is up among teenagers. Thirty-three percent of teenagers are their family's tech support system.
Despite the recent fears over teenage behavior on MySpace and Facebook, teens are increasingly becoming more savvy and tech oriented than their elders. This should not come as a huge surprise to anyone who has spent any significant amount of time with teens. Teens are living their lives on the web.

#3 – Even more internet users are accessing the content created by others.
Some interesting facts about Wikipedia: 44 percent of young adults turn to Wikipedia. A large section of Wikipedia users have a very high level of education. People do try to confirm what they find on Wikipedia, either online or from people in their social network.
The only thing some librarians hate more then Google is Wikipedia, but Wikipedia has its uses. Rainie's statistics show that most people confirm what they read through their social networks. Social networks are often facilitated by social networking sites, like MySpace, and VoIP services. If we are banning these two things in our schools, libraries, and places of work, we are cutting off a useful fact checking mechanism for our users.

#4 – Many are sharing what they know and what they feel online
People are tagging and rating things online.
Many commercial sites people love, like Amazon and Target, have a built in rating and review system. I chose my Dyson vacuum because it received wonderful reviews online. The way people tag things can affect consumer choices. Library Thing for Libraries allows library catalogs to pull tag and recommendation information from the Library Thing database. Putting tags and reviews into catalogs could change the way librarians think about reader's advisory. Are tags the next shelf browsing?

#5 – People are commenting and sharing their knowledge and content online.

I think #5 is similar to #4, except Rainie discussed mostly the advent of content creation, as opposed to tagging and rating someone else's content. People create content based on their knowledge and life experiences. The content can be audio, video, text, or a combination of the three. Once created, the online content can be used, changed, and discussed by other people. There are whole communities that have been created for the purpose of sharing and commenting on other people's content. YouTube is an obvious example, but there are smaller sites, like deviantArt, that include different styles and media.

#6 – Americans are customizing their content and online experience thanks to Web 2.0
Forty percent of younger internet users customize their news and other information pages. RSS is so built into what people are doing they often do not know they are using RSS.
These statistics probably shock no one. I think that very few people know what RSS is but they use it all the time. Google Homepage allows people to subscribe and rearrange features that run on RSS. You can make an entire page fueled by RSS and you would never have to know what technology was running it. Most Web 2.0 tools allow people to create and alter content on the web without knowing JavaScript, XML, or other programming languages. There are widgets for almost every use imaginable for most of the applications that people love.

personal tagcloudRainie ended his talk with a prediction that 20 years from now a Supreme Court Nominee will be sitting in front of the Judiciary Board and will go down because of what she has on her Facebook account. Rainie then played the now infamous The Machine is Us/ing Us video.

In the end, what stayed in my mind was the possibility of content creation and how little creation most libraries allow. While many of us are excited about using tags and comments in our catalogs and databases, we do not often have serious reflections on how this could impact reference workflow, reader's advisory, or shelf browsing. Meaningful applications are more important then the technology itself.

Photo attributions:
Man at Computer from
Daniel Tag Cloud from