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Librarians challenge Web 2.0 youf-work myths

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From BEA Systems and its soon-to-be owner Oracle, from mighty IBM to a myriad of social network and online office start-ups, vendors have been telling us how the "Google generation" and Web 2.0 will change the way we work. Many have been flogging applications and middleware products, strategies and marketing puff to back this up.

It seems, though, the industry has overestimated the Google generation's net-savvy credentials. Two reports should set the alarm bell ringing among vendors and end-users championing Web 2.0, and force them to re-evaluate the demand for such software.

According to a British Library study many of the assumptions made about the Google generation - defined as those born since 1993 - fail to stack up to the evidence.

Among these, that the Google generation are search experts - something labelled "a dangerous myth". "A careful look at the literature over the past 25 years finds no improvement (or deterioration) in young people's information skills" the report said. Also there is no hard evidence to prove the Google generation needs information immediately and that it has no tolerance for delay in getting such data.

Social networking also comes up short. Around seven per cent of students agreed they were "very" or "extremely likely" to use social networking for a variety of tasks such as online discussions or sharing ideas. But the rest, the study concluded, "are not interested".

The perception seems to be that social networking is OK for "personal" activities - but not for those that are work-related. The numbers are drawn from an Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) survey of 6,545 teenagers on sharing, privacy and trust on the internet.

Overall, the British Library study delivers a score card on assumptions based on data from different polls such as OCLC to find out how the researchers of the future, currently in school or pre-school, are likely to access and interact with "digital resources" in five to 10-years' time.

While designed for libraries, the report should make good reading for anyone interested in the way people work with information and collaborate with each other.

The British Library study appeared as a separate KPMG-sponsored report raised further doubts on the adoption of Web 2.0 in business, this time from the employer's perspective.

Prepared by the Economist Intelligence Unit and based on interviews with 472 executives worldwide, the report notes while the majority see the benefits, concerns over data security and governance could slow the progress of Web 2.0 development in enterprises.

It pays, as ever, to put Web 2.0 into a little historical context. The idea of using technology to improve collaboration goes back a long way. In his seminal 1962 paper, Douglas Engelbart proposed computers should be used not only to improve individual productivity but also team productivity.

"We feel that the effect of these augmentation developments upon group methods and group capability is actually going to be more pronounced than the effect upon individual's methods and capabilities, and we are very eager to increase our research effort in that direction," Engelbart wrote.

Since then we have seen collaborative working systems, workflow processing and groupware achieve some successes - but also some failures. Web 2.0 is only the latest manifestation of collaborative technology, and is also likely suffer from the same mixture of over-stated vision, successes and failures as evidenced by these two reports.®

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