Web 2.0 and actor network theory

Web 2.0 has emerged as a label for the culmination of incremental developments in software and network technologies over the last twenty years or so that focus on user-generated content and interaction around that content. Whether Web 2.0 represents a paradigm shift in the World Wide Web or the outcomes of various incremental changes remains a point of contention that may be being repeated with the labelling of the semantic web as Web 3.0. Either way, Depauw (2008) makes the case that ANT is an appropriate approach to the study of Web 2.0 phenomena. For example, social software has been described as employing Web 2.0 technologies in “digital social networks” that support interactions between “social entities” (Kieslinger & Hofer 2007, p7). McAfee (2009) discusses what he terms “emergent social software platforms (ESSPs)” (2009, p69) within which content and interactions are made visible and permanent, and the structure and organisation of content and community develops over time and through interaction. McAfee (2009, p73) then defines the term “Enterprise 2.0” as the use of ESSPs by organisations to assist those organisations to be more effective. McAfee’s ESSPs suggest a perspective on social software technologies that sees such technologies as either intermediaries within fairly stable and “unproblematised” organisational networks, or as mediators that assist in the stabilisation of those networks by making permanent and visible that network as an organisational entity.

Others suggest that Web 2.0 technologies undermine distinctions between information producers, distributors and consumers, so making networks inherently less stable (Androutsopoulos 2008; Pata 2009). Within this understanding, it becomes problematic to see them as simply assisting in organisational goal achievement. This study will focus on what may be perceived as a less stable network of a Twitter based chat event and then will seek to engage with other more stable spaces of interaction such as blogs. Both such ESSPs provide data that is mainly but not exclusively text based.

Texts provide a focus on online content but such technical artefacts also act as intermediaries that coordinate networks, suggesting that the target platforms can be seen as intermediary non-human actors (Depauw 2008). The interactional bases of these social software platforms generate and reinforce the practices of social networks, so contributing to the durability of those network effects (Waldron 2010) – the sociality of such environments (Young 2006) underpins and normalises practices of digital interactions. In discussing activities in wider Web 2.0 environments, Bruns and Humphreys (2007) suggest that knowledge and content artefacts are constantly being developed and refined through social interactions and so are dynamic and fluid rather than static and solid. Furthermore, Pachler & Daly (2009) point to Web 2.0 in learning contexts in terms of “narrative trails” (p7) of social and individual sense-making activities. Narrative trails such as the tagging of virtual spaces and flows are part of the emergent and user-centric organising of ESSPs including Twitter and blogs.

Tagging in the context of folksonomies make visible patterns of interactions (Alexander 2006) between actors as “taggers” and actants as data objects that may include both the main text and the tags used to describe and classify that text. From an ANT perspective, tagging and metadata (data about data) provides an important mediating effect on network evolution in social digital learning environments. This notion of metadata linking networks and flows of people, artefacts and traces of activities through social technologies provides a basis for a common ecological metaphor of Web 2.0 learning environments (Siemens 2006; Brown 2002; Pata 2009). The emphasis on metadata can also be found in the emerging label of “activity streams” (Boyd 2010). In both cases, the effects of tagging and metadata as being used to identify specific spaces, flows and content as well as being potentially mobilised to direct those flows is recognised.

In summary, existing literatures suggest that what is currently labelled as Web 2.0 in general but more specifically Twitter and related social platforms is an appropriate and “rich” site for a research perspective based on the sociology of translation, ANT.

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