Web 2.0 Article for Presbyterian Outlook

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In the beginning, there was Gutenberg. Those privileged few who owned the printing presses printed the text, while everyone else merely read it. To be sure, copies of a text might be circulated among friends, discussed around the dinner table, or used to prop up a short table leg -- but the text itself remained static. Any underlined passages or notes in the margin remained isolated from the general public, existing solely in that copy of the text.

The beginning of the internet (what we'll call "Web 1.0") was much the same: Websites were created by a limited few who had the technical or financial resources to do so. The World Wide Web quickly developed into a great source of information, but not really a means of self-expression or conversation for the masses.

In the past decade, things have changed quite a bit. E-Commerce websites like E-Bay, Craigslist, and Amazon.com have created entire communities where users either supply the products that are sold, connect with buyers/sellers, or add value to existing products through reviews, ratings, and recommendations. News websites like Digg and Newsvine allow users to submit or write interesting news articles and websites, and vote articles up or down a ranked list. Media sharing sites like YouTube and Flickr allow users to upload short video clips or pictures, then rate, label, comment, and share them with others. Social networking sites like Myspace and Facebook provide places for friends to create an online "profile," then find, meet, and interact with each other. The elements that these sites share are hallmarks of a new generation of websites -- participatory, interactive, collaborative, user-generated content. Increasingly, these sites (and many more like them) are referred to as "Web 2.0."

Perhaps most interesting of all are two types of uniquely Web 2.0 websites that have surfaced in the past five years: Blogs and Wikis. Blogs have come a long way from the simple "web-logs" and online public diaries of just five years ago. Today, they are powerful (but simple) tools that allow someone with little technical skill to publish personal thoughts, opinions, or just about anything on the internet, on a regular basis -- for free. At 50 million blogs and counting [1], they are quickly becoming the mouthpieces of the masses -- the equivalent of a Gutenberg Press or a Production Studio on every computer. And the "blogosphere" has influenced everything from US Foreign Policy and Political campaigns to the worlds of Academia and Business [2].

While there are thousands influential blogs, one wiki outshines all others: Wikipedia. Like any wiki, Wikipedia is a website that anyone can edit. But Wikipedia is also an online encyclopedia, and with over 8 million articles in over 200 languages, it is quickly becoming the largest repository of information in the world[3]. And every article has been created and maintained by volunteers, hobbyists, and amateur enthusiasts in just about every field. Don't make the mistake, however, of thinking that makes it less reliable than its ink and paper peers: an in-depth study by Nature Magazine conducted by a panel of science experts showed that Wikipedia's accuracy was on par with that of Encyclopedia Britannica, and perhaps better[4]. What's most impressive about Wikpedia, and wiki software in general, is how well it enables collaboration among people across distance, time, and culture. In fact -- this article was written collaboratively on the personal wiki site of one of the authors.

But what does any of this Web 2.0 stuff have to do with the church? Wikipedia brings a diverse host of people together, and through their communal effort they make something much greater than any of them could do on their own. There are many users who combine to make one wiki, and each person brings a different kind of knowledge. To Christians, this should sound familiar. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12, "There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit...to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good...the body is one and has many members."

A website like Wikipedia is one body made up of many members, and each member contributes to the body with the gifts that they are given. These ideas should seem familiar to Christians, and especially for Presbyterians. Many churches use the phrase, "every member is a minister." In a similar manner many "Web 2.0" sites are founded on the idea that "every user is an editor." Our polity (G-4.0302) states that "the nature of Presbyterian order is such that it shares power and responsibility." Web 2.0 sites share power and responsibility with millions of users on a daily basis.

Other values important to Presbyterians are embodied in Web 2.0, like diversity, inclusiveness, and opening membership and leadership to all people. Anyone can edit Wikipeida, create a Facebook page or upload a photo to Flickr, and on these sites it doesn't matter what you wear, where you work, or how much money you make. People are valued for what they have contributed to the community. And like Presbyterian polity, the openness of Web 2.0 allows for minority voices to be heard instead of being drowned out by the majority.

It's a wonderful thing that Web 2.0 and being Presbyterian have so many shared values, but that's not the foremost reason that churches need to know about this new frontier of the internet. Presbyterians need to become familiar with these websites because they are very useful for ministry! Every church can use help with stewardship, communication, group collaboration, scheduling meetings, finding useful but inexpensive software, and maintaing contact with youth and college students. Here is a list of ten Web 2.0 sites that all churches should be aware of.

Top Ten Web 2.0 sites for Churches

  • docs.google.com - For collaborative work on documents.
  • calendar.google.com - A calendar that anyone can view and multiple people can edit.
  • www.sourceforge.net - A library of open source software that is freely distributed.
  • www.flickr.com - For multiple people to upload and view pictures.
  • www.facebook.com - A site where people create their own page to connect with friends and communities.
  • www.wordpress.com - A place to start a personal or a church Web 2.0 site.
  • www.surveymonkey.com - Create online polls and surveys for people to easily fill out online.
  • www.wikia.com - Host your own wiki about your church, your community, or anything else.
  • www.youtube.com - Upload your own videos of church events or outreach for all to see.
  • www.doodle.ch - Makes scheduling a meeting time for multiple people quick and simple.
  • essay writings