One of the most challenging things to grok in this wacky, new, web 2.0 world is when to use what tool for which thing. When is a blog the right tool for you to use with your students? Or is that something you should just do yourself? What about wikis – when do I use them? And what’s the right time or place to use social networking tools like Facebook? Here’s my stab at a few distinctions:
Blogs: A blog typically has an author. It is usually one person, posting their opinions on a semi-regular basis (like this one!). Others chime in (in the form of comments) and the blogger comments back. The result is a thoughtful and considered conversation, but the blogger is the boss. She determines the topic to be discussed, steers the commentators, and guides the conversation. Now having said that, you could start a class blog where the person blogging each day (or each week) rotates from one student to the next.
Wikis: While a blog is about the conversation, a wiki is more about the product. A wiki is a good tool to use when you want to get a bunch of people, who aren’t very used to technology, to collaborate together on a project . You can think of a wiki as a sand box of sorts – a place for the group to contribute collectively to an emerging product. The basic wiki application (which can be accessed for free at wikifarms like wetpaint or pbwiki) allows you to quickly (the word “wiki” is the Hawaiin word for “quick”) put up a wiki site, build pages, make links, trick it out with photos, add documents, and invite people to participate. You can make your wiki site public or private (by invitation only). Here’s a short (4 minute) common craft video that explains how a wiki works.
Social Networking Tools: So where do social networking tools like Facebook, Ning, Twitter, or Linked-In fit in? Social networking tools are good for helping people in dispirate locations keep up with each other. You can think of them as web-based tools that help to connect people with shared activities or interests. Each person on a social network has a profile (with a photo and some basic information about them) and the network facilitates quick, short and steady communication.
Email: Well why not just use email to collaborate on a project or to stay in touch with friends? Well, you could. Everyone could email in their contributions or their opinions to a collaboration but the result would look something like this (comparing creating with a wiki vs. email):
And while emailing certainly works for keeping friends in touch with each other, these social networking services provide so many more tools (the ability to post photos, add music, send “gifts”, map your network, and connect to others with like interests).
But the best way to get a “feel” for the differences among these tools is to try them yourselves. There just is no substitute for experience. Once you’ve mucked around with them a bit, you’ll have a much better understanding of how you can best make use of them.
How else would you characterize the differences?