Web 2.0 Guide

Changing the Conversation: Social Media and Web 2.0

What are "Web 2.0" and "Social Media," Anyway?

The term “Web 2.0” describes two important dimensions of web-based communication:

1. Web 2.0 as a Technology Platform. “Web 2.0” sometimes refers to the ways computer hardware, software, and networks can be used to deliver sophisticated interactive processes over the World Wide Web to anyone with an Internet connection. Hallmarks of Web 2.0 technology are (1) the rapidity with which sophisticated interactive data-handling applications can be developed, (2) the ease with which data from different systems can be combined and accessed over the web, and (3) usability across all types of computers, operating systems, or mobile devices.

2. Web 2.0 as a Communication Process. Alternatively, “Web 2.0” can refer to ways that people can use the web to easily publish information (or "content") online, share that information with others, and develop relationships and communicate interactively with people who share common interests. Often these behaviors are individualistic, spontaneous, and highly decentralized.

"Social media" is a companion term to "Web 2.0" that refers to the increasingly open and social nature of web-based communications. Sometimes traditional media adopt "social media" characteristics. For example, a newspaper might publish its original content online but also encourage readers to discuss its articles online and, in some cases, to add and report events alongside postings by professional journalists.

Perhaps the most significant feature of "Web 2.0" systems is that anyone can use them to share and discuss almost anything. They don't require the same level of support that older and more structured websites, computer networks, and software applications required. Using today's online resources (like the ones discussed below) just about anyone can publish online and carry on extended conversations in groups that are large or small, temporary or permanent.

The "ease of use" of social media and web 2.0 based systems can allow the balance of power to shift from system creators to system users. Once something is published online and discussions and conversations start taking place, traditional concepts of centralized control, ownership, and authority can become irrelevant. The resulting ascendancy of the role of the "community" over hierarchical authority requires an adjustment in thinking.


Some examples of social media and "Web 2.0" systems relevant to the Changing the Conversation project are the following:

1. Blogs

2. Social Networks such as Facebook and Linkedin

3. Twitter

We'll briefly discuss how each of these can be relevant to the Changing the Conversation project below.

1. Blogs

Blogs, originally called "weblogs," are specialized websites published by individuals or groups to promote an idea, a cause, an event, or some other goal or objective. They're usually updated frequently and reflect an individual viewpoint or message, and they usually include the ability for readers to comment on what's published.

Some blogs are totally independent and reflect only the opinions of their authors and the people who comment. Other blogs are sponsored by or affiliated with an organization or group. Readers can also contact blog authors directly for one-on-one discussion. Unlike more static or permanent websites, blogs have the ability to constantly -- and quickly -- change and react to events. This makes them an ideal format for getting information to the public quickly and directly without passing through an extensive review or editing cycle.

This lack of formal editorial control is both a strength and a weakness. It's a strength because it allows for very rapid publishing. Search engines such as Google and Bing are very quick to index blog contents, so that within minutes a new blog post will be indexed and start showing up in search results "before the ink is even dry."

The direct nature of blog publishing is also a weakness. Mistakes will also be published quickly and can be difficult to correct or retract. Once something is on the web it's there to stay.

On balance, we think that blogs are an excellent tool for people to communicate about topics related to the Changing the Conversation project. The reason is simple: people can rapidly share personal experiences that can be invaluable to   others. This unfiltered “sharing among peers" makes blogs an ideal vehicle for projects and programs where people from different professional or employment backgrounds can communicate across geographic and organizational barriers.

Here are some examples of blogs that we have discovered during the Changing the Conversation project that we think do a good job of promoting engineering:

Curious Cat All-purpose blog with posts on engineering and the economy, “cool” research, and K-12 and higher engineering education.

Xbox Engineering Blog A blog about the software engineering that goes into the latest XBOX products.

Engineering Ethics “Comments on current events with an engineering ethics angle.”

Civil Engineering Central A frequently-updated blog on civil engineering topics.

eGFI Student Blog  A blog written jointly by students about scholarships and engineering in the news.

If you know of a blog that you think should be listed here, let us know:

Suggest A Messaging Example

2. Social Networks such as Facebook and Linkedin.

Professionally-oriented "social networks" are nothing new. People have been gathering with like-minded people to share professional and technical information for hundreds of years.

In the past decade, however, with the increasing popularity of online networks, such as Facebook, Linkedin, and other public, private, and semi-private online networks, people can quickly and cheaply create online groups where opinions and media of all types can be shared and discussed.

Building on older technologies such as listervs and discussion forums, it's now possible to bypass traditional institutions such as associations, schools, and publishers to collaborate with others around a common topic or interest.

What's important for us is that popular and widely available networking platforms such as Facebook and Linkedin have emerged where groups can form around a common topic, to share, discuss, or even argue. Such "platforms" can bring together people from a variety of professional, educational, and employment backgrounds. Such networks are especially useful in situations where a multidisciplinary approach to problem solving is desired.

Which brings us to the Changing the Conversation project. Who is concerned about "getting the message out" to young people and their families about the positive realities of engineering as a career? A lot of people! Students, parents, teachers, guidance counselors, companies, school administrators, employers, and government officials are, to name a few. How can we reach all of these groups?

We don't have to. Given the ease with which overlapping interests can be accommodated by Web 2.0 networks, we at the Changing the Conversation project encourage people to use social networks to reach out and communicate with each other.

A variety of groups have already established Facebook and Linkedin pages where people likely to be interested in Changing the Conversation themes and messages are active.

Here are just a few; we'll be adding more to this list as we learn about them. We might even be create our own "official" Changing the Conversation groups.

Linkedin (you’ll have to sign up for a LinkedIn account to see most of the information, including who’s a member of these groups):

High Tech Kids: a group of volunteers that delivers fun, hands-on science, engineering and technology programs and events. We help Minnesota kids in their formative pre-teen years. 

Federation of Galaxy Explorers: organize after-school (or evening) "Mission Team" meetings and field trips. Adult volunteers teach Galaxy Explorers with fun-to-do educational material to provide a hands-on understanding of space science, earth science, engineering, and rocketry.

Coalition for Science After School: a strategic alliance among individuals and organizations from Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education, youth development, and out-of-school time programs. 

Center for Advanced Engineering and Technology Education (CAETE): the distance learning arm of the College of Engineering & Applied Science at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Greenlight for Girls: an International NGO and social initiative with the mission to encourage young girls of all ages to consider a future in math, science, engineering and technology by introducing them to science in fun, exciting ways.

Facebook (Facebook groups can be made private, but this may limit who can see what your group is all about):

Facebook Engineering: The group for engineers at Facebook, where information about how the site works is posted regularly.

USA Science and Engineering Festival: The Facebook page about an annual outdoor STEM-interactive fair for the whole family.

ITEA Classroom Professionals: A Facebook group for engineering and technology teachers, started by the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association.

Women Explore Engineering Summer Camp 2010: A group for alumni of  in Texas A&M’s summer program to keep in touch.

AIChE: A place where chemical engineering students can become active members of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. 


If you know of a group on Facebook, LinkedIn, or another social networking site that you think should be listed here, let us know:



What is Twitter?

In a nutshell, Twitter is a web- and phone-based messaging system that lets you communicate chunks of text up to 140 characters in length to your "followers" -- the people who have chosen to receive all your messages.

If you were to follow one of the National Academies' Twitter feeds, here's what you would see on your web page or on your smartphone:


So what, you might ask? Here are some of Twitter's features:

• As in the example above, if have news you want to get out as quickly as possible and you can squeeze it into 140 characters, you can send a "tweet." All your followers will see it the next time they check Twitter.

• Also as in the example, if you have something you want to promote, such as a new web page, product or service, you can include a web link as part of your tweet's text. A URL-shortening website like http://tiny.cc, http://bit.ly, or http://is.gd can help you change a long URL into one that fits the 140-character restriction.

• You choose who you follow. If want to stop receiving someone’s messages, don't follow them. Or, in the language of Twitter, take action and "unfollow" them.

• If you follow people who follow you, the Twitter “direct message” function allows you to totally bypass email by sending a text chunk of up to 140 characters (basically a private tweet) to any of your fellow Tweeters.

• If you read a tweet that you want to pass along to your own followers, you can "retweet" it. Your followers will see it, along with the originator's address and your own.

• If you want to respond quickly to something you read (to, for example, answer a question tweeted by UserX), just hit "reply." This adds  a “@UserX” address to the front of your message, to let her know you’re speaking to her. You can use the remaining characters to send your information. The addressee will see your Tweet whether she follows you or not. So will all your followers.

News travels fast on Twitter; you'll be amazed at how quickly you learn new things. It's not perfect. Some people will follow you for reasons you cannot fathom. Others use Twitter as an advertising platform, and their emphasis is only on the number of "followers" they can generate. But that's the reality of any public messaging system.

Why is Twitter relevant to the Changing the Conversation project?

It's a quick way to keep in touch. But it doesn't have to stand on its own. In fact, it's most effective when used as part of an overall communication program that mixes traditional education, outreach, and communication practices with web sites and more interactive approaches like blogs and social networking.

Here are some Twitter addresses for some of the organizations that are involved in supporting or promoting engineering professionally:

http://twitter.com/UCSBengineering “News, stories, events & items of interest from the College of Engineering at UC Santa Barbara.”

http://twitter.com/NSF_ENG “The National Science Foundation promotes the progress of engineering in the United States in order to enable the Nation's capacity to perform.”

http://twitter.com/pennawe“Advancing Women in Engineering Program at the University of Pennsylvania. Follow for events, announcements, and interesting women and/or engineering stuff!”

http://twitter.com/engineer4change “Transforming Communities through the power of engineering.”

http://twitter.com/sciencecampaignA twitter feed maintained by the Campaign for Science & Engineering in the UK (CaSE).

http://twitter.com/smartgirlsrock Making smart the new cool and geek the new chic!

http://twitter.com/make The twitter home of MAKE magazine, this feed features tips and ideas for projects suitable for hobbyist engineers of all ages.

Here are some individuals who "tweet" about topics of interest to the Changing the Conversation project:

http://twitter.com/Peekan The twitter feed from Pamela Kan, President, Bishop-Wisecarver Corporation on US manufacturing, career tech education, and US FIRST.

http://twitter.com/pbroviak The twitter feed of Pam Broviak, a Civil Engineer in public works who wants to integrate the engineering, social media & virtual worlds.

http://twitter.com/wtwh_susan A twitter feed about “engineering marvels” and “clever social engineering.

http://twitter.com/annmythai “Learning technology explorer who shares an office w/ Elmo. I follow the potential impact of innovations in consumer market on kids' learning.

http://twitter.com/engineerguytwit “Bill Hammack's audio and video work emphasizes the creative role of engineers in designing and creating our world.” He's a regular commentator on public radio.


If you know of a Twitter feed that you think should be listed here, let us know:



One of the realities of social media and "Web 2.0" systems is that they can be used to supplement or even bypass the professional and scholarly communication processes associated with traditional professional associations and scholarly publications such as peer-reviewed journals. Some may view this as "disruptive." Others may welcome the ability to, for example, publish early research findings on a blog as a quick way to establish priority and gain recognition.

While it's not the responsibility of the Changing the Conversation project to takes sides on such debates, it is a fact that many of the professional associations concerned with engineering education and engineering as a career have already adopted and are actively using a variety of social media and Web 2.0 tools to support their outreach and communication efforts. We believe such acceptance -- by all the groups involved with promoting the Changing the Conversation messages – allows us the freedom to build and continue the project's success.