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Social and collaborative technologies are popular web-based enhancements. They allow your end-user to participate in your website. While traditional websites are static and content is created by the web developer, the technology of Web 2.0 allows end-users to add their own information and ideas.

Allowing end-users to add content makes them feel a part of the website community. For example, many libraries are getting patrons involved with posting book reviews, serving as web-based virtual reference volunteers, or adding their own poetry to a community wiki.

Although you may wish to set up your own form for them to submit reviews, you can also use outside resources such as LibraryThing. Then, link to this outside service from your website. Examine all the options carefully before jumping into social technology software.

Server Software vs Outside Services

As a web developer, you can manage these social technologies by installing software on your own web server or using an outside service.

Server Software

You can download and install commercial or open source software on your own web server. This is a great option if you have control of your server and feel comfortable setting up server software. If not, you might be more comfortable using an outside service. The advantage of using your own server is that you have total control. When you use open source solutions on your own server you can even adapt the software to include your school colors or library logo. You also have control over the content. You can make your own backups and have a secure place to store content. In addition, if you wish to keep the content private, you can set up preferences, restrictions, and passwords. It's possible to even place the software on an intranet, so users could only access the area from inside the school or library. Or, you could restrict access to a secure line or require the use of a library card number.

The major downside of using your own server involves the technical aspects of setting up, maintaining, and upgrading the software. In addition, there are potential security issues that must be considered whenever installing software on a server.

Overall, the pros generally outweigh the cons. If you can get the software installed and running properly, you'll be much happier with the control you'll have over blogs, forums, surveys, wikis, or whatever technology you're using.

Outside Services

The main advantage of outside services is ease of use. You don't need to worry about the technical aspects of the software or allocating space on your server. Someone else gets to handle the headaches of upgrading software. However there are many disadvantages. If you're paying for a service, you have some recourse if the website goes down or data is lost. However if you're using a free service, it's difficult to complain when it's gone. Be sure to check out the provider if the service is important to your program. It may be worth paying the basic subscription rate to get quality technical support.

Before jumping into a service be sure to think about your end users. Will they be annoyed by advertising? Will they be able to navigate the service? In some cases, outside providers maintain copyright on anything published on their server. Is this a problem? Also, some schools filter social technologies. Will your users be able to get to the website?

arrowThis section of the website contains seven elements: Blogs, Forms, Management Systems and Forums, Polls and Surveys, Social Networking, Syndication and RSS Feeds, and Wiki.


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