Get Your Web 2.0 On

Unless you’ve spent the last six months in a sensory deprivation tank, you’ve probably heard the term Web 2.0. But what does it really mean?

The general consensus is that Web 2.0 describes the transformation of the Web from a collection of more-or-less static and closed sites to a platform that delivers services that are constantly updated, often by the users themselves (think MySpace). At School CIO’s headquarters in San Francisco, you need only travel two blocks to see Web 2.0 startups populating the same offices and cafes vacated by their Web 1.0 predecessors. Or, you can also just log on. Here are some recommendations.

1. Writely
When Google buys you, that’s generally a good sign. Such is the case for Writely, a word-processing tool that lets users share, edit, and publish documents online. Ideal for peer-editing projects and cross-departmental collaboration, the company’s Web site says it intends to roll out educational discounts after the beta period.

2. VideoEgg
Also in beta phase, this handy pay-per-use plug-in lets you post your videos to your blog or elsewhere “without worrying about player compatibilities, encoding settings, or extra software.” Attention all digital storytellers: this product may be for you.

3. Elgg
Building your own “personal learning landscape” may sound very California, but this free community platform in fact hails from the United Kingdom. Users can take advantage of blogs, e-portfolios, and other social networking tools to pursue their intellectual interests. For an example of how educators at California’s Saugus Unified School District are using the tool, visit

4. Basecamp
If you’ve ever been part of a big project, you can relate to the headache of multiple e-mails flying back and forth about timelines, to-dos, and other minutiae. Basecamp, a Web-based project collaboration tool, solves this problem by letting users assign tasks, gather feedback, share files internally and externally, and schedule meetings all in one place. Fees range from free to $99 per month, depending on the number of projects.

5. SocialText
Much like Base Camp, SocialText reduces e-mail overkill by allowing users to work together on a secure wiki. Think of it as an Intranet that everyone can contribute to, whether you want to collaborate on a curriculum idea or publish a group blog. Hosted or installed options are available; the professional version starts at $95 per month.

6. Helpspot
This Web-based help desk portal combines IT support tools—for example, letting tech staff check on customer requests via RSS—with self-help for users in the form of user forums and tutorials organized by topic. As for ease of use, the company claims the application takes 10 minutes to install. One license costs $179.

7. Pandora
Music lovers can expand their tastes based on what they already like, thanks to Pandora’s Music Genome Project, which has classified the melodies, harmonies, and lyrics of thousands of songs. If you want to find songs with similar qualities to U2’s “One,” for example, Pandora presents Pearl Jam’s “Daughter” and David Bowie’s “Something in the Air.” Listeners can choose between a free ad-supported version, a $12 quarterly subscription, or a $36 annual subscription. The educational value is unclear at this point, but hey, it’s very cool.

Amy Poftak is editorial director of School CIO.