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Applied Mechanics in the Age of Web 2.0

Zhigang Suo's picture

The ASME International Applied Mechanics Division has about 5000 members. The number is too large for us to know each other individually, but too small for CNN to cover us in the Situation Room.

Then came the Internet. We have since been in touch through emails, and looked up each other on the Web. Many web pages created in 1990s, however, are static. For such a web page, the bottleneck is often the webmaster. He or she gets a request each time anyone wants to post anything. It is more like a broadcast than a web.

In recent years, there have been waves of new internet phenomena, such as Wikipedia, Real Simple Syndicates (RSS), open-source movement, and web logs (blogs). They are collectively known as Web 2.0.

At the meeting of the Executive Committee of the Division on 8 November 2005, in Orlando, Florida, the Committee discussed how to exploit Web 2.0 to engage members of the Division. As the new member of the Committee, I was assigned to look into the matter.

Did I just use the word “engage”? This sounds prohibitively Web 1.0 like. The Executive Committee is in no position to create an attractive web page to engage you. The solution is you, everyone in the community of Applied Mechanics. A key attribute of Web 2.0 is participation.

In front of you is an experiment:  iMechanica, the web of mechanics and mechanicians. Everyone can be a contributor. All you need to do is to register. As most news and views in iMechanica are not restricted to a single country or a single organization, the contributors will be international, and need not be ASME members.

iMechanica uses an open-source software called Drupal. I was introduced to software like this by my teenage sons. Teens are the pioneers of new technology adoption. Soon we will all use Blog, just as we have been using Word. Once this simple tool is in the hands of everybody, the only thing that really matters is content. And that means you. You are both the producer and consumer of a valuable thing: the content that is of and for the international community of Applied Mechanics. Teens cannot do this for us. Nor can CNN.

Notes

  • This entry was adapted from an early one posted in January 2006.
  • Web 2.0 according to Tim O’Reilly, the founder and CEO of O'Reilly Media, a publisher of computer books. He coined the term Web 2.0 in early 2004.
  • We are the web. Each time we post an entry, or just make a hyperlink, we help to create a dynamic web. A perspective on the history and future of the Internet by Kevin Kelly, the founding executive editor of Wired magazine.

Comments

Zhigang Suo's picture

Nearly a year has passed since I started to experiment with new web tools. If Web 1.0 is characterized by reading on the Web, Web 2.0 is characterized by writing on the Web. iMechanica provides space for every mechanician to write on the Web.

In talking with younger mechanicians, it seems that there must be far more opportunities to exploit the Web than just read and write. More than just user-generated content, but something like what Tim O'Reilly called harnessing collective intelligence. In today's New York Times, an article even talks about the coming of Web 3.0.

Hypes aside, if we regard mechanics as a way to solve practical problems, it seems that most practical problems solved today do not invoke any fundamental progress in mechanics. Of course, it does not mean that we should not invent new mechanics. We should pursue new mechanics as vigorously as we can, for all the usual reasons. At the same time, perhaps we should not neglect an obvious opportunity to exploit the Web to better organize known mechanics, to help us solve new problems.

Anybody has thoughts along this line?

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