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The Second Generation of the Web for the Next Generation of Opera Lovers
Diana Hossack
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After the introduction of the Internet, the opera community slowly learned to tout its synergies on the Web. Now fast forward to present day and the emergence of Web 2.0 — the second generation of the Internet. Web content is no longer static information but a social community of interactivity and collective intelligence. How are opera companies and artists taking advantage of this trend?

From a content perspective, the focus is on users connecting and sharing information. Among these social aspects of Web 2.0 are sites that offer recommendations, let you do-it-yourself and provide networking opportunities that enhance specific interests, connect with family and friends and link you to business contacts. Recommendation sites include del.icio.us, which lets users bookmark Web sites, share bookmarks and find out what other people are bookmarking, and Digg, which allows users to collectively determine the value of Web content. YouTube and Craigslist are among the most popular do-it-yourself sites, and MySpace and Facebook are heavily trafficked social networking sites.

Searching "opera" on Facebook garners over 500 results. Who are these people joining opera groups? Artists? Audiences? Darren Keith Woods, general director of Fort Worth Opera says the majority of its group members are aspiring singers, but they see the next generation of the Web as an important tool to reaching the next generation of opera lovers: "We have just hired a communication specialist, who is charged with making Facebook and MySpace work for us and with us."

Like other group pages, Fort Worth Opera's Facebook page offers general information, photos, videos and discussion topics. Woods says they use the group page to promote the company's more "hip events," such as its recent video contest. Pacific Opera Victoria's Executive Director David Shefsiek's experience supports the "hip" factor. He went to a well-attended art opening in Vancouver, which was an underground event marketed only through MySpace. In fact, his curiosity was piqued by this successful event enough to join Facebook.

Targeting a younger audience is safe: The approximate average ages of Myspace and Facebook users is 24 and 22, respectively. But don't count the older generation out. Reports say usership of these social networking sites are attracting mature audiences through age 65 and older. This means that Web 2.0 is not only a way to attract younger audiences but it may also become a way companies communicate with all generations.

A major difference between Web 1.0 and 2.0 is who provides the content. Currently, opera companies have editorial control of Web pages. A quick glance at the opera groups on Facebook shows that the majority of opera pages are not managed by opera company administrators, yet the sites include company information, including proprietary information and intellectual property owned by the company or individual artists. Opera groups include singer fan sites and union sites, and several companies have numerous groups using the company's name. For example, there are Facebook profiles for the Metropolitan Opera as a company, for its HD broadcasts and several sites for singers who hope to perform at the Met someday.

One way to ensure that accurate information appears on these social networking sites is to participate in the process. Create your company's official site, join groups that mention your company and get involved in the discussion, and support company personnel's presence on Myspace, Facebook or other social networking sites. (Some corporations have even established Facebook Fridays, which permit employees one hour every Friday to update profiles and participate in online discussions. They believe it connects the company staff with each other, its industry and the world around them.)

In addition to losing editorial control, some worry about blurring personal and professional networking lines. You may want to share personal updates with friends and family but not professional colleagues. You may worry about what playing a vampire game on Facebook says about you professionally. Your preferences of politicians or charities may conflict with company stakeholders. These are valid concerns! In fact, some corporations have begun to search these sites as part of the hiring process.

Social networking sites do offer various filters, including the chance to decline a request of friendship. But denying friendships seems rude, and etiquette for Web 2.0 does not exist. In fact, the success of its programs is contingent on its network effects. The service becomes more valuable with greater participation. How are people handling this potentially awkward situation?

People who responded to a Facebook posting for this article defined for themselves why they are participating on the social networks. Reasons range from "interacting with personal friends" to "business reasons." People do decline friendship requests for reasons including: "I'm concerned about overstating interest in hiring young singers by including them as 'friends;'" and "I don't 'friend' anyone that I don't know or haven't at least heard of." Lessons here include identifying your purpose of joining a social network and respecting a person's decision to decline your request for friendship.

Regardless of individual procedures for accepting online friends, people generally list interests on their pages that they are comfortable with a variety of people seeing. Bass-baritone George Cordes says,"I try to use Facebook primarily for networking and to keep in touch with people I consider friends. For 'professional' purposes, I generally use traditional e-mail and my professional Web site, cordesbass.com."

Both Woods and Keith Wolfe, Fort Worth Opera's managing director, participate as individuals on Facebook and both are members of the company's 476-member Facebook group page. (This number is double the next largest opera company group.) Why has Fort Worth Opera been so successful?

In addition to the recent hire of a communication specialist, "we have a new board member with a huge international Internet marketing business." Fort Worth Opera has recently added links on the company's Web page to del.icio.us, Digg and Facebook. These links, the company's presence on Facebook and Myspace and the presence of Woods and Wolfe support Fort Worth Opera's Web 2.0 endeavors. Woods says it is too early to say what effect these Web site additions and Web 2.0 participation has had. (The large membership of the company's Facebook site may say differently.)

Web 2.0 and opera have commonalities. Wikipedia states that the aim of Web 2.0 is "to facilit
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