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Content for all – how web 2.0 can help

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Technology

In a previous post I argued that focusing on a particular type of technology is somewhat of a distraction when looking at the important issue of internet access for the world’s poor. I think there was broad agreement, that in reality, a combination of technologies and not a single solution will tackle the access issue.

Introducing web 2.0…

Web 2.0 mind map by Luca Cremonini, based on the original by Markus Angermeier
Web 2.0 mind map by Luca Cremonini, based on Markus Angermeier's original

But what about the content? How can we provide a smarter way of ensuring that relevant information gets to those who need it the most? Better still how can we solve the challenge of delivering content to multiple consumer platforms ranging from computers to cell phones?

I think web 2.0 can help. I know it is a buzz word, often surrounded in controversy.  But what is it and what does it mean? More importantly does it have the potential to deliver relevant content to those that need it the most?

In a nutshell web 2.0 describes a new trend both in the use of the internet and the underlying technology that supports it. It is a shift away from the static pages of early websites to a greater emphasis on a ‘standards’ based approach to collaboration, information sharing and social networking.  The new approach makes it much easier to develop, share and access content. Examples of this include; RSS news feeds, Wikis, blogs and podcasts.

Arguably web 2.0 is less about technology and a lot more about relevant content generation and social collaboration. In short it brings people together.  Modern sites based on these new standards become the platform, much in the same way that computers have been. It is ironic that web 2.0 is viewed by many as a platform for entertainment (YouTube, and FaceBook for example), but as Ethan Zuckerman points out in his blog, the underlying technology is equally a powerful tool for civil society and other groups.

Web 2.0’s impact is already being felt throughout parts of the developing world. And solutions to the connectivity challenge are being worked on globally.

For example in Nairobi, Kenya, a group called SkunkWorks was formed to look at combining the functionality of low-end mobile phones with the internet.  They are even looking at broadcasting local television programmes on regular mobile phones.

This unique blend of cutting edge web technology and low cost tech is not only exclusive to the private sector. It has the power to help other sectors too.

Take Ushahidi - a great example of what can be done. This pilot web service collected reports from users in South Africa and Kenya on incidents of violence, unrest and displaced people. Users were able submit incidents via text on their mobile phone. The data was then overlaid on Google maps – known as a ‘mash up’.

The accessibility challenge still remains but I think web 2.0 is a step closer in the right direction. So when you next spend a few guilt-ridden idle hours surfing YouTube, remind yourself that similar technology is also helping transform the very way we interact together across the planet.

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  1. Comment by Enrique Mendizabal posted on

    Thanks for this, Jason. you make a good point in describing Web2.0 as an opportunity. We, at ODI, have been thinking about this issue -a bit of research and practice.
    This might make some interesting reading:
    In relation to using networks and Web2.0 to reach key audiences and access key knowledge:
    In relation to the role that blogs could play:

  2. Comment by Liam McGee posted on

    The accessibility challenge of Web2.0 that you mention is, in large part, being dealt with by the new version of the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0, funnily enough). I have written about my first impressions of the WCAG2.0 standard - I was very impressed. There has been a lot of thought given to how web accessibility applies to rich internet applications and social networking. All in all, well worth investigating.

  3. Comment by Abi Jones posted on

    Great post, you have given some great examples of how Web2.0 can be used as an opportunity.

    Enrique, Liam - Thanks for the links, this will help further with my research.

  4. Comment by estetik posted on

    Web 2.0 refers to a perceived second generation of web development and design, that facilitates communication, secure information sharing, interoperability, and collaboration on the World Wide Web. But there's still a huge amount of disagreement about just what Web 2.0 means, with some people decrying it as a meaningless marketing buzzword, and others accepting it as the new conventional wisdom. I can summarize the core properties of web 2.0 as follows:
    * Services, not packaged software, with cost-effective scalability
    * Control over unique, hard-to-recreate data sources that get richer as more people use them
    * Trusting users as co-developers
    * Harnessing collective intelligence
    * Leveraging the long tail through customer self-service
    * Software above the level of a single device
    * Lightweight user interfaces, development models, AND business models

    The next time a company claims that it's "Web 2.0," we should test their features against the list above. The more points they score, the more they are worthy of the name. Remember, though, that excellence in one area may be more telling than some small steps in all seven.

  5. Comment by Enrique Mendizabal posted on

    Of course, let us not forget that there was klife before web2.0 (and even, yes, before the web). I met the facilitator of a network of researchers in West Africa a fwe months ago. We were waiting for a plane out of Burkina Faso.

    As I spend a bit of my time managing networks (using Web 2.0) i asked her about it: which tools do you use? 'I send lots of faxes and letters' she said. 'Oh, and we meet every year'.

    Before launching into developing or adopting these tools we need to make sure we have a well designed architecture of the network or project. These tools may help it achieve its potential. But they might also be a problem.

    We in ODI are learning the lesson that lots of functions on the online platform does not translate into more engagement between members. In fact, most members of online communities do not care about the online spaces and ONLY enage via the ONE tool they all know how to use and control: email -it is low bandwith, they can delete it, and they HAVE to check it every morning.