Did anybody hear of the senior UN official who finally started blogging? He wrote perceptively and expressively – with some help from his speech writers – but a vital element was missing in his blog: no one could comment on his posts as he completely disabled that function.
Then there is the Red Cross chief who started her own Facebook account but remained completely ‘friendless’ for months – because she didn’t accept anyone seeking to join her social networking effort!
These are just two among many examples I have come across in recent months. They are all symptoms of a major challenge that development and humanitarian communities are grappling with: how to engage the latest wave of Information and Communication Technologies, or ICTs.
With these words, I open my latest essay, titled “Wanted: Development 2.0 to catch up with web 2.0” in the August 2008 issue of i4d magazine, published from New Delhi, India.
My thrust is something regular readers of this blog would be familiar with. In fact, in this essay I consolidate and expand on ideas that were initially discussed in various blog posts over the past many months.
The new wave of Internet, collectively known as Web 2.0, opens up new opportunities for us in the development and humanitarian communities to reach out and engage millions of people – especially the youth who make up the majority in most developing countries of Asia. But it also challenges us as never before.
This time around, it’s much more demanding than simply engaging the original web. It involves crossing what I call the ‘Other Digital Divide‘, one that separates (most members of) the development community from ‘Digital Natives‘- younger people who have grown up taking the digital media and tools completely for granted.
I have identified four key challenges involved in crossing the Other Digital Divide:
– Leave the comfort zone of paper
– Let go of control
– Invest less money but more time
– Recognise information needs and wants
I argue: “There are no authorities on this fast-changing subject: everyone is learning, some faster than others. Neither is there a road map to the new media world. From Rupert Murdoch and Steve Jobs downwards, every media mogul is working on this challenge. For those who get it right, there is potential to make corporate fortunes, and also to serve the public interest in innovative, effective ways.“
I end the essay with a challenge to the development community: “To face challenges of web 2.0, we need to come up with development 2.0!”