Monday, February 12, 2007

Web 2.0 and Poverty

There is a lot of enthousiasm for the new peer-produced web . I feel it too. There does seem to be a lot of potential for blogs, wikis, and other new technology to disseminate information and involve a broader audience in the conversation of governance. But how widespread is the conversation really?

Is the Web 2.0 a way to make democracy a participatory sport? Many think it is. Its underlying principles are peer-production, freedom of information and community. Dion Hinchcliffe's blog post about Web 2.0 is most informative, and Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams' book Wikinomics extolls the virtues of the open source, collaborative Web 2.0 as a new business model. It is easy to imagine that the ideals of the movement - sharing information for free, allowing access to intellectual property for the sake of fostering others' creativity, and relying on egalitarian communities to actively shape their own rules - would be good to apply to a democratic society.

I believe the ideals are in the right place. There are those, particularly in the music industry, who forsee the new Web as a danger to creativity. I'm not one of them. But I do wonder about who Web 2.0 is really good for. Is it really a tool for allowing everyone to participate in a pan-society conversation? Whom does it shut out? Who gets to use the internet? How do different groups use these new technologies? I hypothesize that the Web 2.0 is a great tool mostly for the middle and upper class in well developed democracies. It is kind of a recreation of Habermas' coffee houses . But I hope that my hypothesis is incorrect. If you've got research on the subject, share it, please. Lets see if we can't put together an answer to this.

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