Flash Back – One Web Day !!

This is what Prof Steve Chen, a visiting prof for York Universiy said on the IT revolution:

When the personal computer arrived in 1985, everyone knew that it would change the world. But no one really knew how it would change the world until 1995 when the internet came. Above all of the other societal changes that the personal computer has brought, the largest effect of the PC is that it allows us to access the internet.

In the history of the world, there is no technology that has revolutionized societies faster and more comprehensively than the internet and its affiliated information age. In particular, whole societies are leap-frogging stages of development. India has built a huge information-based economy in lieu of building an industrial economy first. Here in Ghana you can see for yourself that cell phones are more prevalent than land lines. The internet and the information age are transforming the world even faster than the previous industrial age.

When the internet arrived in 1995, everyone knew that a new information age was upon us, and it would change the world. But no one really knew how it would change the world until about 2005 when Web 2.0 started to arrive. Above all of the evolutionary changes like on-line banking (but you can bank off line), like multi-player video games (but you can play video games off line), like search engines (but you can go to the library instead), etc, the most revolutionary change of the internet is Web 2.0 – social networking, crowd sourcing, the long tail, etc. These are things that did not exist before the web, and could not exist without a totally connected world.

In a totally connected world, distance is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if your programmers are across the hall or across the ocean. It doesn’t matter if people are working from an office, a hotel room, or their home. You can meet friends from around the world; play games together, share music, collaborate, or even date. As long as you have an internet connection, you can be a part of the information age.

There is a lot of talk now about how Web 2.0 will change the world, but it may take 5, 10, or even 20 years to really see how. Web 2.0 is about the network, or more importantly, the people on the network. So no one can really say how Web 2.0 will change the world, because it is you, you who use the network who will use Web 2.0 to change the world. So, how will you use Web 2.0 to change the world?

Web 2.0 is the ability for the masses, the people on the network, to control the flow of information. Historically, the elites have controlled the flow of information. They have owned the media companies, so they can control what is written in the books, what is said on the radio, and what is shown on TV. In Web 2.0, everyone can write a blog, contribute to a wiki, share a file or a photo, or otherwise participate in the flow of information.

What is the difference between blogging and traditional media? First, there is no editor. In the Iraq war, most of the news travels through the Pentagon and it is edited, censored, and selected to present the message of the generals and the politicians. However, many soldiers have posted direct reflections of the war on their blogs, and some of these posts have caused soldiers to be removed from service – the elites can often fear truth, so blogging can challenge the control of the elites to decide what we can know. Blogging allows everyone the potential to have the same power as the elites – the ability to provide information in the building of a consensus.

Consensus arrives when there is a single opinion of the facts. When you read an encyclopedia or a history book, there is often only one opinion of the facts – the opinion of the editor or the writer. In Wikipedia, the internet encyclopedia where everyone and anyone can post, edit, and even delete an article, multiple opinions and open arguments of the facts are allowed and sometimes encouraged. Many articles on Wikipedia are much more comprehensive than the equivalent articles in print encyclopedias because there are more experts with more opinions and perspectives working together (and sometimes against each other) to create the article. Wikipedia allows an open forum for debate and discussion with a permanent record of the results. It is a powerful tool of information building and sharing for the masses.

Why is Wikipedia more comprehensive than a print encyclopedia? In print media, cost is a very limiting factor. You have to choose the most relevant articles to keep the cost down. So usually only a small percentage of the most popular topics are covered. And, only a small percentage of topics are of interest to a lot of people, and most topics are of interest to only a small percentage of people. Traditional media focuses on the small percentage of topics that interest the masses. The internet is the forum for all of the other topics that may be of interest to only you and a few others. This is known as the long tail.

A music store on the street has limited space and a small target audience, so it must select inventory that has the highest chance of selling. A music store on the internet can have practically unlimited space and a huge audience, so it can still carry an item that only 1 in one million people might want. If the internet reaches 100 million people, the internet store can still find 100 customers for a unique product. This is the long tail, and a non-commercial aspect of this effect is that any small group of individuals with a specific interest or set of ideas can find each other, work together, and network.

So far, the social network and the Web 2.0 have done things like change campaign financing (like Howard Dean in the 2004 US primaries), created new media (like YouTube, MySpace, and Facebook), created new big business opportunities out of small niche markets (like eBay and NetFlix), and created new information portals (like Wikipedia and Slashdot).

To be fair, there are many challenges with Web 2.0 as well. The printing press has allowed many people to write books, but very few books are widely read. It is estimated that over 99% of blogs are not read by anyone other than the author and a small circle of friends. So, as always, freedom of speech does not mean the ability to be heard. And, even more so in this world of information overload, smaller voices are being heard less and less.

On Wikipedia where everyone can be an author and an editor, popular belief can outweigh expert opinion and outright fraud can pass for expert opinion. With anonymity, there is no ability to identify the sources and critically analyze the purported facts. There is very much a “buyer beware” environment in Web 2.0.

Lastly, the network and the long tail are also beginning to be dominated by major corporations. Once a portal or website gains critical mass, it reaches the attention of the traditional media companies. MySpace is now owned by Rupert Murdoch, and Google is its self a new-media elite. But, these are just hurdles, like computer viruses and the internet bubble that will inevitably do nothing to stop the ultimate effect of Web 2.0. Web 2.0 is a revolution, and I firmly believe (with the pundits and the experts) that it will indeed change the world.

Now, the key thing is to determine how it will change the world. I argue that the so called experts do not know and cannot know how Web 2.0 will change the world. Let me give a very specific example. How will Web 2.0 change your world? Well, no one can know except you. No one can know until you participate, network, build, create, interact, and find your space and build your contribution. Will you use your opportunity to educate the world about Ghana by editing its Wikipedia page, to expose corruption by writing a blog, to work with scientists and amateurs alike around the world to track and combat climate change?

Despite the aforementioned challenges, I am optimistic that the Web 2.0 will play a critical role in the true democratization of the world around us. I hope that with this democracy, the elites will have less opportunity to be corrupt and self-serving. And, I hope that we will achieve a truism I have heard before – if the people will lead, the leaders will follow. The Web 2.0 is the tool that allows the people to lead, and I hope you will use it to change your world.

I hope that gave a good view of the IT world today and that to come !!

You probably want to know them more..

This is about them.. hear them introduce themselves … (don’t laugh please !!)


About Us

SC: Do you really have to see all seven continents before we get married???

TC: Not just see them — live them!

So, here we are on the African leg of our courtship, romance, and adventure.

SC: I’m Stephen Chen, and I’ll be on sabbatical from York University. The foundation of this journey is a visiting appointment in Computer Science at the University of Cape Coast in Cape Coast, Ghana. My research will focus on educational technology and technical education.

TC: I’m Terri Chu, and after spending the past year and a half making rich people richer in the investment industry, I am taking a soul cleansing journey.

Welcome to our adventure!


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