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Web 2.0, Nonprofits, and Net2
Jon Lebkowsky, 24 Dec 05

Net<sup>2</sup> LogoNonprofit organizations know CompuMentor's TechSoup as a source of information, resources, and donated or discounted applications via TechSoup Stock. The TechSoupers' latest project focuses on the aggregation of technologies and practices loosely aggregated under the label Web 2.0. The project, Net2, hopes to create a community of practice that focuses specifically on "messy world of the Internet as a participatory, interactive community: a community created by its users." The project's "why" page explains how Hurricane Katrina accelerated their thinking about the value of collective intelligence.

Command and control assumes a top-down pyramidal hierarchy with a small cadre of power-wielders at the top and a large number of commandable, controllable agents at the bottom. The more these "agents" resemble unthinking, unquestioning robots, the better. Such power-based approaches to the problems of today's world don't work so well anymore, if they ever did. Not because they're authoritarian -- though they're certainly that -- but because such a setup assumes that the best knowledge of what to do and how to do it resides at the top of the pyramid. It usually doesn't.

When Katrina hit, the best "intelligence" being communicated was coming from bloggers who were at ground zero. Until the power failed, that is, which happened pretty fast in many cases. But still, this news from the field was enough to alert the mass media that something was wrong -- very very wrong. The bottom-up news didn't jibe with what the press was hearing from the top of the power pyramid. And some intrepid journalists started getting the real news out to the rest of us. Score one for we the people.

We are all at ground zero today. And expecting help from the Cavalry may well be an obsolete fantasy. It's just us chickens, as the saying goes. But us chickens, to torture the metaphor, have a few tricks up our sleeves.

Collective intelligence, interactivity and emergence are core concepts within "Web 2.0" thinking, but they've always been potential within the structure of the Internet, which by design facilitates a flattening of hierarchies to fit a network model where control is distributed and the real power is at the edges – a model where the force of information flows many ways, or many-to-many ways, not top-down. Not really bottom-up, either, though that's the term we often use, and the Net2 site mentions bottom-up several times, as in its description of the value of Open Source software development.

"Web 2.0" invites backlash from those who see it as a buzzword which might have the consequence, intended or not, of creating another Internet bubble. There are clearly signs of irrational exuberance around web2ism with its talk of remix cultures, long tails, software as a service, collective intelligence, tipping points, and, of course, the vast active living intelligent blogosphere, which beamed its pink light into our brains while we were surfing waves of information online. All of this stuff is real and substantial, but it's also all hype-able, so the appearance of the Net2 site with its subtitle, remixing the web for social change, will inevitably raise an eyebrow or two among the more cynical web watchers. I had two conflicting thoughts when I first saw the Net2 site: 1) It's cool that TechSoup is getting into this, and 2) is TechSoup really late to the party; are they trying to catch a train that's already left the gate? Nonprofits like N-TEN, CivicSpace Labs, and Aspiration are already very active in working with emerging web technologies. In fact I think Net2 brings a lot of value: it has visibility with the well-established community that TechSoup already serves, and it will bring many more nonprofits to technologies that will increase their capabilities, and their ability to drive their own innovations, significantly.

Next May there'll be a Net2 conference in San Francisco, and they're inviting suggestions. It'll be interesting to see how this takes shape.

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Comments

Great post, JonL. Mega points for the PKD reference. But let's torture a little more info out of our metaphors:

In terms of remixing the web for social change, the train has not only not left the gate, it hasn't really been built yet.

As agents of social change, nonprofits are still operating as stowaways on trains headed in the opposite direction of where we're trying to go.

Kudos to netsquared for describing the destination so well, but (and i'm speaking as a web2 believer) there's no train yet, the rails to get there have yet to be laid, and noone has actually gone deep enough into the forest yet with the right tools to map the route.

I love you boomers. You've given us the tools to build this train. But you won't be building this one. I'm happy you're making nice comfortable box seats to watch from, and that you've changed the dress code and we can bring dogs and use digital opera glasses that upload to FlickR.

But you're trying to dress web2 in Green. Your Boomeritis wants to claim web2 as yours, too - yes, yours "to build", yours "to share". But it's not to be. Web2, when it really gets going, won't be Green, it will be Yellow (i'm speaking Spiral Dynamics here).

When the train is built, when there's a real map to the destination, you'll know it. Because you'll find that you're standing in the way.

This is the early 90's again, all right. As in 1890's.


Posted by: myles byrne on 24 Dec 05

Yes, I believe that the real power of web 2.0 is going to emerge in the next few years as an explosion that emmanates from exponentially growing computation, connectivity, open source technology, and user base. The result is quite unpredictable, as is the nature of emergent systems, but it will, no doubt, be spectacular.


Posted by: Miclasser on 25 Dec 05

Well, i stand by the comment i wrote above, but this wasn't the place to post it. Posted here, it was as good as a troll. Worldchanging would have been right to kill it.

I came across like a Wilber acolyte on meth. It was Holiday Stress, which can tend to get generational. I probably scared away actually meaningful comments. I apologize to JonL, netsquared, and Worldchanging - keep up the excellent work.


Posted by: myles byrne on 2 Jan 06

I just didn't know where you were coming from, so I wasn't sure how to respond. I could've made a pun about how the Rails are built, and Ruby's riding 'em, but that's just obscure.

It's odd to think that any generation can own the web or can stand in the way of its development. But I'm not sure what you meant when you said "But you're trying to dress web2 in Green. Your Boomeritis wants to claim web2 as yours, too – yes, yours 'to build', yours 'to share'. But it's not to be. Web2, when it really gets going, won't be Green, it will be Yellow (i'm speaking Spiral Dynamics here)." Were you addressing boomer? Or me specifically? Or WorldChanging?


Posted by: Jon Lebkowsky on 2 Jan 06

Is it so odd to think that a generation can stand in the way of the web's development?

There are four generations living on top of each other at any given moment in history. An historical pattern has been observed (ref. Ibn Khaldun, Strauss + Howe) where every fourth generation finds itself having to 'flash the cultural kernel' - basically, having to re-establish trusted logic after too much meaning and truth have been drained away from the social discourse by the immature choices people inevitably make.

This is never easy - history never gets easier, it just recurs more complexly, more distributedly, and more quickly. The generations that have to flash the kernel always face strong opposition from entrenched interests, and occasionally are successfully blocked.

You're right that it's not a question of a generation owning the Web. It's a question of the generations in power owning the sacrifices necessary to clean out the cruft and give us a re-naturalized political and economic system, in time.

But the size of the gap between the complexity of the current global moment, and the cruft of entrenched interests embodying previous moments in history, is being concealed for personal profit. Our inner children are running the show. 'Progressive' Americans are indulging in a premature experience of the web as an enhancement for their overstuffed, eco-branded lifestyles, instead of letting it teach them the life-naturalization that is really required now. The result may be that, when it comes time to cross that gap into a global plenum of genes, memes, and systems, the bridge will crumble, and it will be the old order of guns, germs, and steel all the way down.


Posted by: myles byrne on 4 Jan 06

It's odd to think that a "generation" can or would do anything in some orchestrated way - this kind of conspiracy theory hardly acknowledges the complexity of the world. And the persons "in power" now don't represent a single world view or generation, though "boomers" may be predominant given the age they've reached. However there are many within that generation who lack power, and there are many from later generations who are powerful. In summary, I think the view you've espoused is simplistic.


Posted by: Jon Lebkowsky on 4 Jan 06

Actually, the notion that generations are not orchestrated is a great example of how the Green / Boomer worldview is oversimplifying our situation. Think of families where parents replaced the perennial knowledge of human development - e.g. the archetypal fights between parent and child - with the belief that everything can be reasoned out. This is now writ large in Boomer politics, as we have seen.

The complexity of the world is inscribed differently in each generation. Moreover, it inscribes in each generation in reaction to the way it is inscribed in the previous generation. These differences in worldview cannot be bridged by current idea of progressive politics, or the current 'marketable' vision of the web. If we keep believing they can, the result will be a breakdown of civilization isomorphic to the breakdown of a family where the parents tried to avoid the occassional trip through the heart of darkness that our genes require. Look at the U.N.

This isn't a conspiracy theory, it's a theory about how immature choices enmesh us into conspiracies against our own organic development. The brain, we know from neurophysiology, will lie to itself to cover up problems it can't face head-on (pardon the pun). We can think we're being rational, when instead our instinctual fears and hungers are directing the movies in our mind. This is happening with Web 2.0: we think we've already solved some very big problems, when all we've really done is trigger them out of dormancy. We've reified the real complexity of politics, economics, and, most of all, human nature.

Look at the late 19th century. Some of the "unscientific" literature of the time is actually more advanced in understanding of the human situation than anything in mass culture today. What came next? A half century of holocausts. Not because people were ignoring the big picture, but because they were unable to reconcile its new complexity with their internal and, yes, generational models of how the world works. Yes, individuals in a generation don't all think alike. Neither do individuals within a nation, a religion, or an historical culture. But they all end up acting en masse just the same.

Fukuyama notwithstanding, we're not outside of history. It's coming around again, and the amount of time left in which we can still trade shared sweat for spilled blood is decreasing on a negative power curve (every moment we wait halves the remaining time left).

continues in next post:


Posted by: myles byrne on 5 Jan 06

.. continued from previous post:

Still, JonL, you're right. My arguments as stated here are oversimplified. It was a misjudgement on my part to post my opening comment here at all (a misjudgement stemming from my own family stuff), which i've followed with some more errors. E.g, you were right to zero in on my "generations in power" statement - i should have said, "generations sharing the hot seat."

But beyond my errors, I understand your very good reasons for disagreeing with me. What the web is bringing- the reality of a unified world government and economy - is so complex and hairy that it cannot help but seem weird, wrong, possibly insane, and even dangerous to every worldview formed in previous times.

It's always hard for parents to let go of trying to steer their childrens' choices, and just love and protect them, come what may. The human genome is cranking out people with ADHD (and GLBT orientation, for that matter) for very good reasons. Thumb length in Japan and Korea has increased in one generation. The genes will keep on adapting, will keep on taking care of the Long Now, with or without our conscious participation (or species, for that matter). We can flash the cultural kernel - basically, America can completely reinvent herself - or we can prepare for a global Kent State.

Boomers, you have to refactor your networks into a political machine capable of blocking for your children, because your children are about to do the thing you reached for in your youth, on a much larger scale. It's not going to feel right, even to you. But you have to be the sufferring parents, or it's all going to go down in a way none of us want. Not even Dick Cheney.


Posted by: myles byrne on 5 Jan 06



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