As the Internet has become a more interactive medium, a new term has come into use to describe it: Web 2.0. This new version of the Internet gives web users the opportunity to generate content and connect with other users. Many sites that fit the Web 2.0 model are developed through an interactive community of users. Prominent examples include Wikipedia, Facebook and Second Life. What Web 2.0 tools have in common is the ability to aggregate knowledge and overcome the limitations of borders and space in social networking.
The two clips below offer a good introduction to the basic principles involved. In "The Machine is Us/ing Us," University of Kansas Professor Mike Wesch explores the dynamics of Web 2.0. The second clip, "Understanding Web 2.0" from U Tech Tips, describes the genesis of the term. You can also find both of these on You Tube.)
The term Web 2.0 is not just about new technology. It's also about a new way of looking at the Internet. Traditional models for disseminating media -- print and broadcast, for example -- usually generate information from a single entity for consumption by an audience with a limited ability to talk back. With an interactive approach to the Internet -- and a willingness to let go of control of content
-- the equation is dramatically changed. The talk-back has become the spine of the media product. A single entity may set the framework for exchange, but content generation is decentralized -- and often more responsive to users' needs.
This site is a collaborative online publication created on a Wiki model, itself a Web 2.0 product. (Unfortunately, we lack the resources to maintain it as an open-ended interactive site.) Here we examine how an interactive Internet can work for the developing world. It is not an easy question. Web 2.0 introduces an element of chaos to development projects that are traditionally tightly planned. And at first glance, it's not clear that the Internet can do much for populations that may not have access to basics like education, employment and social services, let alone a computer.
Still, there's something excitingly participatory about the possibilities of a medium to which everyone can contribute. Below, we've taken a closer look at some case studies that highlight the possibilities of Web 2.0 in a variety of human development contexts. The basket of studies is by no means exhaustive, but it provides a good cross section of the ways that Internet users in the developing world and beyond are using web-based broadcasting, blogs and social networking sites to meet challenges. There are examples from middle income countries --- China, Iran and Syria -- where Internet use is spreading. There are also examples from poorer communities that may have only limited direct use of the Internet, but are still benefitting from a combination of the possibilities of the web and traditional social networks. Some of the initiatives have quantifiable evidence of their success, while the evidence for others is more anecdotal. In other instances, the jury is still out.
Web 2.0 is not a cure-all for development problems, nor will it have a use in every project. But it is an exciting and flexible resource that should be added to any development practitioner's toolbox.