Making a Difference 2.0

Though some think the term is meaningless, “Web 2.0” has come to mean the new generation of collaborative & social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Sometime this past Sunday, Facebook signed up its 200 millionth user. That’s a lot by any measure — Web 2.0 is big business. The Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco is already in its sixth year. I was there yesterday along with about 1000 other geeks, bloggers and tweeters.

So far I’ve found Facebook most useful for keeping in touch with distant friends & relatives, but in my experience that’s not what people use it for. Facebook’s home page asks “What’s on your mind?” and most people spend time answering that question: “I’m enjoying wine and cheese out in the garden” or “I’m off to the hardware store” or “Whiskers just ate his catnip mouse”. It’s nice, but it’s… well, trivial. Facebook’s mission is “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected” — but I didn’t see anyone trying to leverage Facebook to push the envelope and make a difference.

Until yesterday. One of yesterday’s keynote addresses was from Amanda Koster, founder of the advocacy group SalaamGarage.  From the web site: “SalaamGarage leads media advocacy workshops around the world that connect participants with international Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs).  Participants (hobbyist-advanced media makers) commit to creating and sharing unique, independent media projects that raise awareness and cause positive change.  The rest of the adventure is spent touring around the region, experiencing and exploring the culture and environment with an entirely new context.” After your adventure, you return home and use the Web 2.0 sites to share your experiences and raise awareness for your project, as a vehicle for change and making a difference. Upcoming destinations include Guatemala, India and Vietnam.

There was lots of technology on display at the conference too, but SalaamGarage made more of an impression on me than anything else. Finally, a way to take social networking sites and use them not just for keeping in touch, but for making the world a better place.

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