Vincent Maher, who teaches New Media at Rhodes, leads off the panel on Web2.0 with a beautiful and somewhat spooky slidedeck on “the DNA of web 2.0”. He uses the x-ray of a dog to focus in on Chris Anderson’s “long tail”, which I’ve never seen visualized in terms of dog vertebrae before… His point is that the Internet allows people within that long tail to connect – whether or not they get a lot of readers, they’re able to build communities by using blogs, rss, wikis and aggregators.
He offers some lovely images to explain pushing and pulling of information via RSS and the approach to information overload via aggregators. His punchline: “As bloggers we are the knife in the back of a repressive government,” because we can say things the mainstream media cannot.
Mike Stopforth’s slides are certainly less visual, but perhaps more useful for folks who haven’t played with many Web 2,0 tools – he walks users through Bloglines, Del.icio.us and Digg in rapid order, focusing on a clever visualization tool within Digg called “Swarm” which visualizes relationships between users and stories in realtime. He also alludes to Newsbubble.com – evidently created by someone in the room – which I’m looking forward to checking out. He also shows off Techmeme, which tries to track stories in terms of their virality and reproduction across different sites.
Tying these tools together – an emphasis on “connectedness and humanity”. He notes that these tools are “free, user-friendly and community-oriented” and that they reward play and experimentation.
Ian Gilfillan’s bio is fascinating – he tried to create the first online grocery store in South Africa in 1997, and ran a business selling Linux-enabled PCs (probably far too soon for this to be a profitable concept…) He’s a wikipedian and a blogger (Greenman) as well, and urges folks to move beyond the idea of a Web2.0, which can be a “box” – we worry to much about what fits inside the category. He invokes the very helpful concept of Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants – he classifies himself as a Digital Immigrant, explaining that his world as a child was the world of books, not a digital world. This means he’s able to find information in books – researching “spotted horses”, the other day, but that it’s incredibly slow, taking 45 minutes to find the information, versus finding it almost instantly online.
Gilfillan suggests an interesting aspect of Web2.0 – that the tools are easy to build quickly, meaning that software developers can create tools that might be useful in the course of a weekend. Code can be created by a small number of users, released as open source, and an individual author can have a major impact.
Emeka Okafor, speaking from the audience, has one of the best comments. He mentions that someone has observed that “Africa needs an Al-Jazeera”. These sorts of tools we’re talking about enable people to create a network without spending millions of dollars – “with these tools, we are a television station, possibly before we break for lunch.”