Frequent readers know I am quite enthusiastic about the social web, its potentials and cultural impact. Especially when it comes to knowledge sharing and information and communication technologies for development. However, I also have concerns and see obstacles about the participative web -- its development and its divide. So as a start of 2008, I will try not to add predictions, instead some challenges.
1. Exclusion Connectivity is not only about access but also being able to use the web with all its potentials. To express oneself with social media and to engage in social networks. The social web has a philosophy of openness and sharing, but social networks often have typical exclusive patterns. Getting the right information through feeds does not make you more inclusive. The nowadays web is more participative than ever before, but still strives along lines of exclusion. Exclusion is around having instant access, and being from the western hemisphere, having a better education and getting more attention. The front-runners are far ahead of normal internet users. My concern is that "those already rich in knowledge, information and connections may just get richer" (Charles Leadbeater).
2. Complexity The social web opens the door for participation, but simultaneously it widens the gap between insiders and outsiders. Although the web is getting easier -- just 3 clicks to a blog -- the barrier for entry is still high. Not everybody is as well connected, experienced and qualified to deal with all these tools and opportunities. To understand blogs, wikis, feeds and social bookmarking takes time. I taught a relative of mine the other day the first steps on how to use the Internet and realized once again how complex the web has got. There are so many tools but so little explanation. The plain in English videos are a rarity.
3. Orientation As great as folksonomies are and as smart as the wisdom of crowd is, it still does not give us sufficient orientation in the world wide web. The delicious startpage will make you think the web is about programmers, but what does it tell an internet newbie? To find relevant information can still be a difficult task or even within the social web takes time and resources. Social bookmarking and blogs are amazing sources of information, however, you have to find them or have the know-how to grasp their potential. Web2.0 got much more user-friendly, but a lot more has to be done to explain the opportunity for everybody. For some people, web2.0 made the web even more complex because the voices of many do not necessarily give orientation.
4. Many voices The number of blogs is growing every day and social networks attract many new members, but there is hardly any two-way-conversation on most blogs. Millions of blogs do not have comments, thousands of facebook groups have soon after they started lost their life. The many voices often do not get as many responses. Especially when the web is used to promote social change, it is questionable to which extent this can be done over the web. Often, great stories in blogs are not read because nobody links to them. The social web has its own competition over attention and this easily will forget Kenya, Let’s Talk Scoble-gate!
5. Speed The speed of development is breathtaking and hardly to follow. Only a minority keep up the pace. A bit more than ten years ago the only digital presence I had was on an answering machine. Nowadays new gadgets, tools and opportunities fly up daily and there is hardly any time to try the older ones, because they are bypassed by "better" solutions. That is the case of most blog posts which receive no attention after a few days. It is hardly possible to follow the speed of innovation and question whether this is necessary. Alone wikis and blogs bear a great potential and have started to be used in different contexts.
6. Information overload From my work, I look on web2.0 from a knowledge management perspective. Blogs and wikis are surely no miracle because they simply cannot supply a real good face to face meeting and a creative brainstorming in a group. As a recent study tells that 2008 is the year of the information overload. Emails are seen as a key obstacle, but implementing blogs and wikis can also lead to the similar result. First comes the need and then maybe a web solution, but only one really fits best what is already there. Web2.0 tools can become a time waster and too little is asked about the benefit of them. Or as Bev Trayner wrote in her post, maybe less is better when it comes to online tools.
7. Filter I am amazed about the information power gain through feeds and getting more and more decent quality information out of the web. But it is still not easy to filter, or it takes a lot of time to get qualitative information. It is still difficult to find relevance in the social web, so I can click through a world of wisdom. Language is a key challenge and also the dominance of the masses like in the old media.