The discussion about web2.0 and development is divided roughly into two groups. One argues for the potential of the social web and that finally the users shape the web and applications to their benefit. And the other side wonders what does web2.0 make for a difference in the field of ICT4D, and doubt whether the chit-chatting over blogs will change anything, and what is so new about it anyway. The skeptic people believe that connectivity shall be a primary concern. In my view, the latest developments are promising, whether they are called web2.0 is secondary. New innovations can make a difference in connectivity, however, the danger of repeating old mistakes exists.

I remember when Tariq Khokar Jackson from Aptivate said that the Web2fordev conference website can, with its 300 kB, take up to a minute to load from a dial up connection. In an interview, he underlines the importance of simplicity in webdesign and its obstacle for connectivity. To get an impression of what that means, you can use the Aptivate Low Bandwidth Simulator. I checked it through CNN.com and it took 4 minutes to load the website with a 20kb-normal-African-university-connection. I, myself, had an interesting experience when I was in South Africa last year. I was faced with volume packages for internet. Suddenly, a YouTube video was not a choice, and Skype calls were much shorter. I had to think it twice whether to go on overloaded fancy news sites or not.

So, what are some of the potentials and obstacles? I tried to list the points I could think of and hope you will have some other points to add.

Potentials

  • Websites become more lightweight, the separation of layout and content gives more ways to access.
  • Device independent publishing such as RSS feed.
  • Beta mode of websites focuses on its users and offers multiple channels to distribute and exchange information from Email to SMS.
  • Mashups allow to mix and filter content before it is delivered to its users. That means standard searches, feeds or information channels can be individually subscribed to get relevant content.
  • The fusion of mobile phones and the web allow new ways of access and interaction. Market information systems are one way, but tools, such as Twitter, open a two-way conversation.
  • There is a boost in languages, especially through open source software. Excellent publishing software is freely available in dozens of different languages such as Arabic, Swahili, etc. Web2.0 has a boost in forming own distinct language spaces.
  • The personal computer plays less of a role with new innovations such as software on a USB flash sticks or web based software.

Kevin Painting makes a good point in his post (Update: not accessible anymore):

In a delicious irony, the Web2.0 paradigm to move the “desktop” from the PC to the Internet has created (for some) a host of seemingly old fashioned problems of connectivity which, of course, are the daily lot of many in developing countries. To wit, in a Web2.0 world, when all your programs and files are on the Internet, what do you do when you can’t connect to the Internet? There is much activity now to develop applications that work seamlessly in an on-line/off-line world that will be of enormous utility to developing countries where lack of access to the Internet is not an occasional nuisance but a daily reality. The big players have been very active here: Google with its Gears application, Adobe with Air, Microsoft with Silverlight. We can only look to developments here with heightened anticipation.

By the way, this paragraph is part of a blog post series about a “One Laptop Per Farmer” by Hans Jörg Neun, who is director of CTA.

Obstacles

  • The major concern certainly is the bandwidth issue which, nowadays, websites need. Websites not only have many photos but also widgets and many third party applications.
  • Podcasts and video streaming is in many places extremely pricy. For example, in South Africa only volume tariffs are offered.
  • To interact fully in the particapative web, one needs to be frequently online. Most of it becomes even instant communication and leaves out those who have only sporadic access.
  • Most resources are invested in new fancy and high bandwidth applications, and less into innovative lightweight applications for small connectivity.
  • Often, important rules of usability are left aside and websites are confusing and overloaded.

I am sure there are more points and hope you can add some. But, I think there are further challenges, which I wrote in a post bak in January.