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  • Writer's picturetamera

“Can Web 2.0 Change the World?” – mesh panel day 1

As promised, although later than planned, a synopsis of the wonderful social responsibility panel at the mesh conference on Monday.

The panel, moderated by Tyler Hamilton of the Toronto Star, featured Tom Williams of, Dave Pollard & George Irish of Amnesty. The topic, albeit a lofty one, was well covered in the lively discussion between the passionate and engaged group.

It was a thought provoking conversation that had social responsibility themes, but consistent truth about human nature and community interactions.

Some thought starters:

Blogs, as they stand now, are “Web 1.0″ according to Tom. Traditional word of mouth is still required (sending an email, an IM, posting a link, etc.). Where “Web 2.0″ can work is if the tool becomes the disseminator.

Tom: There is a danger of online philanthropy… anyone can start a project and generate interest in an instant. There is also the danger that only projects that are saleable will get the ‘buzz’ and become funded, not necessarily the projects with the greatest need. We should ask the question with each program we introduce – “Is this needed & is this best. Does it solve the real problem?” {my take on this is, yes, but, this is not much different than traditional fundraising and projects, there is a need for caution, but also an opportunity for determining best practices and communicating them to the public at large right now, before it becomes too late to bridge the gap of trust vs. marketing}

George brought up an anthropological point that I think speaks to both the non-profit, fundraising community, but also to marketing as a whole as it is the basics of human interaction and community building. Online we act as individuals; offline we act as a group. The need is to learn to bridge the gap and Web 2.0 helps facilitate and plays a transitional role. There will be limitations and then new growth. The technology may not be all things & address all needs at this point. This insight is an important one for marketers as well as for fundraisers and community/ activism building – online we are only an individual until we are motivated into an action or behaviour that brings us into a social network & spurs action. That is the power of the internet, innovation and integration. The internet can motivate and drive individuals to take action as a group. The group will then continue to interact with their “offline” community and network and the idea, or action, will spread (hopefully positively if you have a good message or product to begin with… whole other story)

The panel had a good exchange about what engages and motivates people in this media saturated environment & agreed that in the end non-profits need to “make what’s important, interesting”. Tom coined it the “Return on Generosity” and argued that web 2.0 tools create the connections that provide the ROG. He gave an example of a woman working in Niger and blogging about her experiences in the village, doing the work, for the sponsors and donors who funded the project. Check out his blog for more information about the work he is doing with, it’s well worth the click.

An interesting question from the audience summed up the problems with proving the web 2.0 case at this point without specific measurements and standards in place, which is: is the audience expanding with 2.0 or are we just talking to the same engaged 1.0 people?And finally, George discussed the very issue with the ‘newness’ of the blogging and online activism movements with the question “do boots on the street matter more than online petitions?” Does a petition signed by 1000 people mean as much as 10 people holding signs on the street with the local news present does? [I have an additional question - does the ease with which we can submit an online petition then make us lazy to take 'real' action? Or is it a stepping stone to connect with like minded others and spur 'real life' participation?]

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