This is going to be a light blogging week for me, my friends – apologies in advance. I’m in NYC today and tomorrow, then in Boston for a meeting of a board I sit on… and I’m feeling like I’m scheduled roughly 20 hours a day for the next four days. I’m sure you’ll survive without regular updates from me.
I gave a talk at the International Human Rights Funder’s meeting today, a semi-annnual meeting of foundations interested in supporting human rights projects around the world. The panel I sat on was titled “Advocacy 2.0″ and asked what the rise of the read/write web means for advocacy organizations. Needless to say, this is a topic that interests me – I gave a talk at NetSquared on this topic about a year ago, and much of the talk I gave today drew on a talk I gave at the New School a few months ago.
I explained to the assembled funders that, while Web 1.0 was invented so that theoretical physicists could publish research online, Web 2.0 was created so that people could publish cute photos of their cats. But this same cat dissemination technology has proved extremely helpful for activists, who’ve turned these tools to their own purposes.
So while Flickr should be used for displaying pictures of cute cats, it’s also proved an effective tool for avoiding keyword filtering. Activists in China are using Flickr to disseminate images that contain words that get blocked by keyword filters - a simple tool built by Zhang Erning allows a photo of Einstein at a blackboard to be annotated with arbitrary text that won’t be blocked by the Chinese firewall. You can post videos of the Star Wars kid on YouTube… but you can also post videos of Zimbabwean labor activists being beated by government thugs. Twitter lets Robert Scoble tell me what he’s doing 200 freaking times a day… but it also lets me know whether Egyptian activists have been released from the police station when they go in for questioning.
It’s important that these tools are generally used for banal purposes. If internet entrepreneurs created “Protestr” as a web 2.0 tool for activists, no repressive goverment would leave it unblocked. But blocking a tool that is mostly used for amusement or communication between friends has consequences – the users looking for cute cat videos get annoyed that YouTube is blocked… and learn about their government’s willingness to constrain speech. This cost doesn’t mean that governments won’t choose to block these tools, but it makes the calculus more complicated.
(Yes, Protestr.com is taken, by a domain name squatter. Alas, my dream of an integrated Web2.0 tool for automated revolution may need to wait for another day…)