Social Networking Websites: A Way Out of Poverty

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Social networking websites also known as, Web 2.0 – the name given to the new wave of internet businesses and websites such as YouTube and MySpace that are transforming the way people interact with the Web – has been dubbed the social web for its power to bring people together. The label has been derided as a marketing gimmick by some, but many argue there are a number of characteristics to Web 2.0 that make it something different and a valuable tool for entrepreneurs seeking ways out of poverty.

The new Web 2.0 applications offer many free software tools stored online, from accounting and business related tools, to new multimedia ways to communicate for free. Unlike Web 1.0 sites, which offered information to passive users, Web 2.0 sites allow interaction and comment. These qualities have meant Web 2.0 can be used to build communities and social and business networks. By being able to store vast quantities of information online, it becomes faster to work and reduces the painful delays brought on by slow connections.

All these new tools are making it easier and easier for entrepreneurs to work from home, in internet centres, or anywhere there is a wireless connection, and is slashing the costs of managing a business. All the applications are online so there is no need to be hidebound by one operating system or hardware capability. The number of internet centres has increased significantly all over Asia and Africa, bringing the power of Web 2.0 to millions more people.

Linking mobile phones and the internet is also remarkable. It is becoming more and more possible in Africa to send messages to weblogs via text messaging, to post photos and videos, or to stay connected with a community, advocacy or business group via messaging to its website.

“Web 2.0 is a pre-occupation of ours that can be beneficial in fighting poverty,” said Tobias Eigan, founder and co-executive director of Kabissa.org, a web portal dedicated to promoting Web 2.0 in Africa. “It is really relevant for Africa. It makes the internet a read and write function, it is more user-friendly – that dynamic is going to make a big difference. It is so much easier to upload content with Web 2.0. It will build the capacity of local institutions and society and that will improve the lives of people – it will be much easier to fight poverty with this connectivity.”

Two other champions of the Web 2.0 way out of poverty are Waleed al-Shobakky, science and technology reporter for alJazeera.net, and Jack Imsdahl, a consultant and technology commentator. While they admit subsistence farmers and the illiterate will not directly benefit, those who are students or are working in proximity to computers will definitely benefit. They point out how rapidly mobile phones have been taken up by the poor and that this is being driven by the new services they offer.

There are still profound obstacles to more rapid take-up, however. Internet connection speeds will have to get better and more will need to be invested in this area. Web 2.0 tools will also need to be adapted to local languages if they hope to get past those who speak major web languages like English.

Entrepreneurs in the global South can now easily sign up to a vast array of e-newsletters that are sent to email accounts and keep on top of trends and innovations in their field. The relative anonymity of these email lists mean subscribers are less likely to be judged on their physical circumstances.

Resources

Afriville is a Web 2.0 service and an African Caribbean social network started by two Nigerian web entrepreneurs in their twenties, Folabi Ogunkoya and Lawrence Bassey-Oden.

Afriville is a community website along the lines of the famous MySpace. Users are free to message and post profiles. The difference is that the user is able to choose how closed or open the networks are. The site features a state of the art music management system which allows African and Caribbean artists to get straight in touch with their fans.

“We have created a solid app(lication) with features that will give the big players a run for their money,” said Ogunkoya.

African entrepreneurs have already stepped in with other Web 2.0 offerings. These include: Mooziko.com (an African YouTube), Afribian.com (news sharing), Afriqueka.com (social networking), Yesnomayb (online dating).

Both Yahoo! And Google offer extensive free online tools for entrepreneurs and businesses that integrate seamlessly with their email services.

Kabissa: Space for Change in Africa: An online African web community promoting and supporting the transition to Web 2.0 services in Africa. Offers lots of opportunities to meet people throughout Africa and learn more.

Alexa: Here can be found a detailed break down by country in Africa of web use and site popularity and trends.

Digital Divide Network: A website linking together initiatives and offering opportunities to debate current issues and problems.

Global Voices: An initiative from the Reuters news agency to aggregate the global conversation online from countries outside the US and Western Europe.

Free Web 2.0 tools for entrepreneurs:

Wikis: Here is a detailed article on wikis – collaborative websites that allow authorised users to rapidly and easily change the content of pages – and a detailed list of free or low-cost wiki services.

>> Blogging (an online diary):

Blogger.com – A free, easy-to-use, online service owned by Google.

BlogPlanet.net – Blog from your mobile phone, free.

Blogsome.com – An easy-to-use, free service with good support for photos.

Movable Type – An open-source, free, easy to use, online publishing system popular with bloggers.

WordPress – Another easy, free, and popular online publishing system popular with bloggers.

>> Aggregators (these are programmes that gather links and resources off the web):

AmphetaDesk – One of the first news aggregators to really catch on, it’s still popular.

Bloglines – Allows bloggers and webmasters to search, subscribe to, publish, and share RSS news feeds online.

Del.icio.us – Aggregate content from your favorite Web sites and share them with others.

Feed Demon – The news you want delivered to your desktop.

Technorati – A real-time search engine that keeps track of what is happening in the world of blogs.

Techsoup.org is an excellent resource for all the latest developments in Web 2.0 and how to access free or low-cost resources. Being based in the US, it gets the inside scoop on cutting edge developments in Silicon Valley.


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