Connections – Part Three

This is part 3 – If you missed them, here are Part 1 and then Part 2.

Wikipedia says that Web 2.0 is “… a term describing the trend in the use of World Wide Web technology and web design that aims to enhance creativity, information sharing, and, most notably, collaboration among users.” There is some debate on if the term really means anything, but it is one of those deals where it has been used enough that it doesn’t matter if it is really correct or not any more. When a site has a certain look, certain functionality and involves a lot of people creating and consuming content, that is web 2.0.

What web 2.0 does is it connects people in an active manner. It is taking the internet past static content being delivered from a few to the many. This is what sets apart the world wide web and the technology on it so different from mass media of the past. Radio made the world smaller by allowing news to be spread all over the world. It even allowed for two way communication on a very small scale. Television came along and brought the impact of seeing things and people alongside the sound content that had come with radio. The web does all that and something more that neither radio or t.v. could do – it allows for communication that scales. It would be difficult to get everyone on the web at once, but the number of users is already in the millions. There are social networking sites that number their users in the hundreds of thousands.

None of this can be done for free. It costs money to run servers, build out storage and buy bandwidth to deliver these applications. The price is in direct proportion to size. I run 4 small blogs (including this one) on one server through a hosting company that I pay $10 a month. That’s it. For close to what I pay to see a movie, I get a seat at the world wide web. I have hits on my blogs from every part of the globe at one time or another. Now I don’t have a lot of people coming buy too often. And it’s a good thing. That 10 bucks is not enough to pay for the traffic that would come with hundreds of thousands of users every day. It does work well for the 10 or so people a day that come by.

So how do the big sites do it? So far, mostly by selling advertising. There is real money to be made if a site can prove to advertisers that they will get their message out. Facebook has an extremely high value (at least in the eyes of companies like MS) because they can expose such a large number of people to advertising. When I still did my affiliate stuff with Amazon I could make over $100 a month just posting links to geek news website slashdot every so often.

Part of the income is also generated by collecting demographic data. As people participate in these sites, they voluntarily hand over information they would never give to a stranger under normal circumstances. Sites like MySpace and Facebook amass huge amounts of personal information about their users, information that is very valuable to some.

We can’t use that personal information for financial gain but we can use it to help us reach the world for Christ. Systems that will make it worthwhile will be expensive, but I think they are dollars well spent.

For those of us interested in sparking global movements and getting the message out, there is an important lesson to learn here. The web offers up the best communication medium that has ever existed to date on the planet earth. Anyone can sign up for a google account and immediately, for free, have access to an office suite, a calendar solution, a place to store and save pictures, maps of the whole world and so much more. The office suite allows users to not only create text documents and spread sheets but to also share them with anyone anywhere in the world who has an internet connection. Collaberation on documents can happen real time. Users can also link documents to any publicly available web site, pulling data right out of them and into the documents, once again real time.

Much of this information is now available over phones enabled with web browsers. In the US it is difficult for us to realize how significant this is, but in much of the rest of the world many more people have cell phones than here. And they have phones with much better capabilities. Web sites can be read over phones, and web sites can generate emails and sms messages that go out to cell phone users. There are fewer and fewer places on earth where the web is not accessible. My last two trips over seas I was never away from wireless internet access for a full day. This isn’t including through my phone.

When I work with college students, they want to be on facebook daily. Multiple times per day if possible. A recent survey garnered quite a bit of attention when it was revealed that 39% of 1000 18 to 24 year olds said they would consider quitting their job if they lost access to facebook at work. Facebook is where a good portion of their social interaction takes place. It is where they organize events, find out news and basically organize their world. I had students laugh and tell me that my marriage wasn’t real because I wasn’t ‘married’ to my wife on facebook. They didn’t mean it literally, but that they would even think it says a lot to me. These are the swimmers I spoke of in the last post. They don’t even think about having these tools available. We tried playing a game with a group of them at Downtown Disney last week.

Staff had disguised themselves and tried to hide all over the half mile or so of shops, stores and restaurants. The students were split into teams and given a list of staff to try and find. They had to be together to have the list signed. We hoped this would keep them together. The groups immediately split up. When one student found a staff member, they would text message the rest to quickly come together to get the signature. Then they would fan out again.

Hopefully these examples are sparking for you the same ideas they have given me. Imagine a network where Pastors and volunteers can connect with one another. Not just to chat, but to organize outreach and community events. People could be informed quickly of need and resources could be rapidly mobilized. As all those people joined into the system, it would be silmultaneously building a database of believers who are willing to do the work of the Kingdom. Other sites could be connecting them with people who are seeking out truth in their lives.

The world is just going to keep on getting smaller. If we don’t start catching on to this now, that generation of college students I just mentioned will get it done. They wont settle for less. So I don’t get too worried about this in some ways, but I’d rather not wait for the years to slide by as they come into their prime. I’d rather get out at the front of this coming wave of communication and consolidation. The best part is, there is a movement called Open Source Software that is going to make all of this more realistic for the Church than it has ever been before. That is the next post.