The phenomenal power of social media

I was going to write about an interesting topic today (will save that for another day) until I was reading through some blog posts and read a couple by Fred Wilson this morning. According to Steven Hodson Fred seems to be in a web 2.0 midlife crisis. Fred talked openly about not being to write a blog post every day anymore (although he still seems at it) because of a lack of things to say. BTW, my mom always told me that if I didn’t have anything useful to say I might as well be quiet and listen for a while 😉

He notes that the major web 2.0 news sources such as TechCrunch, TechMeme, etc. do not provide him much inspiration.

As technology blogging has become defined by blogs like Techcrunch, Gigaom, VentureBeat, Valleywag, PaidContent, AlleyInsider, and many others that are quickly becoming news organizations optimizing around scoops and driving readership, I am feeling that we’ve lost something, or at least we need to look elsewhere for that magic that was existent back in the first half of this decade.

And continues with:

Who knows if what I want exists or can exist. But I want techmeme for inspiration. I want a place I can go every day and get inspired by real people. It hasn’t happened for me in many years in traditional media and honestly it’s happening for me less and less these day in online/social media.

It is interesting to see the direction Fred is taking this. He is now turning his attention to fields outside of web 2.0. He isn’t bored with web 2.0 but wonders how its massive globalization power can help solve real-world problems, inspired by an article written by Umair Haque:

So I am not bored by the web. I do want to figure out how to use the web to answer some of Umair’s questions, how do we:

Organize the world’s hunger.
Organize the world’s energy.
Organize the world’s thirst.
Organize the world’s health.
Organize the world’s freedom.
Organize the world’s finance.
Organize the world’s education

I really like this train of thoughts Fred is going through right now. We could question the ability of web technology to aid in resolving some of the worlds toughest problems. Web technology might not directly solve hunger or thirst problems. But web technology does bring us the ability to organise the potential to tackle these issues. Social media allow us to interact anywhere. Given the right content and the right distribution could we not organise a mob of creative, intelligent group of people across the world that would be willing to think of solutions? Not problems, but solutions. it might not be possible to resolve just anything. But there are area’s in which technology could definitely help to bring the necessary potential together.

It would need people that have a deep understanding of the essence of these world problems to ignite such efforts. It seems to me that there are often scarcity, suppression, market, logistics, supply chain, technological and human problems underneath. There is food and water, but it isn’t available in the places that need it mostly. There is technology that can help farmers harvest, but there isn’t money to deploy it. There are medicine that can increase basic health but the industry blocks distribution because it doesn’t make them a buck.

There are some successes to be told. For example, in the 70s manipulation of rice crops (not sure if that is the right terminology here) helped create a much stronger plant, leading to higher rice production. If you now Google “improve rice” you will find many projects working on further improvements. If rice production can be increased it will immediately benefit the poor.

There is Muhammed Yunus, who came with the idea of Microcredits, small loans than helped poor people become self employed again. A project that started in Bangladesh and has found its way to many other countries.

There is also the Cradle to Cradle project, founded by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. They have written a framework of production techniques that are not just efficient, they are essentially waste free. It is an amazing idea, producing waste free. The problem I see with this concept right now is that it takes people of the caliber and expertise of William McDonough and Michael Braungart to accomplish such projects. It is really complex to produce waste free and it needs incredible expertise in fields such as chemistry and technology. But here social media technology can really help. Finding the right expertise. Sharing results and good practices.

I think Fred is right about diving into the capabilities web technology to see if this can help to resolve the real issues in this world. Web technology and social media have brought us unique technological capabilities. It is truly worldwide as Fred points out. It helps us share and improve on current knowledge and expertise. And perhaps most important of all, it can help to find and bring the most creative, smart, enthusiastic people together. And these people are needed to come up with life saving ideas. Ideas that don’t just sound right, but can actually be implemented too.

If Fred or anyone else can help this process going, to let people get together and make the technology work for this world, it would be great. The phenomenal power of Social Media might just be what we need to start organizing such a venture. You can count me in!

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9 Responses to The phenomenal power of social media

  1. Kevin says:

    That’s why I love Internet so much!

    I also love Fred’s thoughts!

    Great post!

  2. umair says:


    fred’s post was great – but you didn’t mention or credit my manifesto, which is where this discussion started. you should read it 🙂

  3. Hi Umair,

    I’m not sure what you mean. I left the link intentionally in there. Perhaps I should have mentioned that you started it, but I deliberately copied that part of the post of Fred in here. But, credit should go to you, and I did read your post. I’ll add a line to this in the post.

  4. I am really excited by this whole train and need to write a post about it. Umair, I read your post and briefly commented shortly after it went up, apparently because I was first. And here you are, Alexander, writing about it stemming from Fred Wilson. The web seems to be strengthening. I will respond at Umair’s original when I post. Rock on, dudes and dudettes!!!

  5. Done. (or shall I say, started??)

  6. vruz says:

    respectfully, Umair…

    Fred’s thoughts haven’t been shaped solely by your influence.

    However important, your essay is only a starting point of discussion, it barely offers a glimpse of the “what to do”, but doesn’t even start to explore the HOW, WHEN, and WHEREs.

    It also doesn’t give us an ethical rationale, what it really means, what are the motives, the WHYs we would be wanting to do anything like that.

    All of that –notably missing in your essay– Fred must have found somewhere else, other publications he has been referring to lately.

    It’s a good start, I look forward to hearing more from you all guys 🙂



  7. Carl says:

    Hi Alexander,

    If you want to keep an eye on how Cradle to Cradle is unfolding on the web- keep an eye out on Koen’s (from the Netherlands) C2C Chronology:

    Carl, from
    New Zealand

  8. gregory says:

    dude, umair is such old news, as is fred’s uptake on it, as is your me-too response… this stuff is going on around the world, as fast as human character can transform … umair is like some old editorial writer in the newspaper, has all the answers, never does anything except write another editorial

  9. Pingback: The incredible power of Social Technology « Alexander van Elsas’s Weblog on new media & technologies and their effect on social behavior

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