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The Great Thing About The Web #BWE08

Anil Dash from SixApart is discussing the ways and reasons people use the web. He glossed over a point that I think is really the key idea of the web, and social media generally. While discussing the idea of collaborating with people around the world, he commented that the web connects us with people who share our passions about things that our friends and families may be sick of hearing about.

That is a critical point for people who aren’t connected, or people who aren’t actively using web 2.0 applications. In a study of people who are not online, Parks Associates found 44% of those not connected claimed “there’s nothing interesting online” as the reason they didn’t want an Internet connection.

That’s a funadmental problem you will have to overcome if you want people to adopt broadband. The easiest way I can think of to show someone the value is two part.

First, ask them what their interests are. What is the one thing you love, that you wish you could discuss with more people? What hobby is your wife sick of?

Second, take them online, and search for the active discussions of that topic. You’ll likely find hundreds or more.

And that’s the power of the web. It’s not just that conversations are no longer tethered. It’s a much larger idea that someone out there cares about the ideas that you care about, and no matter how odd or rare your interests may seem to your offline friends, you’ll find it’s not odd or rare at all online.

For years we decried the effect the Internet and media were having on people and the way it divorced them from their relationships. This was the fundamnetal concept of Robert Putnam’s “Bowling Alone”.

Far from an isolating force, however, the Internet and social media have proven to be just the opposite. They have removed from human interaction the physical restrictions, and allowed people to gather together in unprecedented ways.

This was the thesis of a post called “Volunteering Alone” that I wrote for the Personal Democracy Forum in 2005. In response to Zephyr Teachout’s comentary on the need to reconnect people “offline”, I argued that the genius of Internet activism is the fact that it removes the physical presence requirement.

The Internet has the power to remove campaigns from activism in the same way eGovernment removes the government from transactions. It’s just the citizen and his browser. People choose to be active on their schedule. The campaign or party empowers activism, but allows me to be active on my terms.

In exactly the same way, the Internet removes the physical presence requirement from discussions of everything from gardening to politics to television programs. Your interests are shared interests regardless of whether they’re shared with people in your home, in your town or across the globe.

Written by Michael Turk