I’m nearing the end of the semester, and I have to say I’m looking forward to it. During the previous three semesters I had multiple classes and projects to occupy my energy, but aside from teaching and assistant teaching, this semester I’ve completely focused on just one project, the Bronx Blog Project, which has had so many elements — filmmaking, teaching, proposal writing, Flash encoding, etc. — that at times I’ve been so buried that I’ve lost sight of I why I thought it was a good idea in the first place. Key terms like “social software” and “empowerment” have bounced around this small head of mine, but they’ve sometimes lost their context and meaning.
I was going through my del.cio.us links today and came across the Nata Village Blog, a site that I had completely forgotten about that uses “social software” like RSS, Flickr, blogging, and videocasting to create awareness of the battle against HIV/AIDS in a village in Botswana. This is the kind of thing I’m going for with the BBP, and will go after in future projects — using these great tools that allow individuals and small groups to get their word out using a variety of media. Armed with a little knowledge of how the blogosphere works (linking) and how to use new kinds of “social software,” we can really create waves and make a difference in our communities.
This is an important point: it’s not about creating mass awareness or competing with mass media (though that would be nice). Instead, it’s about utilizing the power of community, which means the power of two, five, or ten people to assemble (virtually or physically) and advocate for important issues. As the Nata Village Blog shows us, it’s cheap and easy to do such a thing, but it means educating folks who may have little to no knowledge of computers how to use and talk about things like RSS feeds and podcasts, and it takes conviction in the face of mainstream, well-meaning folks who simply see this all as a fad.
I’d like to see mainstream news organizations, NGOs, and political parties start using “social software” more, too. The Dean campaign started the blogging-politics-trend in 2004, and I’m curious to see what happens in 2008. The BBC will be completely changing the tune of their web site and adopting all of the citizen journalism stuff, so I’m excited to see that as well. I’m most anxious to see non-profits get into the fold and learn how to, say, set up a Flickr account and encourage others to subscribe to the feeds, or start podcasting their news releases. These things are easy to do — the tough part is often convincing people of their importance.