2005 was probably the year when I turned from blogger to connected global citizen.
In June, I was in Rwanda on a rollercoaster of a week. Meeting with wonderful friends made by email as we developed a discussion on how journalists could play a part in preventing genocide. Enjoying stimulating conversations on topics that still provoke my thoughts today. We ran a conference on how the global youth could ensure ‘Never Again’, it happened to coincide with the visit of the president of the World Bank to Africa and, Rwanda being quite a closely connected place, we got him to come to our conference. After his address, I shot up to the nearest computer lab and reported the speech on Wikinews (http://en.wikinews.org/wiki/World_Bank_president_addresses_global_youth_forum_on_genocide), which, in turn got a mention in the Financial Times.
Less than a month later, I heard the sound of a bomb close to my office in Tavistock Square. We didn’t know what it was, but I was already communicating with a fellow ‘wikinewsie’, Dan Grey, about explosions on the underground. At 9.56am (the log says 8.56) I immediately posted a report heard from my editor and work experience student who had run out to see what was happening. I then deleted it again, worried that it might not be true, but it was and Dan was already weaving it in to the developing Wikinews story. He later wrote (http://osdir.com/ml/org.wikimedia.foundation/2005-07/msg00060.html) that we were the first people to report the incident online. In 2008 I imagine it would have been quicker still, posted on Twitter via mobile phone from the scene itself, but in 2005 nine minutes was considered pretty fast.
Everybody brushes with news stories from time to time in their lives. The difference between then and now is that then the public’s contribution to a story was merely their answer to the bland question ‘how do you feel’. Now, we can shape the story, write it, respond to it, comment on it.
I’m now reading, simultaneously (because I’m *that* hyperconnected), Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky, and CrowdWired by Tom Watson. The first is a good example of how you can carve out your niche and make money: seeing the book recommended on a few sites I trusted I marched in to Waterstones and demanded a copy, even paying extra so I could read it on the train. The second has been sent as a review copy, thanks to a connection with Tom Watson on Twitter, so I can make my own sprinklings of recommendations through my own networks so that in a few months someone else will shell out real cash for the fruits of Tom’s labour instead of just reading his blog for free.
Both books are fascinating and very readable. They represent the maturity of a movement, the time when academics can take a step back from the fast-moving events and start writing a history. 2005 is an important year in both these histories, with the 7/7 bombings and the New Orleans floods representing a step further on from the connectivity that could already be seen on 9/11 and the 2004 Tsunami. Both books are really useful as guides to those who are still waiting for the spark. I’ve already read the criticism somewhere that Shirky’s book doesn’t say anything new. Although that criticism is untrue, in my view, I can see why the online ‘natives’ may be unmoved by the story of a lost/stolen phone that could be found again by the power of the crowd.
One of the many interesting insights for me is that in the connected world, we can be very relaxed about failure. Indeed, we can afford to fail because the investment in organising is now zero. For a long time I was a little downhearted about the amount of ideas I’d started that hadn’t really got anywhere, the tools I’d built that hadn’t been picked up and used by as many people as I’d hoped. My view now, which has been backed up by the evidence in this book, is that putting ideas out that may or may not be picked up is simply part of a new process that is now done in public where it once would have been private.