Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Social Software for Social Change?

Kara Jessella asked recently whether or not sites like MySpace and Flickr can be a valid tool for progressive social change in a recent AlterNet article, especially in light of who may be owning the tech infrastructure behind it.

The more I work with online communities, and the more I explore different technologies, the more I believe it depends on the end goal. How do you define social change? Is it that a certain piece of legislation is changed? Is it a certain political outcome? How are folks defining success when talking about social change? Is it staying true to a particular set of beliefs?

For me, it's really about moving the ball forward. If tech helps you get more supporters, greater visibility, or anything that helps add to the momentum that you have, it's a good thing. Social change is a rather incremental process; it's rarely something that happens overnight, and only with long hours, persistence and dedication will it occur. As we all remember the legacy and incredible work of Coretta Scott King, her work (and that of her late husband) remains unfinished to this day. Yes, advances have been made, and hopefully they will continue, but there was not one isolated event that allowed people to say, "Ok, we're done now."

Tech is great. It makes things a lot easier in terms of communication, organizing and the like. Heck, it already has opened up new ways of organizing. We need not look too far to see how mobile communications have impacted things from politics to terrorist attacks. As with any tool, it can be a good thing, a bad thing, or neutral by design. How we use it will ultimately determine it's worth.

Related link:
8by1 -- think of this as 43things focused specifically on making the world better