As I mentioned recently, I attended the UnLtd World launch recently, which was held in a dingy nightclub in a road tunnel by London Bridge (if the intention was to make us feel slightly seedy / ‘underground’ on our way in, then it succeeded!). I was keen to attend, because I’ve been following its development ever since a very early meeting about the concept almost a year ago.
Certainly, in the rash of web 2.0 / third sector projects, I think it has as much chance of success as anything. Like most judgements, this is based for me on the product but, equally importantly, the person. Firstly, the site is very usable, pretty intuitive and with lots of useful features, specifically designed for use by social entrepreneurs (resources, relevant groups) or to be interesting to them (shoutbox microblogging, Q&A debates etc). It seems to be gathering momentum, although (and this is one caveat), it’s difficult to tell if you don’t add friends….(sounds like a dense point, but ways into the information other than through friends is crucial: I’m beginning to find some of these).
Generally, I feel positive about its chances, and the second reason for that is about the person leading it, Alberto Nardelli, who has insisted on its openness and usability by others from the start. Though ‘closed’ in that you have to register, it is open in terms of its structure (APIs, feeds etc) and that ethos is written through Alberto and the site like a stick of rock. I remember at the original discussion, someone said that it was not about being "King of the Hill" anymore, but building "the hill" (being it even) for others to use and interact with. Though at the moment (particularly given the name etc) it seems like more the former than the latter, I think we will see more interesting uses of this ‘hill’ moving forward. This is where it gets interesting for SSE, in that we can work with Alberto and his team to think about how we best interact with / use / pull from / feed into / re-brand the hill to our own (aka our students and Fellows’) purposes; I’m meeting him about this on his return from SXSW.
So I’m pretty positive and will hopefully have more to write about this soon. My solitary "But?" is a version of one that was rather brutally expressed in a comment on the Guardian blog’s piece on the site:
"More web 2.0 candyfloss. You could surely do more for your community by
getting up off your arse, getting out from behind the computer and just
doing a few hours community service."
Now obviously this sets up a rather unfair and untrue either/or scenario (either they’ll use UnLtdWorld, or they’ll do something in the real world), whereas most of the people signed up are already engaged in real-world projects in one way or another. But we do have to think about where resources are best expended to the furthering of social justice, of social change. I get as carried away by the new tech and geekery as anyone else, and don’t want to be Luddite, but I do think there is a rise of slacktivism and what might be called ‘hands-free philanthropy’.
This is a wider point than just UnLtdWorld. At the two most recent events I’ve been to, I’ve found out about three new web-based philanthropy / social networking / social entrepreneurship initiatives….and there is a real difference between an existing SSE Fellow or UnLtd Award-winner using these sites to further practical ends on the ground, and a whole load of well-meaning people putting shouts out to each other and debating their favourite films. Or clicking a couple of buttons and keeping a healthy distance from all that poverty and disadvantage. It must come down to impact (UnLtdWorld’s Research Lab (log in required) looks like an erstwhile attempt to pre-empt this) in the end, and the most effective way of using human and financial resources to achieve an organisation’s (or society’s) goals.
Ultimately, web 2.0 sites such as this are (incredibly powerful) tools to facilitate things to happen, for changes to be made; they are not the change themselves. At the risk of a bad extended metaphor in reference to the title of this post, that’s what’s written at the top of my map whilst charting a course through the ever-changing, somewhat choppy waters of new technology on behalf of SSE. I hope UnLtdWorld proves a useful port of call.