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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Transparency, Radical Trust and the Indian Democracy in the Age of Web 2.0

Every time i see @shashitharoor defending his tweeting habit on TV i can detect a gleam in his eyes which betrays a feeling of incredulity within him. WTF?! They seem to say, shouldn't his government be grateful that he is connecting it to nearly a hundred thousand people? One could say that may be Tharoor's long stint at UN has made him forget the epitome of doldrums that our babudom is, but that wont be the whole truth. Managements in most large organizations world wide are scared of new things (and for good reasons too) but that's part of the larger social media debate, this post is about the Shashi Tharoor question and about Twitter.

Shouldn't a democracy like India support transparency as the UK does, for instance, Tharoor asks. The penetration of Internet technology in India has not been deep enough to become part of our lives as it has been with the American and the British. India may be emerging as a software giant, but the majority of Indians, including those belonging to the IT workforce view the Internet as an unreliable medium. True, everyone right from the governmental departments to the small-time trader use the Internet for things like e-mails and correspondence, online booking and shopping and propaganda. But these are traditional tasks that the Internet makes easier, they don't harness the real power of the Internet.

The real beneficiary of the Internet have been those who have been able to leverage its powers. Let us not forget that there has been a major paradigm shift in the architecture and usage pattern of the Internet. It now goes by the moniker, Web 2.0. Tim O'Reilly opines that a significant characteristic of Web 2.0 is the fact that businesses are embracing the web as a platform by building applications and services keeping the features of the Internet in mind instead of expecting the Internet to transform itself to suit traditional models!
Yet, a large section of the literate Indian population still consider the Web as something that should be used strictly in a manner that keeps the user insulated from the other users.

In the early days of the Internet revolution, anonymity was a major factor which encouraged participation and for good reasons too. But Web 2.0 revolution has changed all that, users now are not only using real identity but are also trying to put up as much info about themselves as possible. Discussing the various aspects of the changing user behavior is beyond the scope of this post, the point i wish to drive is that if anonymity was the flavor of Web 1.0, trust and transparency are the pillars of Web 2.0.

Lets take Wikipedia as an example, a reference site that can be modified by anyone with access to the Internet! A decade back, the majority of people would have scoffed at the idea. Indeed, Wikipedia was not an instant hit, it came out as a winner with the passage of time. But Wikipedia introduced the idea of radical trust which went on to become one of the distinctive features of the Web 2.0 meme. Almost, every successful Web 2.0 enterprise has been based a collaborative platforms that believe in actively engaging with the consumers and using the feedback to offer far more customized services/products the consumers.

For Indian democracy, this a great opportunity for interacting better with the people. The incumbent governments stand to gain the most by connecting to the voters directly, redressing most problems would be an impossible task but letting the people take a glimpse of the working of the government can actually instill much greater confidence of the people in the government. In fact, the opportunities are immense, if the Ministers, bureaucrats and legislators are willing to come of the time warp and connect to the people. Instead of trying to discourage Shashi Tharoor, they should actually be encouraging other Ministers and spokespersons (as well as issuing- DOs and DONTs lists) to use the power of the Web 2.0 to strengthen democracy.


Reference:
http://oreilly.com/pub/a/web2/archive/what-is-web-20.html?page=2

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