Can computing technology significantly empower disadvantaged peoples on a broad scale? Two related trends have emerged over the past 10 years that provide reason to believe.
The first and older trend is free open source software. Although it was initiated in the 1970’s, the movement has really come into its own of late with the development of software that is competitive with the best commercial options. (Linux, Gnome, Mozilla, and OpenOffice are usual suspects.) Two key features of this trend are: (1) the cost of software is being driven to zero and (2) corporate interests are no longer driving the feature sets because there is no profit motive. Software is being made purely by the people for the people.
Secondly, collaboration technologies have radically reduced the difficulty of publishing content online to the point where most anyone can do it. The accessibility of blogs, for instance, has increased the diversity of voices heard broadly — from Iraqis to stay-at-home moms. And they’re influential. Blogs break stories and force the traditional media to cover stories they wouldn’t otherwise. Likewise, Wikis have changed the landscape of collaborative content creation dramatically. Wikipedia, for instance, threatens to drive commercial encyclopedias under by offering an nearly an order of magnitude more articles than the nearest competitor. And anyone can contribute. Lastly, emerging technologies like the grassroots toolkit CivicSpace (an outgrowth of the Dean campaign) make it significantly easier to organize groups for civic action. The beat goes on.
These two trends together — software cost going to zero and collaboration becoming radically simple — open new doors. Developing countries are embracing open source, massively increasing access. Continue reading ‘Grass Roots Technology and Empowerment’