Building a better web: the internet need not be doomed

Charles Lead beater hopes tech firms will stop focusing on getting big and selling out, and devote themselves to doing good.

While Charles Lead beater's report worries about whether the internet is living up to its potential, both his Better Web report and its funders strike notes of optimism, pointing to progress being made by social enterprises and charities online.

He cites digital education initiative the Khan Academy, which features video lectures and online tutorials to show what can be achived. Eight years after it was founded by Salman Khan, a former hedge fund analyst, it has, for example, delivered 260m lessons in languages ranging from Indonesian to Xhosa.

"Good ideas are emerging faster than ever, because once an idea such as the Khan Academy proves successful, demand almost mobilises itself," Leadbeter said.

Annika Small, the CEO of Nominet Trust, which funded the Better Web research, also praised School in a Box, which is able to use minimal internet access to deliver educational session from anywhere, including prisons or offshore sites. "Ways in which you can rethink the sites and spaces of learning are beginning to emerge, and that is very exciting," she said.

Big White Wall, a British site, is another successful project, which provides anonymous online counselling to support people with mental health problems.

"This is a powerful and very simple example of how – mental health being such an issue in our society, often with a large stigma attached – to use a platform that is very safe, very anonymous if you wish it to be, to post how you're feeling," said Small.

"It gives you tools as to how to deal with that, but also gives you access to trained counsellors. It's also shifted the sense that you don't have to go into your GP: you have greater control as the patient."

Leadbeater's message is not to think the internet is doomed to colonisation by American social media firms, however large Facebook and Twitter are, but to focus on the achievements that can be made if the next wave of tech firms stop focusing on getting big and selling out. Instead, he hopes, perhaps somewhat optimisticially, that the next generation of entrepreneurs will devote themselves to good, and change the nation.

"All over the world, people are doing that, in all sorts of inventive ways. We shouldn't sell ourselves short by thinking that the internet is all crap, and there's not much we can do with it because Facebook controls all of it. Actually, there's a huge amount that is still there to be done."

But against concerns such as digital etiquette and corporate domination, such projects will have to have a major impact to become the prevailing tone.

The guardian.com


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