When one looks at the flurry of web 2.0 activity around the ongoing Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, I would venture that it is no exaggeration to affirm that this conference marks the moment when web 2.0 has reached its maturity for the development sector and citizen engagement: from fundraising to campaigning, from real-time reporting to visualizing impacts of the decisions taken by politicans.
Never before has the full arsenal of web2.0 tools been so prominently in display: from prediction markets to Second Life streaming, from visualisation and YouTube contests to Google Earth layers. UNFCCC’s website itself offers a rather impressive gallery of “virtual participation” options to the conference. From the tours on Google’s Climate Change/COP site, some of my personal favourites around the event include:
- Climate Interactive’s Scoreboard that provides visualizations of the impact of proposals under considerations and updates them as the negotiations evolve (hat tip: Rachel Kyte)
- MIT’s Climate Collaboratorium, where visitors can, among others, rate existing plans and submit their own suggestions to tackle climate change
- Information is Beautiful’s visualisation of what it is like to try and learn about climate change online and navigate your way among proponents and skeptics
And the list could go on and on. And yet, amidst all this reporting, lobbying and information dissemination efforts, one is left with a fundamental question: will web 2.0 make any difference at all on the outcomes of the conference? (Social) media impact is notoriously difficult to quantify, but can we in any way claim that, thanks to the panoply of tools at their disposal, our citizens are better informed, our politicians take better decisions, lobbying and campaigning efforts are more transparent?
As Business Week pointed out earlier this week, “the best way to avoid a.. [social media] backlash today is for social media's practitioners… to shift the focus from promises to results. It may be the only way to convert the skeptics—and flush out the snake oil”.
Will Copenhagen be the snake oil remedy for web2.0 and the development sector?