Friday, November 21, 2008

Caribbean - Web 2.0, More Thoughts

In response to some very pertinent questions asked by my husband last night –(who by the way, does easily beat me hands down on being a tech-savvy creative) I think a little deeper look at what Web 2.0 is would be useful. This done as best I can, because, like I say, I’m only really starting to get to grips with the answer to that myself. Here goes, let’s start with a formal definition of Web 2.0 that I think is reasonably understandable:

From Wikipedia

1. Web 2.0 describes the changing trends in the use of World Wide Web technology and web design that aim to enhance creativity, communications, secure information sharing, collaboration and functionality of the web.

2. Web 2.0 concepts have led to the development and evolution of web culture communities and hosted services, such as social-networking sites, video sharing sites, wikis, blogs, and folksonomies.

3. Although the term suggests a new version of the World Wide Web, it does not refer to an update to any technical specifications, but rather to changes in the ways software developers and end-users utilize the Web

And what does that all have to do with the reality of “living productive creative life” – in the Caribbean especially?

Last night I sent out a questionnaire by email asking my peers about a number of the things that affect their work and about their knowledge of and use of Web 2.0; I’m hoping some of my peers will be generous enough of their time to answer these questions and help me get a better idea of current status and issues and so to develop some useful tools and resources from it.

In the meantime, a little further mulling over some aspects won’t hurt, so in a nutshell, the difference I see between 2.0 and before is that now, most people with a computer and some basic computer skills can do a lot of things that are potentially useful to their business and 2.0 allows us to constantly update, interact and communicate.

Online Presence
I’m a blog fan, but now you have a whole range of options for free pages – not just blogs - that are so easy to use. Once you can type a letter, change a font, store a picture on your computer, you can put up these pages and sites. The particular benefits and methods vary so you’re likely to find at least one option that fits your needs and skills.

Free sites have been available for ages – it’s the ease of use and updating that comes with 2.0 that makes them so much more accessible and useful now.

For communication – many of us around the world still don’t have email, but that is changing daily. email alone is such a useful tool even taking into account that many people don’t check theirs regularly.

There’s something easy about email that I think naturally grew into Instant Messaging and Social Networks.

These two are still way in their infancy as far as business use in the Caribbean goes – and a lot of the world also. Still, like I was saying yesterday – the more of us that go and use these tools, the more useful they become, the more our presence as Caribbean Creatives becomes something noticeable, easily found, easy to do business with. The potential is great – whether we will pick up the option and use it, that’s another question.

Who do we want to communicate with and why? This was a good question my husband asked me.

In my case, I want to meet potential clients – those who may hire me as a consultant – and beneficiaries – those who may benefit from the consultancy, training, design, product development I do. I also want to make connections with people who will buy my product.

It’s a fairly well accepted reality that if you are ‘known’ you are more likely to be bought from or hired than if people have never heard of you. Even in our part of the world where online usage is still in its infancy, building an online presence helps get you known.

Don’t expect miracles, and to be honest, choosing where and whom to aim your efforts at is not easy. So far I have managed to make a few good connections – business groups on the social networks have worked well for this, this leads me to feel that my belief in the value of this is justified.

How To - Tools
Putting your content out there has never been easier – this area does take skills and learning how to use the tools though, so for many people it may not be the most important or relevant investment of their time at the moment, but you can publish a book via services like Lulu or create an e-book and market it through one of the many e-book stores. You can create videos that easily show your skills online – maybe not so easy to sell such a video for pay-per-view but its presence promotes you and your other products and services for sale.

There are a whole host of ways to sell product online – again, it’s competitive so your product being good, your display being good and your traditional marketing of your online shopping need all to be done well.

When Amazon started, they advertised their Internet presence using traditional media – this is something very often forgotten – you still need to promote your online presence using magazines, newspapers, fliers, etc. The difference of being online is, it allows someone ease of access – they don’t have to go find parking, they don’t have to visit your country, they can click, click, click and wait for your product to be delivered to them.

Weaknesses - Money Matters
It’s worth repeating that a big weakness of this system for us is that we cannot quickly access funds earned by online sales – we mostly still have to wait for a certain value of sales before the middleman (paypal, worldpay etc) will send out a cheque and then wait for the cheque to arrive in the post, then wait again for the bank to use 6 weeks for the funds to clear.

I’d love to hear from people who have done this if the risk of credit card refund requests is substantial, because of course that’s another weakness. But then most of us have been stiffed by a buyer at some time or other on some level or other, so there’s risks in all quarters.

Networking with Peers
This area is one that I feel fairly strongly about; I am reminded whenever I get together with my peers – like at the recent CGCS – that we all suffer the same challenges to some degree or other, we all like seeing what others are doing, we gain by our peers encouraging compliments, their useful critiques, their shared ideas for change. Our main challenges when we all get back to home turf seem to be getting programmes started that consistently work to overcome our challenges, give us genuinely useful tools to develop our competitiveness, access and keep secure our markets, hone our skills.

Would it be fair to say that our government departments, ministries and non-governmental agencies are somewhat competitive? There’s always the need for them to show they completed a programme – that’s how further funding comes.

Fair also to say that a lot of these ‘completed programmes’ unfortunately fall short of the mark in their effectiveness at developing our industry? Have we all not complained at some point or other that ‘they’ don’t understand what we need?

If there is a groundswell of agreement, calls for action, discussion, that goes on amongst us, not only would we be able to work out some solutions for ourselves, pool some resources and efforts, generate upward movement in our sector (assuming we can get over our paranoia about peers looking just to t’ief our ideas), but also would that not provide a useful resource for development of better agency programmes?

We’ve all taken part at some time or other, often too often, in meetings to work out what’s needed, who’s available and able to assist in ‘capacity building’; The results of which invariably gets tucked away somewhere and the next agency comes and does it all again.

I propose that a lot of this repetitive and isolated research could be avoided if we had a functioning community where we discussed issues, developed proposals, shared solutions and this was all readily accessible also to ‘them’.

Okay, maybe I’m pipe dreaming or maybe, hopefully I’m providing encouragement for the various ‘stakeholders’ to take hold of these useful tools and start a change. And that’s where I’ll leave it for today as I now have to balance this non-income-generating work with some income-generating work.

What do you think? What’s your experience? Where are You on the Internet? Let’s talk.

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