Harnessing the Internet to reinvent democracy
BERLIN (Reuters) - No one could accuse management guru Don Tapscott of being unambitious. The co-author of best-seller "Wikinomics" wants to teach governments to harness the power of the Internet to reinvent democracy.
Tapscott is an evangelist for Web 2.0, the second-generation Internet based on participation through social communities such as Facebook and MySpace, participatory sites like free encyclopaedia Wikipedia, and blogs.
In "Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything", published this year, he and co-author Anthony Williams dared big companies to reveal their trade secrets on the Web in a gamble to collect the ideas they need from people outside the firm.
They cited unlikely success stories such as that of struggling gold miner Goldcorp which published its secret geological data on the Web and invited people around the world to help it find new goldfields -- a move that transformed the company.
Now their thinktank, New Paradigm, is starting a project to involve governments, non-governmental organizations and citizens around the world to revitalize the public sector.
"I want to change the world," said Tapscott, grinning, when asked what he thinks his initiative can achieve.
Tapscott, who is in the middle of a multi-million-dollar international project to research the attitudes and habits of 13 to 29-year-olds, reckons young people want to take part in politics but don't like being preached to by politicians.
"My generation grew up watching TV so a broadcast model was OK," he says. But hearing: "I'm a politician, so listen to this 30-second ad where I slag off my competition," is meaningless to what he dubs the "N-Gen" or Net generation, Tapscott argues.
Tapscott's ideas are based on the premise that the new generation of "digital natives" who grew up with the Internet is fundamentally different from previous generations -- in a way that matters.
"This is the first time in history that kids are an authority on something important," he said in an interview on the fringes of a Web 2.0 conference in Berlin. "When I was a kid I was an authority on model trains."
New Paradigm plans to kick off its Government 2.0 project with a three-day Web discussion in Tapscott's native Canada early next year, hosted by the Governor-General and probably on the topic of global warming.
A working paper on the project says: "With 85 percent of university students on Facebook and MySpace growing at 300,000 new registrants per day, new venues for online collaboration and social networking are a phenomenon that no politician or public official can afford to ignore."
Tapscott says: "When I was 19, I had six friends, and I was a pretty popular guy. My daughter has 6,000."
The New Paradigm Government 2.0 project has "a few governments" on board so far, but none officially in Europe, Tapscott says.
Other partners include former U.S. president Bill Clinton's Clinton Global Initiative, and Tapscott says he is talking to the United Nations about getting involved in the project.
New Paradigm actually attempted a similar project eight years ago, but the time wasn't right, Tapscott said, without the filtering tools that are available today that make the difference between conversation and babble.
Asked whether he believes such an initiative could bring democracy to countries who don't currently have it, he says only: "We're talking to some countries who don't have elections about this project."
But his ambitions don't stretch to reinventing representative government. "We're not talking about nightly electronic voting or something like that -- a.k.a. the electronic mob," he said.
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