Web 2.0 – Emerging Industries panel

Here’s my account of how the panel went, with added thoughts thrown in. Kevin thinks [it didn’t work out](http://theory.isthereason.com/?p=2152) due to technical glitches, but I can assure him the audience loved him. I’ll add more blog links once they come up.
It was exciting seeing Kevin on screen. At least it was better than our own Media Socialist video conferencing attempt a couple months ago, as he had backup systems (Skype and Twitter). I also met the other panelist, [Stuart](http://www.internetmarketingsingapore.com/), who was obviously a very polished speaker. He was in the middle of conducting a course and stepped out just for this talk.
I was the first panelist to speak, on how large organisations and Government agencies could use Web 2.0. I didn’t think most of my projects were particularly sexy, so I didn’t go into details or plug my URLs. From my point of view, large organisations already had their Web 1.0-style media, such as corporate websites and digitised brochures. They have to adapt to a new mindset and not all are ready for it yet. Also, the sustainability of Web 2.0 applications was important and that was why we didn’t go ahead with all projects.
I was surprised to be [boo-ed](http://twitter.com/micamonkey/statuses/778962729) so early at this point by a [well-known social media practitioner](http://learningweb.blogspot.com/), but I hope I explained our reasons clearly. The specific point I was making at the time, was that while we already had other Web 2.0 projects like blogging and podcasting, we decided not to go with a Wiki to replace our health articles because of public safety reasons.
Judging from the pitches we’ve received to endorse dubious products and services (e.g. asking for our logo to be placed next to their ‘health’ products), opening up our health information to the world for editing may not be safe. Also, I noted that Wikipedia has over 900 [3,950 volunteer editors](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:List_of_Wikipedians_by_number_of_edits) making sure that unreliable information and sales pitches [don’t stay on the site for long](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Who_writes_Wikipedia#Who_keeps_order.3F). If we can’t sustain a new Web 2.0 application that relies on crowdsourcing for information, then we shouldn’t start one until we’re ready.
Another point I wanted to add during the talk but didn’t, was that I’ve seen many cases of people jumping onto the blogging and Web 2.0 wagon, hoping to reap its benefits without fully understanding its impact. On one occasion I’ve even heard a criticism of someone else’s website as “not looking Web 2.0 enough”. Having glossy banners, big shiny buttons and large text is just a facade. In fact it is the mindset behind the operations that will prove whether something is really Web 2.0 or not. Is the organisation open to receiving criticism and taking the issue further, on its blog? Or will it only respond to newspaper forums and letters, as tradition dictates?
If you’re in a large corporation, try starting a Web 2.0 project. It will give you insights as to how open and collaborative your departments are.
And let’s not forget Web 2.0 is still a means to an end. We want to meet new people, or build on existing relationships. We want to share our photos and our videos. We want to share information or let people collaborate on our work. In the past this was harder to do, which makes the present more exciting. Web 2.0 is an enabler and a ‘[flattener](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_World_is_Flat#Ten_flatteners)’ (to borrow the term from Thomas Friedman) because it breaks down some barriers to entry. That brings things down to the same level, and that’s when we realise that it is still the value of your content and ideas that will help you stand out from the crowd.
I started out as a dotcommer but have been in the public sector for the past 4 years. So when ‘monetisation’ came up as a question, I was wondering what I could say that would be of value to the audience! The only examples I could give were from my personal blog – the [Thinking Cap](http://www.cafepress.com/vantan.69181514) I [designed for Ivan](http://vantan.org/archives/2007/11/my_first_cafepr.php), which garnered a few sales on [Cafepress.com](http://www.cafepress.com/), and my [Amazon.com Associates](http://affiliate-program.amazon.com/gp/associates/join) referral scheme which has garnered me several US$ in sales after writing some book reviews.
I understood [Gurmit’s](http://gurms.blogspot.com/) point, evil adman though he may come across as, because it is some people’s jobs to make money from Web 2.0, while the rest of us play about with it. It is not my job to make money from it as we’re suppose to disseminate reliable health information. However I’m sure many of us wouldn’t mind making some money out of our blogs either!
Stuart noted that to follow this model of putting ads on your site, you need more than 100 readers. This is where internet marketing comes in. But as Kevin pointed out, there’s also a social value from Web 2.0 and if the idea is good, the money will come later. He was rightfully applauded for that.
It was good to meet some of you at the talk today. I am bad with names but I see you on Twitter. Thank you for coming to our talk. Thank you [November](http://leafmonkey.blogspot.com/), [NTT](http://nttup.wordpress.com/), [Farinelli](http://internet125.blogspot.com/), [Raine](http://rainelai.wordpress.com/) and [Nick](http://www.nickpan.com/). Thank you also to [Marcus](http://mmaarrccuuss.wordpress.com/), Ridza and the rest of the team for organising this event.
I would’ve liked to reveal more at the talk, but didn’t think it was appropriate in my capacity especially as I’m not a decision-maker and can’t speak for other agencies either. I am happy that Singapore may join the Creative Commons, based on what the Creative Commons folk at SXSW told me – they too have no definite idea. I think it is a great idea to improve one of our systems for vendors, and build a platform for the public to contribute info in emergency situations. Like I said, I can send these suggestions to the relevant folks. I hope something comes out of it.
To those who came, in the spirit of SIA I say: “Thank you for going to our panel. I know there are other social media events that you could have chosen to attend today.” 🙂


  1. Chin Yong

    I was at the talk. I was surpise that you mentioned that “opening up our health information to the world for editing may not be safe”.
    My viewpoint is that Singaporeans are generally tactful when it comes to government property. No one in a sound mind with edit such a wiki, if it exists, with dubious content. Check out the person who fakely reported Mas Selamat whereabouts?
    And I believe it will be possible to integrate Singpass login to such a wiki and that will deter most cyber vandals or prankster.
    Overall I do enjoyed your input during the panel. And I took away with me the impression that there are still much inertia within the public sector in engaging the citizens via Web 2.0.
    Maybe there are not measurable ROI metrics in such cases?

  2. vantan

    Thanks Chin Yong.
    Hypothetically speaking, if we did have a Wiki:
    1) What if someone does place false information which slips through? Who will bear the responsibility? (From experience, this is a question anyone pushing a new and potentially risky idea, will be asked.)
    2) When people update the Wiki, who is going to check all the facts?
    When we update our websites, we usually refer to a qualified person such as a doctor, nutritionist, psychologist etc. In some cases, when we don’t have an in-house specialist, we pay for external consultants. For the Wiki I can forsee this requiring a lot more effort and cost as changes may be made round the clock.
    To qualify, I’m definitely not against the idea but if we should ever start one, we really have to get our act together and set aside a lot more time, manpower and money. There can be no half measures; either do or do not, to borrow the line from Yoda.
    I once told a professor from another local Uni how I thought the public sector was slow to embrace Web 2.0. He said conversely, the private sector here is even more cautious, because the Govt here is the driver for many things, and the private sector waits for the Govt to make the first move!
    For ROI, my new media team uses quantitative measurements like pageviews and visitorship. For hot topics, I use Technorati which gives a more qualitative sense of how things are going. Once we had a youth contest and a blogger complained that our rules were too strict. We changed them. For my colleagues running the health programmes, it is admittedly harder to measure ROI because health behaviours take a longer time to change. However we do run post-campaign surveys and also conduct extensive national health surveys that measure longer-term trends. These are available on our Publications page at http://www.hpb.gov.sg/hpb/default.asp?pg_id=1631
    To date we have been one of the more progressive Govt agencies to take on Web 2.0, but across the board we can all do more. In 2005, a group of us from various agencies pushed for blogging as a means to reach out to the public in a friendlier manner.
    For our youth health blog, http://www.yah.sg/ , we let anybody register and so far nobody has abused the system. We even had a youth leader from India registering and posting his health campaign ideas.
    For our youth T-shirt design contest, http://www.neeteen.sg/tshirt/ , we were initially cautious about getting offensive designs uploaded, or not getting much submissions at all. In the end we had a good response; the audience voted, the judges voted and the winners were chosen.
    We have to take baby steps, gain confidence and keep on moving in the right direction. A big Web 2.0 app that fails spectacularly may be cited by opponents as a reason for not trying anything new again. This applies to any kind of large organisation/MNC that’s used to doing things the traditional way.

  3. nickpan

    Van, Kudos on what you are doing in the Public Sector. I’m glad someone from the Public Sector can be bothered enough to go to SXSW. I honestly don’t know if there were any from our Private sector at all.

  4. ThinkingNectar

    Ithaca Hours: A Concept to Counter the Income Gap

    Aftermath of Web 2.0 emerging industries panel discussion. Concept to take away. Social currency and Ithaca hours.

  5. vantan

    Thanks, Nick.
    It’s also probably because the private sector has to generate a more immediate return on investment, and it may be harder to justify the cost of travelling such a long distance.

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