Am I Bored With “Web 2.0”?

I read a comment on my “Looking For Inspiration” post this morning that suggested I was just getting bored with Web 2.0 like many others. It’s something I’ve considered a lot lately.

I am certainly not bored with the investments we have made at Union Square Ventures and many of them would be classified as “web 2.0”. There’s pretty much nothing I’d rather do outside of family time than spend a few hours talking with the entrepreneurs who run our companies about their businesses and the opportunity and challenges facing them. This collection of companies we have in our portfolio right now is certainly the best collection of companies I have ever had the opportunity to work with at one single time.

But I am a bit jealous of friends who are working on finding and funding alternative energy or biomedical technologies that have the potential to address the serious problems facing the world. At times it seems that helping the web become more social, intelligent, mobile, and playful is not as impactful.

That’s partially why I want to spend a month in Europe and will do that starting tomorrow. I want to see how the web is changing the world and I want to see how entrepreneurs who are operating with a different worldview are thinking about the power and potential of the web. I could do the same thing in Asia or some other part of the world, but Europe is particularly easy place to do this because of the range of cultures and countries within a couple hours plane ride from each other.

The work that we do at Union Square Ventures can’t just be about making money. At least that’s not enough for me. It has to be a force for positive social change. It needs to be about making the world a better place for our children and their children.

And certainly there is much about “web 2.0” that doesn’t seem to address that need. Throwing food at your friends on Facebook or twittering about the length of the line at the shake shack lands squarely in the “banality” camp that Kirby railed about in his essay on “pseudo modernism” that I blogged about last week.

As I make my way through Zakaria’s Post-American World, I am struck by the power of bringing the world together. As the “rest” modernizes in the next 20-40 years, we have a unique opportunity to create a world where people all feel like they belong to the same society. It’s already happening in business. Look at the EU to see a model of what the entire world could become.

And I think the web is driving this globalization. Most analysts, including Zakaria, talk about the power of instant news and information in driving globalization. But I think the impact of information flow (in the news sense) is tiny when compared to the power of social media.

Take a look at this map of the last 500 vistitors to this blog.


We are a community here at AVC. I didn’t start this blog to create a community. You all created it and I am blessed to be able to moderate it, to start the conversations that you all finish. And this community is a worldwide community.  I can name at least a dozen commenters who are in the top thirty most frequent commenters who live outside the US. They give our conversation a global perspective. Which is a glimpse of what we are going to have in all forms of society in the next thirty years.

www stands for world wide web. It was aptly named. It is the single most powerful force in global change. And if that is true, then it will be the single most powerful force in solving our world’s problems.

So I am not bored by the web. I do want to figure out how to use the web to answer some of Umair’s questions, how do we:

Organize the world’s hunger.
Organize the world’s energy.
Organize the world’s thirst.
Organize the world’s health.
Organize the world’s freedom.
Organize the world’s finance.
Organize the world’s education.

We are not doing enough of that right now. And that has to change. Maybe the answers lie in what’s
next. I am going to try to find out over the next year or two.

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Comments (Archived):

  1. JPersch

    I would have to agree with you that all of the Twitter and FaceBook sites out there now it is hard to see through to the good that comes out of them. When looking at your portfolio at USV I see sites that help grow the world into what most of us could agree a better place. It is not the solution to fossil fuels. Nor is it the solution to world hunger. There are services that help people alert others of strife or help raise money for their good causes.Although I believe everyone needs to shoot for the moon, I don’t believe that landing there is needed to be successful in life. It is the 110% effort.I hope you enjoy your travels in Europe, and look forward to your posts.

  2. Willan Johnson

    Amen! Love it Fred. Look forward to participating in the journey.

  3. awilensky

    I am astounded that each day, as I read the 90 or so feeds that cover the industry, that I am less and less piqued or astounded by what is offered as Web20 news. However, I am very interested in new technology for creating and delivering rich internet applications. These new companies are making the last mile to functionality more accessible for mid-lever business analysts and SME programmers.I dont have a list here, but you know who I mean. Bungee, Iceberg, Gemstone, Heroku, it’s a mix. Something big is going to happen in creating and delivering applications that will, someday, and for a certain class of Web accessible apps, make it easier to get “there”.

  4. ErikSchwartz

    I’m not bored with the products or the problems (although there’s some pretty meaningless stuff out there).I am totally bored with the pundits and the hype; The Scobles and the Mike Arringtons. The crap that passes for journalism these days…

  5. Ben Parr

    If the product isn’t solving a real issue, it’s almost certain to eventually die. The issue is that not all problems are created equal. The problem of being bored on a Saturday afternoon is not the same as the problem of creating a new form of energy, a better form of transportation, or a new era of space travel.Web 1.0 was about turning hard data into digital data. Web 2.0 is about finding ways to share that data in better, larger, and more efficient ways.Web 3.0, Fred, is about finding ways to take that shared information and come up with solutions to the world’s problems. Using social graph data to detect trends. Finding mental illness before teens suicide. Collectively using our shared resources to improve energy efficiency.That’s what I’m waiting for.

    1. wanderingstan

      Regarding suicide: In post-conference conversation, a psychology professor told me how universities did *NOT* want research into suicide and social networks because of liability concerns: If the researchers found systems that could predict suicides based on social network profiles, then the university could be held liable for not acting on that data. A shame, as this is one untapped area where Web 2.0 technologies could do undeniable *good* in the world.(FYI, the paper he was presenting was about the reliability of Facebook profiles for psychological indicators:… )

      1. Kevin Prentiss

        I’m in this space and can confirm this is one of many opportunities to help that is wasted because of liability fears. It falls under the umbrella of “duty of care” – an idea pushed by higher ed law firms for the same reason anti-virus companies regularily do PR on the next big threat, it scares their customers into buying.”Duty of care” is an unresolvable fear flag – if the school knows something it has a responsibility to act on that information. The safest thing then, is for the university to not leave it’s safe, little, walled, very limited data, compound, lest they bump into the real world of students and learn something that could later cause liability. The fear of missing one prevents the university of from helping any.The result of this is a general fear of “open” spaces on the net. The consequence is increasing irrelevancy and friction between the university and the students – who implicitly understand the economic and social value of openness.This is one of the largest barriers to “organizing education” -the average university is paralyzed by fear.

  6. vruz

    welcome to the rest of the world 🙂

  7. CoryS

    Here, here. Looking forward to seeing the changes and investments along this theme, Fred.

  8. Michael F. Martin

    I’m sure you have great reasons for choosing Europe as your destination.But if you want to see the future of the American economy, I would choose Japan.

  9. joeter

    Web 2.0 is spurring the proliferation of information – I don’t know what could be more valuable to the world. Currently, there are platforms being created to harness different aspects of this collective information, but sure, truly meaningful distribution seems to be lacking.The average person is still not convinced on the credibility of web properties (which are still relatively insignificant sources compared to information authorities of the past). However, the sites that best provide open minded interpretations which spur communities’ thoughts within empirical frameworks have been, and will continue to successfully emerge – the knowledge they provide just isn’t yet fully integrated into the average person’s life-learning pursuits.Cross platform synergy and the open source community will greatly improve the amount of faith people put in web properties, especially while the field becomes consolidated by the big guys, and the market casts out the players that don’t contribute to the internet’s core value.

  10. tweetip

    In 1999 we felt Organizing Finance should be accomplished. Working on an app for ten years, we found how deeply misguided that institution is, and how many policies stop change. This Wall needs to come down, but we’ve learned it needs to be stone by stone – otherwise we collectively collapse.We’re now focused on Organizing the World’s Thought. Our efforts are aligned with thought pipes like twitter. Our hope: we help someone dive deeper into the river, collaborating with others, reshaping the path to solutions needed to hack away at Umair’s list.

  11. wanderingstan

    Blogging was something truly new and shifted the publishing landscape. I’m glad I had a front row seat for that. Social Networking sites were also something truly new and have changed social dynamics for everyone born after 1980. Beyond those examples (and maybe a better design aesthetic) I too see little evidence of ‘good’ or ‘new’ coming out of the Web 2.0 world.Web 2.0 has created a class of powerful tools that are being used to solve stupid problems. Hopefully a new breed of entrepreneurs will figure out how to apply them to Umair’s questions. I certainly would like to be part of that ‘World 2.0’ group. If you find people in Europe who are figuring this out, please use all your Web 2.0 channels to let me and the rest of us know!

    1. fredwilson

      the solutions may be happening right under my nose in NYC Stan. but it may take a month away to see that.

    2. gregorylent

      stan, world 2.0 is already happening, it is not looking to america for permission or even validation, hardly giving it a glance in fact.

  12. terra210

    Everytime you mention boredom, it motivates me to add something extra into the comments. I hope this is ok.I think this is a noble instinct on your part; and it is nice to read. I also think it is good to be going to Europe.If you are going to include Eastern Europe, it would be worth talking to Peter Tomas Dobrila, in Maribor, Slovenia. He has run the KIBLA lab for a while, and knows the intersection of the web and culture in Slovenia. Also Poland would be a very interesting place to talk to others about issues and how they understand the web and what it serves. Jan Berdyszak, is in Poznan, south of Warsaw. He is in the center of the art world there. He is well connected and a cultural hero in many ways. Both of these places are emerging from a place that is on the other side of our economy. Their interests and depth, (particularly those in Poland, as their country has been trampled and pulled by so many interests over the past century), are very provocative. They can form communities and make great work with nothing. Their minds are engaged in very different ways, and in part this might be because of the split in root languages.OK, here is an interesting tidbit, just to shift ideas around a bit:Jan Berdyszak was the person who first mentioned Glagolitsa to me, as I was interested in the relation of language to programming. Glagolitsa is a Cyrllic language. It’s letters were also used as numbers, and it was referred to as “the signs which speak”. In addition, the visual forms of the letters are made of the forms of ones and zeros.Eventually, this language died, as Latin became dominant.But isn’t it interesting that those who spoke the dominant Latin-based languages, produced computer languages? And in a sense, computer languages are based on the same symbols of Glagolitsa?

    1. fredwilson

      I will be in slovenia and would like to meet peter when I am thereYou’ve just convinced me to go to poland

      1. terra210

        It would be worth it to go to Poznan, and let the young artists who follow Jan present work to you; as work to them means different things than work you experience in the states or western europe. It would be a unique experience. You can reach them through The Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań. The school owns an old mansion, which the state owned at one point. They use it to present work, and have instense discussions. Very subtle minds. Also, there is a flea market in Warsaw on Sundays. That is an amazing cultural experience; where one observes and experiences the layers and history of the economy.Peter Dobrila is easy to contact. His pace/verve has a beat.Sounds fun…Good luck on your travels.

      2. Zbigniew Lukasiak

        If you are in Warsaw – then I would like to invite you to Aula: and/or Bootstrap: . Both are roughly bi-monthly meetings of people interested in new communication technologies. Personally I don’t find anything groud-breaking there – but it would be interesting to have you here 🙂

        1. fredwilson

          When do they meet in July?

          1. Zbigniew Lukasiak

            The next Aula will be on the third of July and then most probably on 24th. I don’t know about bootstrap – but I’ll ask my colleagues.

          2. Zbigniew Lukasiak

            So the bootstrap guys say they have not yet decided on a date – and that they can align it with your plans. You can email me if you need any more assistance 🙂

  13. aweissman

    Fred – another great (long) quote – this time from Gopnik:”Now, for the first time, it’s possible to imagine modernization as something independent of Americanization: when people in Paris talk about ambitious kids going to study abroad, they talk about London. (Americans have little idea of the damage done by the ordeal that a routine run through immigration at J.F.K. has become for Europeans, or by the suspicion and hostility that greet the most anodyne foreigners who come to study or teach at our scientific and educational institutions.) When people in Paris talk about manufacturing might, they talk about China; when they talk about tall buildings, they talk about Dubai; when they talk about troubling foreign takeovers, they talk about Gazprom. The Sarkozy-Gordon Brown-Merkel generation is not unsympathetic to America, but America is not so much the primary issue for them, as it was for Blair and Chirac, in the nineties, when America was powerful beyond words. To a new leadership class, it sometimes seems that America is no longer the human bomb you have to defuse but the nut you walk away from.”What Brown, Merkel, and Sarkozy all have in common is that they do not want to be defined by their response to America—either unduly faithful, as with Blair, or unduly hostile, as Chirac became. . . . they all want to normalize relations with a great power that is no longer the only power. Its military weakness has been exposed in Iraq, its economic weakness by the rise of the euro, and its once great cultural magnetism has been diminished by post-9/11 paranoia and insularity. America has recovered from worse before, and may do so again. But it is also possible that the election of Nicolas Sarkozy may be seen not as the start of a new pro-American moment in Europe but as a marker of the beginning of the post-American era.”

    1. Prokofy

      Er, I guess that’s why millions of people keep applying — and keep coming — to programs to study or research in the U.S. — especially Europeans, Chinese, Russians.And I guess that’s why…Gopnik’s salary keeps coming from a U.S. based magazine.

  14. Dhru Purohit

    Fantastic Fred. Truly great to hear.

  15. Babul

    I am actually very happy to read this post as I often think too many of us are too preoccupied with making money, especially those in the money business. It is possible to do both, make money and have positive impact on the world and ultimately the lesson we all need to remember is our time on this earth is limited and when we are gone often our passing will not (unless we are *especially* fortunate) have lasting legacy in terms of the business we are in or the money we have made but more in the lives of those we have touched.The web is a great tool for this and creating a world market, and world society, via it will surely only serve to benefit us all? Initially there will be winners and losers as first world and third/emerging world markets find common balance/ground, but web tech will be no less prominent than bio/energy tech in helping to address many of the worlds problems. We already have precedents in the form of the social and cultural progress made in countries like India which have benefited immensely in the areas of IT/call-centre outsourcing mainly due to the improvements of Internet technologies and the global communications based upon them. The wealth created in India, and the trickle down effect ultimately benefits everyone there (initially there may seem to be much disparity i.e. between those that benefit from IT/tech and those that do not, but even now we are seeing IT aiding the boom in better road/electricity/water infrastructures and as a core driver behind other initiative such as the low cost car projects that are enable by the spending power people there now have).Soon, I hope, we will see the same effect propagate to others countries e.g. in Africa, as access to cheap computers (OLPC) and cheap internet becomes more mainstream and people learn how to use it for their benefit e.g. real “fair-trade” ecommerce and services direct from the producers.Many may say without energy/medicine (and issues to do with food/water) people in such countries will not be interested in Internet, but we know this is often now true – micro-fund projects like Grameen in Bangladesh prove this, where people in remote villages use the money not to buy water boreholes or seeds but mobile phones they then use rent out to others in the same vein as pay-phones and also for themselves to find produce/crop prices to enable them to buy/sell at better rates. This ultimately allows them greater control of their lives and the ability to do better and hence later buy several wells/bore-holes etc.Anyway, I’ll end by saying there is nothing like travel to broaden the mind and give perspective to our perspective and make one realise what are the important things in life. I hope in your visit to Europe you can see and get a broader feel for things that are happening to the world/web outside of the US and hope this influences your decisions to invest in products that merge the best of all these elements and aids you in becoming more altruistic.

  16. gabe

    Can you share the names and/or co of your friends working on interesting alternative energy projects?

  17. Dan Kaplan

    Maybe we have yet to experience the bone-deep feeling that, thanks to Web 2.0, something profound and truly tangible has changed. Perhaps despite the proliferation of available voices, it doesn’t yet seem that Web 2.0 has dramatically, irrevocably altered the way we go about our lives in the same way that, say, Google did.But I suspect this will change.Robert Wright, a journalist-turned-social-theorist, predicted many of the Web 2.0’s trends in Nonzero (, a book that came out in 2000. I won’t bother with these predictions (the book is about all of human history. Check out his TED talk for the gist: but the observations relevant to this discussion are:1. Historically, increasing the availability of and accessibility to diverse sources of information and reducing friction in communication have been essential to a society’s long term sustainability (Though in the short-term, can be destabilizing).2. The web can enable truly global communities to form in ways and at speeds that were previously unimaginable (Fred’s map of AVC’s recent visitors is a good example of this) The formation of global communities can (theoretically) hack away at geographically limited definitions of identity and encourage new degrees of tolerance. (That’s tolerance, not love..Not a foregone conclusion, either, just a big possibility.)I’d say Web 2.0 has definitely done 1 and has started 2.But I think Web 2.0’s true historical significance will be deeply felt when, as Ben Parr suggests, the technologies seeded over the last few years evolve (Web 3.0?) and are mobilized to drive change that really alters our world. On the upside, social technologies could force China’s government to change the way it does business. On the downside, they could enable a geographically dispersed set of hateful people to come together to express their rage in a spectacular and destructive fashion.Guess we’ll have to see.

    1. fredwilson

      I’d greatly prefer the former to the latter

      1. Toufique

        Amen! In my mind, Non-Zero’s thesis is as close to the word of God as humanly possible. Wright basically argues that life, history and humanity produces increasingly more and more non-zero sum games over time. Then he makes the case that this increase is made possible by better communication “technology.””There is one further analogy between organisms and societies. It isn’t just that in both cases energy is marshaled in a way that sustains and protects structure. And it isn’t just that this marshling is always guided by information. It is that it is the function of the information to guide the marshaling.”I would guess that a lot of these Web 2.0 technologies would start producing these global impacts when they start “to guide the marshaling” of resources. Take Kiva as an early example.If you haven’t seen it already, I’d highly recommend the excerpt at

        1. Prokofy

          So are you for a global technical elite marshalling resources, or would you be willing to let elected governments do that?

          1. Toufique

            I’d prefer the opposite actually. I think Web 2.0 technologies will decentralize the processes currently centralized by governments, e.g. issue prioritization, resource allocation and even policy making. I think the end goal really is to empower the individual to affect the macro circumstances that impact his/her life by 1) decentralizing the macro decisions & 2) empowering the individual to contribute to those decisions. is another great example of how crowdsourced change could work.

          2. Prokofy

            Well, sorry, I’m not interested in having a global technical elite take power over countries and communities.The decentralization you imagine only occurs for those with technical resources and skills, and those who code control the tool, often in arbitrary ways that the old forms of government did not make possible for only the technically skilled to control. No, the answer isn’t for everybody to learn how to code.All this empowering of the individual — but the individual doesn’t need *you* to do their empowering — if that’s the case, you can take the “empowerment” away. The power of the individual resides in law, not code; law is maintained by governments, not engineers and programmers.Crowdsourcing is a myth. It’s a political movement of the affluent or the freetard piggying off the affluent technically resourced. And depends on how you source the crowd.There are different individuals; they disagree. You can’t magically make everything happen by empowering the individual. That’s why individuals gather from the ground up in groups, parties — countries, governments. I don’t see any reason to abolish representative democracy in favour of the e-lite horizontally organizing through a few influencers mining crowds already influenced by memes.Decentralize, and if you are sincere, you will discover the real grassroots, unlike the ephemeral netroots, don’t agree with how you wish to do things; and the first thing they will disagree about is that you and other widgeteers should run everything.

  18. Brian Manning

    Fred, great post. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about how those of us that are advancing the internet as a medium for solving business problems (making money) can also advance the internet to address larger, more impactful causes. I’m looking forward to watching your thinking evolve on this issue and I hope you post about it often so that your “community” has a chance to discuss this really interesting and important issue.

  19. Liz

    Any chance you can leave your Blackberry, laptop, and cellphones in the States? It is absolutely liberating not to be pluged-in (except for your family, of course). They are just distractions that will keep you from finding out what it is you need to discover. Work will take care of itself…we want to think that our companies/nonprofits can’t run without us but if you have good people, they should be able to handle any emergency (or know someone else they can call). It won’t be easy disconnecting from the busyness, the chatter but, believe me, you’ll return in a month and find out that you really didn’t miss anything important at all. This is a great opportunity…seize the month!So sayith Liz.

    1. fredwilson

      I agree that Union Square Ventures can take care of things while I am goneand am planning on them doing that.But I just got a Nokia N95 to record the things I am seeing and share themwith the world.

  20. RacerRick

    Ann Rynd would (probably) tell you that the largest impact you can have on people’s lives (and their children’s lives) is by being a great venture capitalist; that your success will have the greatest impact on your world.

    1. fredwilson

      RightAnd I have at least one foot in that camp

  21. Taylor Moore

    Hi Fred,Well this is all very timely and interesting. I have recently created a web application that I think would really change the world for learning, education and global communication. I had been batting about the revenue model, Yes, I could make money from it but, what if I gave it away and had people donate to it or find corporate sponsors and then give the money to Unicef or Room to Read.I would like to see if you could look at it to get your opinion, on whether you think this could get traction for the “Good”.

  22. andyswan

    Who cares if the origin of the business/invention is some noble, charitable pursuit?Wealth is the greatest predictor of health and education…..and always will be.The pursuit of wealth, by an entrepreneur or his investor, is the most direct and effective means of affecting positive change in the world. I cannot think of any other way to CONTINUE to improve all of Umair’s questions.How “noble” was Microsoft in 1980? And now that they’ve created trillions in wealth and their software powers a majority of charity, startup and educational programs?Pursue wealth, create wealth, and circulate wealth aggressively to change the world. Do whatever it is YOU are the best in the world at, and do it passionately. The pie grows for all!!!! 🙂

    1. Peter Smith

      i agree completely. if you are making money, then it’s a good thing, by definition.

      1. andyswan

        Well…..I might disagree with that. There are lots of ways to make money for yourself that don’t actually CREATE wealth (low-level poker, scams, etc.). But the topic was web 2.0 and startups, so I agree and know where you were coming from.

    2. greenskeptic

      Agree with you Andy, which is why we’ll never solve the energy/climate change issue unless we can create wealth and grow the pie for all…when the new green economy really gets traction, there will be plenty of money to be made and change will come.

    3. Prokofy

      andyswan, there’s a surprising number of people in this thread, however, and even Fred himself, who seem to think that creating wealth for wealth’s sake isn’t “enough” or “not good enough any more”. I find that hugely troublesome, as that leads them down the path to wacky warmed-over socialist ideologies about redistribution or even totalitarian ideologies about social engineering and control which I find troubling inherent in these social media tools as they are being used now.Your example of Microsoft shouldn’t be just about Bill Gates. If you can say, “Microsoft enabled millions of people who would never have been in the workforce to work at home on simple applications and start their own companies or earn as freelancers” that might be saying something.It’s good that Bill Gates gives so much to charities. But if he picks the topics he is subjectively interested in due to whatever “Betterworldism” he is subject to, we get river blindness, AIDS, whatever.Meanwhile, let’s say, other subjects right in his own country like declining education, after school programs, teen-age violence — are all topics some other billionaire is supposed to work on.The foundations like Ford based on the last centuries’ wealth were more institutionalized with long-term programs and not at the whim of a living donor.I think we have to reflect why your notion of creating and circulating wealth isn’t compelling anymore to modern VCs and they wish to be more instrumental with it.

      1. andyswan

        Agree. I was not just talking about Gates….but the effiicencies and wealth that msft software has enabled others to create for themselves, and therefore others. The pie grows!!!

  23. andyswan

    Oh ya….and enjoy Europe 🙂

  24. Prakash Sreewastav

    Great post Fred! When are you coming to India? The cultural diversity here has to be seen to believe it.

    1. fredwilson

      I am coming this winter, december and january

  25. jackson

    I think a month abroad is exactly what you need. Try and shut down if you can.

    1. fredwilson

      It depends on what ³shut down² meansI don’t intend to stop thinking and writingI do hope to spend a lot of time out and about soaking up sights, sounds,smells, and meeting new peoplefred

  26. cor2madera

    Umair’s questions are needlessly dramatic and stating the obvious.500 years from now, the internet will be seen to be a biggertransformational event than the library ofalexandria (… or the printing press (…hunger, thirst, health etc are problems which are asymptoticallygetting better. energy sources transitioned from horse-power tosteam to oil to hydrogen to whatever else.historically, its still early days of the internet

    1. Peter Smith

      you might want to let those crazy liberals at the Pentagon know about your theories on how problems related to hunger and thirst are decreasing asymptotically.but a fair warning — they might want to see some data.other than that, i agree completely — no need to worry about problems which are going away.

  27. Wumi

    (Per your request, from my HN comments)First, people have to care enough before they can change the world. in my experiences, many people just don’t care about anything outside of their immediate surroundings, for better or worse.Second, the barrier to entry for a web 2.0 company relative to a company that will organize the world’s health, hunger,thirst, etc. is a few orders of magnitude lower.I’ve got a few friends with prototypes for companies that could effect serious change on the scale Umair constantly references, but they’d need several millions of dollars before having something that’s even ready for mass production.These buddies of mine, will end up working for corporate america in non-innovative companies because they just don’t have the resources to be able to take their prototypes and build them into companies. One of the guys would need about 18 months and 6 full-time research technicians/machinists.Even with PG’s “be good” it’s debatable how much the majority of YC companies are going to have a positive impact on the world … but then again, is that their aim?Maybe Fred, Umair, and a few other big players idea/operations/capital wise should start a YC to attack those very problems with young, hungry, entrepreneurs. $250-$500k per entrepreneur should be fairly reasonable to get to marketable prototype/ alpha version.(From a msg to Jason Baptiste)I’ve done some missions, and done some humanitarian work, and at the end of the day, when you’re in the middle of the Amazon, and you see a baby lying on a table, dead seven days from a waterborne sickness, you do at some point realize that drinkable water (and all the other problems Umair listed) are a real problem, one that some of the world’s greatest minds are attacking, but not necessarily all of the world’s greatest enablers (I consider a VC/angel investor like Fred, to be a HUGE enabler). At the end of the day, since I”ve been a kid, I wake up, maybe not every day, but every so often, with that fire in my belly and ask the question ‘how can I change the world.’ You quoted Margaret Meade. That quote is hanging on my wall, as it has been for 10 years or so. The friend I refer to in my comments on HN: he’s a grad student who has built a small-scale digestor that can convert any type of waste — human/animal/food — into usable energy. He is not a guy for hype, but he says it could technically replace every septic tank in America. That’s huge. Know what’s gonna happen to him? He’ll go work for a big engineering company, spend 4-8 years getting all his certifications, and eventually be VP of engineering when he’s in his 40’s, if he’s lucky.With about $1million to $1.5 mil he could take 6 research technicians/machinists (his dad is one, so he knows exactly what it would take), to take the prototype he’s built, and get one ready for mass-market.^^^^So what does a YC to change the world look like? (too long to put here. see blog post)

    1. Prokofy

      Maybe, instead of harnessing sophisticated technology and tech start-up entrepreneurs and VS, you should start with reforming the local government, which is likely not taking what wealth they do have, especially from local business or international donor community, and investing it in clean water.Go closer to that baby’s home and ask where the power problems lie there. It’s not for lack of the Internet or Twitter; you don’t need those things to make clean water available, even if they may help.

  28. srini kumar

    Fred,We have our first VC presentation (ever!) this Wednesday, and I want to thank you for this insight into your mindset.I want to assure you that the revolution has not yet begun; that social media’s impact on the world through open-sourcing politics, journalism, information and commerce is still taking baby steps.I believe social media could be just as instrumental for breaking down dictatorships as was CNN during the 80’s broadcasting into Russia. I believe social media is the force that is going to fix this nation’s educational deficits and render our information enterprises bulletproof. I believe that social media can augment the human brain; I believe that memes direct our behaviors, and learning to effect positive behaviors such as “taking notes” is the METANOTES mission.Thanks for reminding the industry of the importance of values of excellence and intelligence that precede those of short-term ROI. After all, we should not be so reductionist as to pretend Google is simply a money-making machine. Google is a giant engine augmenting human intelligence; Google has had a deep impact on human beings across the globe both directly and indirectly. This is the kind of business that I believe you should continue to keep your eyes out for, Fred, and the revolution is just beginning; you ain’t seen nothin’ yet :)-

  29. cc

    Come on over to in Copenhagen this Thursday and Friday… See you there.

    1. fredwilson

      I’ll be in Copenhagen on July 2nd

  30. Marton Trencseni

    You might want to take a look at these books:Daniel Quinn: IshmaelPaul Hawken: Ecology of CommerceYou won’t be disappointed.

    1. fredwilson

      ThanksWill do

      1. scott crawford

        Absolutely second, third and fourth the recommendation on Ishmael. Give it to your kids, too!

        1. Marton Trencseni

          If you liked Ishmael, you *might* like Hawken. It’s a lot more technical, a lot harder to read, but it’s an eye-opener. Also, it has “hard” numbers.

          1. scott crawford

            Graci, added to the list.

        2. pedalpete

          I would add Jeremy Rifkin: The European Dream.Though it might not have the shelf-life of the others (and there is some flaw in Rifkin’s logic as usual), It is thought provoking on the social differences that make America different, and if you parallel these differences between web and non-web type businesses, it kinda points to American culture not being ready for the next steps in globalization.

  31. slowblogger

    I like your thoughts. The key is to combine the power of web with something else. But mostly I see pure web efforts targeting at techies.I think the free market is theoretically the best social system. In practice, however, there are frictions and holes which make it less than ideal. I think the web can help the free market achieve its true potential and to be very close to ideal.

  32. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

    So does that mean USV is going to start investing in biotech/cleantech? In Europe? Are you going to go international, DFJ-style?There’s definitely a lot of potential for cleantech in Europe because of the regulatory climate. And especially in France, because France has some of the best engineering schools in the world. They’re very small so they don’t make much of an impact but they replace quantity with quality. The problem is that the entrepreneurial bug hasn’t quite caught on among French engineers — most of them still want to be civil servants or work for large corporations — but this is precisely why we need talented VCs to catch them early and show them they can be much, much more ambitious.

    1. fredwilson

      No, we are not going to invest in cleantech or biotech. It’s not what we doand the one thing I know is that we should stick to what we know and what weare good at.I do hope we can make some more european web investments thought. At thistime, we have one, covestor.fred

      1. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

        Good to know. It did seem like you were trying to look at other investments than web which, with the right people, might be possible.I still think (and this is a contrarian view) that France has got a lot of VC potential. You need to look at it as a developing country: an adverse regulatory climate (for web, at least — not for cleantech), and under investment. Of course developing countries also have plenty of growth, but just because you have slow macro growth doesn’t mean you can’t have lots of growth in certain sectors. Paris does have a pretty lively startup scene but it’s small, lacks ambition, and lacks smart VC money.

        1. fredwilson

          I’d like to meet the parisian web startup communityIs there an open coffee or something like that in paris?

          1. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

            Sure there is —…There are also bigger events like the French American Conference of Entrepreneurs (FACE) this friday or Loic Le Meur’s LeWeb ’08 this fall.One of the problems with the Paris startup scene is that it’s spread thin. You have plenty of people doing amazing things, but on their own. There’s very little clustering.

          2. pedalpete

            Your post made me think of which is based out of paris. Until you look at their positioning of the business, they seem like just another (somewhat useless) web-OS.I recommend checking them out (though I think they are already heavily funded).I have no involvement with them, but applied to work with them when I heard what they are doing.

  33. Dave Hyndman

    Great post … great thoughts. Enjoy the trip and keep us posted.DAVE

  34. scott crawford

    Yes. Keep focusing that light. Connected.Collaborative.Creativity. Huge multiplier effect for all human endeavor. Me is becoming We on so many fronts right now. Communicating/networking and the ability to share experience, strength, hope, support is vital if we are to create the ever larger community.This is the promise that keeps me buzzing with anticipation. Have fun turning it over as you do your thinkabout through Europe. Looking forward to the stories that return with you.

  35. gyardley

    Of course, the greatest venture capitalists will probably be the ones that fund companies that answer Umair’s questions.(This made more sense when it was a reply to the Ayn Rand thread above – Disqus didn’t perfectly cooperate.)

  36. Matik72

    Cool train of thinking. I agree that somewhere between web 2.0 and web 3.0 lies the magic of people using technology to help people.

  37. tav

    If you are bored with Web 2.0, perhaps I can interest you in Web 4.0 — a Web 4 the people by the people ;pJokes aside, it really is needed. As Umair and you point out, the potential of the Web needs to be focussed upon the *real* problems that we all face.

  38. kid mercury

    the web is the best way to change the world. there are only two problems in the world: information suppression (i.e. political truths, technology suppression, suppression of historical facts, etc) and monetary policy (i.e. the inflation we are seeing in the US and many parts of the world, inflation that is only going to get worse). the web has the potential to solve both of those problems; in fact, we are already seeing how the web enables greater spread of accurate information while also enabling the rise of virtual currencies that can have a more sound monetary solve those two problems and you solve everything else.

  39. ph0rque

    > Organize the world’s education.That’s what I’m working on with my app,

  40. fabiansiegel

    I think is great example of how to use the web to connect capital with entrepreneurs and ideas in the third world to help develop local environments. They do peer-to-peer landing for developing countries.

  41. markslater

    Fred -i have spent the last year on a project travelling primarily to Abu Dhabi and Jakarta. its been very liberating to break the US boundaries. I will warn though, there is a prevailing world view that is not flattering of Americans, and as someone that lives and loves it in the US, there are parts of this argument that i have a hard time rebutting. (oh and don’t fire up your web apps in the mid east! they wont work)My wife and I travelling Czech and Austria last summer. Prague is angelic. there is a great little hotel that we stayed at near the square (we like to avoid the chains when abroad)…Also i urge you to get out in the countryside.

    1. Michael

      Really like this post.A couple of things came to mind while I was reading through it.(*) B Corporations ( – For good, for profit corporations(*) Good Capital ( – Investment firm that invests in creating sustainable social change(*) Good Alltop ( – List of “good” blogs(*) All Day Buffet ( – Company that links the social and creative world together. I’m one of the co-founders and we’re currently pursuing ideas that live in the web and change the world at the same time.

  42. turph

    Like most comments, I would have to say not bored but disillusioned. I understand the reality of selling what the market wants, but do we really need more mp3 players, mobile game, souped up phone and such?It would be interesting if Apple ran a few ads highlighting what a mobile computing platform could do for environmental good. The mood is all green these days, sure it would be a positive angle for them. And hey, there might even be a person on the board who might help.

  43. Jonathan

    Peak energy will change the world as we know it. You are deluding yourself if you think that globalization, commerce and culture will continue on their current trajectory given that the total amount of energy available to humanity is about to decrease in a very significant way. No amount of solar, wind, hydroelectric or nuclear power will replace the fossilized sunlight that we are rapidly depleting (in the form of Coal, Oil and Shale rock that is being turned into oil). This will be a massive change and no corner of the globe will be unaffected. I believe this is the single greatest possiblity for transforming the world into a more peaceful, more human place. It also carries a great risk of devolving into unending wars for energy resources. Prepare for this and you will be able to achieve improvements in so many areas of people’s lives…whereas if it catches you by surprise you will be less able to react to events, less able to understand the movement of history and less able to formulate a cogent response. The choice is yours good luck

  44. John R.

    I think it’s going to take more than just organizing the world’s [blank]. We’ve been trying that (organizing the world’s information) since the early days of Yahoo and AOL.What the market needs more of these days are actual tools that allow us to do more then just communicate in an alternative way.Let me manage my money betterLet me shop more efficiently Let me find a job more effectivelyLet me know what’s happening in *my* neighborhoodYour investments are actually used more as tools than anything else and that’s the most important thing. Because when new one’s come along (which isn’t very often, and why, I’m guessing, you’re “bored”) you’re already in position to jump in and help them move forward.Enjoy hitting the refresh button in Europe

      1. John R.

        Thanks Shmooth,I’ve seen everyblock and it’s an interesting approach but seems like it mayencounter some troubles when trying to scale. At least that’s what I seefrom first glance.My comment’s purpose was to highlight the usefulness of some of Fred’sinvestments.Because it’s really the level of utility that determines how much and howoften a product gets used.

  45. pedalpete

    3 further ideas on this 1) if it is true that only 1 in 1000 startups will be successful, then forget about looking at every new web business and asking ‘what are we doing? is this a waste of time?’. But consider only the top 100 businesses (too bad we can’t decide ahead of time who those will be), and then think ‘are these disruptive enough to be worth our time’? I think you’ll find the answer is yes (in hindsight, not today).2) the horseless carriage was cool, but I’m sure that when there where more than 10,000 companies doing the same thing slighly different enough to pretend to call it ‘revolutionary’, people were completely bored and wondering why bother. Yet, can you imagine if we just gave up on the entire idea and decided transportation wasn’t worth our time because everybody we knew well was within walking distance, or we could write to them?3) the western/developed world has always entertained itself with what the developing world i’m sure would consider mundane and petty. You and I ride bikes, have a passion for music, and dedication to technology which I’m sure would horrify those suffering in what we would consider intolerable conditions (and even some neighbours are appalled at how I spend my time). However, if you consider the influence of the bicycle industry on economic growth in taiwan, it is readily apparent that our petty passions have lead to education, improved healthcare and enormous opportunity for the citizens of that country.Music is a tougher sell.I find i am lacking eloquence at this point. Hopefully somebody hear can expand on this thread and makes a coherent and brief point for me. 😉

  46. Michael Christoff

    The energy in the startup community is intoxicating. Literally, by definition, everyone is building something from nothing. That’s a great thing, but sometimes I wish all that energy could be directed towards solving some of the problems mentioned above.I’m trying to do my small part with Blogging for Burma:

  47. Rob

    I wrote to Umair in response to his bid to Silicon Valley to solve the worlds problems and I got nothing.I’m trying to find a way to use Web 2.0 communications tools to connect anyone in the world to a customer. If that person (anywhere in the world) assists in the conversion, the person gets paid. I’m trying to leverage the Need against the Want.So you won’t think I’m spamming, I won’t include my dev-site URL. I would therefore really appreciate a response.Thanks.

    1. Taylor Moore

      Hi Rob, I am in the same boat and don’t want to put my Dev-site work up. I have also created a Web app, that I think could really help some people out. Hopefully Fred gets back to us…

  48. Peter Smith

    I’d argue that many, if not most, of the ‘Energy 2.0’ companies are doing boring work.This traditional tech approach often just tries to use technology to mitigate some of the disastrous consequences that technology has wrought upon us. It’s a bit of a relentless cycle, and we should examine more closely the ends we’re attempting to reach.For instance, do we really want to make all the world’s cars pollution-free? Then what of the problem of social isolation and anti-social behavior (crime)? What about community? What about leisure? What about lifelong learning instead of a lifelong rat race?Is the best use of the entrepreneurial spirit in growing algae to more-efficiently produce/use more/cleaner energy, or can we promote better urban design, drastically decreasing energy demand in the first place while promoting almost everything that makes life worth living? ( http://www.cooltownstudios…. )Can we use technology to push vegetarianism (drastically reducing greenhouse gases)?To promote energy efficiency in buildings and housing (LEED)?Once you’re in Paris, rent a bike and see how technology can be used to have a massive and growing positive impact on people’s lives. And have the chance to start viewing the world through a whole different lense – one based on love, not hate. Learn to trust the ingenuity of humans the world over, not just those with some ill-conceived understanding of capitalism. Fund energy-efficient bike and urban projects instead of energy-efficient car projects.Technology for more and smaller and more-local gardens? Why not?Technology can have a place in the worldwide social movements that are happening right now. Kiva and GlobalGiving and others have shown promise. Social networks like Facebook and YouTube and Meetup have shown promise. Google Maps is empowering millions to fight back against corporate and government powers.Can we use technology to promote actual democratic principles (wikis) instead of destroying what’s left of them (e-voting)? To prevent government corruption (Lessig)? To reduce and eventually eliminate the the greatest danger facing the human race (nuclear proliferation)?Can we use technology to produce a more humane existence? If so, maybe our grandchildren will be around to laugh about how excited their grandparents got over a pretty phone….

  49. Martin Owen

    Having traveled from Europe (wales) to South Africa over the past 24hours, it is quite cool to be able to sit in the B&B and skype home.I am in South Africa to talk to educators. To explore some means of educating effectively , cheaply using technology. Tomorrow I will be running a workshop : education in 160 Characters: The developing world is mobile-phoned. Applications like FrontlineSMS help NGOs braodcast news and actions effectively. I will also work with ZygoHubs- SMS groupware which in Mexico has been effective in aids support. Comms and mulltiway technology (web 2 if you must) has massive potential.On Friday I will deliver a keynote: how printed electronics, oleds, sub $1 processors can provide low cost and totally innovative concepts can change patterns of literacy and other education in the world.Fred, I realise your time is mainly going to be in capital cities – such is the concentration of entrepreneurs. However – sometimes it is a lot cleverer to bootstrap in the boondoks – relax and come to Wales for a suprise or two

    1. fredwilson

      Good suggsstions martin

  50. gregorylent

    this woman is pure inspiration and doing more for the world than 1000, no 10,000 umair haques …. …. she is in america at the moment … schedule is here

  51. sweller

    As I see it, a common theme over the next few years will be organizing the word’s data to aid in efficiency. When evaluating how we will organize the world’s hunger, health, thirst, etc, efficiency will play an increasingly important role. Part of this will be exposing and organizing the world’s data for common use and that’s where the www plays an invaluable role.

  52. gregorylent

    stan, world 2.0 is already happening, it is not looking to america for permission or even validation, hardly giving it a glance in fact.

  53. Robin Blandford

  54. allan isfan

    Everyone,I’ve been giving this a lot of thought recently in part inspired by Umair’s kick in the pants recently and the Pangea Day event in May ( really worthwhile big dream has come out of that and I just posted about it http://isfanstartup.blogspo… and will make details more public as they emerge. Bottom line is that it is a big dream about connecting kids to each other and the world they live in. Sometimes problems are best solved by building the shovels and creating a society of people that want to use them to move mountains and then anything and everything can happen. This is not a business per se at this point but hopefully capitalizes on the video platform we are building at favequest for other reasons. I would appreciate your thoughts and assistance as this is potentially world changing and my three young kids, your kids as well as people around the world will benefit.PS. I will be entering this into slideshare’s worlds best presentation contest imminently

    1. fredwilson

      Great ideaStarting with kids is a wonderful idea

  55. cfrerebeau

    very interresting post, indeed

  56. eldsjal

    Fred, where in Europe will you be except Paris?

    1. fredwilson

      I have firm plans so far to visit slovenia, denmark, berlin, london,edinburgh, and northern englandfred

      1. eldsjal

        Ok, let me know if you include Stockholm as well 🙂

  57. Prokofy

    Re: “It has to be a force for positive social change. It needs to be about making the world a better place for our children and their children.”Fred,No private media owner or government media owner who has tried to assign to the media such a social function as “being a force for social change” has ever succeeded. The question instantly becomes political: Who gets to do the ascribing of what role to the media? Why you?Media has to be free to be able to accomplish these goods of “making social change”, which is achieved not by media itself, but by people who use media who can publish the news and commentary without fear or favour.Social media is still media. And this awful urge that venture capitalists have to try to force social media into a prescribed social roles like this lurching around the world “doing good” will succeed in killing it — and is already killing it in places. Unless you want social media merely to become a tool for social engineering and social control, you have to enable it to be as free as possible, and that means that it will take many forms and that good content may not always drive out bad content.Nobody needs a handful of venture capitalists to “organize” the world as unelected, unrepresentative, and undemocratic forces planning from the top down. To the extent that old and new media can be accessed and used freely by groups in civil society and political parties working for change (or working to conserve what is good — change for change’s sake isn’t an absolute good), that’s all fine, but it has to be genuinely pluralistic, not welding extreme leftist social views into the very tools themselves, enabling leftist influencers to ban, mute, expel anybody whose views they don’t like. It’s important to retain a free public commons that can debate public issues from a variety of perspectives.There’s something basically flawed in your model, like the model that Danah Boyd or Lawrence Lessig or Philip Rosedale seem to want to impose us. Basically it works like this:o create a really popular website, game or world and enable lots and lots of people to sign up for it — masses of people (you always love those masses!). Have them pay nothing — and have free accounts — you want the poor of the world to have access. Keep those free acounts! No matter what! Otherwise you are evil imperialist old white guys!o get the middle class or overstretched working class to pay for the subscriptions and sustain the entire enterprise; get people to create content for free while expending money themselves to have premium accountso get some advertisers to buy ad spaceo find some more angelso try to scale the whole thing to enable a very small number of wealthy corporations with ad dollars and a smaller apex of middle-class premium purchasers, plus a tiny percentage of content-creators/widget engineers to sustain the entire rapidly growing pyramid as a small number of devs work frantically to scale the whole enterprise — all on behalf of masses and masses of free accounts that keep piling in the door; never charge, even $3.45!o watch as VCs become disenchanted with the frivolity, porn, hate speech, mass culture of the masses — the reality of the masses as they pour in outpaces their vision of the masses being “empowered for a better world”o watch as engineers can’t scale the thing with all those masses on top of the serverso watch as premium account holders grow disenchanted as mass numbers deteriorate the quality of the experience and performance diminisheso watch as ad dollars go elsewhere because they aren’t getting clicks from people who have no money because they are using free media for freeWhy does this keep happening over and over again on Web 2.0?The origin of the problem isn’t engineering scaling problems; it isn’t fickle advertising dollars; it isn’t easily-offended customers, although they are fickle and burn through content and features as they always did on MMORPGs.No, the problem is your utopian vision of the world: that you can make a tiny handful of people work for free, and a tiny number of companies with ad dollars sustain an enormous mass of freeloaders to do…something that is supposed to Make the World Better.It’s your belief that all you have to do is pile on masses of people online for free, and magically, they will transform into a global village all thinking the same thing (as if that were a good thing!).Russian businessmen, who went through 75 years of this sort of betterworldism in real life as “communism,” with “we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us,” dumped the free accounts on Live Journal, to the howling of idealists Danah Boyd and Lawrence Lessig. But…social media’s engineers, servers, bandwidth, etc. cost money. Why not make people pay, after a trial account expires? Indeed, why not? They pay, even in Russia, for cable or electricity or cell phones. They can add this, too.Before you and other backers get sick of Twitter like Brad Fitzpatrick got sick of Live Journal, Fred, you should really think about these basic truths: when you offer something for free, nobody values it. They treat it badly. And when you can imagine that you can just harness the masses like that in such a utilitarian way and “do good,” they will slip through your fingers — and that’s a good thing. You shouldn’t be in charge of them. That’s not a better world.Television could broadcast for free to millions of people who did nothing more than buy cheap TV sets once because it had a huge volume of advertising dollars — and people dutifully went out and bought the things advertised on the TV — it was effective. But TV and magazines haven’t disappeared to the extent that Web 2.0 advertising can completely replace it, and people just won’t click on ads with dorky things like “Lonely? 52 years old? Find eligible males in your city.”I don’t want you or Umair or anybody else to “organize the world’s freedom” just because you are wealthy or because you are politically correct. Leave the world, and media alone, and let people organize themselves as they see fit.I hope you will not lose sight of your historical mission here.

    1. fredwilson

      I think you misread what I a saidI have no desire to use social media to foster a world viewI was simply saying that I can’t get excited about just making moneyIf that was my goal, there are better ways to do that than run a small earlystage venture capital fundI’d like to invest in things that can make the world a better placeHow they do that is up to the people who build them and use them, not mefred

      1. Prokofy

        I think you aren’t taking ownership for the consequences of what you are saying, Fred. If you “have no desire to use social media to foster a world view,” good Lord, why are you going on and on about world hunger and the frivolousness of throwing drinks on Facebook and wishing to somehow harness all this to Do Good?!Maybe you can’t get excited about “just making money”? But…you didn’t even do *that* yet on Twitter, did you? I mean, Twitter didn’t break even or pay back their venture capitalists yet, did they? And what *will* be the model to sustain it? Isn’t that still a challenge worth working on that isn’t boring?And…You still want this to be a cause — and you still want to weld into the tools themselves some kind of function, or social justice mission, and that is *exactly* what will kill it.You must be willing to create free media, as free as mainstream media was. The wealthy families who backed the newspapers may have instilled some sort of foundation of political culture in these outlets, but they didn’t so directly interfere in editorial line and journalism and they kept intact the idea of a “firewall” between editorial and advertising. They didn’t insist that they adopt certain business models (like Danah Boyd and Brad Fitzpatrick are doing to Live Journal, decrying the end of free accounts), They didn’t have such prescriptive messages — like you are doing trying to put social media and its users to work answering Umair’s Orwellian questions.I’m sorry, but I simply can’t imagine Punch Sulzberger sending out a memo to all his editors telling them to get to work on organizing the world’s finance and organizing the world’s hunger and organizing the world’s education.Would *you* want to read a newspaper that had that much exhortation and do-goodism warped into it?You just summed up the problem, Fred: you want to “invest in things that make the world a better place”.But of course you *do* have a very firm idea what that “betterness” is and like a lot of social media backers and power users, it is very much tied up with certain political views and outlooks — and that can’t be denied.If it is REALLY true that it is REALLY up to the people who build and use them to “make the world better,” then you would persist through this period of “being bored” and annoyed at the shallowness of social media, and stick it out until that day when it was up and running and being used in various ways.And look what you say! “we have a unique opportunity to create a world where people all feel like they belong to the same society. It’s already happening in business. Look at the EU to see a model of what the entire world could become.”That *is* a very, very rigid prescriptive approach to media that really *is* in fact ascribing it a social mission. You really want everybody on the planet to feel as if they belong to the same society?! But they don’t! You *really* want the entire world to become like the EU? Don’t you think, oh, Africa and Asia and Latin American might have a different outlook and want to have a say in this? And can’t they?I personally don’t invest as much time in Twitter or Facebook as I once did for the simple reason that unlike Second Life, they have no way for the average amateur content maker and networker and community builder to monetarize their time online (only a tiny percentage of devs, relative to the mass user base, can find VCs to back their various widget-making capers on services like FB).The challenge is to find a way for everyone who works to get paid — even a little. That would *already* be a Better World.

        1. fredwilson

          I don’t follow your argumentMaybe I am just too dense or dumb to understand itAnd yes, I am very much engaged in working with the twitter team to identify a good business modelAnd yes, I do feel that social media should be free of any restrictions (by owners, investors, government, etc) on what it can do and becomeFred

          1. Prokofy

            Maybe I’m just not explaining it very well.Look at the responses in this thread, and your own invocation of Umar. There’s this sense of kind of “white man’s burden,” that you are guilty about not solving the world’s problems. That you contribute to vacuous blogging about people standing in line in a restaurant or throwing drinks on Facebook. That you must absolutely get to the “next thing” and flog all these platforms to make them produce Better World stuff.I’m merely saying that it’s that very guilt-stricken, flogging approach that will marginalize or even kill the freedoms and potential of new media and ensure that you never achieve any of those vague goods you wish to achive — and I’m hoping you will think more about what good you really are trying achieve by invoking something like Umair — whose basically telling us that a technical elite should just get to connect with each other and run the world, because they can do it better than the world’s democracies. No thanks.I don’t recall nearly so many of those seizures of guilt and rumination about irrelevance when the Internet itself was being built. I don’t recall essays of the type you see from somebody like Ethan Zuckerman at Harvard, that sort of, “OMG, the Third World isn’t connected yet so we are irrelevant and wasting our time on frivolousness”. Maybe because it felt more like laying electrical power lines and connecting?Yet a lot of the content in the early days of the Internet with everybody’s pages about their cat and self-referential geeky web logs were just as content-free and meaningless. Remember when everybody was sending everybody else a sound WAV from a movie on email?Couldn’t we have the same tolerance then for Web 2.0 or 3.D or whatever comes down next?I don’t recall people whining that the Internet was an elitist toy because people in Tanzania or Tajikistan weren’t connected yet and didn’t have broadband — they just worked really hard to get them connected.Yet there’s something about Twitter or Facebook or Second Life that makes people seize up into do-goody panic and reflect on the masses being asses — the very masses that you all summoned by making the service free, and scaling it wildly with dizzying speed.There’s absolutely no reason that somebody can’t take a Twitter or a Second Life and go work on some issue like closing Guantanamo — in fact there are guite a few who do! was mentioned — anybody could combine Facebook and FriendFeed *already* if they wish and get to work making a tangible difference, and they do. That is, it’s not about media, really, it’s about people. Not everyone wants to give up their life of affluence and serve the poor. And that’s ok. If everybody did that, they’d all be poor, too.If the tools didn’t change people and make them all think as one Hive Mind and stop world hunger yet, maybe that’s because you don’t change things like that over night nor in such a facile way — and something like making everybody think as one Hive Mind isn’t a good idea anyway.I think the more you connect and the more you give people the tools the report, the more you will find that they do *not* feel they are all in one society and will let you hear about that, plenty, and that’s a good thing. Early adapters who tend to be in one political grouping should not be trying to impose their vision and will, using the tools themselves.It’s really important to make the tools free of a social mission, and be prepared to accept that they will not only be used for your own social mission.

  58. vikas sapra

    A number of conversations in this thread are pinning the ideas of wealth and sustainability against one another; however, they are not mutually exclusive. Creating solutions for the world’s social/political/economical ills also has the potential to generate great wealth for entrepreneurs.I head up business development for a startup that solves a common problem – it enables you to bookmark products, places, events, etc. while you’re on the go. Once tagged, you can make purchases, set transactional reminders, and share postings with others. Don’t worry; I won’t use this forum to shamelessly self-promote. The point is that I truly enjoy working on a project that provides people with some utility; but I occasionally lament the fact that I’m not using my abilities to focus on more pressing problems.Many web apps, such as twitter, define completely new types of behavior. Similarly, I hope that the next surge of web apps modify people’s behavior to make us more environmentally and socially conscious. Many of the tools are in place to create such services cheaply. For example, people would be better conservers if they had an easy way of monitoring themselves. Give people the means to save money and energy (like hooking up their usage to the internet and display daily/weekly/monthly reports of usage, energy price fluctuations, possible savings, etc.) and the aggregate effect can be significant – for both the consumer and the environment.It’s tragic that with the current state of gas prices, there is still tremendous unused capacity in automobiles. In theory, sites that facilitate ridesharing (,, facebook carpool, etc) should be very successful, but few have been able to garner the critical mass necessary to make ridesharing successful. My thesis project at ITP tries to solve this problem by giving pre-existing networks the ability to quickly implement rideshares – thus eliminating the network effect problem. This is only one example; Fred, I’m happy to see you tackling the world’s ‘bigger’ problems and look forward to see what you come up with. We haven’t even scratched the surface yet.

    1. fredwilson

      I totally agree with your point of view vsapraSome of our investments, wesabe comes to mind, can facilitate this ‘measure, know, change’ behavior you mentionFred

      1. vikas sapra

        I’ve used Mint but the user experience left much to be desired. Looking forward to giving wesabe a shot. ‘measure, know, change’ – that sums up my thesis in three words…well played.

  59. rmchase

    I’ve been giving some talks on this topic of web 2.0 for social causes, most recently at the Personal Democracy Forum 2008 in New York last week.Think about collaborative production (eg wikipedia); collaborative consumption (Zipcar,; collaborative infrastructure (Zipcar, GoLoco, mesh networking); collaborative financing (see my blog on this topichttp://networkmusings.blogs…

  60. berkay

    I think we need to bridge the web 2.0 community with the communities that work on these real problems and see whether/how we can enable them, and you may just be very well suited for this. I’ve tried to elaborate more at

  61. Dan Sauter

    Fred- I think you will enjoy this post I just made:'s based off this post, and shows how Web 2.0 is already changing the world. I really believe in all the organizations I mention, and I hope you can take a quick look and spread it around and help create change.Thanks