Fred Wilson made a post yesterday describing how Web Entrepreneurs are the New Urban Architects. Although he’s correct in many in his observations, I don’t think he has gone far enough. I believe today’s Web Entrepreneurs are the New Citizens.
What unifies the examples Fred gave (Twitter, Foursquare, Outside.in, CitySourced, etc) and other Web Entrepreneurs is that they want to make people’s lives better. Fred’s examples are all very urban-centric, but there are dozens of web entrepreneurs that are focusing on larger-scale initiatives.
The folks behind CharityChamps, for example, are working to help build a system of micro-philanthropy, and the people developing Akoha are running a social reality game to make money while doing good. We’ve seen a blending between For-Profit and Social-Profit organizations.
Where does this come from? I’m by no means an expert, but I think this comes from the democratic nature of the web combined with the relatively low-cost of start-up for web businesses. Web technologies have empowered the public to have a stronger voice and to effect change that they were previously unable to do. This is further supported by initiatives like ChangeCamp in Toronto and the many Government 2.0 initiatives in North America. Similarly, because of the rapid rate of change, it’s possible to launch a web-based business with comparatively less experience (e.g. imagine the experience and connections required to launch a telecom or automotive company), which means younger audience in entrepreneurship than we ever could before. Web entrepreneurs are younger and more socially engaged than their offline entrepreneur counterparts.*
What does this mean? Rather than simply looking to web entrepreneurs for urban planning ideas, we should be looking to them for new thoughts on citizenship as a whole: citizens of a country, of a municipality and even of a company. A large number of web entrepreneurs fit that mould of someone that has the passion to act on great ideas, balanced with an interest and passion for the betterment of society.
Over the next few years we’re going to see the floodgates open and more socially-conscious web plays will hit our radar. More importantly, though, over the next couple decades we’ll see the founders of these companies trying to effect change at a greater and greater level. The next generation of government leaders won’t be actors and athletes– they’ll be entrepreneurs.
*I have absolutely no hard data to back this up – it is based on annecdotal and my own experience. Any data supporting or refuting this point is welcome!