I live in Palo Alto, in the heart of Silicon Valley and in the middle of this so called “social web” revolution where the new deities are MySpace and YouTube. 

These new social-networking technologies put the tools for sharing information and publishing in any one’s hands.  And many nonprofits are taking advantage of similar new tools.  Homelessnation, which has outreach teams in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto enables ordinary people to create videos of the stories of homeless people.  GlobalVoices, co-founded by Ethan Zuckerman, aggregates the best reports from bloggers from around the world about serious issues in their home countries.  (Even Mal Warwick, the guru on the oldest technologies in the world, direct mail, has started a podcast.)

Yet while there are many who take advantage of these technologies to further the important issues in society, these have yet to develop an audience to pose a serious challenge to the mass public who primarily still want to be amused and entertained.  Just look at the astounding audience numbers for MySpace and YouTube.  Not all the content being created and shared by the members of these two sites are mindless entertainment, but…well, judge for yourself.  (To MySpace’s credit, earlier this month, they launched a contest for best video public-service announcements encouraging social activism.)

“This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire, but it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends, ” said Edward R. Murrow of the television almost 50 years ago.  And we face the same question now.  What other sites are taking advantage of the social web’s capabilities to enable people to share/participate in on social issues?  Please share them with us here.  Let’s see if we can get more people - you, me and our friends and neighbors - to spend, say 30 minutes a week on the web learning and participating in important issues of the day.