Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Race And The Web: Going After Niche Markets Or Practicing Digital Segregation?

I met Angela Benton and Markus Robinson at the 1st annual Blogging While Brown conference. They are co-founders of Black Web 2.0, a site that covers the Internet industry from an African American perspective. TechCrunch published an interesting article from Angela and Markus that I thought BETF-Blog readers would enjoy:

The release of Blackbird, an African American focused web browser sparked quite a bit of controversy this past week. The TechCrunch post about it elicited reactions from both sides of the aisle (it has 275 comments and counting). Some argued for the value of niche audiences while others debated that the idea of a Black browser is in and of itself separatism, racist even. But catering to niche audiences online is nothing new. In fact, browsers that focus on a specific market segment isn’t all that new either. For example there’s Gloss, a women focused fashion and beauty browser created using Flock, the social media browser. But what makes the launch of Blackbird both a controversial and sensitive topic, is that it is focused towards an ethnic segment versus a special interest group. Race is still an extremely touchy subject in America, and the Internet and web are not immune to this sensitivity regardless of how open it is. But aren’t most businesses, especially web businesses, started in this “Web 2.0″ era defined by catering to a particular niche?

Really, if race-based niche sites are racist, then this inflated “Web 2.0 bubble” has played a major role in the segregation of the web overall. Many of the sites we all follow right here on TechCrunch, like Digg, Techmeme, and Mixx, were built and launched to service a niche, therefore fragmenting the web making it so we all think it’s “more personal” and “more authentic.”

Remember when Global Grind was once the more authentic counterpart to Pageflakes for the hip-hop culture? Or how about the collaborative advice site for parenting Minti that was described by Mike Arrington as a “walled garden” even though he “…like(s) to see niche content sites spring up that use Web 2.0 ideas - these services will help the masses start to use and understand things like tagging, ajax, etc.”

Read the rest of this article here.

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