Rethinking “ICT4D”

ICT4D, or ICTD, standing for Information and Communication Technologies for Development, always seemed to give me an impression of being too young, too misunderstood and too in-need-of-people-to-define-it. I cannot (or rather don’t care to) trace its historical beginnings, but it seems like it was unintentionally born somewhere in the early 2000s. One clear reason for this was the growing awareness around the world to act quick in tackling global developmental challenges. I believe that another reason for this was because even though personal computers had been around all throughout the 1990s, they never became cheap enough to be considered to have a possible application in developing countries and rural regions in specific. Since prices of technology kept falling, and the more computationally powerful technologies replaced their predecessors but held on to their price tags, we arrived at a situation where we observed that cheap technologies actually crossed a threshold of acceptable level of computational power. Because these “old” technologies were capable of enabling people in developed regions to accomplish some neat tasks some x years ago, making them more productive than they were in their past, it was obvious for people to think that these had a clear use in developing regions to increase people’s productivity. As we have learned over time, this is true only under certain conditions/factors – which constitute the more human, social and system elements of what we call ICT4D or ICTD today (see Kentaro Toyama’s work). Given that we have learned this fundamental characteristic of technologies in developing contexts, shouldn’t we be rethinking the idea of how we name this field?

People, Process and Technology (Dynamics.com)I propose the need for renaming this field to Information Systems for Development, or IS4D/ISD. Information & Communication Technologies (with a blurry line of difference to IT), places its thrust on matters relating to hardware, software and sometimes technology services and their quality. ICT emphasizes the need for analyzing ready-made tools and technologies to pick-choose-match the best combination. Cost considerations are utmost critical, because an IT project almost always works under very rigid budget requirements, often determined solely by business managers. An IT project team is not required to determine the source of the problem or care to figure out what’s going wrong. It focuses on issues related to application, deployment and configuration [1] of technologies, and aims to ensure stable infrastructure. Continue reading Rethinking “ICT4D”

The ideal Google social network

Google's social network plansOrkut was good. But clearly, not good enough. I was an active member on the network even much after it lost a large proportion of its traffic to Facebook, may be because I was too lazy to change (and possibly because I had a growing fan page on it :P). The website was continuously revamped and redesigned in the past couple of years, along with introducing unpopular features such as posting to a several people’s pages at once and making mini-communities out of your friends (seriously, is that how Brazilians like it?!). Somehow, and often hard to believe, Google never seemed to learn lessons of information clutter, spam and privacy even these became universally established rules of social communication, spearheaded by Facebook’s efforts – who clearly knew better user experience would translate to better profits in future. Nevertheless, they continued to try.

Last year, I heard rumors on Google’s secret project on building their next big social network from scratch, from a couple of technology blog websites. I never know whatever happened to those plans – as I haven’t heard any gossip about their plans, announcement on Google blogs or private invites being sent among Googler friends ever since. I also am absolutely clueless about if Google is ever planning to come up with something like this. BUT, if they were to actually take on this herculean task, I would like to see the following components as characteristics of their ideal social network: Continue reading The ideal Google social network

Views on NKC’s recommendations for OERs

National Knowledge Commission IndiaWhen it comes to India’s plans for becoming ICT-friendly to attain national development goals, I am a big skeptic. Despite nation-wide success stories of IT firms, I seemed to think that these are just a result of a bunch of factors like Indian students’ math and science intellect, ability to be cheap and make technologies for cheap (no offense meant – I am proudly cheap, too), strengths in English, the country’s geographical positioning, some policies from the 1991 liberalization-globalization-privatization move, etc. that fell in place to allow this one industry to grow. Go ahead and call me a noob – I now think I was wrong (not still entirely sure). After reading Nandan Nilekani’s Imagining India and listening to Sam Pitroda, India’s 80’s golden telecommunications boy, speak live in Singapore, I realized that there always were some really ambitious, intelligent and entrepreneurial minds advising the Indian government to make the right moves to allow this industry to happen. They were probably always silent in the background – creatively and cleverly determining the fate of ICT in India.

Today, one of the bodies that is crucial in playing this role is the National Knowledge Commission (NKC), which is being chaired by Sam Pitroda himself. Before I heard Sam speak, I was expecting the chap to have a very superficial understanding of ICT today – I mean come on, PSTN is history, and these guys probably think of that as the coolest thing since slice bread. But to my utter amazement, not only did Sam come out as an enterprising visionary, but also a meticulous technocrat and engineer. This inspired me to visit the NKC’s website (which he did a good job at promoting) and see read their reports for various sectors. I was keen on reading what the NKC proposed on the state of education in the country. Not only had they published recommendation reports on specific recommendations on higher and primary education, but also published an entire report on Open Educational Resources (OERs). Continue reading Views on NKC’s recommendations for OERs

Google Wave and opportunities in learning

Google WaveEvery now and then when I talk to someone about Google Wave, after taking a moment to realize what I am talking about, they often begin to complain about how nobody uses the service/application anymore and how it has been a fail of a product. Them not saying something like “It was terrible!” or “Urgh! I never figured out how to use it” makes me think about if the product really had flaws with it, and whether or not its inability to gain momentum from its inception can be attributed to other factors which have probably become discussion points in Google’s past boardroom discussions. I personally never thought the product was bad (although initially I was a little overwhelmed by (1) the 80 min intro video, (2) the number of things going on in it) but just never got around to using it in its early days.

Following initial hiccups in getting people to use the service after incorporating user feedback, in August 2010, Google made an announcement about their decision to stop active development on the product (http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/08/update-on-google-wave.html). I wonder how hard it must have been for the author of that post to write that message. But fortunately, that was not the end of the technology: only a month later, Google launches a new blog on Google Wave for Developers, now announcing their plans to make the project open source (http://googlewavedev.blogspot.com/2010/09/wave-open-source-next-steps-wave-in-box.html). Today, the project is an incubator under Apache Foundation – you can follow it at waveinabox.net, code.google.com/p/wave-protocol & http://www.waveprotocol.org/wave-in-a-box. Continue reading Google Wave and opportunities in learning

Why Facebook is Legendary

As a student of technology and information systems with a keen interest and passion in policy and innovation, I have found myself to adore Facebook for reasons far above and beyond its ability to get people excited upon being accepted by individuals of the opposite sex, at least usually. While Neil Patrick Harris may use this word too casually at McLarens, I truly believe Facebook is LEGENDARY, much more than just a buzz word or a short-lived phenomenon, and I’d ‘Like’ to explain why I think so in the most concise way possible.

Continue reading Why Facebook is Legendary