Author Archives: kamyaraja

ICT4D – Importance of Mapping

One of the major themes of this academic semester for me has consistently been technology, even outside of ICT4D. There are so many new applications and functionalities of technical devices that I hadn’t even considered before. More importantly, as someone who doesn’t necessarily consider herself a “techy” or particularly tech savvy, I’ve realized that there is still a good amount of work that I can do to promote the effective implementation and use of ICTs for development purposes. One specific example is mapping. Maps are such a basic concept that I was shocked to learn about their importance and the number of crowdsourced mapping tools and techniques that have been so vital in recent emergencies. For this reason, I’d like to focus this week’s blog post on my perspective of mapping.

 

In addition to ICT4D I’ve been involved with a new organization called Women in Technology (WIT) as well as learning technical skills for my own personal development. At the more local level of development, I am interested in furthering my knowledge of mapping by taking a GIS course next with Julie Hernandez. Mapping is not only important to development internationally but plays a large role locally as well. As Greg’s presentation showed us, food security in New Orleans is one such issue that has benefitted from mapping projects. ICT4D has additionally highlighted the importance of mapping before, during and after emergency situations. As social media is on the rise, tools such as Google’s ‘People Finder’ are becoming more widely accepted and made use of.

 

Overall, I can see mapping playing a large role in my future career whether I decide to go into international development, public health or some combination of the two. Not only is this important in organizing people or determining the need of development projects but mapping is also a useful way to research and organize data from a community. It presents a visual image that can sometimes be more helpful depending on the situation. I’m very glad that this was a part of the ICT4D curriculum as it is a very significant factor in technological as a development tool.

Advertisements

The Bitcoin (BTC)

A great resource for ICT news particularly relating to the Caribbean is the blog ICTPulse, “ICT issues from a Caribbean Perspective.” In an article posted on the website earlier this month discusses one method of deterring hackers and payment fraud through use of the “Bitcoin.” As blog writer mmarius describes in this post “Can Bitcoins solve the e-payment challenges in the Caribbean?” there are many challenges and risks associated with online payments. However, in an ever-globalizing economy, a solution to making this process more secure is becoming more and more necessary. Here’s a breakdown of what the Bitcoin is exactly. This short video especially does a great job of describing and illustrating the how and why the Bitcoin is an effective ICT for secure online payments.

Bitcoin Transaction

“Launched in 2009, Bitcoin (BTC) is a digital currency that has no central management authority, and uses instead peer-to-peer technology to issue Bitcoins and manage transactions. Although some vendors have created and issued Bitcoin notes and coins, its true value exists electronically, where:

  • No Centralized Bank/Controlling Agent
  • Currency Value is based on supply & demand
  • Individuals directly control holdings and transactions
  • All Bitcoin accounts and transactions are private”

Bitcoin Introductory Video

The Bitcoin is a generally a recent development and since it is based on supply and demand, will take some time before “developing a critical mass.” As more customers and vendors put faith in using and accepting Bitcoins, their value will stabilize and become more widely accepted. However, just like any other online payment method, this article also discusses how the Bitcoin is still susceptible to some forms of cyber threats. Although the Bitcoin online database itself is said to be secure, network breaches and compromised accounts are still a possibility. A final issue lies in Bitcoin’s individualistic approach. In the event of a theft or account breach, there is no protection for users. This method may save cost and keep account information private however this in itself causes the system to be vulnerable.

Personally, I feel that the use of Bitcoins could cause illegal transactions to easily fly under the radar. With no protections and little oversight, this could cause the black market to flourish. In fact, a more recent article from Forbes.com “Bitcoin Combines Ph.D-Level Computer Science With Sub-Kindergarten-Level Monetary Understanding” referred to this alternative form of currency as “garbage.” What it did highlight however was its creativity approach to innovating the field of computer science. Although its purpose is a good one, I’m not sure if this ICT4D tool would be the most effective.


ICT4D Professional Spotlight: Anca Mosoiu

Anca Mosoiu’s vision for a world of accessible technology tools compelled her to create the Tech Liminal principles and workshop. After graduating from MIT with a computer science degree, she returned to her hometown of Oakland at the right time to participate in the Silicon Valley high-tech boom”

 

Anna Mosoiu, Founder of Technology Hotspot & Salon  "Tech Liminal"

Tech Liminal’s Anna Mosoiu.
Photo Credit: Wanda Hassig

ICT4D is often something we consider only in the sense of   uplifting and empowering small villages in the most remote of locations however ICT4D is happening constantly at all levels and regions of society. In the past, tech developer, Anca Mosoiu has devoted a vast amount of effort to developing technology in the city of Oakland, California.

 

Tech Liminal is a company dedicated to improving tech assistance among other businesses by operating a technology hotspot & salon based in Oakland, the heart of the Silicon Valley. Her work is credited with assisting in the development of the Silicon Valley as the technology hub it is today.

Philosophy of Optimism

Anca’s work has always been driven by an inner sense of optimism.

“ ‘To me the information age is like being at the beginning of the industrial age’ so much opportunity. But opportunity is restricted to those who have knowledge and resources. By putting the pieces together explaining Twitter, for example ‘you start leveling the playing field.’ ”

In addition to “leveling the playing field,” Anca’s work helps small, local businesses gain the technology skills necessary to make their work more efficient and as a result save money and expand their capacities. Although this is not the type of development work that we typically consider, the major tech giants and leaders that emerge from such efforts have begun to make large strides in development abroad as well. Unfortunately, the progress of development is heavily reliant on funding available which often times comes from the non-profit sector. As the CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) field grows, more opportunities to begin and manage development programs and opportunities will develop as well. Sometimes ICT4$ is a necessary step before ICT4D can take place.

Google+ Community Leaders Program

Another example of development working with a similar philosophy is Google plus’ Community Leaders Program. This program trains people to assist small businesses and local leaders with basic technical skills that can help them further their horizons. New Orleans has a program dedicated specifically to technology development within the city if anyone is interested in getting involved.


Limitations of the Mobile Web

One of the most overstated applications of mobile phones as ICTs for development is their access to the mobile web. Although it’s true, mobile phones have increased web access to a new audience, both urban and rural, there are both physical and technical limitations to their Internet capabilities. Before preaching their widespread use and impact in developing regions, it may be wise to take a step back and look at their boundaries of effective use first.

 

Furthermore, smartphones are not the most widely used mobile phone among everyday citizens yet but they are being implemented widely in the areas of marketing, e-commerce and are especially utilized in improving healthcare procedures and care quality. In such cases,

 

An article by the independent web-research institute, Baymard, “8 Limitations When Designing for Mobile” by Jamie Appleseed lists the top 8 of these issues:

 

  • No Hover State: This means that web pages with numerous features and content can make navigation difficult. Appleseed outlines two distinct features, visibility and conventionality as other factors that complicate Internet use.

 

  • Slow and Error-Prone Typing: This can have serious implications especially in terms of hospital and health use. Data errors in e-commerce as well can be disastrous especially if handing significant sums of money

 

  • Less Context: Smaller screens and visibility cause similar issues to typing as discussed above. When the full typed text of an email or post for example cannot be viewed as one piece this increases the likelihood of errors.

 

  • Inaccurate Clicks: slow hardware, lack of a right-click option and lack of a hover state can cause inaccurate clicks which all affect user-friendliness.

 

  • Poor Connectivity: Regions where Internet connectivity is difficult even with laptops and computers, connecting with a mobile device becomes even less reliable. Slow download speeds are also a major factor in use and effectiveness of mobile phones as ICTs. Without Internet connectivity, they lose their basic purpose.

 

  • Slow Hardware: Similar to poor connectivity above, this is another hassle. Poor hardware quality may also mean a shorter lifespan of the tech device.

 

  • Usage Situation: If smartphones are used in more serious situations such as business or healthcare, there are interrupting factors such as push notifications, calls, texts, and application notifications that distract from Internet use.

 

  • No Right-Click: Many mac users may be used to the concept of no direct right-click (macs can still right-click by control + click) however, no right-click capabilities at all significantly slow down time spent in accessing tools and further internet features among other limited capabilities.

 

Many of these issues such as the increased likelihood of errors, lack of accurate clicking and poor connectivity may seem trivial as many experience them on a semi-regular basis. When used in conjunction with laptops, computers, iPads, etc. limitations of the iPhone for example seem like obvious, common knowledge. As students at a private university, our perspective and background is very different from those who may use smartphones as their sole technology tool. One of the biggest factors is discouragement from use. These types of interruptions and confinements on quality of use can discourage users from trying or reaching out to other forms of technology as well.

 

Overall, Internet use is a valuable factor of mobile phone use but their capabilities need to be better understood before being hailed as the next big thing in ICT4D.

 

Resources: Baymard Institute “8 Limitations When Designing for Mobile

 


Combining Radio & Internet

Two of this week’s assigned readings (Farm Radio International “The new age of radio” and Mary Myers’: “Why Radio Matters”) highlighted the importance of radio in maintaining communications across developing nations. Similarly, they also discussed the utility of Internet and it’s role in effectively improving radio broadcasts.

 

“While the benefits offered by the Internet are many, its dependence on a telecom infrastructure means that they are only available to a few. Radio is much more pervasive, accessible and affordable. Blending the two could be an ideal way of ensuring that the benefits accruing from the Internet have wider reach.”                        -Bruce Girard, Converging Responsibility

 

Here are some benefits to coupling radio & Internet:

1. Internet Research can boost the informational quality of radio broadcasts

Farm Radio International discussed how Internet could facilitate the research necessary in creating informative broadcasts. Especially for specific topics such as improved farming techniques or irrigation practices, integrated pest management methods or marketing strategies for improving profits.

2. Internet can assist in information dispersal

New technologies such as solar powered mp3s and digital recorders were another method to compiling a record of past broadcasts. In efforts to save time, money and manpower, these recorded broadcasts can be sent to community partners to be repeated at different locations, to different audiences.

3. Radio already has a widespread base in rural communities

From the ease of its accessibility, radio has a strong base in many rural areas. In fact, call-in sessions are sometimes used as methods of contacting relatives or friends who may live more distantly. Also, since setting up Internet cafes and telecentres have often failed, especially in rural areas, having a couple of computers with Internet connection may be a more fruitful way to gradually introduce the opportunities of internet to communities.

4. Internet can make radiobroadcasting operations more cost-effective

Many broadcasting sessions require some form of external communication when contacting locals or subject specialists to interview on various topics. Internet capabilities in a radio station could significantly reduce costs of having station phones and phone cards by using programs such as Skype. Although it can by no means replace on-site visits, it can significantly reduce the travel costs.

 

Overall, I believe that the already vast capabilities of radio technology could be widened even further if they were coupled with Internet. Also, since radio stations are a pretty common concept, integrating computer technology into this type of a setting would be a much more realistic and logical pathway than to simply set up cyber cafes or telecentres.

Kamya Raja

Resources: “Converging Responsibility: Broadcasting and the Internet in Developing Countries” 


Utopianism in ICT4D Visions

 OLPC XO Laptop Computersolpc-launch-africaThis week’s article “Can one Laptop Per Child Save the World’s Poor?” discusses the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) program, originally created to provide 150-200 million of children in the developing world with one laptop each. Although it’s core intensions are good, one of the biggest flaws in my perspective is OLPC creator Nicholas Negroponte’s utopian vision. Here is some background information to Negroponte, an American computer scientist known for founding the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab, developed the concept of “The Children’s Machine.” Designed to sell for only $100 per computer, the purpose of such an affordable, energy-efficient laptop was to put one in the hands of children all over the world, providing them with the education, networking capabilities to open up a window of opportunities and eventually to reduce poverty.

My concern with utopianism is the danger it brings of narrow-mindedness. Once the sense of a perfect system or ideal program is conceived, it makes things very difficult for development workers to critique the system. As it turns out, there have been a great number of issues with Negroponte’s XO laptop computer. A recent CNN Article enlightens readers on the fact that not only have XO laptops shown to have technical limitations but the slow demand has caused production costs to rise from $100 to $188 in addition to patent infringement and shipping problems. The original vision of delivering 150-200 million laptop was severely shot down when so far only about 1.5 million have actually been delivered. Instead of pushing such a ridiculous number of laptops, it would have been more effective for Negroponte to instead concentrate the operations where the appropriate interest and need existed and then additionally investing in the development of energy sources and Internet connection among other ICT4D basics. As pessimistic as this may sound, I think it’s important to maintain a more realistic outlook with development projects. This not only serves the purpose of limited funding and efficiency but also works as a means of showing respect to the communities that organizations enter. Organizations don’t always realize that they are entering peoples homes and lives when starting development work and should consider their actions much more than a social experiment. Though Negroponte’s goal may have been for the best, it was necessarily conducted in a respectful manner of taking local community culture into perspective which serves as a major reason why OLPC failed.

To end on a more positive note however, this utopian vision may have helped push for ICT development beyond laptops. Thinking of the need for Internet connection, landlines and similar complementary forms of technology has at least helped to turn media and public attention towards the capabilities and importance of ICTs in the development process.

Resources: ” I’d like to teach the world to type” Kirkpatrick, David. 11/28/05. http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/2005/11/28/8361971/index.htm


Government Push for National ICT4D in Ecuador

Ecuadorian National ICT Resources

  1. National ICT Policy/Plan/Strategy

This article discusses Ecuador’s National ICT plan when ICT discussion became prevalent in 2007 some years after the 1999 financial banking crisis. However, it takes a very theoretical approach to ICT policy without very specific information on how this national policy will be organized for implementation. This plan was written in part by the following organizations:

CONATEL (National Council for Telecommunications)

SENATEL  (National Secretary for Telecommunications)

Last Updated: 2007     Language: Spanish

CONATEL, National Strategy for Electronic Government

Public Google Document   Language: Spanish

2. Government Website/Webpage

National Plan for Universal Access and Digital Readiness, On-line Government and Broadband Development          Last Updated: 2/21/13      Language: Spanish

3. External (non-government) Resources

GISWatch serves as a compilation of various reports including the original CONATEL “Libro Blanco” or White Paper on Developing Ecuador’s Information Society.

  • Other ICT Policy Reports Included:

GIT “Report 2012: Living in a Hyperconnected World

International Telecommunication Union 2012 “Measuring the Information Society

4. Notes on Research Process

Although it was initially difficult for me to find ICT policy work or even statistics, I found that there is plenty of information available if searched in Spanish. In doing so I was able to find a number of Spanish government documents since Ecuador especially has multiple government organizations working in telecommunications. Although this does mean that there is duplication and overlap of work, it does provide researchers with a number of resources to choose from including MINTEL, CONATEL, SENATEL, CONARTEL and SUPTEL. Additionally, I would highly recommend a strong knowledge of Spanish in order to navigate the many government documents available on Ecuador’s National ICT Policy.