Geografías del Internet: Por qué los colombianos no contribuimos a Wikipedia?

Hay un desbalance de información. Eso nunca ha sido noticias. Con las mas grandes e importantes universidades situadas en Estados Unidos o Europa, la realidad es que el conocimiento se había concentrado, hasta finales del siglo 20, en donde hubiese quien publicara.

Hoy en día, se va igualando el terreno. Pero como mi profesor en Oxford Mark Graham notó, la inequidad de contribución a la mas importante recopilación de información de este siglo, viene desproporcionadamente de países desarrollados.

Mapa por: Information Geographies del Oxford Internet Institute

Mapa por: Information Geographies del Oxford Internet Institute

Si miramos este mapa hecho por el en pueden verse desigualdades extremas. Por ejemplo, hay muchos mas artículos en Wikipedia sobre Antártica (7,800 hasta la fecha del estudio) que sobre cualquier país en África o Suramérica. En este mapa de la distribución de origen de artículos en Wikipedia, Colombia ni siquiera aparece! No se ve.

No encontrarse en línea es este momento, casi como no encontrase. La información ya no esta en los salones de clase, o en libros: el mundo de los mapas y enciclopedias, como los juegos Olímpicos o el mundial de FIFA, daba representación y oportunidad justa a todos los países y continentes. Pero mientras los jóvenes continúen utilizando Wikipedia como primera referencia para casi todo, sea trabajo o juego, el tener una huella digital semi-existente vuelve en eso el país: semi-existente.

Es importante notar el desbalance, para intentar corregir el hecho. Todo el mundo sabe sobre algo, y no es necesario tener un alto nivel de educación para contribuir sobre temas históricos, sociales o hasta turísticos sobre el país. El conocimiento colectivo es eso, conocimiento popular.  Hay una cultura de contribución que existe en muchos otros países, y me pregunto de que sirve tener una alta penetración de Internet en Colombia si nadie por fuera puede ver que existimos.

Aqui esta la metodologia  del estudio:  El muestreo se hace con Geotagging.

 

Build your own eco-friendly classroom

Finally! We are live with our site. It’s a soft launch for now, and soon enough we will commence the hunt for possible contributors who wish to share their eco-knowledge with communities around the world.

 

What we want you to achieve with our site:

1. Follow our tutorials and build your own Eco-friendly classroom

2. Contribute your knowledge, whether it’s how to build a water-harvesting tool or a pedal-powered energy source,  in the form of easy-to-follow tutorials so others can replicate your great ideas.

3. Let us know how and when you have used our site to build projects in your community. We can learn from each other!

We want to thank the Youth Innovation Fund for choosing our project and believing in its potential. We also want to thank Anahuac University, their volunteers, Ana Ceci and Yuni for their great work in building the classroom and getting us involved. Xavi Potau for his great job building this beautiful site in Joomla.

We are still publishing tutorials from our Huixilucan prototype, so keep your eyes out for that.

Cheers!

Eco classroom. al-mo-st-the-re

At the beginning of this year, some fellow World Bankers and I won the Youth Innovation Fund award for $11.000.  I should have been writing updates of what was going on as the process has gone on,  specially because y’all keep bugging me about it,  but honestly, it was all so convoluted and time-consuming that I shivered at the thought of explaining it. I also think it’s relevant since it was thanks to this project that I began my interest in ICT4D, and therefore that this blog was born. See? It all comed full circle.

How did it happen?

I never thought I would be interested in doing operations work at the bank. I work in online communications, and before here, as a reporter. But the moment I heard it was the World Bank Institute that was giving the award this year, I suddenly became interested in joining my two friends in their endeavor. The requirements for the proposal were that our project should use “innovative communication technologies” to further development, and this is something I’m certainly interested in.

I had received a question on the Bank’s youth web site, youthink.bancomundial.org, which asked “cómo puedo construir un aula?” (how can I build a classroom?) We got off from there, since David Argente, good friend and working as a Junior Professional Associate in the Latin America vice president’s office, knew of a good NGO that specialized in building classrooms. And oh yeah, they were good for the environment too.

Together with David, Nishesh Mehta and Lina Karaoglanova the idea of ecoclassroom.org was conceived.  The two other winning teams have projects involving Access to Information in Sierra Leone and capacity building in Haiti.

None of us had any idea how much work it would entail until much after we actually won. Our first concern began once we realized that we had cleverly packaged two projects into one.  The building of a classroom, and the web site. The building of the classroom per se was to take place through the NGO, and we would support the training and facilitate the process. Our role ended up being bigger than that, so a part of the project we thought would be a breeze ended up being the hardest part.

We recorded the construction of our prototype in Huixquilucan, Mexico, step by step, to accrue tutorials for communities world-wide to be able to replicate the project. The wiki, which will be launched in English and Spanish at the end of November, is meant to empower communities to help themselves by sharing data and practices rather than depend on external aid. The project was showcased among the most innovative projects at the World Bank this year.

Our great back-end web producer has been great in adapting my design into a very-user friendly site, and even had the initiave of switching CMS from Tiki-wiki to Joomla, just because he was not feeling very well about the performance of the former. This is the kind of good will that I wish I could see more often from web consulting vendors.

Anyhow, I hope next time I blog we will be LIVE.  We also need to start thinking on how to convince other organizations into sharing tutorials on how to build their ideas… if you know of any good candidates, please do not hesitate and shoot me an e-mail.

India and ICT amazingness

Those who know me know that I’ve had a slight obsession with India lately. There are various reasons for that, but the main one I believe is the inmense potential there is to make fanstatic ICT4D projects that could affect millions of people.

Why?

1. India has one of the most impressive cell phone penetration rates in the world

2. The techie knowledge and desire already exists…. and the shift is begining to go from back-end support for western companies to front-end entrepeneurship and development. Why shouldn’t all the next start-ups come from this giant?

Thomas Friedman’s Sunday http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/06/opinion/sunday/friedman-indias-innovation-stimulus.html?_r=4 column focuses on exactly that.  He talks to the CEO of Ekgaon, one of these many start-ups whose main purpuse is not to earn money, but to make the world a better place.  I am copying it here in case you don’t have access to the NYT premium content. How that is an issue is a subject for another blog post.

Meet Vijay Pratap Singh Aditya, the C.E.O. of Ekgaon. His focus is Indian farmers, who make up half the population and constitute what he calls “an emerging market within an emerging market.” Ekgaon built a software program that runs on the cheapest cellphones and offers illiterate farmers a voice or text advisory program that tells them when is the best time to plant their crops, how to mix their fertilizers and pesticides, when to dispense them and how much water to add each day.

“India has to increase farm productivity,” explains Aditya, “but our farms are small, and advisers from the Agriculture Department can’t reach many of them. So they go for hearsay methods of planting, which leads to low productivity and soil desertification.” Using cloud computing, Ekgaon tailors its advice to each farmer’s specific soil, crop and weather conditions. Some 12,000 farmers are already subscribing ($5 for one year), and the plan is set to grow to 15 million in five years.

He also lists Forus Health, and iXiGO.com, a travel site geared to people of all income levels– whether its a cheap bus ticket from Chenai to Bangalore, or a first-class trip to Paris.  

Do you know of any other Indian start-up or tech companies that are bubbling up to take over the central arena? Should silicone valley be scared? Should social entrepeneurship be the leading drive of new tech companies, especially those conceived in developing nations?

Turkish “censorship” delight

I have been absent from the online world for a while, and this is due to my well-deserved vacations in the fabulous country of Turkey. This land between Asia and Europe is absolutely beautiful, and full of contradictions. It is predominantly Muslim, but used to be Christian, and once upon a time part of the Roman empire. So there are Roman ruins (including Troy), Mosques and beautiful churches.

More importantly than the architecture though, the major contradiction is the predominance of a strong religion in a country that is in theory secular. I met some friends of a friend, who, like myself, studied journalism with the romantic idea of serving the masses while reporting on world injustices. The problem? Not only can they not find jobs, but Turkey’s censorship is legendary. There is an agency, RTÜK, the Radio and Television Supreme Council, in charge of monitoring, regulating, and sanctioning radio and television broadcasts.

Apparently various journalists are in jail for things they didn’t even get a chance to publish, since they were stopped by the RTÜK before publication. Prominent female publisher Ayse Nur Zarakolu, who was described by the New York Times as “[o]ne of the most relentless challengers to Turkey’s press laws”,  has been imprisoned various times.

This, to me, is one of the greatest contradictions in this country and probably a big obstacle for the country to be considered part of the European Union. I kept seeing an attempt to show that they are an economic power, that they are modern, that they are open to the world. But without freedom of speech, to me all of the rest is useless. You might as well be Saudi Arabia. Things like a full democracy are black and white; gray should be unacceptable. What do you think?

What about ICT to help gender equality?

 Only 1% of the world’s wealth belongs to women.

Of all the gender-related statistics I have heard lately, that one shocked me the most. Most of the world’s wealth come from developed nations, meaning that in the countries where women already have access to education etc. there is barely anything to show for it.

Yet in developing nations it is still worse, with women of course being treated as half a person in more than one respect. We all know that gender equality is smart economics, but in which ways can we achieve tangible results?

Today I was lucky enough to attend a panel where Naila Chowdhury, the CEO of Grameen Solutions, spoke about the role of ICT to achieve gender equality in the developing world.  In villages with no electricity, a solar-powered cell phone was given to a woman. She became the only one who could communicate with other villages, find out the price of the produce they grew, and it therefore eliminated the middle man who would take some of the profit.

I am a firm believer of communication technology to further development. It is the easiest, fastest most effective way of providing practical information, and we need to continue to find ways of exploring it.  Do you know of any other organizations that are focused on this?

 

 

 

Aps and more aps… all on DCTech

After the DCTech meetup last night I felt predictably overwhelmed in the amount of people, and inadequately underwhelmed with the lack of diversity in presentations. It was a mobile themed- meetup, yet everything circulated around smart phone aps only, ignoring the vast majority of both the industry and users world-wide who are still using and will continue to use regular cellular phones for the foreseeable future.

Don’t get me wrong. I have an iPhone, and I love and depend on aps. The presentations made by the lively Fastcostumer‘s Stephanie Hay,  and the amazing idea of the musicians turned techies with the album, “National Mall”, locational aware music only audible from the green memorial-ridden space, were quite innovative , imaginative and surprising. I cannot wait to go for a run (ok, ok, a walk… Who am I kidding?) around The Capitol and try it out.

Another highlight was the politically incorrect, foot-in-mouth moment by Dalpha Kalman from GetSurc, who expressed that half of their developers “are in Israel, which is apparently now the Mecca of technology”… sigh. I felt what we in Spanish call “pena ajena”, best translated as feeling embarrassed for someone else. She was quickly corrected by @Peter Corbett “You mean the Jerusalem of technology.” Oh my…

Yet besides the new aps on my phone and the cameo by the DC mayor, I was not feeling at all inspired. Yes, having an ap to help you find parking spaces and one to book taxis are both very valuable assets.Yet I wonder how much energy, if any, is spent by the dc tech community on innovation geared toward economic development. Is it sad that I expected DC to be a melting pot of social work, maybe even international one, with technology? I still ponder , as mentioned in my previous post,

Information dissemination? Corruption hot lines? Remittances? Post-conflict monetary aid via text messages? This realm is not particularly untapped,  but its advancement should not be left in the hands of development agencies, whose focus will never be on innovation. They are doing well in supporting already existing technologies and products, but bureaucracies are rarely the breeding grounds of new ideas.

Hopefully there will be a DCTech meetup more on the Tech4Dev fashion, and I can see the bureaucrats and non-profits  instead of the MBA GW students sharing ideas with the tech community. This IS DC after all…

Cell phones as tools for transparency

It is great to be constantly thinking of new projects. A few of my friends and I had thought about using the technologies we constantly use for more frivolous things, such as text voting and crime mapping in the US, to corruption hunting and bad service deliveries.

Artas Bartas, from Estonia, came up with an Android app for it called Bribespot. According to mobile active, they developed it during Garage48, an event where people pitch and develop apps in 48 hours. It has already been downloaded 600 times, with 700 submitted reports from around the world.

The app allows you to report an instance of corruption and maps it, with the purpose of bringing  awareness to government officials and to the public. I think the most effective thing it does is actively shame those involved. People may stop accepting bribes if they know that they could possible be posted online.  The idea reminds me of my favorite mayor Antannas Mockus’ way of shamming traffic violators with mimes in the streets of Bogotá. People are more scared of being ridiculed than of monetary punishment!

This is a great idea, but again, the concept needs to be adapted to local technologies. Most people in Africa, where corruption is prevalent, do not have Android phones. The more robust text-messaging system should provide the same or similar results. I cannot tell you our idea, because my team members could kill me. But think about it… what ICT tools could be used for transparency and to end corruption?