Socialtext

There is increasing interest in companies working on social network mapping and analysis software [1 2]. One such company is Socialtext. From their site:

Tools like wikis and weblogs make it easy to write on the web. With these tools, people communicate, collaborate, and build knowledge. Naturally. It’s as fast as email. As responsive as writing on a whiteboard.

Nice Little Wiki is a simple wiki engine initially created by Socialtext to serve as a prototype for us to try out some of our ideas about social software. We also use it internally as our intranet and company management tool.
Nice Little Wiki will be an open source project, soon to be published under a BSD or Apache-style license.

There’s further explanation on wikis:

What’s a wiki? A wiki (Hawaiian for “quick”) is a web tool used for information sharing and collaborative writing.

How do you use a wiki? You can write directly on wiki pages simply by clicking “Edit This Page.” You can make a link to another page simply by typing the title of the page.

What do you use a wiki for? People use wikis for collaborative software development, writing documents together, taking notes, building archives and encyclopedias, and many other applications.

What’s so great about wikis? Writing wiki pages is fast, like writing email. Collaborating with wikis is fast and satisfying, like taking turns at a whiteboard. Making information resources with wikis is natural, because you can reorganize as you go, like moving the chairs in your living room.

What’s different about Nice Little Wiki? Nice Little Wiki has a couple of differences from typical wikis. First of all, it’s password-protected, so you can create private spaces. Second, you create links between wiki pages by putting brackets around the page name, instead of using CamelCase.

One space which is becoming hot, building on our understanding of how networks form, is collaboration management – helping get the most out of ad-hoc groups and the tacit knowledge in people. SocialText is in the same space.

Knowledge Sharing Software

Rafe Needleman writes about “designing tools that extract knowledge from individual employees and make it available to the rest of the corporation”. He mentions OpenCola, Kubi Software and Tacit. More on Tacit’s ActiveNet:

This product builds profiles of users based on the e-mail they send (it does not store the e-mails), and then allows other users to find co-workers who are knowledgeable in particular fields. But it doesn’t force the connection, because, as CEO David Gilmour says, “What I know depends on who’s asking.” So the system allows the person with expertise to decide if a contact will be made: It just tells them who’s asking.

Search Engines

Search Engines are hot properties now. There has been recent consolidation. Yahoo bought Inktomi, Overture bought Altavista and some technology from FAST, while Google bought Pyra. Business Week writes about what’s driving this:

As Web surfers grow more sophisticated, they focus on specific tasks, such as checking mail or finding a recipe. More are using search engines to hurry through their to-do lists. The percentage of Web site visitors who arrived via search engines nearly doubled in the past year, to 13%, says analytics firm WebSideStory. Increasingly, says Jupiter Research analyst Gary Stein, “people are tuned out on banner ads and tuned in to search results.”

Yahoo boasts the biggest audience, Overture the most advertising, and Google has the leading search technology. But the balance of power is shifting fast. All the major players are busy building or buying the pieces they’re missing.

MSN isn’t likely to be sitting idle either. One can expect them to make a move soon.

TECH TALK: Transforming Rural India: Bhoomi, eSeva and Information Village

Next, we look to Karnatakas Bhoomi, Andhra Pradeshs eSeva and the MS Swaminathan Research Foundations Information Village Project in Pondicherry.

Bhoomi

The Karnataka government launched Bhoomi to create a service to computerise land records and make them available to the people for a nominal fee (in this case, Rs 15). Bhoomi is a finalist for the Stockholm Award 2002. Here is a brief overview from the contest website:

Bhoomi is a self-sustainable e-governance project for the computerised delivery of 20 million rural land records to 6.7 million farmers through 177 Government owned kiosks in the Indian state of Karnataka which has eliminated red tape and corruption in the issue of land title records, and is fast becoming the backbone for credible IT-enabled Government services for the rural population.
Rural Land Records are central conduits to delivering better IT-enabled services to citizens because they contain multiple data elements: ownership, tenancy, loans, nature of title, irrigation details, crops grown etc. In addition to proving title to the land, the Land Record is used by the farmer for a variety of purposes: from documenting crop loans and legal actions, to securing scholarships for school-children. These records were hitherto maintained manually by 9,000 village officials who often extracted a price for issuing copies.

Under the Bhoomi (Land) dispensation, computerised kiosks offer farmers two critical services (currently): procurement of land records and requesting changes to land title. With 20 million records legally maintained now only in the digital format, Bhoomi has brought the power of IT to dispel the insecurities of the farmers in 27,000 villages. To ensure authenticity of data management, a Biometric Finger Authentication system has been used for the first time in an e-governance project in India. To make the project self-sustaining and expandable, Bhoomi levies user charges. Already, about 1.25 million farmers have paid Rs 19 million. As a pilot for additional cross-selling initiatives, one kiosk is currently being used by citizens, thus validating the potential of this platform.

eSeva

The Andhra Pradesh government has launched eseva, with the aim of providing one stop non stop service to the citizens. It is, perhaps, one of the most ambitious projects in India, in the realm of government-to-citizen (G2C) services. It is currently operational through 29 eSeva centres (with 280 service counters) spread over the Twin Cities of Hyderabad and Secenderabad, and Ranga Reddy District. eSeva offers a wide spectrum of services ranging from Payment of Utilities Bills, Certificates, Permits / Licences, Transport Department Services to Reservation, Passport Applications and Downloading of Forms. The government is planning to, according to a report in the Business Line, to reach out up to all the 1,100 mandals (blocks) across the State, [and] it is proposed to deploy up to village in a phased manner.

Information Village

The MS Swaminathan Research Foundation has set up an Information Village project in Pondicherry. It won Stockholm Challenge Award under the Global Village category 2001. Here is a description from their website on the project:

In an experiment in electronic knowledge delivery to the poor, we have connected ten villages near Pondicherry in southern India by a hybrid wired and wireless network — consisting of PCs, telephones, VHF duplex radio devices and email connectivity through dial-up telephone lines — that facilitates both voice and data transfer, and have enabled the villagers to get information that they need and can use to improve their lot.

The entire project draws its sustenance from the holistic philosophy of Swaminathan, which emphasizes an integrated pro-poor, pro-women, pro-nature orientation to development and community ownership of technological tools against personal or family ownership, and encourages collective action for spread of technology. The bottom up exercise involves local volunteers to gather information, feed it into an Intranet and provide access through nodes in different villages.

Value addition to the raw information, use of the local language (Tamil) and multimedia (to facilitate illiterate users) and participation by local people right from the beginning are the noteworthy features of the project. Most of the operators and volunteers providing primary information are women, thus giving them status and influence. All centres evolved themselves to meet the information demands made by the community.

We have shown that empowering people through access to timely and relevant information can make a difference in the life of the rural poor. We have also demonstrated that new ICTs can play a crucial role in this effort. Information provided in the village knowledge centres is locale specific and relates to prices of agricultural inputs (such as seeds, fertilizers, pesticides) and outputs (rice, vegetables), market (potential for export), entitlement (the multitude of schemes of the central and state governments, banks), health care (availability of doctors and paramedics in nearby hospitals, women’s diseases), cattle diseases, transport (road conditions, cancellation of bus trips), weather (appropriate time for sowing, areas of abundant fish catch, wave heights in the sea), etc.

A discussion paper by Senthilkumaran and Subbiah Arunachalam provides more information.

Tomorrow: Tarahaat and Drishtee

Continue reading