Trackbacks Explained

Michael Pusateri explains Trackback. The benefit is “to let a site know that you are referencing them on your on site.” Another explanation comes from Mena and Ben Trott. Trackback is a feature available with MovableType, but hasn’t yet become popular, perhaps because it takes a while for people to understand and still isn’t trivial to use.

Helping Bangladesh’s Poor

Writes NYTimes:

There are 34,000 such schools across Bangladesh, with 1.1 million students. They are run not by the government, but by a nongovernmental organization, the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, or BRAC. Together, its schools represent one of the largest private education systems in the world.

The same organization is providing 3.5 million women with microcredit loans, more than any other organization in Bangladesh, including the better known Grameen Bank. BRAC also runs a commercial bank, a dairy, a hatchery, a poultry feed factory, a plant-tissue culture laboratory, seed processing centers, an Internet service provider, a chain of clothing and craft shops, a university and more. It provides health care at some 90 clinics and more than 2,000 prenatal clinics.

It does, in short, much of what a government should do, and what in many countries, the private sector would do. That is BRAC’s strength but, many say, Bangladesh’s weakness.

I think we should talk to them about our TeleInfoCentres idea.

RSS2Mail

I am excited about a service we’ve been experimenting with internally for a few days. It is a centralised RSS aggregator which allows me to set up subscriptions for RSS feeds and then emails me the items in a separate IMAP account. This way, I use my email client as the RSS viewer. All I need to do as a user is to set up an email account (like I would do with Hotmail) and then add it into my email client. The entire procedure will take less than 3 minutes. And then, as I subscribe to feeds through a web-based front-end, the RSS items now show up in the Inbox of this email account. The separate account ensures that the emails don’t clutter up any existing account and makes sure the account is spam-free.

An RSS Viewer (or News reader) can definitely increase the number of items one can process by a big multiple. Its a “10X” improvement in the way we currently do things. Also,the best part about this is people don’t need to download a separate application – the email client is as ubiquitous an application as we can get on a computer.

We hope to launch this as a service soon. There are still a few more things we want to do – for example, integrate blog posting via the BloggerAPI. Watch this space!

Identity Management

Identity Management is becoming an important issue. Doc Searls writes about it in Linux Journal and asks if we can “build an open and free identity infrastructure that puts customers ahead of companies accustomed to controlling them–for the good of both sides?”

Instead of waiting for Disney to tell us they’re offering vacation cruise deals to consumers of animated movie DVDs, we let Disney and other potential providers know that we’re in the market for a cruise in the Caribbean this coming October. Also, we don’t want any more spam phone calls or e-mails that guess about what we, as customers, might want. Also, we’d welcome discounts with some of our partners, such as Starbucks, Amazon and the local toy store in our home town.

What this requires is something we don’t have right now: a new identity infrastructure–one provided by open APIs, protocols and other standards that serve no agenda other than to enable useful dealings between buyers and sellers of products and services. Like the Web and e-mail infrastructure that are already part of the Net, this new infrastructure would be a full-fledged service on the Net. And it won’t become that unless it’s something nobody owns, everybody can use and anybody can improve. Again, like the Web, e-mail and the Net itself.

What we’ll need as customers is what I call a mydentity.

MailBlocks to Counter Spam

A new company, Mailblocks, aims to spend spam. Created by Phil Goldman, one of the founders of WebTV, it uses a challenge-response mechanism to create a whitelist of senders.

Werbach: “Goldman wants to do to Web-based email what Google did to search. Mailblocks focuses on core functionality and performance, rather than blasting users with ads. The price, $9.95 per year, is reasonable for what Mailblocks delivers.”

NYTimes: “The Mailblocks antispam service is based on a so-called challenge-response mechanism to block bulk mail sent automatically to e-mail accounts. When a customer receives a new message from an unknown correspondent, the system will intercept the message and automatically return to the sender a digital image of a seven-digit number and a form to fill out. Once a human being views that number and types it into the form – demonstrating that he or she is a person and not an automated mass-mailing machine – the system will forward the e-mail to the intended recipient.”

Corporate Social Networks

Watch how email flows, and you will be able to deduce who the hubs (power and communication centres) in an organisation are. That is the conclusion of research done by HP researchers, according to News.com:

Researchers Joshua Tyler, Dennis Wilkinson and Bernardo Huberman studied e-mails sent between any two of the 485 workers at Hewlett-Packard labs over a two-month period, examining 185,773 relevant e-mails in the process.

The researchers said graphing e-mail flow not only correctly identified communities within the organization, but it also provided insight into who the leaders of those groups were. It also helped to identify informal communities that arise when people need to communicate across departments or work collaboratively on projects. What’s more, it took just a few hours to analyze the data and identify the groups and their leaders, the study said.

“The power of this method for identifying communities and leadership is in its automation,” the researchers wrote. “We have found that it does an effective job of uncovering communities of practice with nothing more than e-mail log (“to:” and “from:”) data.”

Here is a link to their paper.

Continue reading

Class or Mass

Rama Bijapurkar discusses the bottom of the pyramid opportunity, stating that the real challenge is “to give consumers something that actually serves their needs well, at a price they can afford, and yet make a profit by creating and selling them through a system that is low cost enough to do so.”

She adds: “Markets will explode only if prices drop discontinuously or incomes increase discontinuously. The latter is unlikely to happen here. The former is the only way to go. So the first step to fishing in the bottom of the pyramid is to put together an innovation team consisting of a consumer insights person (to define price-performance that consumers will accept), a technology person, and a business process person all working together to make that breakthrough in price happen.”

TECH TALK: Transforming Rural India: Sristi and Learnings

Sristi

Sristi (Society for Research and Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies and Innovations) is not a technology project per se. Rather, it is a a non-governmental organisation setup to strengthen the creativity of grassroots inventors, innovators and ecopreneurs engaged in conserving biodiversity and developing eco-friendly solutions to local problems. Wrote the Far Eastern Economic Review, which awarded Sristi a Gold Award for Innovation in 2000:

After seven years of working in 5,500 villages primarily in the Indian state of Gujarat, Sristi has found a wealth of what it calls “grassroots innovations.” Those discoveries are in turn catalogued in a database (current count: 10,000) and shared in a newsletter. Now Sristi is aiming to take the process a step further: One of its offshoots has begun patenting and investing in various creations on behalf of inventors. “There is only one thing in which poor people are rich and that is their knowledge,” says Sristi’s charismatic founder, Anil Gupta, a professor at the Indian Institute of Ahmedabad.

Finding ethical ways to share such local inventiveness and expertise was what first drove Gupta to start Sristi’s informal predecessor, the Honey Bee network, back in 1990. A scientist respected for his work in economics and ecology, Gupta nevertheless felt troubled. Nearly all of his studies were published in English, inaccessible to the people who had helped him to write them. By using their knowledge to further his research, Gupta wondered if he wasn’t impoverishing them in the process.

The eventual answer was Sristi, which not only seeks out innovation, but spreads it in six Indian languages as well as English and Spanish. Its quarterly newsletter, Honey Bee, is based on the philosophy that exchanging knowledge can benefit both the source and the community, just as a bee taking pollen from a flower in no way diminishes it.

Learnings

A paper by Subba Rao discusses knowledge management in Indias rural community projects, and provides snapshots of select projects. The paper concludes that the community network centres can play a key role in meeting the socio-economic aspirations of rural communities by successfully addressing the 8Cs of success in the digital age: connectivity, content, community, commerce, capacity, culture, cooperation, and capital.

Publishing and publicity of the projects is very minimal. With no comparative study or linking across projects the lessons learned by one project are not transmitted to the others. Appropriate technologies are rarely evaluated and financial sustainability, scalability and cost recovery are seldom addressed.

Project plans frequently ignore the harsh realities and very few have substance for implementation.

Economically responsible projects are already proving more successful than charitable or free models. Projects that identify and cost the services they provide are also more successful.

Projects initiated following consulting at grass roots level is essential top down approaches do not work. An intimate understanding of the social and economic parameters of rural India gives connectivity providers a significant advantage.

Initial information requirements may change over a period of time and therefore periodic assessment must to be undertaken.

Content creation in local language is a prerequisite for project success. It is imperative to develop locally relevant content in the local language and to present it intelligibly as well as offering suitable and adequate training.

The scope of IT must be seen as reaching beyond that of just computers and the internet to include radio, TV, microchip technology etc. The use of automated butter fat assessment equipment as part of the Akashganga project is a classic example.

Egovernment is one of the most promising sectors for exploring the uses of ICT. It involves two distinct activities: the computerisation of government functions; and the provision of G2C and C2G connections through which citizens can obtain access to a variety of information.

Rural entrepreneurs and crafts persons are saving time, travel and effort. Greater benefits will be felt when wired micro-credit accounts come into use for online or distance transactions amongst or within village communities.

ICT projects have assisted rural communities by providing them with news, information, advice and knowledge that has hitherto been inaccessible to them. This information has allowed rural citizens/consumers to make more informed economic decisions: landless labourers have negotiated their daily wages more effectively; and tractors, threshers, old television sets, cattle and motorcycles have all been traded across towns and villages due to online advertisements.

Until the cost of basic IT devices which deliver the last mile of connectivity and local language software is lowered, the goal of wiring rural India will remain a dream.

Tomorrow: The Conundrum

Continue reading