The Register has a fascinating insight into the impact Google is having on history. The story begins with an article written by James Moore entitled “The Second Superpower”.

Look what the phrase “Second Superpower” produces on Google now. Try it!. Moore’s essay is right there at the top. And not just first, but it already occupies all but three of the first thirty spots.

If you were wearing your Google-goggles, and the search engine was your primary view of the world, you would have a hard time believing that the phrase “Second Superpower” ever meant anything else.

To all intents and purposes, the original meaning has been erased. Obliterated, in just seven weeks.

Wireless – The Next Frontier

Writes NYTimes: “To veterans of past cycles in technology, the wireless world today has the look of the personal computer business in the late 1970’s or the Internet in the early 1990’s…The wireless convergence of phones and computers is made possible by steady progress in chip making, memory and miniaturization. Today’s advanced cellphones have the equivalent computing power of the desktop PC’s of the mid-1990’s.”

In London

One of the reasons for the slow pace of updates has been that I have been attending a conference organised by the UNDP and IBLF on the Millenium Development Goals, and how business can engage with government and intermediaries (NGOs and others) to achieve the goals. It has been a fascinating exposure to a different world. I spoke from the context of a developing country (India) and how ICT (information and communication technologies) can play a role in sustainable development. My key theme: imagine if every village in the world had 3 computers as part of a TeleInfoCentre. What would we then do differently? I’ll discuss this more later when I get some time to write out my thoughts in more detail. Have been discussing this in a narrower context (Rural India) as part of the ongoing Tech Talk series.

Africa and 3G


Next-generation cell phone networks are arriving in Africa, a region some carriers view as an enormous business opportunity, despite widespread poverty.

Less than 10 percent of the population of even the most technologically developed countries has telephone service of any kind. In Nigeria, the figure is less than half of 1 percent.

That translates into hundreds of millions of potential customers. And although trying to sell mobile phones to people who don’t even have old-fashioned landline models might seem like folly, business and infrastructure concerns may give cellular the edge.

But just as in China, a huge untapped population doesn’t necessarily mean instant jackpot-size revenue for phone sellers, Beckert said. Poverty is certainly one of the biggest obstacles keeping phones out of Africa’s hands.

“Look at how many (customers) are in China, then look at the average income,” Stephan Beckert pf TeleGeography said. “You’re seeing factory workers making 60 cents per day. They aren’t going to buy cell phones anytime soon.”

TECH TALK: Transforming Rural India: TeleInfoCentre Applications

The TeleInfoCentre fulfills a multi-centric role: it is a computing and communications centre, has a digital library of documents, complements the teachers for school and adult education, and serves as a small business office for entrepreneurs. Its real value comes, of course, from the applications that it can enable for citizen services and government interactions, making it an eGovernance touch-point for the villagers.

As was discussed in the Village Vision segment, the TeleInfoCentre caters to the needs of four constituencies: the villagers, the village administration, the district and state administrations, and the marketing organisations. The various applications available at the TeleInfoCentre can be categorised as follows:

  • Information: The TeleInfoCentre enables two-way information flow. Commodity prices, weather information, crop planning, literacy programmes, exam results, health information, school curriculum, government notifications, downloadable forms which could either be printed or filled online, and employment opportunities are all examples of what the TeleInfoCentre can provide. All of this information should be available on the server so the need to connect to the Internet is not there. Updates can be done via CD (or Internet connectivity, if available) every few days. In turn, the villagers and the village administration also provide regular updates on the health of the village and its resources, which is sent to the district administration.
  • Communications: Email (be it text or audio/video) will be the primary driver. In fact, the ability to communicate with other villages and with government officials is going to be perhaps the killer app for the initial use of the TeleInfoCentre. As WiFi becomes a reality, Voice-over-IP (VoIP) will become an important driver.
  • Community: At present, interactions between village residents are limited to gatherings at the local choupal (meeting place). Distance makes interactions between residents of different villages rare except for business or matrimony. The TeleInfoCentre can now help build out communities across villages, independent of distance, based on interest areas. Thus, farmers could form an online community, and teachers could do the same. Community weblogs are an excellent platform to amplify the flow of ideas without the constraints of time and geography. One section could contain classified ads narrowcast to specific audiences.
  • Transactions: While providing eServices like land records and birth/marriage/death certificates are important for the village residents, they may require the presence of a real-time Internet connection (unless the service can be formulated as an offline request). Transaction services like bill payments and railway bookings which require queries to centralised database servers can only become possible when connectivity improves.

    A basket of applications should be made available to the villagers for a flat price Rs 20 per family per month, as we discussed earlier. The question is: what will make each family pay a monthly subscription fee of Rs 20? My view on this is that they will pay if it can:

    Offer hopes of additional income (growth in livelihood)
    Remove pain from their lives (government interactions)
    Improve their skillsets (learn to do things better, retraining)
    Make them more productive (agriculture, crafts)
    Offer their children a brighter future (education, jobs)
    Provide them a voice to and response from government within a specified time period

    Once the TeleInfoCentres start being rolled out and their usage begins, local content developers and software companies will realise that there is an excellent platform for offering value-added services much like what we are seeing with the SMS services on cellphones today. These service providers should be able to distribute their applications and content to the TeleInfoCentres easily. Getting new services is critical for building out an ecosystem around the TeleInfoCentre foundation.

    Tomorrow: TeleInfoCentre Economics

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