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TECH TALK: Transforming Rural India: Village InfoGrid

April 15th, 2003 · No Comments

TeleInfoCentres in every village are the starting point. As weve discussed, these centres are not critically dependent on connectivity. They should be able to function well independently and offline. But as the options for connectivity grow, networking them together into a grid call it the Village InfoGrid is the next step. What the Village InfoGrid does is create a peer-to-peer network of the TeleInfoCentres, allowing for near real-time communications between them. This opens up a range of activities and applications that have previously not been there.

The TeleInfoCentre enables communications between the village and the district (and beyond). The Village InfoGrid becomes the platform for inter-village communications. This is interesting because so far in India, there has not been much interaction between villages because of the limited options involved. Typically, villagers have interacted with either only nearby villages or with the district, which is one-level up the hierarchy. The network connecting up the TeleInfoCentres now makes each village a peer, and equidistant in the electronic world. Geography is no longer a barrier for interaction.

What will be the impact of connecting up hitherto isolated people? Clay Shirky discusses this from the angle of social software and the politics of groups:

Prior to the Web, we had hundreds of years of experience with broadcast media, from printing presses to radio and TV. Prior to email, we had hundreds of years experience with personal media — the telegraph, the telephone. But outside the internet, we had almost nothing that supported conversation among many people at once. Conference calling was the best it got — cumbersome, expensive, real-time only, and useless for large groups. The social tools of the internet, lightweight though most of them are, have a kind of fluidity and ease of use that the conference call never attained: compare the effortlessness of CC:ing half a dozen friend to decide on a movie, versus trying to set up a conference call to accomplish the same task.

The radical change was de-coupling groups in space and time. To get a conversation going around a conference table or campfire, you need to gather everyone in the same place at the same moment. By undoing those restrictions, the interent has ushered in a host of new social patterns, from the mailing list to the chat room to the weblog.

The thing that makes social software behave differently other communications tools is that groups are entities in their own right. A group of people interacting with one another will exhibit be behaviors that cannot be predicted by examining the individuals in isolation, peculiarly social effects like flaming and trolling or concerns about trust and reputation.

Consider the possible impact of interconnecting the villages into an InfoGrid: villagers can now share best practices with others across the state or the country, they can benchmark themselves on a wide range of metrics and discuss ways by which they can improve, they can find out about opportunities elsewhere, they can create vertical communities of practice to share knowledge and innovations, and they can voice their opinions via community weblogs. This is just the starting point. As people in the villages start using the network, they will come up on their own with the ideas on how to make it more effective and useful.

Tomorrow: Village InfoGrid (continued)


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