There are seven key technologies which can make a difference in the coming elections:
RSS: The syndication format that has captured the imagination of information geeks can be used to allow users to aggregate the content of their choice from a multitude of sources. This is as good a time as many for the various Indian web publications to add RSS feeds to their publishing portfolio. Users can then set up RSS aggregators (either as part of their email clients or via web-based services) to collate together the information of their choice be it from the political parties, candidates, media or bloggers.
Weblogs: Elections are about getting viewpoints across to voters. Weblogs can provide candidates voices and a direct communications channel. Most of the times, when we go to vote, we know very little about the candidates who are contesting. Blogs can help rectify this situation especially in urban India, to begin with. On the other side, weblogs can also enable individuals and microcommunities to share their opinions on the goings-on, and contribute ideas and commentaries. Blogs can thus provide an alternative to what we will be seeing and reading in the media.
Wikis: What should the agenda for the elections be? What are the local issues which need resolution? Imagine if citizens can contribute and shape the thinking in a collective manner. This is where Wikis can come in. Every constituency can have a Wiki page (along with a weblog) for helping bring out the issues that matter to the common people.
Cellphones: It will the rare person participating in campaigning who does not use a mobile phone. While voice remains the biggest application on cellphones and allows constant connections between the campaign and party offices and the field force, there is also an opportunity to start using mobile data in the elections. For example, SMS alerts can notify people on the status during the counting process in the constituencies of interest to them. Camera phones can be used to broadcast pictures of the campaigning process on to moblogs (mobile weblogs).
Analytics: It is believed that the BJP used a fairly detailed analytical procedure to select candidates in the various states that went to polls in November last year. The age of information analysis is here. It is now possible for political parties to look at demographic data, overlay it with election data over the past few elections, and then make decisions regarding the candidates and also identify potential weak links in the system.
Visualisation Software: Elections throw out a huge amount of data. Visualisation software can help in understanding this for the political parties, commentators and us. In the past, we have relied on television and the media to show us their charts. Now, perhaps, if the software were available to parse elections data, everyone could also do their own analysis.
Personalisation: Elections is still about broadcasting by a few for many. Personalisation can help users create their own dashboards a subset of the data available which is of interest to each one.
One can always argue that in a democratic country like India where every person just has a single, equal vote, it makes little sense to use technology because the number of people who can access Internet-based content is probably less than 5% of the eligible voting population. While that is numerically correct, the Internet can help draw in an active and influential audience which can help shape policy for the future. If India has to change, it needs a committed cadre of people who can believe that they can make a difference. This group needs to be connected together, and this is where technology comes in. It is this 0.1% or less of the voting population which can energise the other 99.9% and lay the foundation of the New India. As Margaret Mead said, Never underestimate the ability of a small group of committed individuals to change the world.
Next Week: Technology and Indian Elections (continued)