Archive for the 'Language' Category

 

Mar 16 2009

Building Online Communities

by at 6:14 pm

[Before I begin, I just wanted to link to this O’Reilly Radar post that shows how Facebook continues to blow away its competition, with 175 million users worldwide.  Another conflicting post from another source has a different number of total users, at 222 million.  Facebook is posting great growth numbers abroad and in the US — I say all this because I believe Facebook is taking over the planet in social networking shortly before the personal data jailbreak is to occur.]

Somewhere between researching my final orals exam topic of “individualized identity and reputation for international development” (for my MSFS degree) and studying how to design both a competitive and collaborative ecosystem for my start-up, I came across some very cool pages at Yahoo!.

Yahoo!’s developer network has available some tips and examples of how to build competition, reputation, rankings, leaderboards, and other social interaction devices into a web site.

Check some of them out:

YDN (Yahoo! Developer Network) has grouped these and many other categories loosely under “Reputation” in one of its menu hierarchies.

These pages have some interesting linkages.  From one post it links to:

“The famed #1 book reviewer on Amazon.com (who does claim to be a speed-reader) posts, on average, 7 book reviews a day. So not only does Harriet have time for reading all these books, she can also whip off reviews of them pretty quickly, too.”

Another example:

“Avoid even slightly offensive names for levels (e.g., Music Hotshot! or Photo Flyguy!)

  • These may be learnable with appropriate supporting material, but remember that reputations are also a form of self-expression and odds are good that a sizable portion of your community won’t want to be identified with frivolous, insulting or just goofy-sounding labels.
  • Ambiguous level names like these tested very poorly with some of our users.”

What’s interesting to me about all this is that it provides some basic examples of when to use certain systems and when not to.  Sometimes you may not want people to be competitive, because it may detract from their desires to collaborate.  What I read between the lines is that different cultures will adopt different preferences for how their self-designed systems will create and generate the maximum value and benefit for them.  Such a system might not be of maximum utility to another culture, however.

This implies that systems may need to be designed that are flexible to different peoples’ values.  It also implies that certain web sites may work where they were previously thought not to, just by providing an alternate version specific to that culture or tribe.  The easiest example of this to visualize would be language-localized versions of web sites.  Facebook adding Arabic and Hebrew versions recently will bring in many more Arab- and Hebrew- speakers through this alone.  But other cultural dimensions beyond language have yet to be addressed.

Not too long ago, I attended the Future of Web Apps conference in Miami.  It amazed me to see just how involved companies like Yahoo! and Facebook are getting into building online communities.  I also picked up some cool Yahoo! schwag including a foldable map that shows all of Yahoo!’s APIs and services.  Pretty impressive.  What’s even better, these companies are being extremely open about all of this.  The social networking community looked nothing like this when we first began our research not too long ago in August!  Pretty awesome!

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Ben Turner,Context,Culture,Language,Social Media

Dec 18 2008

Rediff CEO Ajit Balakrishnan at Internet Governance Forum: Local Languages Will Not Drive the Next Billion nternet Users

by at 11:10 pm

At the Internet Governance Forum at Hyderabad, during a panel on Reaching the Next Billion, Rediff CEO Ajit Balakrishnan made some interesting comments (via Nikhil Pahwa) —

If the world is looking to increase Internet users by a billion, India has to contribute at least 250 million… India’s user base right now is roughly 40 million. So it’s a mega challenge to take it from where we are now at 40 million to get to 250 million.

We have had e-mail operating in 11 languages, but virtually 99% of users prefer to use it in English. In India, there is a set of issues, because practically all of the 300 million young people who aspire to something in this country aspire to learn English. English is an aspirational language. Consequently, there is very little interest in accessing the Internet in any other language than that.

In Indian languages… we have a large number of them, 16 to 17 major ones. So the market for any of these things is highly fragmented. The single biggest one, Hindi, is probably no more than 30% of the population… But let us not assume that users want Indian languages. There is no evidence so far the last ten years in the business.

If the goal is to add another billion users to the world, this is not going to help you too much. It will probably add another 20 million or 15 million.

Fundamentally, the Internet is not about content. When we sit around in meetings like this, we think that most people read weighty tomes published by the U.N. and others. In fact what they do, mostly young people are on the Internet and what they do is they send messages, brief messages to each other, or post messages on social networking sites or download music or enjoy pictures or video clips. None of this is really particularly language related. Most of the navigational levels have to be in languages. So virtually 90% of the content is text free if you look deeply enough.

And one final thing, if you haven’t heard about it, the PC era just ended in the last year and the future of access is mobile. But it’s again not going to be text-based mobile. That’s another message I want to bring to you from the trenches of the Internet world.

People are frantically working to master the voice-to-text conversion piece… (but) the big thing (in) the next five years… (will be) a breakthrough on a voice-based Internet where you can speak into it and hear things back.

Voice-based Internet is where the future lies. And if national entities have to be pushed to do anything, it’s to make sure you make the voice-to-text recognition system accurate. At the moment in India we are not getting results more than 70% accuracy. If you can use the brains and get it to 95%, I think that is fantastic. That will solve all our problems.

These comments are quite controversial and have attracted several interesting reactions —

It is wrong to assume Indian languages are not a wanted commodity just because a particular language product (in this case, the language support on Rediffmail) hasn’t done well. In my opinion the time has not arrived for the usage of Indian language in email.

Oneindia.in has been publishing language content since April 2000. (Our) users wanted to ‘read’ our content and very few wanted to write in the language. Most of our feedback mails were in English (pre-2006). These days most of the comments on our site and feedback emails are in the language.

Everyone talks about UGC (user generated content). Many feel just because UGC in language is not as big as English (as of now) they have inferred language is not wanted on the net. Wrong. Language blogs are popular these days and it is the best example of UGC. (BG Mahesh, CEO of OneIndia)

I think that the average urban user would be keen on using English (he’s either comfortable with it, or aspires to be). Even with increased penetration into rural areas, the mindset that ‘English is the path to advancement’, which I have seen around me a lot, might make English a preferred language, more than the regularly spoken one. Also, unlike print, and television, which are more passive media (read/ remote click), the net is a more active medium, because it requires some navigation for the user to make full use of it. (links/downloads etc) I think its fair to assume that the width and depth of content available in English will always be more than that of other languages. Does that mean that there is no market for language? There is a market, but I doubt that it will ever explode or be the driver for growth or be the major beneficiary of the internet’s rural penetration (when that happens). I have a feeling that the catch 22 situation will last – not enough users to warrant content and not enough content to warrant usage. (Manu Prasad)

What worries me is that if people who wield a great deal of influence over Internet usage practices in India, such as Balakrishnan, don’t persevere and try to push local language emailing with the huge new crop of users India adds annually, then the presence of Indian writing technologies on the Net will dwindle before they are given a real chance to take off. (Usree Bhattacharya)

I have always believed that language is going to be one of the three dimensions of differentiation for Indian social networking sites — language (English vs. vernacular), mode of access (Internet vs. mobile) and social dynamics (global vs. Indian) —

According to NRS 2006, the readership of English language newspaper is only 26 mn, less than 10% of the overall readership of newspapers in India. Given that English is the predominant language on Internet in India, is it any surprise that English language newspaper readership in India and Internet usage in India are in the same ballpark? Also, if you flip the numbers, vernacular language newspaper readership in India is ten times higher than English language readership in India. It’s probably reasonable to project that, if vernacular language Internet was to become popular in India, Internet usage in India will potentially increase tenfold.

I also believe that language and access will also be the key drivers for internet growth in India, in general. There is widespread consensus in India on the mobile part, but not on the language part, but I think that will change in the next five years.

One response so far | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Access,Gaurav Mishra,India,Language | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Nov 13 2008

Guest Lecture: Digital Divide 2.0, The Myth of Leapfrogging, and Grassroots Innovations

by at 1:34 pm

Here is a presentation I will use for my guest lecture tomorrow in the Information Technology (IT) in a Changing World course at Georgetown University.

You can download the presentation with notes in a PPTX format, or view it online in a PDF format.

SLIDE 1: Global Digital Divide 2.0: Always Off in an Always On World

We can talk about digital divide in many contexts: between countries and within countries, driven by differences in race, gender, education, income and location. In this presentation, I’ll focus on the global digital divide, or the digital divide between countries, but the same ideas are often applicable to digital divides within countries.

SLIDE 2: Introduction

My views on this topic are colored by my own biases. In terms of education and experience, I’m a marketer. In my present role as the GU-ISD Yahoo! Fellow, I’m a quasi-academic. In terms of inclination, I’m a social media enthusiast and my next avatar may be as a social entrepreneur. A lot of the work I’m doing is at the intersection of technology, culture and development and it is informed by my understanding of emerging markets and emerging technologies.

SLIDE 3: Global Digital Divide

Let’s start off by looking at some examples of global digital divide.

SLIDE 4: The Link Between ICTs & GDP

Access to communications technologies is directly linked to the country’s GDP, especially for newer technologies like broadband. The distribution of older technologies like internet and mobile is less skewed, but it’s often a moving target. For instance, high income countries as defined by the World Bank, contribute to 15.7% of the world’s population but 79.9% of the world’s GDP. They also contribute 38.7% of the world’s mobile phone users, 42.7% of the world’s fixed phone users, 55.7% of the world’s internet users and 74% of the world’s broadband users 1.

SLIDE 5: World Map of Computer Penetration

The skewed distribution of technology is true for computers…2

SLIDE 6: World Map of Internet Penetration

internet access…3

SLIDE 7: World Map: Optical Fiber

optical fiber networks…4

SLIDE 8: Cost of Broadband Access

and cost of broadband access5. For instance, the cost of broadband access in Japan is $0.06 per 100 kbps (0.002% of average monthly wage) whereas in Mozambique it’s $361.83 per 100 kbps (1400 times average monthly wage).

SLIDE 9: Cost of Broadband Access

The same disparity exists between high income and low income countries on the whole. The cost of broadband access as a percentage of average monthly per capita income is 2.1% for high-income countries, compared to 909% for low-income countries. 6

SLIDE 10: Cost of ICT Access

The cost of internet and mobile access are less skewed. The cost of internet access as a percentage of average monthly per capita income is 0.9% for high-income countries, compared to 172% for low-income countries. The cost of mobile access as a percentage of average monthly per capita income is 0.7% for high-income countries, compared to 54.9% for low-income countries 7. The relatively flat cost of mobile access is, in fact, one of the main reasons why mobile penetrations have increase so fast in developing countries.

SLIDE 11: Reasons for Differential Technological Achievement

At this stage, it is perhaps useful to step back from ICTs, look at technology in general, and enquire into the reasons for differential technological achievement between countries.

SLIDE 12: Three Types of Technology Transfers

Technology transfer can happen in three ways in developing countries: new-to-market technologies can be invented in the country, technologies invented elsewhere can be adapted by the country, and technologies adapted by parts of the country can diffuse to the rest of the country8.

SLIDE 13: Technology Adaption vs. Diffusion

The good news is that the rate at which technology is adapted by emerging countries has increased: on average, the time it takes before official statistics in a developing country record significant exploitation of a new technology has declined from almost 100 years for innovations discovered in the 1800s to about 20 years for innovations discovered in the late 1900s.

The bad news is that emerging countries fair poorly on both invention and diffusion: even for technologies discovered during 1975–2000, only one third of the developing countries that have achieved at least a 5% penetration level have gone on to reach the 25% threshold and less than 10% have reached a 50% penetration level9.

SLIDE 14: Technological Achievement Index

As a result, even though the rapid progress in developing countries has led to relative convergence, the gap between high income and low income countries remains large.

In general, the level of technological achievement observed in a country is positively correlated with income levels. However, considerable variation is apparent within income groups.

Interestingly, the penetration rates of newer technologies such as mobile phones, computers, and the Internet (many of which are provided by corporations operating in competitive markets) are more directly correlated with income than is the case for older technologies such as fixed-line telephones, electrical power, transportation, and health care services (many of which were originally provided by governments)10.

SLIDE 15: What is Digital Divide 2.0?

As we discussed before, the digital divide will exist as long as income inequities exist. Over time, however, the shape of the digital divide has shifted.

SLIDE 16: The 4 Cs of Digital Divide 2.0

The 4 Cs of Digital Divide 2.0 include computing devices, connectivity, content, and capabilities.

In academic discussions on digital divide, two broad groups can be identified. The Digital Binary group has focused on access (computing devices and connectivity) whereas the Digital Inequality group has looked a broader definition of the digital divide that includes applications (content and capabilities) apart from access11 12.

The difficulties in bridging the digital divide often increase as we move from computing devices and connectivity to content and capabilities.

SLIDE 17: Digital Divide 2.0

As we move from internet and mobile to broadband, 3G and next generation networks on the access side and from SMS and e-mail to web 2.0, mobile 2.0 and the semantic web on the application side, it is difficult to not notice that digital equality is a moving target. As the gap on older technologies narrows down, new gaps on new technologies open up. The global digital divide, in fact, is widening, instead of narrowing.

Specifically, even as the ubiquitous use of mobile phones bridges the digital divide between the developed and developed countries, another digital divide — digital divide 2.0 — is opening up between them. Digital divide 2.0 is not about access to communications devices; it’s about the ability to leverage the power of group-forming social communications technologies to collaborate with others, self-organize into grassroots communities and create crowd-sourced content that is relevant for these communities.

SLIDE 18: The Promise/ Myth of Leapfrogging

Leapfrogging is the idea that poor countries can skip over stages in technology adoption (especially large-scale, industrial, infrastructure-heavy technologies) and directly adopt newer, better technologies (especially light-weight, distributed, ecologically sustainable digital technologies).

SLIDE 19: The Promise of Leapfrogging

The classic example of leapfrogging is the ubiquitous adoption of mobile phones in the developing world. The idea that access to mobile phones will transform the world has become popular not only in the academic and development circles, but also in mass media and popular culture.

Consider this ad film from Indian mobile operator Idea Cellular that promises education for all through mobile phones13

SLIDE 20: The Economic Value of Mobile

This idea is widely supported by research.

In 2005, research conducted by Leonard Waverman of London Business School showed that a developing country which had an average of 10 more mobile phones per 100 population between 1996 and 2003 would have enjoyed per capita GDP growth that was 0.59% higher than an otherwise identical country14.

In 2006, McKinsey & Co. found that the mobile industry contributes as much as 8% to the GDP of some countries, after factoring in direct impact from operators, indirect impact from other industry participants and the surplus created for enterprise and retail users15.

In fact, the very nature of mobile technology makes it an especially good leapfrogger: it works using radio, so there is no need to rely on physical infrastructure such as roads and phone wires; base-stations can be powered using their own generators in places where there is no electrical grid; and you do not have to be literate to use a phone, which is handy if your country’s education system is in a mess. Unfortunately, the mobile phone turns out to be rather unusual and the widespread diffusion of most digital technologies is dependent on the existence of a solid social, economic and industrial infrastructure16.

SLIDE 21: The Myth of Leapfrogging

Unfortunately, the mobile phone turns out to be rather unusual and the widespread diffusion of most digital technologies is dependent on the existence of a solid social, economic and industrial infrastructure.

Broadly, two sets of obstacles stand in the way of technological progress in emerging economies. The first is their technological inheritance. Most advances are based on the labors of previous generations: you need electricity to run computers and mobile phone networks. The second is the country’s capacity to absorb technology: which is dependent on education, R&D, financial systems, rule of law, business climate and good governance.

SLIDE 22: Mobile Interface for Illiterate Users

Even in the case of mobile phones, owning one is not the same as knowing how to use one.

In a long term qualitative research led by Jan Chipchase, the Nokia Research team found that non-literate mobile phone users typically know how to turn on the phone, receive calls and make local calls, but often struggle with features that require text editing, such as making long distance calls (by using prefixes), creating a contact, saving a text message, and creating a text message. Based on the research, they concluded that bringing personal, convenient, synchronous and asynchronous communication within the reach of textually non-literate users will require design innovations at three levels: on the phone; in the communications eco-system; and on the carrier network17.

SLIDE 23: Telecom Usage at the BOP

Similarly, in a large-scale quantitative research conducted in 2006, LIRNEasia found that most mobile users at the bottom of the pyramid felt that the phone improved their ability to learn and earn.

Still, most users only knew how to perform the most basic tasks on their phones. For instance, only 35% of the respondents in India had used SMS, because of low literacy and the absence of any social need to use it. 72% of the respondents in India hadn’t even heard of the internet18.

SLIDE 24: Telecom Usage at the BOP

Let’s look at these two videos to get a flavor of telecom usage at the bottom of the pyramid 19 20

SLIDE 25: How to Bridge Digital Divide 2.0?

The big question, of course, is: how do we bridge digital divide 2.0?

The good news is that we do know what to do. The bad news is that there are are no shortcuts to bridge the digital divide.

SLIDE 26: Government Policy is Important

Government policy is important, both for building linkages with other countries for technology adaption and for building the country’s absorptive capacity for technology diffusion. Only when these two are in place will the spillover and multiplier effects of communications technologies kick in21.

SLIDE 27: Grassroots Innovations Are Equally Important

…but grassroots innovations are equally important in bridging the digital divide.

Here are a few of my favorite ICT4D grassroots innovations.

SLIDE 28: VNL MicroTelecom (India)

VNL’s WorldGSM MicroTelecom is a low cost, rugged, solar powered mobile network designed to serve rural populations profitably.

SLIDE 29: Grameen Village Phone (Bangladesh)

The Grameen Foundation gives microloans to help poor rural woman become public phone operators.

SLIDE 30: United Villages (India)

United Villages uses a van fitted with wifi to connect villages to the internet, with a time lag.

SLIDE 31: QuestionBox (India)

QuestionBox uses human mediation to connect illiterate users to the internet.

SLIDE 32: EkGaon CAMS Mobile Framework (India)

EkGaon’s CAMS Mobile Framework is a paper-mobile hybrid document management system for semi-literate users.

SLIDE 33: BabaJob/ Microsoft Research (India)

BabaJob and Microsoft Research have created a text free job search engine.

SLIDE 34: Ushahidi (Kenya)

Ushahidi uses a Google Maps mashup to map crisis information using text messages sent by users.

SLIDE 35: MobiChange (India)

MobiChange, a project I’m evangelizing, hopes to develop a lowest common denominator mobile social networking platform.

SLIDE 36: Discussion

Finally, I’ll leave you with three questions –

– Is the digital divide narrowing or widening?
– Is leapfrogging a myth or reality?
– Is government policy more important, or grassroots innovations?

References

1 ITU-UNCTAD World Information Society Report, 2007

2 United Nations Global Development Goals Indication

3 Emiel van Wegen based on World Internet Stats data

4 Tata Communications

5 Wired Magazine based on ITU data

6 ITU-UNCTAD World Information Society Report, 2007

7 ITU-UNCTAD World Information Society Report, 2007

8 World Bank Global Economic Prospects, 2008

9 World Bank Global Economic Prospects, 2008

10 World Bank Global Economic Prospects, 2008

11 Technology and Social Inclusion, Mark Warschauer, 2003

12 Eszter Hargittai et al, 2001

13 Idea Celluler Education-for-All Ad

14 McKinsey & Co, 2006

15 Leonard Waverman et al, 2005

16 The Economist, 2008

17 World Bank Global Economic Prospects, 2008

18 Jan Chipchase et al, Nokia Research, 2007

19 Teleuse at the Bottom of the Pyramid, LIRNEasia, 2007

20 LIRNEasia Teleuse at the BOP Film, Part 1

21 LIRNEasia Teleuse at the BOP Film, Part 2

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Access,Brazil,BRIC,China,Gaurav Mishra,India,Language,Mobile,Russia,Social Change | Tags: , , , ,

Sep 05 2008

Will Online Video Lead to Increased Fragmentation of Online Content Into Languages?

by at 1:25 pm

This post is in response to Ben’s comment on my earlier post on social media usage in BRIC countries

But if a large demographic increase from developing nations is due, we will encounter more and more problems with translation; while a textual blog entry could be mechanically translated, video would have to be transcribed, and that is not likely to happen. Will this lead to standardization of publishing language, or increased awareness of online regionalism?

Continue Reading »

One response so far | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Gaurav Mishra,India,Language | Tags: , ,