Mar 28 2009

Digital Civil Society Campaigns in the 2009 Indian General Elections

by at 5:57 pm

In my first post for the Global Voices special coverage on the 2009 Indian general elections, I had analyzed how Indian politicians and political parties are using internet and mobile tools for election campaigning. In this post, I’ll detail how civil society groups in India are using digital tools to run voter registration and transparency campaigns in the run up to the elections.

The National Election Watch, a collaboration between 1200 NGOs led by Association for Democratic Reforms, seeks to increase transparency in Indian elections by combining information about constituencies and candidates with user comments and ratings on candidates. However, the website suffers from inadequate usage and the absence of rich data (Live Mint).

The Campaign for No Criminals in Politics aims to ensure that no political party gives tickets to candidates with criminal antecedents in the 2009 general elections.

Campaign for No Criminals in Politics

The data on its website is based on the affidavits submitted by the 2004 contestants. The campaign has an active Facebook group with almost 5000 members and has also launched two videos to promote its campaign —

Bharat Votes (Facebook/ Orkut) also aims to create awareness about voting using social media tools (IBN Live).

Vote India is another voter awareness website which has got some traction (AFP/ TOI/ Washington Post). It has an active presence on Twitter and Orkut (1/ 2/ 3) and has also used a video to promote itself —

Vote India’s page on section 49(O) has been widely cited in what I believe is a misguided discussion on “negative voting”. Basically, the idea is that voters should have the right to ask for a re-election by selecting a “none of the above” option, if none of the candidates are acceptable to them (DNA/ IBN Live/ Economic Times/ Live Mint/ Mid Day). A chain e-mail falsely claims that such a rule already exists. Many bloggers, like Deva Prasad and Vimoh, strongly support the idea and even call it a powerful agent of change. A Facebook group promoting the idea has more than 100 members and an online petition to recognize the negative vote also has more than 100 signatures.

Several city and state specific websites have come up to help voters register to vote and make smart choices about their candidates. SmartVote and Bangalore Voter ID in Bangalore, Mumbai Votes in Mumbai, and Future CM in Andhra Pradesh are some of the more prominent examples.

Mumbai Votes

Another category of websites aims to engage citizens into discussion and ideation on civic issues and then use the online community to initiate offline collective action at a later stage.

Lords of Odds, which runs an online sports prediction market in India, has started a Digg-like social voting micro-site called Manifesto to help citizens create their own manifesto for the elections.

Lords of Odds Manifesto

I think that a social voting website focused on the elections is a great idea. In fact, three months back, I was toying with the idea of starting one myself at IndiaTalks. I wish that NGOPost, which runs an active social voting community on social welfare issues, would start a separate section on the elections.

Praja aims to use online tools to build a community of engaged citizens who can be mobilized to participate in offline collective action. Youth for Equality aims to build a political movement to end caste-based reservations in India. The Wada Na Todo Abhiyan aims to hold the government accountable to its promise to end poverty, social exclusion and discrimination. Change India, started by Lead India winner Rajendra Misra aims to channelize the energies of citizens, by building online and offline participatory platforms, to solve India’s many problems (Rajendra Misra has recently joined BJP, so the initiative is hardly non-partisan anymore (DNA)). India Banao also aims to provide a platform for young people to participate in public affairs. For many of these websites, online participation is limited, and their effectiveness in organizing offline action is suspect.

Yet another category of websites aim to become the default source of news and analysis related the 2009 general elections.

IndiPepal

IndiPepal is perhaps the most ambitious of these with blogs from several well-known analysts, but India Voting (Indian Express/ IBN Live), Engage Voter, India Numbers and India Votes 2009 also have content rich websites. These websites, however, are directly competing with election microsites from mainstream media — TOI, TOI Your Voice, DNA, The Hindu, Yahoo!, Yahoo! Your Manifesto, MSN, Rediff, NDTV and IBN Live (via Sidin Vadukut at Live Mint).

The Indian blogosphere has reacted positively to these grassroots initiatives, even though they have got limited traction. For instance, the ‘Indian Homemaker’ believes that campaigns like ‘No Criminals’ are a sign that we can still make a difference. Rajiv Dingra at WATBlog and Preethi J at Medianama have done good roundups of these initiatives.

Finally, the three most effective “civil society” campaigns in the 2009 general elections are run by corporate brands: Lead India/ Bleed India by The Times of India, Jaago Re by Tata Tea and My Idea from Idea Cellular. I’ll cover these three campaigns in the next post in the series.

Cross-posted on my personal blog.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Gaurav Mishra,India,Social Change,Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Mar 22 2009

How Internet and Mobile Technologies are Transforming Election Campaigning in India

by at 10:44 pm

Politics in India is essentially local and India’s voters elect their representatives based on small local and regional issues, instead of the big national issues. As a result, election rallies and door-to-door canvassing, supplemented by local hoardings and print ads in the vernacular languages have traditionally been at the core of election campaigning in India.

In 2004, the incumbent BJP broke away from this pattern with its aggressive nation-wide ‘India Shining’ campaign. It recruited advertising and PR agencies to manage its campaign, focused on the urban first time voter, advertised heavily on print and television, and allocated 5% of its campaign budget to an e-campaign, for revamping its campaign website, pushing out text messages, pre-recorded voice clips and emails to its database of 20 million email users and 20 million phone users, and offering campaign-related mobile ringtones for download (BBC/ BBC/ Rediff/ Hindu). The ‘India Shining’ campaign didn’t work eventually, and Sonia Gandhi led Congress to a surprise victory, once again reaffirming the almost magical appeal of the Nehru-Gandhi family amongst India’s voters. Many observers even attributed BJP’s loss to its “elitist” ‘India Shining’ campaign (Live Mint).

In spite of its “failure”, BJP’s India Shining campaign has set the pattern for all Indian election campaigns since then: spend 40-50% on print, 20% on outdoors, 15% on TV, 5%-10% on internet and mobile and the rest on radio, film theaters and on-ground activities (Live Mint).

What, then, has changed since 2004? For one, the demographic profile of India’s electoral based has shifted. More than half of India’s 1150 million population is younger than 25, 42 million new voters have entered the electorate since 2004, and, as a result of the newly delimited constituencies, the importance of urban votes has increased in the electoral collage. Not only that, the internet and mobile penetration in India has increased dramatically since 2004, from 26 million to 365 million for mobile, and from 16 million to 80 million for the internet. Even more importantly, shaken by the 11/26 Mumbai terrorist attack, and inspired by Barack Obama’s success in the US elections, the young urban Indian is likely to step out to vote for the first time in India’s recent electoral history. As a result, both BJP and Congress are targeting young, urban voters like never before. BJP and Congress, however, have adopted different tactic to appeal to this audience. While Congress is banking on the youthful appeal of Rahul Gandhi, the 39 year of scion of the Gandhi family, BJP has embarked on an aggressive 360 degree campaign, inspired by the Obama campaign (Chicago Tribune/ AFP/ Indian Express/ TOI/ Reuters).

While BJP’s official website is nothing but a brochure, Lal Krishna Advani’s website has several interesting features. To begin with, LK Advani’s blog has been active since January 2009 and each of the ten odd posts have between 50 to 150 comments. Surprisingly, the Hindi version of LK Advani’s blog has very few comments. The forum on LK Advani’s website isn’t much to look at, but it’s doing well, with 6586 members, 2940 topics, and 9354 posts.

The Advani@Campus initiative seeks to build a grassroots volunteer campaign “to contact and mobilize young voters in thousands of college campuses across the country” (Telegraph/ DNA/ NDTV/ Indian Express). The focus on recruiting volunteers is reflected in a well-structured volunteer program. The tasks range from recruiting first time voters, promoting LK Advani’s website and social media profiles, translating sections of the website, designing banner ads, and helping out with other campaign work. According to one report, BJP has recruited more than 7000 volunteers through the website (Business Standard).

Bloggers for Advani

Especially interesting is the Bloggers for Advani initiative run by Mallika Noorani. The initiative is coordinated through a Google Group (started based on a suggestion by yours truly), and encourages bloggers to display a Bloggers for Advani button and promote BJP’s ideas on their blogs.

Advani youtube channel

It seems that most of the social media initiatives on the Advani campaign are run by volunteers and encouraged by the campaign coordinators. In any case, it’s difficult to identify which profiles or groups are official and which are unofficial. The official website links to a LK Advani Facebook page (with 390 supporters) and an Advani for PM Orkut group (with 960 members), but there are several other unofficial groups with similar memberships. The (official?) BJP Supporters Group on Orkut has 22,157 members. Similarly, there’s confusion about whether the @BJP_ Twitter profile, which has 416 followers is indeed official.

bjp_twitter_profile

A group which seems to work closely with the campaign team is the Friends of BJP group (Facebook/ Orkut), which includes several prominent professionals including Rajesh Jain and R K Mishra. Another unofficial website which is getting some traction is Join BJP.

Apart from these national level initiatives, several BJP leaders, including Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and V K Malhotra also have well-designed websites. Narendra Modi and V K Malhotra also have Twitter profiles.

The BJP is also running an aggressive online ad campaign, primarily with Google, with search ads across as many as 200,000 keywords, placement ads across 50,000 websites, and banner ads across 2,000 websites. With a billion searches every month, BJP’s campaign is expected to recah 75% of India’s internet users (Live Mint/ Economics Times).

BJP is also planning to send one billion SMSes to about 250 million cellphone users, who are not enrolled in the Do-Not-Call registry. Overall, telecom operators expect to make an additional revenue of $10 million from an extra traffic of 3-4 billion SMSes sent by all the political parties, apart from money from from multimedia messages, songs and wallpapers (Economic Times/ Indian Express/ Financial Express).

Last week, the BJP also released a detailed 30-page IT Vision document (PDF) with much fanfare. The document is partly a road map to reform and partly a pre-election populist pipe dream. It promises to give the highest priority to developing IT infrastructure and leveraging it for better governance and inclusive development. Specifically, it promises to match China on all IT-related parameters within 5 years. While many observers have dismissed the document as pre-election populism, others have pointed out that it is a testament to BJP’s forward looking thinking that it believes that it can win an election by promising to transform India into an IT super-power.

vote_for_congress

The Indian National Congress, on the other hand, seems to be stuck in the web 1.0 era. Both the official Congress website and the Congress Media websites are online brochures. The Vote for Congress portal, which was supposed to revolutionize its online campaign by providing the Congress candidates a platform to blog (Hindu/ TOI), is still not up. None of the senior Congress leaders — Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, and Manmohan Singh — have a website and, what’s worse, their URLs are owned by cyber-squatters (Indian Express). The party does want to set up 600 internet kiosks across the country (Hindu) but without engaging interactive content, their effectiveness might be limited.

Shashi Tharoor — author and former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations — is perhaps the only Congress candidate to seriously leverage the web in his campaign, with presence on Facebook and Orkut (CIOL/ Sify). Former Karnataka chief minister SM Krishna has a Twitter profile. Some of the younger Congress candidates like Priya Dutt, Milind Deora (Facebook) and Sachin Pilot also have well-designed websites, but aren’t really active on social media.

vote_for_cpim

Several other regional parties have either set up, or revamped, their websites, in the run up to the general elections. The CPI-M (Live Mint/ Hindu/ Economic Times/ Indian Express) and Samajvadi Party websites seem to be the most well-designed. However, none of these websites are using social media tools, beyond asking for donations and newsletter subscriptions.

Many observers have pointed out that the digital campaigns by BJP and other Indian political parties are amateurish in comparison to Barack Obama’s social media campaign (CIOL/ Networked World) and they are right. BJP’s digital campaign can hardly be compared to Obama’a campaign, in terms of ambition, execution or results. The campaign is hardly going to change the course of the election; the election will still be decided in India’s small towns and villages. But, even if it “fails”, the campaign will set a precedent for all future elections in India, just like the ‘India Shining’ campaign did, five years ago.

Cross-posted at my personal blog.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Gaurav Mishra,India,Mobile,Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Feb 12 2009

Call for Applications: 2009-10 Yahoo! Fellow at Georgetown University

by at 10:09 pm

It’s amazing how quickly a year went by.

It seems as if I told you about becoming the 2008-09 Yahoo! Fellow in International Values, Communications, Technology, and Global Internet at Georgetown University only last week and it’s already time to announce the call for applications for the 2009-10 Yahoo! Fellow.

The Yahoo! Fellow at Georgetown University pursues educational and research activities that explore the interplay between international values and new communications technologies, with a focus on BRIC countries: Brazil, Russia, India and China.

The projects explore how the use of new communications technologies, like internet and mobile, is shaped by national and socio-cultural context, and how such technologies, in turn, often change that context itself. The projects may also explore how new communications technologies are enabling the formation of virtual public spheres to support human values like democracy, citizenship, freedom of expression and empowerment of disadvantaged communities, but also raising serious questions related to personal privacy, homophily, propaganda and censorship. Projects can draw on insights from many disciplines, including politics, economics, business, and socio-cultural research.

The appointment is for one academic year, from August 15, 2009 to May 15, 2010.

The Yahoo! Fellow can come from the government, corporate, non-profit and academic sectors, but preference is given to individuals with interests in China, India, Russia and Brazil.

You get a $50000 stipend, a $5000 travel allowance, office space and two MSFS graduate students as Junior Yahoo! Fellows. At the minimum, you are expected to produce a publishable paper at the end of the residency. In addition, you may also have the opportunity to teach a graduate course across the MSFS and CCT departments at Georgetown. Both Irene Wu (the first Yahoo! Fellow) and I have taken that opportunity and taught a course, apart from doing our research.

Applicants should submit a letter of interest and curriculum vitae, along with a statement describing a proposed research topic(s) and methodology (not to exceed 2,500 words) to The Institute for the Study of Diplomacy. Materials will be reviewed beginning on March 6, 2009 and will be considered until a final applicant has been selected and accepted.

Once again, here’s the the call for applications for the 2009-10 Yahoo! Fellow. It’s a great fellowships, so do help us spread the word by writing a post on your blog, mailing it to friends who may be interested, or sharing it on relevant mailing lists.

Cross-posted at my personal blog.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Announcements,Gaurav Mishra | Tags: , , , , , ,

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: , , , , , , , ,

Oct 20 2008

Edward Hall’s Context Prism

by at 12:05 am

In search of more prisms that I can examine BRIC countries through (Gaurav blogged about Geert Hofstede, which gave us some interesting data points), I came across Edward Hall’s high- and low- context analysis.

Other sites already cover Hall’s theory pretty well, but basically he differentiated cultures based on an idea that some had high-context communication and others had low-context communication.

Scandinavians, for example, have low-context communications.  You can walk into any conversation with them and their dialogue will contain very direct messages that are self-encapsulated and contain most of the information you would need to make sense of it.

There are codified norms within the society that make the conversation rules-based and less personal.  It comes off as very direct and to the point. Continue Reading »

4 responses so far | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Ben Turner,BRIC,China,Context,Culture,Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Oct 12 2008

Modeling Transparency, Openness, and Privacy

by at 11:22 am

Since I am specifically studying what the internet will look like within the BRIC countries in terms of privacy, openness, and transparency, I thought it would be best to lay out a matrix of those three phases plotted versus five key social spheres, which maybe I could call “accountability arenas”.  Since there’s no good way to insert a matrix here without using SlideShare or an image, I’ll just list the results here:

Privacy

  • Personal: Libertarianism, isolationism, anonymity
  • Sexual: Don’t ask, don’t tell
  • Health: Non-contagion/non-preventative care
  • Financial: Shadow market pools, corruption
  • Political: Weak communities, divided citizens, big money interests, oligarchy

Continue Reading »

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Ben Turner,Privacy | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Oct 04 2008

Breakout Years in Adoption of Communications Technologies in BRIC Countries

by at 11:53 pm

Here’s a brilliant TED presentation by Hans Rosling on how to look differently at development indicators across countries and continents, using Gapminder‘s trend visualization tool Trendalyzer —

I spent an hour playing around with Gapmindmer and discovered some interesting trends related to the diffusion of communications technologies in BRIC countries.

In all these charts comparing Brazil, Russia, India, China and United States, the X axis represents the income per person (in fixed PPP$) on a logarithmic scale while the Y axis changes. By pressing the ‘play’ button, you can see how the variable changes for these five countries over years. Continue Reading »

3 responses so far | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Access,Brazil,BRIC,China,Gaurav Mishra,India,Mobile,Russia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sep 14 2008

Google DC Event on Cloud Computing

by at 4:18 pm

On Friday, September 12th, Google DC held a talk on cloud computing in its New York Avenue location in downtown Washington, DC.  Specifically, the event discussed a new study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project on “Use of Cloud Computing Applications and Services”.

Moderated by John B. Horrigan, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, the talk included

  • Dan Burton, Senior Vice President, Global Public Policy, Salesforce.com
  • Mike Nelson, Visiting Professor, The Center for Communication, Culture, and Technology, Georgetown University
  • Ari Schwartz, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Center for Democracy and Technology

Here is a brief write-up of the event.

Cloud computing is basically the offloading of data from individual computers loosely linked to the internet, to a network of computers specifically maintained and interfaced so that people can access that data from any electronic device anywhere in the world. Continue Reading »

2 responses so far | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Ben Turner,Privacy | Tags: , , , , ,