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.

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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.

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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.

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Jan 17 2009

The Link Between Mobile Penetration and Economic Growth

by at 10:47 pm

Mansi Tiwari in The Economic Times reports that a study titled ‘India: The impact of mobile phones,’ conducted by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) has found a quantitative relationship between mobile penetration and economic growth —

Indian states with 10% higher mobile phone penetration will enjoy 1.2% higher annual average growth rate than those with a lower teledensity.

The real benefits of telecommunications only start when a region passes a threshold penetration rate of about 25%. Many areas have still not attained that level.

Delhi’s penetration rate is in excess of 100% but states such as Bihar, Orissa, Assam and Madhya Pradesh have not yet reached the critical 25% threshold.

In another study, London School of Economics professor Leonard Waverman had found that 10% extra mobile penetration may result in as much as 0.6% of additional GDP growth.

I’m sure that increased mobile penetration does lead to higher economic growth. However, the converse is even more true: more economically developed countries or states often have higher mobile penetrations. It’s easy to predict that higher mobile penetration will lead to higher economic growth; it’s more difficult to show how to increase penetration in the first place.

Cross-posted on my personal blog.

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Jan 17 2009

The Confusion Over Growth Projections of the Worldwide Mobile Subscriber Base

by at 4:18 pm

The confusion over growth projections of the worldwide mobile subscriber base continues with eMarketer reporting projections ranging from 3.35 billion in 2013 (Frost & Sullivan) to 5.6 billion in 2013 (by Strategy Analytics). eMarketer’s own prediction is that there will be 4.3 billion mobile subscribers worldwide in 2012.

As I had written before, the main reason for such variation in these projections is that most of the growth in the mobile phone subscriber base is expected to come from BRIC countries and analysts are not sure how quickly this growth potential will be realized.

Cross-posted at my personal blog.

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

Nov 13 2008

Nokia Research on Mobile Phone Usage at the Bottom of the Pyramid (Part 2)

by at 1:42 pm

In my previous post on Nokia’s research on mobile phone use at the bottom of the pyramid, I talked about the practice of sharing mobile phones and the challenges in designing a user interface for illiterate mobile phone users.

In this post, I’ll talk about the informal service infrastructure that supports mobile phone use at the bottom of the pyramid.

Here, Jan Chipchase documents informal repair cultures in the developing world and asks —

What can we learn from informal repair cultures? Aside from the benefits, what are the risks for consumers and for companies whose products are repaired, refurbished and resold? Given the benefit to (bottom of the pyramid) consumers are there elements of the repair ecosystem that can be exported to other cultures? Can the same skills be applied to other parts of the value chain? And, given the range of resources and skills available what would it take to turn cultures of repair into cultures of innovation?

Here, Jan Chipchase and Duncan Burns explore street hacks for mobile phones (an update of the informal repair culture presentation) —

Here, Stuart Henshall (not from Nokia) shares his experience in buying a ‘China phone’ at Mumbai’s Manish Market.

The cost of a repaired/ refurbished phone in the gray/ black market is often less than a third of the original handset. The informal repair culture is often convenient, efficient, fast and cheap, especially for poor customers who often don’t have warranty. Together, they reduces both the initial cost of acquisition and the total cost of ownership and increase the lifetime of products, making them accessible to bottom of the pyramid customers. Not only that, these vendors often offer value add services like unlocking phones, installing pirated software, and uploading songs, extending the use cases of these low cost phones.

Here, Jan Chipchase and Indri Tulusan talk about street battery charging services in Uganda that enable residents without regular access to mains power to keep their mobile phone’s charged. It’s another example of how electricity is the bottleneck for mobile use in emerging Asia and Africa.

Finally, Jan Chipchase, Indri Tulusan and Lokesh Bitra deep dive into the practice of community address books maintained by phone kiosk owner to record the phone numbers used by their customers, a study that links back to their research on shared phone use.

In another post, I’ll talk about how all this fits into Homegrown (slides), Nokia’s umbrella project that includes Nokia Remade (phones made from recycled material), Zero Waste, People First, Everyone Connected, and, perhaps, even the Five Dollar Comparison (slides).

In yet another post, I’ll write about the importance of Nokia Life Tools, Nokia’s collaboration with Reuters Market Light and Idea Cellular to bring critical information to rural phone users in India (see Ken Banks, Ashish Sinha and Kiruba Shankar).

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Nov 13 2008

Nokia Research on Mobile Phone Usage at the Bottom of the Pyramid (Part 1)

by at 1:40 pm

In my last post, I wrote about the Nokia Open Studio design competition in slums in Mumbai, Rio De Janeiro and Accra.

Over the weekend, I have been going through research conducted by Nokia’s Jan Chipchase, Younghee Jung, Raphael Grignani and others and here’s a selection of their most interesting research on mobile phone usage at the bottom of the pyramid (more research to follow in another post).

Jan Chipchase on mobile phone usage amongst illiterate users at LIFT 2007 conference

Jan Chipchase and Indru Tulusan on shared mobile phone usage

– 3.3 billion people out of 6.5 billion people in the world have mobile phones. Another 1 billion people will have mobile phones within two years. Most of them will be from emerging Asia and Africa and will have limited literacy. In fact, out of the 774 million illiterate adults in the world, 270 million are in India (UNESCO Institute for Statistics)!

– Three types of literacies are relevant for mobile phone usage — textual literacy, numerical or arithmetic literacy and ‘proximate literacy’, the ability to rely on others who are either literate or at least sufficiently competent in using the device.

– Illiterate users rely on a variety of cues to navigate the world of text and numbers, including inferring meaning from shape, size, texture and scent and delegating tasks to others.

– Textually non-literate users can complete tasks requiring a degree of textual literacy, but these tasks typically take considerably longer to complete. Therefore, they tend to rely on rote learning and revert to the same default choices repeatedly.

– 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.

– Information relayed to non-literate users as part of a phone call is often partially conveyed or remembered because of their inability to write it down. Most users rely on paper based address books maintained by literate family members or acquaintances. Often, when phone calls are made using public phones, the operator maintains the phone book and even dials the number for the non-literate user.

– A non-literate user’s willingness to explore features on a mobile phone through trial and error is often limited because of the high perceived risk of factors such as: changing settings so that things no longer work; past experiences of things going wrong; deleting data that cannot be recovered; becoming lost and not being able to retrace steps; or physically breaking the phone.

– The challenge in designing mobile interfaces for illiterate users is to add context to the text. An icon-driven, voice-enabled or physical-digital hybrid interface may be part of the solution but its design is a non-trivial problem and its use may often be non-intuitive.

– 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 network.

– For many new mobile phone users, the first mobile experience is either on a shared or a public phone. Sharing compromises the personal, convenient and synchronous nature of mobile communication and is driven by cost of ownership, not by preference. Therefore, sharing is a transition state that would eventually lead to full ownership. However, other factors like portable device identity — where a person can access all their personal ‘stuff’ regardless of whose device they are using — may increase shared use over time.

– Shared mobile use practices include — Sente human ATMs, mediated communication, missed calls, shared pre-paid airtime, community address books, and step messaging (delivering a messages via shared mobile phone or kiosk where the message is delivered the last mile on foot).

– Sente is the informal practices of sending and receiving money through public phone kiosks. The sender buys a pre-paid top up card, calls up a phone kiosk operator near the receiver, who uses the credit to top up his own phone and passes the money to the receiver after taking a 10%-30% commission. This is the precursor to formal mobile banking services offered by mobile phone operators.

– Often, feature-rich premium devices are used by very poor users. Such sideways adoption may be driven by the perception of mobile phones as status symbols and the availability of used and remodeled mobile phones. However, phone ownership is not the same as use. If there are cheaper ways to communicate these will be used.

– In an increasingly transitory world, the cellphone is becoming the one fixed piece of our identity, especially for the poorest members of society. Having a call-back number is having a fixed identity point, which, inside of populations that are constantly on the move — displaced by war, floods, drought or faltering economies — can be immensely valuable both as a means of keeping in touch with home communities and as a business tool. The phone-number-as-identity effect is likely to increase as mobile phones become established at providing banking and other core services.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Brazil,Gaurav Mishra,India,Mobile | 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: , , , ,

Oct 29 2008

LIRNEasia Study on Teleuse at the Bottom of the Pyramid

by at 2:42 pm

I recently came across an amazing study done by ICT4D research organization LIRNEasia on Teleuse at the Bottom of the Pyramid.

Here are the key findings from the 2006 study amongst 8660 respondents (including 6605 SEC D and E respondents) in India, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand —

– At the BOP, access to phones (more than 90%) is much higher than ownership of phones (20% to 50%) due to heavy used of shared, borrowed and public phones.

– At the BOP, males are heavier users of mobile phones while females are heavier users of household landline phones.

– BOP users make an average of one call per day, mostly local, mostly 2-3 minutes long, mostly to stay in touch with family and friends.

– At the BOP, convenience, in terms of anytime accessibility, is the biggest driver in the purchase of both fixed and mobile phones. The ability to afford the initial cost (up to $50) of getting connected is the biggest reason for not buying a phone even though monthly charges are low (as low as $5).

– Most BOP phone owners (up to 70% in India) feel that owning a phone has improved their ability to earn or save.

– Only 35% of the BOP mobile phone owners in India use SMS (compared to 100% in Philippines) primarily because they don’t know how to use SMS (party due to low local language support) and the cost of an outgoing voice call is almost the same as the cost of a SMS.

– BOP mobile phone users adopt various cost-cutting techniques including making missed calls, using the mobile phone exclusively for incoming calls, making only mobile-to-mobile calls and making calls at off-peak hours.

– More than 95% of the BOP mobile phone users have pre-paid connections to control costs and avoid documentation. Most of them do infrequent top-ups once in a month or even longer (>90% in India).

– More than half of the BOP non-owners want to buy a phone in the next 2 years. Almost a third of them (skewed towards female and rural users) want to buy a fixed connection. Most of the prospective BOP phone users have incomes of less than $150 per month.

– Finally, almost 70% of the BOP respondents in India hadn’t heard of the internet yet in 2006 (wow!).

Here is a three part presentation on the findings — 1, 2, 3 — and here is a two part video report on the study — 1, 2

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

Oct 29 2008

Mobile for Development Innovations in Africa

by at 12:30 pm

The story on using mobile innovations for development in Africa has been unfolding for a while now, but it has become even more prominent since the Surprising Africa special at the Picnic 2008 conference in Amsterdam and the MobileActive 2008 conference in Johannesburg.

Here’s what some of the people who are writing the story on mobile-based social innovation in Africa have to say about it.

Ethan Zuckerman from Golbal Voices

If Africa is surprising, then you’re not paying enough attention.

Jonathan Gosier from AppAfrica (link) —

For social entrepreneurs and investors, the innovation occurring here is a huge sign of progress that could potentially change the continent’s world standing forever. The most exciting aspect for me, however, is the decreased reliance on developmental aid and foreign groups to provide these solutions. The number of African developers who are beginning to create applications that offer solutions for their own communities is increasing and that, more than anything else, will shape the future of Africa.

Eric Hersman from Ushahidi (link/ slides) —

Here’s one more compelling thought. The challenges brought about by bad governance, poverty, low bandwidth (all the negative things you associate with Africa) also provide an incredible opportunity. The developers who are coming up with solutions in the continent, the ones who are writing software or hacking hardware, are creating for some of the harshest environments and use-cases in the world. If it works in Africa, it will work anywhere.

Lowest common denominator design is at the core of MobiChange — it doesn’t work if it doesn’t work for everybody, everywhere — and here is a list of African mobile for development innovations I often turn towards for inspiration —

– Mobile Payments: MPESA (kenya), Wizzit (South Africa), Celpay (Zambia)

– Citizen Journalism: Africa News, Ushahidi (Kenya and South Africa), Sokwanele (Zimbabwe), Afrigator, Mzalendo (Kenya).

– Consumer Activism: mPedigree (Ghana).

– Access: WinAfrique (Kenya), Feedelix (Ethiopia), EthioBlog (Ethiopia), mobile phones on bicycles and wheelchairs, mobile charging stations.

– Agriculture: TradeNet (West Africa), Manobi (Senegal).

– Health: TxtAlert, SocialTxt and Mobilisr by Praekelt Foundation (South Africa)

Also See: Jonathan Gosier (1, 2, 3), Jason Harris (1, 2), Ethan Zuckerman, Amy Smith, Paul Polak, Ben Turner.

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

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