Information poverty

“Google: The right information at the right time in the hands of people has enormous power.”:http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2008/10/information-poverty.html

bq.. Despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent each year on providing basic public services like primary education, health, water, and sanitation to poor communities, poverty in much of Sub-Saharan Africa persists. *Where does this money go, who gets it, and what are the results of the resources invested?* That’s where we find a big black hole of information and a lack of basic accountability. *How do inputs (dollars spent) turn into outputs (schools, clinics, and wells), and, more importantly, how do outputs translate into results (literate and healthy children, clean water, etc.)?*

We simply don’t know the answers to most of these basic questions. But what if we could? What if a mother could find out how much money was budgeted for her daughter’s school each year and how much of it was received? What if she and other parents could report how often teachers are absent from school or whether health clinics have the medicines they are supposed to carry? What if citizens could access and report on basic information to determine value for money as tax payers?

The work of The Social Development Network (SODNET) in Kenya is illustrative. They are developing a simple budget-tracking tool that allows citizens to track the allocation, use, and ultimate result of government funds earmarked for infrastructure projects in their districts. *The tool is intended to create transparency in the use of tax revenues and answer the simple question: Are resources reaching their intended beneficiaries?* Using tools like maps, they are able to overlay information that begins to tell a compelling story.

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A Slightly Irreverent History of Technology and Markets

“!http://static.flickr.com/26/56506710_e0051abe8b_m.jpg!”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0060840978/qid=1129911170/sr=8-1/ref=pd_bbs_1/002-8539828-2184811?v=glance&s=books&n=507846 _How we got here: A Slightly Irreverent History of Technology and Markets_ is a superfast history of capital markets and the computer industry. A free pdf copy is available at “the publishers website”:http://www.pragmaticprogrammers.com/hwgh.html. Most history books push a ton load of facts at you which sometime makes it hard to grasp the bigger picture(s). This book forgoes the details for a whirlwind tour of the industrial revolution, the evolution of capital markets, and puts today’s IT revolution in perspective. The book jumps all over the place, but is very interesting nonetheless.

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State of the Pakistani IT Sector

The Pakistan government has been making a lot of noises over the years about attracting IT companies to set up shop in Pakistan. It is somewhat akin to to the old story of the seven blind men feeling up an elephant and trying to guess what it is – then killing the beast by chopping it up and selling of whatever little bits of it they could grasp. Those in the know – i.e people in the real world who actually are active in the field look on the actions of the assorted Pakistani Ministries of IT in horror.

The latest Dilbertesque incident to take place by the assorted clowns in the Pakistan govt. dealing with the IT sector is the raid of a local Pakistani software company in Islamabad, and the arrest of it’s CEO on Dec 4, 2006. As I write this, the poor chap is still in jail, and the raided equipment has not yet been returned. The “whole story is posted here”:http://www.pkblogs.com/wheelofjustice/, and of course is banned by the idiots that be, so it is only accessible through a proxy from Pakistan. The company was wrongfully accused of terminating VOIP calls in Pakistan – not only was the company not doing anything of the sort, but the PTA itself had determined that it’s legal to do so anyways – way back in Jan 03!

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wiredpakistan.com

Announcing the launch of a new website: ‘wiredpakistan.com’:http://www.wiredpakistan.com/. At the moment the only thing there are the ‘tech forums’:http://www.wiredpakistan.com/forums/ which had previously been on ‘this site’:http://ko.offroadpakistan.com/forums.

In a nutshell, these forums had grown large enough to justify their own domain name, plus this way more features can be added as needed.

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Internet Censorship the Pakistani way

On March 2nd 2006 the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority to block 12 websites. This list was in addition to the hundreds of thousands of websites which Pakistan already blocks. Up till now, most internet users in Pakistan had never really cared to speak up about this censorship, but this new blacklist caused millions of personal websites hosted at Blogspot to be banned. There are hundreds of Pakistani websites hosted at Blogspot, so this action by the government led internet users to form an action group against this ban.

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The filtering matrix

bq. Increasingly, states are adopting practices aimed at regulating and controlling the Internet as it passes through their borders. Seeking to assert information sovereignty over their cyber-territory, governments are implementing Internet content filtering technology at the national level. The implementation of national filtering is most often conducted in secrecy and lacks openness, transparency, and accountability. Policy-makers are seemingly unaware of significant unintended consequences, such as the blocking of content that was never intended to be blocked. Once a national filtering system is in place, governments may be tempted to use it as a tool of political censorship or as a technological “quick fix” to problems that stem from larger social and political issues. As non-transparent filtering practices meld into forms of censorship the effect on democratic practices and the open character of the Internet are discernible. States are increasingly using Internet filtering to control the environment of political speech in fundamental opposition to civil liberties, freedom of speech, and free expression. The consequences of political filtering directly impact democratic practices and can be considered a violation of human rights.

>> “Click here for the complete article”:http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue11_1/villeneuve/

Required reading for anyone using the Internet – especially in those countries which attempt to ‘censor’:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship_in_cyberspace the Internet. In ‘Pakistan’:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_Censorship_in_Pakistan, the governments stated aims are to filter out ‘pornographic’:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pornography and ‘blasphemous’:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blasphemy content. However, the national filtering system is being used to silence criticism and control political speech online.

Google Gaggle

‘!http://static.flickr.com/23/93014089_2a183b98a1_o.jpg!’:http://images.google.cn/images?q=tiananmen And so the mighty ‘fall’:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/4647398.stm. Not with a bang, but hissing silence as their orignal corporate policy takes a deep breath of cold vaccum. Out with the old, in with the new: “We will censor whatever any 2 bit dicatator pays us money for!”. Is Pakistan far behind in getting the Google Musharraf version? Where results for democracy are 400% sure and there are no gunships in Baluchistan?

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Learning About Full-text Search

“Tim Bray”:http://www.tbray.org has written a very interesting “series of essays on the construction, deployment and use of search technology”:http://www.tbray.org/ongoing/When/200x/2003/07/30/OnSearchTOC. [via “Slashdot”:http://developers.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=03/12/18/1343202&mode=thread&tid=126&tid=156]

It’s a good overview of the world of search technology from a developer’s point of view. There’s still a very long way to go before search technology “matures”:http://ko.offroadpakistan.com/technology/2003_10/is_the_internet_your_source_of_knowledge.html. Seach engines are already shaping the way people use the internet, and depending on the way they develop, are going to be a very important part of shaping the way people think, sort of like how TV and the telephone made the world a smaller place, search engines are really going to shrink it down even further.

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Is the Internet Your Source of Knowledge?

I’m constantly suprised by people’s misperceptions of the internet in Pakistan. The older generation seems to view it as something incomprehensible, and at the most good for emailing and/or wasting time. The younger generation seems to think that the internet consists solely of chat and Hotmail. I have never come across a teenager using a pc who wasn’t either on MSN Messenger or Hotmail, or both. While this is a very informal/personal/biased survey, in the last 6 years I must have come across at least a thousand teens using the internet, and all of them so far have been emailing/chatting or playing some game or the other. It’s sad, when arguably the sum of all human knowledge resides at our collective fingertips, and so many don’t even give it a passing glance. The key is to be learned enough to separate the wheat from the chaff, which is becoming increasingly difficult. I had written about “organizing data”:http://ko.offroadpakistan.com/technology/2003_09/how_do_you_organize_your_data.html earlier, but before doing that, the data to be organized has to be winnowed.

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How Do You Organize Your Data?

Good information architecture is extremely important in today’s world, with tons of stuff literally exploding at everyone, especially people using pc’s a lot. I’ve noticed it also, with people who don’t have some sort of information architecture in place being unable to deal with large information flows therefore they end up spending to much time or give up altogether. As “Jakob Nielsen”:http://useit.com said: _”It will soon be time to teach a simplified version of information technology to high school students, and possibly even to bring it into elementary schools as well”_.

There is so much information/content/data available on the internet that people who can access/organize/grasp large amounts are going to be ahead of those who can’t. In a decade or so, in a job interview somewhere, applicants will also be evaulated on their ability to deal with a thousand emails/messages along with their other work skills. Already, some people working in tech industries in the west have to be dealing with hundreds of emails/messages on a daily basis as a natural part of their jobs. A list of resources about IA:

*Web Sites:*

* “boxesandarrows”:http://www.boxesandarrows.com/

* “Google Directory > Reference > Knowledge Management > Information Architecture”:http://directory.google.com/Top/Reference/Knowledge_Management/Information_Architecture/?il=1

* ” IA wiki – the Information Architect’s Wiki”:http://www.iawiki.net/IAwiki

*Books:*

* “Information Architecture for the World Wide Web”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0596000359/qid%3D1028719544/sr%3D1-2/ref%3Dsr_1_2/104-6342288-7809505

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