Nomadic bloggers need each other… & bloggers in the communities they serve.

I suspect this is a ritual undertaken by most blog novices… a very early stab at blogging about blogging, which inevitably falls far short of the mark! Fortunately humanitarian and development workers are fascinating people that makes such a compilation a true pleasure.

Forgetting the numerous blogs that appear to be acting more as portals to information on a specific place or organisation there are an ever increasing number of single issue or single interest blogs clearly designed to change attitudes and help drive advocacy. Anita Roddick has an interesting advocacy blog at HIV is everyones problem, then there are the informative NGO blogs for example Aids Orphans Rising. What concerns me more is that since we are purportedly focused on supporting self reliance, local response, sustainability in development, humanitarian and development bloggers need to find a way to proactively support local advocacy initiatives, lets at least conciously seek out and promote the best!

Of course it is a pleasure to surf the numerous personal blogs from those starting out in their careers Erika in Lanka, to professionals on the ground Dili-Dallying, and mozamblog from a US physician. Then there are nuggets tucked away like delightful child stories by Sahelsteve at Voice in the Desert and the entertaining Lucky White Girl. Sadly these can be temporal affairs, Sleepless in Sudan shutdown in February 2006 on the authors departure, this just demonstrates one way in which the blogging humanitarian community can gain by keeping close and in touch. We need each other like any nomadic population.

Sadly, or rather fortunately we also work, dedicated blogs will become ever more valuable sources of networking and information, and encourage non-tech familiar workers to set up support sites. Tsunami is a good example, others seem to be more organisation focused, but they are not the worse for it, te comprehensive ODI site is now complimented by a blog. Although I note it is questionable whether an edited organisational blog is just that.

Of course the true stalwarts of blogging must be those individuals who singlehandedly mix work and prose craft through dogedly registering essential documents, updating us on exiting developments and keeping us informed of trends. Humanitarian.info by Paul Currion gets my award for now… but I am only just out of Afghanistan so it may get knocked off my top spot in the next few months!

I have no doubt that participatory media in its many forms from blogs and wiki’s to podcasts (and thats just for now!) will transform the way the humanitarian and development communities communicate, share and manage information and advocate on critical issues. We are really just at the start of this shift, ever the optimist, I am confident it it will also ensure a better understanding and closer relationships between nomadic humanitarian and development workers and the communities they seek to serve.

A new passport… a new life?

Erasing ones slate is something that many find cleansing. Discarding ones past is for me a traumatic event, I live life with memories good and bad in clear technicolour.

Receiving a new passport yesterday was an emotional shock to the system…
…all those travel stamps from bizarre and wondrous cultures – GONE,
…visas from all manner of regimes and non-governments – GONE.

It is as though one is forceably archiving a lifetime of experience, emotions and friendships. In my case this is my third passport (not counting UN LPs) that I have had to relinquish.

My favourite visa has to be a Taliban Visa issued in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 1995. A piece of white card stapled in by me (after two attempts the issuing official asked me to help), printed with sightly off-set flowery green text in Pushto on a local hand press. The rubber stamp of Kandahar’s governor with an elaborate signature and the number of valid days handwritten in English. This visa sat next to one from Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghansitan, made with a large rubber stamp and filled in by hand in both Dari and English.

Travel documents are so closely associated with events, tea spent with the soldiers during an attempted “non-coup” as they surrounded their friends holed up in the Grand Hotel, central Manila (not a shot was fired). A forced stop-over that turned into a raucous night around Addis Ababa followed by a sobering tour of the city. When anyone with suspected Eritrean parenthood was camped out in the rain before being forceably shipped off in lorries to Asmara. Sneaking out on election day in Kabul for the first democratic Parliamentary and Presidential elections.

A new passport a new challenge. Not so much how to fill up the pages, but what thrilling, shocking, depressing and optimistic images will it reflect in a few years time?

Net Neutrality … storm in a teacup… or fight for global liberty

Is paranioa over “big Communications” or telco’s controlling the internet overdone?

Current consumers, both business and users pay for connectivity and services. Online service providers from Google to Rocketboom all pay their way. As for payment for premium service, such as faster delivery, well this has been the case for a long time with businesses being prepared to pay a premium for security and speed, whether through VPN’s or paying specialist online service providers.

Of course a two tier (or more) internet in the mass market where those who can pay get privileged treatment is fundamentally flawed. The arguments are well presented on Save the Internet. However this US and western centric view misses the global impact.

A far bigger issue is what impact will this have on less developed countries. Internet Cafes have sprung up all over Kabul in Afghanistan over the last 3 years what impact will a two, three or even four tier system have on Afghans access to the world outside? The World Bank estimates that around 10% of people in developing countries have access to the internet, one would suspect a large percentage of these to be on dial-up. In Kabul we had a expensive Wimax connection to our home, I hate to think how slow or unreliable the service would have been if other tiers of service had priority. Surely we would not want to condemn developing countries bottom rung in yet another tiered system of access to world markets?

One has to remember that AT&T, Verizon, Comcast to name just a few Telco’s in the US, like telco’s globally are struggling to find a replacement for loss of highly lucrative paying voice traffic to consumer friendly VOIP providers like Skype. In the US all telco’s are planning massive investments in convergent networks over which they can offer telephony, mobile, broadband and TV to the home. Interestingly in the UK which has a non-cable culture BT has taken a cheaper route. To replace the ‘lost’ telephony revenues, and cover the costs of the convergent networks, telco’s are scrabbling to increase revenues from broadband connectivity or internet services…

– – – but wait a minute! – – –

Haven’t they got it the wrong way around? Cable companies pay the content providers … so doesn’t it logically flow that all those innovative online providers should be paid by telco’s for providing the value-added products that drive demand for broadband that home owners do, after all, have to pay for?

Not only should the principal of net neutrality be upheld, US government and others should conciously not intervene with laws. The internet is genuinely changing the world with the access it provides to information, ideas and through sparking creativity, no ethnic group has an edge in “geekiness” lets keep it that way… maintain the net as a global platform for innovation!

Commercial Online collaborative tools are ‘aid’ ready

Despite huge advances in the useability and functionality of online tools to support working remotely whether it be from home, on the road, between offices or between country. There has been minimal adoption of such tools beyond the obvious by humanitarian and development workers. Of course there are a number of dedicated organisations serving the humanitarian workers (see future blog XXX) however it is time to take a fresh look at commercially available off-the-self-software.

Remote Meetings: gotomeetings online service designed to support any remote meetings with collaborative presentation options and a few extras. Such meeting tools can tansform the regularity of meetings and of course let us know if others are not online as with chat services.

Sharing documents and folders: Foldermail is a new online service that is designed for the simple transfer of folders (and contained files) with a range of options that suit the needs of individuals, organisations or global corporations sending or updating documents remotely. This neat application integrates into Outlook (MS Office) and can be operated stand alone.

Zune needs podcast functionality

zunei-pod vs Zune…. for now there is simply no competition! At least for yours truly it is not about music, films, games, TV shows… my number one usage is Podcasts. How can Microsoft come to market without easy to use podcast functionality surely they don’t plan to cede the podcast name to Apple? Already they face an incredible up-hill struggle just to take on i-Tunes.

Of course this is grossly unfair, one should never underestimate Microsoft dilligence on their business innovation. With Zune not yet on the shelves, Zune Market Place (the equivalent of iTunes store) we should not be pre-judging this seemingly nifty product. Microsoft has never been good at delivering a finished product to market first time, Zune Market Place is a critical part of the customer product experience. The ease of downloads for all digital entertainment, the ease of using already catologued personal content, the pleasure and seamlessness of the entertainment experience all stack up to create the finished product. Scobleizer offers the best insight into Zunes, check out his video.

Yes I love the local wireless functionality, FM radio is a neat trick and yes it is a well designed and thought out product… if the colours are grotesque… Zune is not for me… yet. By Christmas we should have a view of the complete product and then the fun begins as Zune and Market Place take on i-pod and i-Tunes, this competition will only lead to one winner. The customer! … Lets get to it!