Mapping connectivity & the digital divide!

The old maxim “if you can’t measure it then you can’t manage it” is as true today as ever… however increasingly as many people reach information overload one could argue it should read “if you can’t present information you can’t get others to act on it”.

A classic challenge is presented by internet connectivity. We are all aware that many of the Southern countries where we have worked have terrible connectivity how is this linked to the economy, production, trade, education levels, health services?

i-isp-ss.gifThis map from the Internet Mapping Project Map Gallery shows the major ISPs indicating volume of traffic (colour density) and extent (distance). A variety of maps indicate other internet measures including distance from host, network address, top level domains or ISPs/ cities and many more. Including more detailed maps and raw data!

Other internet map sources include: Rocketfuel, The Opte Project, Cybergeography who publish a fascinating Cyberatlas and Caida.

Internet Map USA

This second image from Infosthetics March ’06

“is an extremely detailed map of the North American Internet backbone including 134,855 routers. the colors represent who each router is registered to: red is Verizon, blue AT&T, yellow Qwest, green is major backbone players like Level 3 & Sprint Nextel, black is the entire cable industry put together, & gray is everyone else, from small telecommunications companies to large international players who only have a small presence in the U.S. This map demonstrates that although AT&T & Verizon own a lot of Internet pipes, they currently do not dominate the Internet infrastructure (yet).”

IP map2

I love this third image again lifted from Infosthetics Dec. ’06, whilst it presents IP address space as a map it provides a clear impression of ‘internet face’ dedicated to continents, clearly if this were broken out in more detail, particularly with breakdown for “Asia” it would become ever more useful. See original source xkcd and comments from the artist.

a chart of the IP address space “on a plane”, using fractal mapping which preserves grouping (any string of IPs will translate to a single compact region on the map). each of the 256 numbered blocks represents one 8th subnet (containing all IPs that start with that number).

When preparing my dissertation on the privatisation of telecoms in Brazil in 1999 a communications star “map” clearly illustrated how minimal traffic was making the hops to and from Africa or Latin America. Different presentation tools using different internet usage “measures” consistently confirm this picture. Though we may not be able to lift detailed quantified facts from such maps they clearly provide tools to reflect trends and bias.

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Its a doddle to schedule a meeting with Doodle

Probably the only site you need to check out if you want to improve your efficiency is Merlin Mann’s 43 Folders. Being an advocate I am sure he won’t object to me spreading the word…

Doodle

Doodle… yep this very simple web tool helps folk check on times and set up meeting times without having to phone or mail around, once, twice, three times!

“A very clever and satisfyingly lo-fi way to find the best date for an event based on several people’s schedules. By passing around emails with an ASCII, monotype text representation of the possible dates and times, each person uses a symbol to indicate their preference and availability. Very clever stuff.”

       December
       0                 1                   2                   3
       1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0
       t f S S m t w t f S S m t w t f S S m t w t f S S m t w t f
Janne  + + - - + + + + + ? ? + + + + - - - ? ? - - - - - - - - - +
Ville  + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + -
Kalle  - - - - + + + + e e e - - - + - - - - - - - - - - - - - - +
Sanna  - - e e - - - + ? ? ? + + + + + - - + + - - - - - - + + + +
                     * *           *

From this table courtesy of ButtUgly, it’s easy to see what would be suitable dates for everyone (marked with “*”). The initiator of the sequence suggets Thursday 8th, and everyone agrees. And while they were at it, they agreed on holding the 15th as “tentative”, so that they get to continue the game if it’s not finished in time. One of the advantages of this calendar is of course that you can immediately see who might not make it – and while everyone is equal, missing someone might not be.

I may well bring you other favourite tips from Merlin Mann, many simple practical tips!

“delete..” the one email key that counts

delete keyEmail the bane of our lives and of course an efficient time saver! Why is it that few people follow basic approaches of other forms of communication medium…

. Memo’s… in the good old days, a simple principle was one decision or subject one memo. Keep it focused!
. Memo‘s listing actions to be taking, assigning roles to individuals and responsibilities, copied to those who need to be informed.
. Letters… carefully addressed, polite clear and above all concise, perfect for formal communication.
. Telephone calls for regular contact, urgent issues and well, to keep in personal touch with people.

Here are the simple rules I live by…
. One subject, issue or decision per email.
. Clearly assign responsibilities to named individuals.
. Send to individuals who have to take action.
. Only copy to those who must be informed.
. Never use BCC, it can only cause problems.
. Never copy to individuals for no CLEAR purpose.
. When snowed under… phone for an update and… delete.
. Never expect reply within 24 hours, preferably 72 hours!

Some tips that I like from others:
1. If it takes 2 minutes to read – delete
2. If its not a response to ones own e-mail – delete (anonymous friend) he gleefully explained that others would phone if it were urgent!

Of course others have gone into this in depth detailed descriptions of how to write emails and use smileys, forget tips to University students , there is even Yale library netiquette, and Down under netiquette!. Of course career planners emphasise appropriate behaviour, but at the end of the day who has ever read, trained on or listened to advice on how to email?

I guess its just down to good old fashioned common! yep, the sad fact is that one could be spending hours reading and deleting pointless mails for a long time to come. Perhaps one should seek out an email extension that automatically deletes messages that will take more than two minutes to read, with a response explaining why it was binned… at least it’ll never include the boss, she is way too busy to send long mails!

05.12.06 Editorial – – It is now time to do so Merlin Manns Inbox Zero, links to a series of articles he has written on the topic and for the first time I shall be paying attention!

Inbox zeroAll Posts in the Inbox Zero Series
. 43F Series: “Inbox Zero”
. Inbox Zero: Articles of faith
. Inbox Zero: Five sneaky email cheats
. Inbox Zero: Where filters will and won’t help
. Inbox Zero: Delete, delete, delete (or, “Fail faster”)
. Inbox Zero: Schedule email dashes
. Inbox Zero: What’s the action here?
. Inbox Zero: Processing to zero
. Inbox Zero: What have you learned?
. Inbox Zero: Better Practices for staying (near) zero

MSF & Christian Aid blaze podcast trail!

Is it our role to advocate for change, communicate needs on the ground, promote intellectual debate and ensure education and awareness of different communites of the challenges faced by others?

Fortunately there are trail blazers out there testing new media to and its effectiveness for the rest of us. Podcasts that can be accessed on i-tunes, or downloaded from websites, dramatically further communication and information sharing. MSF

MSF has demonstrated three prominent approaches. MSF Voice podcasts in the build up to the XVI Aids Conference in August 2006 along with daily discussions on key topics and demonstration of how MSF drives advocacy at such conferences. Regular advocacy and discussion of field activities and focus of programmes in different countries. Finally, MSF Frontline is a monthly podcast enabling individuals to catch up with MSF operations. programmes, facts, figures and personal testaments. MSF Voice and MSF Frontline are seamlessly integrated into the web site for ease of access.

CAChristian Aid after using podcasts for internal reporting opened their podcasts up to the public, as reported by humanitarian.info and Full Circle. Some examples include fascinating mini series on different campaigns, such as the Beat goes on a march against the policies of IMF, WB and the North in controlling the South and a demand for friendly and inclusive policies. Daily podcasts for a field visit to Haiti truly set a standard for everyone to match! It reflects the naevity of foreigners, gives a detailed awareness of challenges faced in the country and yet the character of people and their cultural legacy comes through. Finally like MSF, Christian Aid uses this medium to present interviews, debate and discussion on critical issues.

In a former piece I argued that podcasts should be taken into the office, Christian Aid and MSF have illustrated that staff with basic training can use podcasting instead of paper reports, perfect for disseminating information in an accessible form to staff, they also provide the perfect advocacy platform. Advocacy organisations take note!

Internal communication, information sharing and advocacy are critical elements of management in all humanitarian and development work. MSF and Christian Aid provide different exceptional examples of how podcasts can be applied in both settings… the race is on!

03/12/06 Editors note:

Apologies to UNICEF who have been operating podcasts since February 2006 with a mixture of UNICEF news and programme reports now in video and audio!

The UN also started a twice daily news podcast in November (sorry can’t find any show link), and but worry yee not this phenomena is catching on, UNESCO has put out bids for video podcast proposals!

Online video sharing, lessons for development?

Have online tools for uploading video content finally come of age? Rather are they relevant to Humanitarian and Development work as opposed to teens in San Francisco? Or how far do they need to go before they can really start being used to support field work?

Of course bandwidth is as ever a problem, but these days there is content delivery technology that can solve that problem, enabling the uploading of files to be automated to specific times, only upload when prioritised usage (emails, voice) is curtailed, it can even be managed so that the same computer can upload or download digital information over different connections automatically as it is unplugged and replugged, such as moving from office to home or hotel at short notice.

Film from a video camera, normal digital camera or web cam is becoming the media of choice, new generations are reacting to this media the way some of us got excited over digital photo’s and MP3… no lets be honest emails! Google’s purchase of YouTube placed their number of unique visitors at 120 million in September, sure their communities of interest sit largely in the US, but the shift to view all content text, audio, photo, film as interchangeable, shareable content will quickly become standard.

Metacafe has developed an interesting approach where they use it to help talent thrive. Unlike YouTube they reject duplicate films and use 100,000 volunteers to peer review content, then like Wikipedia have them write and vet articles. Finally of course they use algorithms to analyse, sort and rank video’s and over time develop the highly valuable database linking customers to content. Individuals can use this as an effective medium to show their talents in film-making or acting, by licensing video’s to Metacafe indiviuals have successfully used this to become noticed, and make revenue from their work.

The development community has long depended on peer review and participation to ensure that ‘best practice’ rises to the top and can be shared easily, however we have been poor at introducing the use of technology. Of course I am being slightly unfair, IRC (Water and Sanitation Centre) for example is one of many that has been using the internet for many years to share content with specialist research, training and advisory centres around the world for many years, seeking to build capacity through joint projects. To a certain extent its distributed organisational structure depends on the internet and members are investigating possibilities to work with participatory new media approaches. Similarly The Provention Consortium depends on a thiving networked organisational approach, in this case encouraging institutions to support each other in furthering disaster risk reduction.

However we have to recognise that new tools require new approaches, there is increased attention in the western world on humanitarian and development issues. Not least because technology entrepreneurs have turned multi-millionaire Philanthropists.

I for one believe that we should find means to garner the talent, ideas and community experience of these entrepreneurs and the young to engage them in development and humanitarian work beyond merely interest, concern and fund raising.

Whether this means more formal approaches such as linking schools and organising for raw footage from developing countries to be made available for editing as they choose into documentary footage by youngsters in the west. Supporting artists and small businesses getting their skills and wares to western audiences or highly informal approaches that simply enable families to make their own camera footage, and tell their stories so that they may be uploaded to commercial sites in country and shared online.

Alternatively video and audio diaries or weblogs and podcasts could form part of the remit of professional staff as they undergo operations as a monitoring, assessment or evaluation tool humanitarian.info comments on such an approach by Christian Aid in Tajikistan. Heck for the sake of transparency why not put this in the public domain, uploading as possible. Have you ever thrown you heart and sole into a monitoring report, only to discover that the important recommendations were passed over?

There is alot we can learn from the increased openness in sharing information publically, I trust the entrepreneurs and enthusiasts riding this wave, look to broader horizons. Their experience and skills are needed lets see how we can open their eyes to another exciting, challenging and rewarding world in humanitarian and development work.

Promote MP3’s, Zunes, i-pods and podcasts @ work

Organisations and businesses are slow to adopt proven technology to communicate and share information with staff… in fact managers are typically appalling at communicating with staff and remote teams per se. Shunning team developed posters for bland intranet posts, stiffling informal communication for company magazines; generally communications is managed as a one-sided push (messaging down) and pull (reports up) relationship, with no feedback loops or genuine involvement of employees.

As communication skills have become more important, powerpoint has become the standard presentation tool, enabling complex messages to be simplified and presented to everyone easily… sadly it is all too easy to use… (see powerpoint is evil) leaving presentations dull, uninspiring and text based. Who hasn’t walked out or slept through a meeting where the presenter merely read summarised text, when key facts could be assimilated in a fraction of the time?

Management should embrace new innovative communication tools, from white boards in coffee areas and personal space on an intranet to podcasts. Audio and webcam funcitonality is so user friendly that IT could enable team members to prepare podcasts on critical issues, staff benefits, training courses, exiting news and simply things that interest them… combine slides (photo’s, diagrammes, graphics) with audio. Even better these can be mixed with specialist podcasts freely available on the internet. Why should an organisation’s newsletter not also be a weekly podcast?

Development and humanitarian workers pioneered participatory approaches to communication that have become standard in businesses these days. We are all aware how information should be presented and shared in a form that is accessible and appropriate to the target audience, perhaps it is time to revolutionise communication in and between our offices. Communication is from the French ‘communicare’ to share, we cannot share by continueing to push uninteresting information in an increasingly inaccessible format.

Maybe that next uninspiring brief will come from a colleague making a podcast on his lap top … on the bright side at least no paper has been wasted and I can still write an email at the same time!

Ubuntu … user friendly Linux software suite is taking off!

How much do we all object to paying the exorbitant costs of using microsoft windows? Not just the licence fee but all the additionaly costs for support, updates, maintenance and of course Virus checkers, firewalls …..

Linux has oft been touted as the solution… open source software that those with the ability can adapt themselves, sadly it has never been too user friendly, so whilst it dominates the server market it has tended to be marginal for common PC users like the rest of us. – – – No longer!

MS Windows licence fees are exorbitant in countries where labour is cheap. The cost of a PC put together by skilled labour may be less than the cost of purchasing MS software! As a result in some middle income countries where there are huge disparities in income but a demanding, increasingly vocal and ever growing middle class Linux has taken off, for example supporting 7% to 10% of small business and home PCs in Brazil.

In South Africa it has literally become the mother of invention. Ubuntu is a free linux based operating system providing a complete suite of software like MS Office. Unlike MS it is easy to install, use and maintain as witnessed by monkey.blog and digg, the software is intuitive and ‘tinker’ friendly. This is no pipe dream, it is operating in at least 6 countries and take up is spreading to Europe. Ubuntu, perfectly attuned to the needs of special interest groups with specific cultural or language needs, has been adopted by minorities in Germany, Spain as well as larger groups in Brazil and of course South Africa.

The BBC’s Digital Planet discussed Ubuntu with its brain child, Mark Shuttleworth (famously the first space tourist), made his fortune as an entrepreneur using linux whilst isolated in South Africa, he wishes to it unleash possibilities for others also.

Edubuntu a popular package, will in South Africa be complimented by a complete online educational curricula developed and evolving through teacher, parent, student collaboration… in effect an educatoinal Wiki.

Ubuntu may well become a huge success since it maximises the one oft available resource, enthusiastic capable youth, (if you can put a computer together then you can install and operate Ubuntu). It negates needs for external expertise and money, breaks the cycle of dependency on feature heavy software with unneeded functionality and ever increasing demand on computer power, memory and upgrades, but most importantly it places the opportunity to develop digital competency where it should always have been, in the hands of communities, their youth and their future.

It seems likely that Ubuntu will genuinely take great strides to tackling the digital divide by starting where it matters most, in the minds and understanding of people without sophisticated education, reliable access to the internet or more than minimal access to cash.