Book: Information and Communications Technology for Sustainable Development

Rahul Tongia, Eswaran Subrahmanian and V. S. Arunachalam have published a book based on two workshops organized by the Carnegie Mellon University and the Indian Institute of Science about ICT4D. I’ve yet to read it (129 pages) but the table of contents looks quite well.

From the executive summary:

Key aspects in ICT4D:

  1. Improve ICT across 4C dimensions: Computing, Connectivity, Content and (human)
  2. Capacity
  3. Success of ICT for Sustainable Development (SD) requires Integration, Scalability and Sustainability: ICT as a means (not an end), global inclusiveness, economic viability of ICT for SD, importance of ICT for SD collaborative research
  4. ICT for SD must become a recognized and funded enterprise: bringing stakeholders, developing metrics, focus on innovations and challenges, new models for R&D

[via TIC para el Desarrollo]

Negroponte and the Web 2.0 or the Four Classes of the Digital Divide

While reading about some articles about the US$ 100 computer developed by Nicholas Negroponte at MIT Media Lab, I also wonder about the shift “from hard to soft” that the (upcoming) Web 2.0 is making happen.

Simplifying at the maximum, there are four aspects to consider when bridging the digital divide, say, the four classes of digital divide:

  1. Infrastructure: hardware, software and connectivity
  2. Capacitation and training: capacitation on infrastructure installation and maintenance, digital literacy (technological literacy and informational literacy
  3. Content and services: information, e-government, e-health, e-learning (not to be confused with capacitation), e-business, etc.
  4. e-Law and Internet government: intellectual property rights, domain registration, free access to the Internet, etc.

It has always seemed that point (1) was the most important to lesser developed countries. While we should argue on this, we’ll keep this debate aside. So, Negroponte’s project is just a means to bridge the digital divide caused by access to hardware (and software if free software was to be included in his computer).

Wondering about Web 2.0, it seems to me that a shift from infrastructure to content and services is taking place. In other words, if some things that were done by infrastructure (i.e. filing photos needed a hard drive and a software to organize them) are now done by a web service (i.e. Flickr), some of the problems that Nicholas Negroponte is now facing will be shifted to the content and services digital divide class.

And this is a good or a bad thing?
It depends.

It is good, case one, as it looks like user hardware and software are less demanding on power and features, and we’ll go back to simple clients that just have to “show” what happens on the server side.

It is bad, case two, if we have not solved a correct access to these content and services for people on the wrong side of the digital divide because of language issues (digital divide class 3), because of digital illiteracy (digital divide class 2) or just because of censorship (digital divide class 4).

Case one will make Negroponte’s life (and all others) much easier.
Case two will make Negroponte’s effort a complete waste of time.