ICTD2010 (IX). Keynote Speech: Tim Berners-Lee

Notes from the Information and Communication Technolgies and Development — ICTD2010, held at the Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, UK, on December 13-16, 2010. More notes on this event: ictd2010.

Keynote Speech: Tim Berners-Lee

The Web is about people — enabled by technology —, that create networks by linking. Linking is a conscious act that can be analysed: the Web Science Trust is aimed at scientifically analysing how the Web is build, what are the consequences of this or that link, how are people related by means of linked content.

Getting the Internet is not only about getting connected, but about being potentially able to access all good things of life.

It is very important to get people do things locally. It is not about localizing foreign content, of importing services… it is about people doing things home, about people blogging, chatting, being themselves on the Net and doing things. Development starts with local capacity. It is about local ownership, low cost bandwidth and low bandwidth-demanding communications, about local content again and again.

If open data are good for developed countries, why is there no more people pushing for open data in developing countries? It is in developing countries, with usually lower quality democracies, where transparency and accountability are more required. And this includes several activities that developed countries’ governments and international organizations perform in developing countries too.

Open data is about:

  • Put the data on the website.
  • Data is structured and is machine readable.
  • Open format and metadata: XML, RDF.
  • Data is linkable, with a unique resource identifier.
  • Link your data to provide context.

Indeed, open standards are key not only for government data, but for many other data like education and all ICT-enabled learning, or all business solutions, especially in developing countries where costs of ownership and costs of technological change may be much higher than in more competitive economies.

We still think of mobile phones as mainly voice devices. Data (data plans) are an add-on, you have to ask for it and, of course, pay extra for it. Notwithstanding, having data on the phone is a huge leap forward. Being able to transmit data, easily, quickly, ubiquitously should be the norm, not the exception. And, in fact, this has become technically possible at derisory costs in comparison with the past. Freeing (actuallly) low bandwidth Internet access would trigger the demand without putting at stake the sustainability of the network or of the Internet Service Providers. Mobile data plans should be free for everyone.

And what is incredible in this field is how everything integrates. And when it comes to the Internet, all countries are developing countries.


Q: Major shift in the Web in the following years? A: Mobility and much more data. The Web as a platform will definitely beat desktop/laptop computing power.

Q: What are the limits of Open Government? Wikileaks? A: Open data is actually data that the government has decided to make public. Then, we have to differentiate between transparency and privacy and (required) secrecy or stealing data. How do we define those concepts and what are their boundaries that is a difficult to answer question. Probably there’s both the need for secrecy and the need for a whistleblower.

Salma Abbasi: who’s to decide what is or what is not to be disclosed on the Net? Who’s to rate the content on the Net? A: Everyone should be able to rate the content they find on the Net. On the other hand, you can hire someone/some service to do that for you. So the default should be “all available” and let each one decide what is for them or for their children.

Douglas Namale of Map Kibera asking question of Tim Berners-Lee on internet content & governance

Ugo Vallauri: What is the future of the mobile web, beyond what we just see now in most mobiles? Stéphane Boyera: We are seing, at the same time, a boost of a mobile Internet and a tethering of the Internet in mobile apps and mobile app stores (e.g. iPhone apps). Berners-Lee: the thing is that the backbone is not closed, tethering is not mandatory. Open standards will allow anyone, any device to use specific data or a specific application. So, we have to encourage an open mobile web.

Richard Heeks: openness, transparency and accountability… where is the responsibility to be put? Stéphane Boyera: we have to begin with openness first, open nets is the first step. This will disclose lots of possibilities for people to perform actions upon those open data. Tim Berners-Lee: The value of presenting data open itself is very high. And the possibility to mash them up is incredibly interesting.

Q: What is the future of the Web with concepts like the Internet of things, augmented reality, the semantic web, etc.? A: The future is linked data. It does not seem that it will happen outside of the web with new languages different from the markup languages (or their evolutions) that we have now. So the web may change radically, but the essence of linked data will remain.

More information

Tim Berners-Lee: The 5 Stars of Open Linked Data.

Tim Unwin’s photos of the keynote.


Information and Communication Technologies and Development (2010)

Innovative Uses of Mobile ICTs for Development

Notes from the the II Encuentro Internacional TIC para la Cooperación al Desarrollo (Development Cooperation 2.0: II International Meeting on ICT for Development Cooperation) held in Gijón, Spain, on February 10-12th, 2009. More notes on this event: cooperacion2.0_2009. More notes on this series of events: cooperacion2.0.

Round table: Innovative Uses of Mobile ICTs for Development

Merryl Ford, Emerging Innovations Group of the Meraka Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

Mobile voice Wikipedia (MobiLed: you send an SMS to the mobile Wikipedia with the name of an article, and a voice reads you the whole article on your mobile phone.

Remote tutors that, through SMS, help kids in their Maths homework.

We have to de-skill the process of mobile application creation, thus why at Meraka they’re creating open source platforms for people to code mobile applications without much knowledge on developing applications.

Kentaro Toyama, Microsoft Research India (MSR India)

(disclaimer: he’s going to play the devil’s advocate)

The focus on putting development first, and then technology. If we speak about “M4D”, we’re putting technology first. Unless you have a strong interest in mobile phones (e.g. you’re working for Nokia) you should focus on what’s available, not just on a specific technology. Development is about human and institution capacity.

On the other hand, there’s also even more simple and broadly accepted technology than mobiles: television, community radio… so we should also focus in these if our arguments are cost, simplicity, broad usage and so.

There’s hype around M4D as there was hype about telecentres 15 years ago. It just does not make sense to fund projects that explicitly (ex ante) have to be run by mobile phones. And this happens. And this is hype.

Oleg Petrov, e-Development Thematic Group of World Bank

(in kindest answer to Toyama) The mobile phone is the new sibling, the new tool in the development toolbox. Enthusiasm vs. hype. It’s just enthusiasm, and other technologies, just like siblings, are “jealous” of the newcomer. But it’s a powerful tool indeed. We have not for forget about everything but mobile phones, but as a new tool, it deserves special exploration to determine its real potential and weaknesses.

The World Bank has plenty of projects that follow this excitement to test M4D: for health, for education, etc. We need a community of practice, ways to test this technology. Raise awareness and also move forward in the next direction of building toolkits, making it simple.

If you just look at the human side of development, you’re likely to miss (or not be up-to-date) state-of-the-art technological developments that might give you hints or ideas on how to solve human problems.

Jan Blom, Nokia Research Center – India

Anecdote: 6 months ago, a cab driver in Bangalore, using the mobile phone to SMS and as a GPS, but knowing nothing about what e-mail was. So: M4D is absolutely real.

There’s a dire lack of public information available (sometimes it does not even exist). M4D can focus on making this public information available, in providing location based services. There is much utility in taking local data, uploading to a central server, and publish it online (like Ushahidi does).

Stéphane Boyera, Device Independence Working Group of W3C

(also answering Toyama) It’s not that it’s a hype, it’s that technologists are approaching development in their daily lives, which is new and it’s great. Of course, when coming from the Development Cooperation field one must focus on humans, but the thing is that techies are approaching humans through tecnology, and the specific technology of their specific fields.

Q & A

Najat Rochdi: we have to know all the technologies available to be able to make the best decisions.

Stijn Vander Krogt: what is the role of governments in M4D? Isn’t it to analyse all that’s out there? Petrov: absolutely, this is one of the key roles of the World Bank, to provide advice on what can be used to solve any kind of problem. Thus why organizations have to know, and raise awareness, of the different applications of tools for human development.

Manuel Acevedo: What do we do when some laptops are really cheap and simple, and some mobile phones become increasingly complex and expensive? Thus, our task is to inform people of all the options available. Can we build multidisciplinary teams (as in research) at the government level? Can we build multi-institutional approaches in ICT4D?

Q: are we confusing needs for development? Are we artificially generating needs for gadgets? Aren’t we trying not to develop rural areas, but the broaden the target market of telcos?


Development Cooperation 2.0 (2009)

Stéphane Boyera: Mobile Phone for Human Development?

Notes from the the II Encuentro Internacional TIC para la Cooperación al Desarrollo (Development Cooperation 2.0: II International Meeting on ICT for Development Cooperation) held in Gijón, Spain, on February 10-12th, 2009. More notes on this event: cooperacion2.0_2009. More notes on this series of events: cooperacion2.0.

Mobile Phone for Human Development?
Stéphane Boyera, Device Independence Working Group of W3C

More than 4,000,000,000 mobiles phones today, circa 80% people covered by mobile phones: a revolution. Mobile phones are changing the way people work, communicate, live. But there is still is no evidence on the impact on development besides person to person communication.

Nevertheless, mobiles have changed the landscape in the developing world: access to education, to health, to agricultural informtion…


  • Connectivity: bandwidth and devices
  • Information availability: Relevant and useful services
  • Information availability: Affordable, accessible and usable services

Notwithstanding, mobile phones solve — or minimize — hardware and connectivity issues in relationship with computers and Internet access, so it is easier to focus in services (instead of hardware), thus why we find more and more applications for mobiles phones in developing countries. In this same train of thought, mobile phones enable a bottom-up approach in designing mobile phone based projects.

Reasons to promote mobile for development (M4D):

  • Scalability
  • Open to entrepreneurship and local innovation capturing
  • Putting governments out of the critical path
  • Putting pressure for more transparent accountable Governance

Challenges and barriers

  • Capacity building, curriculum and degree at universities
  • Availability of software and tools, free or open source, easy to use
  • Awareness, as the major point to be solved in the nearest future
  • Accessibility, of both services and content
  • Availability of services, including localization of such services, adapted to local languages and culture
  • Information literacy

The mobile phone is the swiss army knife: it’s got plenty of tools and fits in your pocket. SMS, the flagship of mobile tools, has easy setup, is tied to plenty of services, has free reception, is available on all phones.

Mobile phones, and besides voice, have also data access, web access…

Voice, that seems underrated, is actually one of the easiest “technologies” to use, included illiterate people. But there are few services that rely on voice. So more research and investment should be put on voice.

Next steps?

  • Community building around the creation of services and content, to do research on M4D
  • Understanding the needs, issues and challenges in the field
  • Identifying and bridging challenges to lower access barriers
  • Solving the empowerment challenges: lowering development and deployment barriers, and building capacities


  • Constrained device
  • Mobile networks still very expensive
  • Maybe other approaches (e.g. low-cost laptops) can better fit some purposes better than mobile phones

We have to move from the proof of concept to real, broad and successful implementation stories.

Some links:

Q & A

Stijn Vander Krogt & Anriette Esterhuysen: Internet link is still a need. We should combine, do not substitute, PCs and Internet access with mobiles.

Anriette Esterhuysen: what’s the importance of open standards for mobile phones? Q: Of course they are crucial.


Development Cooperation 2.0 (2009)

Multistakeholder Networks and Multi-Network Actors in Development

Notes from the II Encuentro Internacional TIC para la Cooperación al Desarrollo (Development Cooperation 2.0: II International Meeting on ICT for Development Cooperation) held in Gijón, Spain, on February 10-12th, 2009. More notes on this event: cooperacion2.0_2009. More notes on this series of events: cooperacion2.0.

Round Table: Mul-stakeholder networks and Multi-network actors in Development

What are the key factors that made a network successful?

Stephane Boyera, Device Independence Working Group of W3C

At the W3C more than one hundred working groups in the last 15 years, issued 70 standards. How could this be made possible?

  • It’s a multi-stakeholder forum
  • Powers are evenly distributed along the components of the network
  • Having standards is a key thing for success
  • A focussed programme. Working groups have limited lives (12 to 18 months) and expected results to be issued at the end of it
  • Members are fully committed. And if they are not, they just cannot participate
  • There are tools to support international, distributed work
  • Don’t put value on the network, but on the network’s goals, do not promote the Internet bubble, don’t move away from the goal

Caroline Figueres, Global Knowledge Partnership

  • Have to review on a regular basis the purpose of the network, so that it adapts to the changing needs and goals of the members.
  • Win-win perspective: a good balance of what members bring in and what they get from the network
  • Have to be clear about what is your motivation in being part of a network – and cope with other members’ motivations
  • Based on trust (might take years to achieve an optimum trust level)
  • The network is not there for the benefit of the chairman but for the benefit of the members. It should promote everybody
  • Gender balanced

Anriette Esterhuysen, Association for Progressive Communications

  • Diversity seen as a strength, not as a weakness
  • Flexibility
  • Regular contact
  • Distributed “ownership” of the network and its outputs
  • Manage delivery
  • Get critical feedback
  • The personal dimension: institutions but also human beings (with their daily human problems) have to be represented in the network
  • Branding, indentity
  • The network should provide more than what individuals face daily
  • Learning space, exchange as equals
  • Gender issues are really important for both the inner performance and public outcome of the network

Oleg Petrov, e-Development Thematic Group of World Bank

  • Don’t take sharing for granted
  • ICTs are great, but they have to be used in an innovative way, try and rethink completely the way things are being done
  • Don’t take ICTs for granted either


Vikas Nath: what’s exactly the role of the private sector in multi-stakeholder partnerships? Why is their participation so important? Figueres: people from the private sector is more solution oriented. There’s a confusion between what the real needs are and what you think their needs are. The private sector is a powerful informing agent to identify the real needs and bridge them with policy.

Vikas Nath: how to tell back to the society at large what is not working in a network (not only sharing good outcomes)? Petrov: things get wrong if you take things for granted, as knowledge sharing or knowledge management. And knowledge management has to be linked to operations, to task managers.

Manuel Acevedo: how to avoid “network fatigue”? how does knowledge absorbtion (vs. just generating knowlegde fluxes) happens? Esterhuysen: to recover from network fatigue, one can “retreat to the boundaries of the network” and people respect this. And even people retreating back to work again at the local level. Knowledge absorption is about knowledge management, repeating concepts, going back over same topics again and again… Boyera: networks limited in time and tied to achieving specific goals is a way to avoid network burnout. There’s no sense preserving a network that serves no purpose.

(My personal opinion on the previous topic: do we really need knowledge absorbtion? If we just don’t memorize everything we write down, why not use the network as a permanent extension of our cognitive resources? as another way to fix memory. I see networks of people, experts, institutions as just part of the cognitive and knowledge storage resources we have at hand: our brain, libraries, hard drives…)

Q: how to know not people but what (interests) they represent? How to encourage exchange? Boyera: it’s better to have leading networks for specific topics. If working groups work in related or overlapping domains, coordination and cooperation between networks is the way to proceed.


Development Cooperation 2.0 (2009)

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