Re: [GKD-DOTCOM] Bringing Connectivity to Under-Served Communities

2003-10-30 Thread Don Osborn
Dear GKD Members,

Pertinent to our current discussion is the following article, forwarded
from the Togo-L list, which delineates the problems as seen from an
African perspective.

Don Osborn

**

Africa Takes On the Digital Divide

Africa Recovery (New York)
ANALYSIS
October 23, 2003

By Gumisai Mutume
New York

New information technologies change the lives of those in reach

Across Africa, new information technologies are rapidly changing the
lives of a small but growing number of people. In rural Togo a farmer
gets real-time information on market prices in the capital, Lomé,
through a cellular phone. In Accra, Ghana, entrepreneurs who in the past
were not able to get a dial tone on their land-line telephones can now
connect immediately using Internet telephony, technology that allows
phone calls to be made through the Internet. And in Niger, the Bankilare
Community Information Centre downloads audio programmes from the African
Learning Channel and rebroadcasts them on local radio.

So far, these are some of the few, fortunate Africans. For most people
even making a telephone call is still a remote possibility in an era
when most of the world is now communicating almost instantly across
cities, regions and the globe using wireless and satellite technologies
to send high-speed electronic messages.

Africa has the fewest telephone lines, radios, television sets,
computers and Internet users of any part of the world. These tools, used
to package and transmit information and knowledge, are broadly referred
to as information and communications technologies (ICTs). The gap
between those with access to ICTs and those without is generally
referred to as the digital divide. It is most extreme in Africa, where
in 2001, out of 800 million people, only 1 in 4 had a radio, 1 in 13 a
television set, 1 in 40 a telephone and 1 out of 130 a computer. The
divide widens in Africa's countryside, where a lack of roads, telephone
lines and electricity separates the rural majority from their urban
counterparts.

Bridging the digital divide

The digital gap brings with it a danger of isolating certain peoples,
those in Africa in particular, says Senegalese President Abdoulaye
Wade.

It is paradoxical and ironic that the continent which invented writing
 . . [is] excluded from universal knowledge. In December, President
Wade will be popularizing his digital solidarity programme at the
World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) to be held in Geneva,
Switzerland. Under the programme, technologically advanced nations would
commit to assisting poorer ones. A country can express solidarity, for
example, by signing onto a digital charter committing itself to a
specified, quantified action for the benefit of countries where the rate
[of Internet access] is lower than a given level, explains President
Wade. A digital solidarity fund should be set up to pay for ICT projects
in poor countries, he says, financed by raising large amounts of money
collected painlessly because the contributions are so small. Levies of
one US cent could be charged on every international call or one dollar
on the purchase of each personal computer or software package.

African leaders looking for ways to bridge the digital divide between
their region and the rest of the world see the WSIS as an opportunity to
obtain international commitments to extend information and
communications technologies to the majority of their people. The summit
is expected to adopt a plan of action to close the gap between the
haves and have nots of information technology. At its summit in
July, the African Union passed a resolution stressing the importance of
the information society on economic, socio-political and cultural
development and the strategic objectives of developing countries. The
second part of WSIS will be held from 16-18 November 2005, in Tunisia,
which first proposed holding the meeting to promote the use of ICTs to
overcome poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals agreed to
by world leaders in 2000.

Extending the arm of technology

Low bandwidth (the amount of data transmitted through a communications
line) and expensive call charges characterize most of Africa's
telecommunications facilities. An analysis of Internet use can give a
representative picture of the ICT situation in Africa, says Mr. Mike
Jensen, an independent ICT consultant based in South Africa, since
connecting to the Internet involves different individual ICT components
such as computers, telephones and satellites.

By mid 2002, 1.7 million Africans had dial-up Internet services, 1.2
million of them in South Africa and North Africa alone. Assuming that
three-to-five people use each Internet-connected computer, notes Mr.
Jensen, it is possible that 5-8 million Africans have access to the
Internet. In sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa), there are some
1.5-2.5 million users - one in every 250-400 people, compared to 1 in 15
people in the rest

[GKD-DOTCOM] Using Intermediaries to Facilitate Communication

2003-11-19 Thread Don Osborn
Regarding the messages of Herman Wasserman and Cliff Missen, this is
interesting but there is a danger I think in any strategy that seeks to
rely on intermediaries. Cliff uses the word griot but in fact it may
be more like marabout or priest (although these latter analogies are
not perfect either) - a class of more educated people to mediate between
common folk and the knowledge (technology), and by extension do the
interpreting for them.

Cliff is right to point out the use of notes and more knowledgeable or
mobile intermediaries in communications. Long before internet, of
course, there were some people who would help their illiterate neighbors
to write letters. But such is no one's ideal, just something that
works.

Likewise for e-mail etc. Access is the issue and that has 2 parts in
the case of computers  intenet: the physical aspect (are you in
proximity and can you afford to log on?) and the meaningful or soft
aspect (if you had physical access and found yourself seated in front of
a connected computer, would anything make sense?). The latter overlaps
with user skills of course (basic literacy again, and now computer
literacy) but depends also on the user interface, design of software,
content, and language. The fact is that even, say, the old lady who
grilled kebabs and fried sliced yams in front of the Binnta cybercafé in
Bamako - and most of the passers by who would sit and eat on the corner
there - would have to send something through an intermediary not because
of distance (assuming for a moment that access fee inside was not a
problem) but because the technology would not facilitate their use of
their first language, written, or provide for mailing an audio message
(for the lady and others among them who were not literate).

I'm not at all comfortable with the notion of person-to-person or
web-to-individual(s) information being mediated where it's not
absolutely necessary, and then only as a temporary strategy and with as
few transformations as possible - i.e., if as a service, more like a
postal relay (can what the sender says be recorded and transmitted
exactly as such through the media to the receiver?) than like the
traditional letter writer in much of Africa who hears in one language,
translates into another, and writes a letter that may have to be
back-translated on the other end. Maybe handhelds will help in this
regard.

On another level some internet for development efforts have relied on
people who surf and translate (e.g., in connection with a local
community radio) - in effect another kind of intermediary. This is
certainly helpful, but if the vision does not extend to developing at
least some content that bypasses the need for such intermediation (and
interpretation), then it risks institutionalizing a relationship that by
its nature keeps some people marginalized.


Don Osborn
Bisharat.net






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Re: [GKD-DOTCOM] The Importance of Speech

2003-11-25 Thread Don Osborn
Some interesting thoughts here. A couple of months ago the NY Times had
a feature on voice e-mail (v-mail) entitled The Talking E-Mail Blues.
Search their site http://www.nytimes.com or read part of it at
http://lists.kabissa.org/lists/archives/public/a12n-forum/msg00034.html
with add'l comment re v-mail in the African context.

The various potential audio + image + text uses of ICT are really only
beginning to be explored. Perhaps societies with stronger oral
traditions will find different combinations than those of us from the
North would come up with...

Audio and text don't have to be an either/or choice in some
applications. Same language subtitling (SLS; rather like closed
captioning) could be added to video + audio web presentations, perhaps
as an option to be activated by a toggle key or click. SLS is used some
in film  TV in India as a literacy tool. I've heard suggestions of
using it with music videos of African artists for similar uses, or use
by students studying those languages. Such could be done via the web
also.

Don Osborn
Bisharat.net


Pat Hall [EMAIL PROTECTED] wrote:

 This discussion line has taken a really interesting turn, moving towards
 the use of speech. Even though literacy rates are rising, writing and
 using keyboards and other input devices is still a barrier for maybe
 half the worlds population.
 
 I am not sure that Cliff had this in mind, but Vickram has a wonderful
 idea here for voice e-mail, not that difficult stuff of phoning somebody
 and leaving a 'voice-mail' message if they are not there, but the real
 thing, voice messages 'posted' through the Net.
 
 But how about going further than this, and having voice only web-sites,
 with technology available to help people who cannot read and write to
 compose their own websites and through that share their knowledge with
 others?





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Re: [GKD-DOTCOM] How Much Bandwidth is Necessary?

2003-11-26 Thread Don Osborn
Njideka, This is an interesting initiative and the notion of scanning
handwritten letters is a nice innovation as it permits a more direct
communication of content.

It's not clear from your third point,

 3) The youth agents will have a customized form they will use to
 document the message(s).

.. if this means translating or transcribing.  One goal I think would
be to reduce or eliminate the need for translation (with the inevitable
interpretation and transformation of content, however benign the
intent).

Another thing to keep in mind is that the language of the letters might
also be by the sender's choice - not just limited in the case people
haven't learned other languages - and indeed some people may wish to use
more than one language in a single communication. Is it possible that
the young people involved are or could be trained in transcribing the
local languages of the area (presumably mainly Igbo, but others as
well)?

This brings up also the degree to which the computer center is able to
facilitate composing of text (e-mail in this case) in languages other
than English. I.e., if one wanted to send a letter in Igbo or another
Nigerian language, how easy is that (or is scanning the best option they
have?). Of course the receiving end has related issues (re utf-8 mail).

Another possibility that would be interesting but would require a small
investment (relative to the computer cost, but not to local income or
perhaps your project budget), would be to find a way to use audio
e-mail. There exists good software for this but it is not terribly
popular in the Northern countries - might it be interesting to users
whose cultures have stronger oral traditions? To make this work one
would probably have to use something like a minidisk recorder to record
messages in the villages to upload and send as e-mail attachments
(.wav, .mp3).

Altogether, the extent to which the young people's intermediary roles
are for transmission of content without the need for transformation
means less work for them and increased directness of the communication
they are facilitating.

As one might say in one of the languages of SE Nigeria: Jisie ike!

Don Osborn
Bisharat.net



Njideka Ugwuegbu [EMAIL PROTECTED] wrote:

 I am a Digital Vision Fellow at Stanford and the focus of my work is to
 develop a rural messaging service that will give villagers a voice to
 the world.

 What I am proposing is a youth-led process to help villagers that don't
 use computers or the Internet, but want to communicate with their
 loved ones outside the village (in other towns or even in the Diaspora).
 The process will begin at the Owerri Digital Village, a community
 technology and learning center in eastern Nigeria. 

..snip...

 What the program hopes to achieve is the promotion and empowerment of
 marginalized youth through ICT skills training for creation of socially
 responsible citizens, access to computers and most of all the
 satisfaction of doing something that the community places a significant
 value on.






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Re: [GKD-DOTCOM] Using Intermediaries to Facilitate Communication

2003-12-02 Thread Don Osborn
Pat Hall's questions for Pam McLean open up a whole range of issues
regarding the intersection of sociolinguistics, and language and
education policies with ICT policy that are pertinent to the discussion
but probably need to be explored in depth elsewhere. I'll let Pam reply
on the particular case of Yoruba with which she is more familar than I,
but the general situation in African educational systems has been to
favor the official languages inherited from colonization even though
these are no one's maternal languages. Many countries where English is
used have policies for some African language instruction at lower grades
shifting to English later, though I've heard that application is uneven
at best, while the general rule where French is the official language
has long been a French-only (from day one) approach. Although a few
people manage to excel under (or despite?) these type of systems, many
others end up with limited skills in their maternal language (e.g.,
can't write it, don't have as wide a range of expression as they might)
and limited skills in the official language (in which, at least in the
typical Francophone model, learning is by rote).

One wonders if this isn't an underappreciated dimension to the
development struggles of the continent: the means haven't been there or
allocated to developing and applying effective bilingual education,
hence the majority of school leavers don't end up with an optimal set of
language skills and all that would go with that.

On the ICT side, one of the reasons for pushing for multilingual
capacities on computer systems and African language content on Internet
for the continent, is to open up the possibility for use of and
expression in - and indeed learning of/in - the mother tongues and
vehicular languages, whatever does or doesn't happen in the educational
systems (regarding the latter, there are some hopeful developments in
some places like in Mali). But because even literate people may not be
multiliterate, and also because of the importance of oral tradition,
innovation - regarding audio especially, as many of us are saying -
would seem to be an essential part of the strategy ... As well as a way
to avoid having someone translate Yoruba to English to write in a
letter/e-mail and perhaps someone else translate English to Yoruba on
the receiving end.


Don Osborn
Bisharat.net




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Re: [GKD-DOTCOM] What's on the Horizon?

2003-12-03 Thread Don Osborn
I'd like to add a set of technologies involving language to the list
before this thread is entirely cold: translators, text-to-speech (TTS),
and speech-to-text (STT). In societies of the global South that are
multilingual, and have strong oral traditions and low literacy rates,
these technologies might be used in some interesting ways. For instance,
computer translators could be used to help speed up translation of
educational materials for publication. TTS could turn any text web page
into something oral (even if aethetically not as pleasing as the human
voice). STT could be used to assist in transcribing oral histories etc.,
and I wonder about the possibility of creating synchronized audio-text
files with this technology which would facilitate searching.

All three of these language transformative technologies exist and are
being refined. Aside from time and money to make them work for different
needs  settings, they do depend on staying with a standard orthography
for each language - an area where ICT and language policies need to be
coordinated.

While computer translators are kind of a gimmick to many in the North
and a tool used in a limited (?) way by some businesses, and TTS and STT
are, so far as I'm aware, thought of mainly as a way to assist people
with disabilities, I think all three could have a tremendous long term
impact in the multilingual South.

Don Osborn
Bisharat.net




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Re: [GKD] Geographical Information Systems and the Developing World

2004-01-08 Thread Don Osborn
A couple of interesting sites for info on GIS and development:

1. Integrated Approaches to Participatory Development (IAPAD)'s
Participatory Avenues site at http://www.iapad.org/ - ... aims at
sharing significant progress in visualizing people's spatial knowledge
(cognitive maps) and in providing communities added stake in tailoring
and owning conservation and development initiatives. This takes into
account other techniques as well as GIS. The IAPAD site and contents
have been evolving since I last visited a couple of years ago and is
well worth the visit. (Thanks to Giacomo Rambaldi of CTA
http://www.cta.int for reminding me of this - CTA by the way has an
electronic journal, ICT UpDate, that may also be of interest - the
latest issue on livestock [#15 for Jan. 04] has an article on use of GPS
 GIS with herders in Senegal, including use of Pulaar for map
references.).

2. Urban and Regional Information Systems Association site at
http://www.urisa.org/  Among other things, URISA has sponsored several
PPGIS conferences (public participatory GIS). And they are helpful with
info too.

Don Osborn
Bisharat.net




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[GKD] RFI: Recent Surveys of Languages on the Web

2004-03-04 Thread Don Osborn
A few years ago a project of Funredes http://funredes.org/ did some
surveys of mainly Latin languages (plus English  German) on the web,
tracing the changes in proportion of content in each.  At about the same
time (2000) the VilaWeb news site out of Barcelona featured a survey
with a more extensive language list.  The latter is mentioned at
http://www.clickz.com/stats/big_picture/demographics/article.php/5901_40852
1 and also with link to the original (which is in Catalan) at
http://nosaltres.vilaweb.com/info/vilaweb/cerca_u.noticia?p_idint=10738
947

Would anyone have information on more recent surveys along these lines?

Thanks in advance.
  
Don Osborn 
Bisharat.net




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