India: news you can use

Upbeat stories for the eve of the holiday. It’s still little understood how much difference the marriage of mobile telephones and the internet will make to the poorest societies on earth. Information currently not available because of cost, distance, illiteracy or whatever reason will become more available as the web – gradually – becomes more reachable with more and more phones. Eric Schmidt of Google told the recent Abu Dhabi media summit that mobile phone ownership is increasing eight times as fast as broadband adoption and that Google’s engineers now design first for phones and second for PCs.

We tend to think of the expanding access to information as reading the stuff on smartphones within reach of suitable networks. But there are also plenty of creative ways of marrying the web with phones that can’t actually handle web pages. Two examples.

I came across the gathering and “re-broadcasting” of village news to phones in Uttar Pradesh when I was last in India and mentioned it briefly in a recent lecture. Here is the full story.

Second example is the better known, which played an important role in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake.

I was arguing a day or two ago with Charlie Beckett of Polis about the digital networked conversation. These seem to me to be examples of genuinely useful networks.


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