We need local, libre and mobile “Internet”

It’s been another month in Colombia. I think I have again learned some important new things in here. Many of these are related to Free/libre and open source software and technology in learning.

Like every vacation in here, this time as well, we spent several days in countryside and in small village called Tobia.

In the whole world there are millions of villages like Tobia. Characteristic for these places are: difficult geological location, not that good basic infrastructure, poorly connected, limited public transportation, shortage of skilled labor and little economical activity. If you include all the difficult neighborhoods in mega-cities of southern hemisphere, we may conclude that billions of people live in this kind of environments. This is reality for more than 50% of the world population.

Tobia is a lovely place – no doubt. People are nice and relaxed. Weather is good all around the year. Mountains and rivers around the village offer nice possibilities for out door activities. Tobia has a lot potential for tourism. What makes things difficult is the lack of information and communication channels.

Examples: In Tobia I was told a rumor – actually I heard it first time two or three years ago – that soon there will be a new highway that is planned to go very close to the village. When asking when it will be ready nobody was able to give even estimation of the year when it will be there. Another night when asking from the locals if there are restaurants to have a dinner, we were told that “no – no restaurants, as far as we know”. Ten minutes walk around gave us very different result: there are few restaurants here and there, if you just look closely enough inside the houses.

The new highway would naturally change many things in the village. It could boom the slowly rising tourism industry. Easily available information about the restaurants would also be good for the whole village – both for the locals and the visitor.

This kind of information is critical for all economic activity in this kind of villages. If I am planning to start a business, I really need to know how and about how many (10 or 1000?) people will find it. So, I need to know if there will be a highway and when it is ready (at least the year!)?. I also need to know how my customers will be fed (or not) after they have consumed my product or service. I need to know if there are restaurants.

In Tobia – and most of the villages and neighborhoods alike – there are no local newspaper or radio station. Basically nobody is reporting about the local issues, those which really are important for all the people living in there.

Starting a local newspaper or radio station would probably become too expensive. The Government of course could start these, but I am afraid that even for them there are too many villages and neighborhoods, to have one in each of them.

This makes me to conclude that we need:

  • Local information and communication services that are community or entrepreneur driven and economically sustainable.
  • These should be libre and free in a sense that anyone with very little investment should be able to present news, concerns and advertisements in the service.

So, how this could be done?

  • The business should be in advertisements and/or in small fees paid by the people using the service.
  • The actually service should run on cheapest possible server that can be used with: 1) WLAN devices, such as computers and mobile phones; (2) GSM/data, GPRS, 3G mobile phones; and (3) even with the simple GSM/SMS/audio mobile phones. A good candidate to be the “server” is a mobile phone running web server (Apache on S60/Symbian).
  • For mobile phones there should be a client making it possible to posts audio notes to the server under different categories. If you don’t have “smart phone” you should be able to do it with SMS and your voice (compare: voice mail). MobilED server could be useful in here.

Now when reading what I actually wrote here, I see that what I am proposing is a craigslist with the exceptions that the content should be primary audio, naturally in local languages and usable with mobile phones.

2 thoughts on “We need local, libre and mobile “Internet”

  1. Hi Peter, Thank you for sharing your paper – good work. There are few points, related to the things already presented in my post, which I think are critical for the success of Community Knowledge Management systems. * The services provided (in the first stage) should be very focused. The benefits of using them should be obvious for the users: employment service, for sale, housing, events, community news etc.* One should use – as much as possible – technology that is already in the hands of the people. This is why the services should work with simple mobile phones.* The service should respect already existing conventions of using the technology. There should be as little as possible need to learn new ways of using technology. This is why the services should be primary audio services.* After the basic service (community news, classified adds, etc.) people may invent new ways of using the system.

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