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Technology, Cost, Outcomes: The Open Source debate does matter in ICT4D

The ICT_Works blog has come out swinging: Linux vs. Microsoft is the most useless debate in ICT4D

As would any sane-minded person after being subjected to a shouting match in Kyrgyzstan. And the core point is absolutely valid - when you're talking about educational outcomes, there is no effective difference:

Educators stressed that teachers already had extensive training on Windows software and would be confused, even lost, in the Linux environment. Students who learned Linux and LibreOffice would be at a disadvantage in the job marketplace as employers would only hire staff that are fluent in Microsoft applications. [...] All of the adults in the conference learned how to use computers back when Windows 98 was in vogue, some even started with Basic, yet no one complains they cannot use an iPhone, iPad, or even MacBook without training.

Open Source Society

Open Source all the things

This is a rough summary of my talk Tuesday night at DCWeek's Hot Tech Trends. Read more about the panel and continue the discussion over at quora

The trend I'm most interested in right now is actually as much offline as it is on. It really hit me a few weeks ago as I was reading through the minutes of an Occupy General Assembly. Here was a huge meeting with multiple viewpoints that was being successfully self-facilitated, prioritizing issues and moving quickly. This was a committee that was being collaborative, open, transparent, and still ... effective.

It really got me thinking on how we are are becoming accustomed to new social constructs in movements, government, and business. These concepts are familiar to anyone who's delved into the nuts and bolts of open source software -- like collaboration, shared or no ownership, team-building, and radical transparency -- but they're popping up everywhere offline.

So, I want to tackle the convergence of these concepts offline with the democratization of tools online

By democratization, I really mean simplicity and open to all. An important pre-condition to this is basic access, but we are increasingly living in an access-rich world, thanks to mobile. This year, Africa surpassed both European and the Americas and is now the second largest market for mobiles - behind only the Asia/Pacific region.

But beyond access, there is a new "digital divide" if you will -- the ability to create and engage in a participatory experience. Things like Twitter and blogging have long been low barriers of entry for getting your voice heard online. The exciting development in this arena is that it is mindbogglingly easy to create complex sites and apps with drupal and wordpress, at least compared to the work this would have taken 10 years ago.

This combination of a simple toolbox and open social constructs is powerful.

The past few years have been accelerating this convergence. Blogs and Wikipedia have permanently altered publishing, Twitter, Facebook and foursquare have opened up your social life, and Yelp and Tripadvisor have changed your customer service interactions with travel and dining destinations.

But more importantly, crowdfunding models like Kiva and Kickstarter are toe-in-water steps towards creating collaborative business models by seeking out customers and supporters in a very early stage and rallying their support around potential projects and products. Co-working spaces provide entry-level incubation for young startups with great perks of cross-startup networking and talent sharing. These fast prototyping models reduce overall risk and create engaged, evangelical customers and partners.

The social change sphere has jumped in to this intersection and is spawning hundereds of really exciting co-creation models. We've seen this in crisis mapping (Snowpocalypse, Haiti, Thailand), protest movements (Moldova, ArabSpring, OWS), open data mashups combining entrepreneurs and civic data (Apps4Democracy, UN Global Pulse), and even countries crowdsourcing their own constitutions (Iceleand and now Morocco)

The availability of these easy to use platforms and expectations of openness and co-creation is forcing new levels of engagement in all sectors. People are no longer OK with occasional, reactive, or superficial engagement.

My first human interaction with a brand shouldn't be after I post a negative tweet - nor should it be a annual 10 page user survey that never changes anything. I want to help build their business and be engaged at a strategic level, even though I'm "just" a consumer

If that sounds a bit insane and totally unscalable, just replace business with government and consumer with citizen and it suddenly sounds less crazy.

Business, non-profits, social enterprises, and governments will all need to open up not only their data or their superficial interactions, but begin to fully collaborate with their communities on their policies and business plans.

This means that 2012 holds a huge potential for global co-creation and new organizational frameworks, and anyone who doesn't begin to engage customers, supporters and citizens in this way is going to be shut out by organizations that aren't merely building their business with their users in mind, but building their business with their users.

With these concepts of shared ownership, highly functional teams, collaboration and transparency, combined with online structures that parallel these same values, we have a world where decentralized, democratized power structures forming across the digital/analog borders. This changes governance, economics, social change and business.

Holy shit, this is going to be a wild, fun ride.

"All the things" courtesy quickmeme with the amazing original comic by Hyperbole and a Half

Tech4Dev: What's in your backpack?

Inveno's ICT_Works blog recently advertised their awesome addition to the ICT4D world - a solid toolkit to carry to the field.

I made a much lower-tech personal version many years ago, as an IT Peace Corps volunteer. Mine of course was (a) very low cost and (b) designed to travel stuck in side-pocket of a backpack on a crowded country-bound bus. OK, it was really just a few screwdrivers, a 3-2 prong electrical adapter, and a flashlight.

I also always carried around:

1 ~3' crossover cable or crossover adapter (no faster way to test networking!)

1 multi-head cable tool (the kind with a core USB retractable cable and a pouch of other cable-heads to turn it into a phone, network, mini/micro/device USB, firewire, etc. -- easy way to carry around "the right cable for the job" when you're not sure what today's job might be)

My favorite toolkit items were more around the software end of the spectrum, though:

1 bootable USB stick with DamnSmallLinux and a PortableApps Suite

1 bootable floppy with WinXP/NT admin password reset tool

1 BartPE bootable XP CD with anti-virus and diagnostic tools

1 Knoppix or other Linux LiveCD that will work on a wide range of hardware and let you extract files from the HDD

1 CD and USB stick of common free/shareware/OSS software tools - anti-virus, various anti-mal/spy-ware, registry cleaners, zip/archive software, OpenOffice, PDF creation tools, and so on.

Waiting for Ubuntu 10

I finally broke down and bought a laptop, as my existing bevy of half-working laptops is now seriously impacting my ability to actually get things done, as opposed to yak shaving in order to fix the random problem of the day.

Here's a quick tour of my harem of laptops:

A "desktop replacement" system that was cutting edge ... seven years ago - which is surprisingly still my "prime" system.

The "get me through grad school" system that was grabbed off of DellAuction ... four years back, which now has a hard drive which smells of impending FAIL and a hinge which is held together with metal glue

My indefatigable Dell Latitude which I got at the liquidation auction of Agillion in 1999, which traveled with me from Austin to Venezuela to Jamaica to DC, and has had Win2k, 98SE and various flavors of Linux running on it.

Last but not least, my OLPC, which I have a soft spot for, but it's not exactly super-fast itself)

The laptop (a Lenovo Ideapad) has arrived, pre-installed with Windows7, but I am doing my best to not use it much. I'm waiting for Ubuntu 10 to come out tomorrow and see what craziness I can get into there.

My get-me-through-grad-school system is currently running Ubuntu, but isn't quite up to the task of my expectations (I love running all the eye-candy available with "Compiz", which you can see an old demo of at youtube.

Social Networks (including Facebook) and Technology Transfer

In Social Networks (not Facebook) and Development I covered the relevance of local social networks and social capital / trust for successful, long-term community and economic development.

Finding, engaging an empowering local social networks is the first step. I believe connecting these networks to the global communities of interest and practice on the Internet can provide a multiplier effect.

In the recent Technology Salon on Malawian health ICT systems, it was discussed how hiring recent Malawian college grads and connecting them to the global community of open source coders gave them an immense resource to draw on as they began their work; and they were soon contributing as peers and mentors to other programmers around the world.

That's power, and that's the 21st century version of technology transfer.