Thursday, June 7, 2007

Access to Information to Everyone

I had the opportunity to listen to the talk “Technology for the Global Good” by Cliff Missen, the founder of WiderNet project, at the Fulbright Science and Technology seminar held in San Jose, CA.


Schools and universities in most of the developing countries have limited or no internet connection. This is especially true in African and South American developing countries. In Sri Lanka, an Asian country, most universities provide free internet access to their students. However, the bandwidth is much more less than that in developed countries. Further, most schools don’t have access to vast amount of information available in the Internet.


I am impressed by the eGranary project which aims to bring information to African students free of charge. Since these countries do not possess enough bandwidth to directly connect to the Internet, the basic idea is to create an offline version of educational web sites and store them in a persistent storage. You may think this is not useful, but the point is something is better than nothing. If these countries don’t have the infrastructure to deliver the high bandwidth demanding content, the next best option is to replicate the information and make it available through other means. How often do we think of the perfect solution and give up when we cannot overcome the obstacles? This is a good lesson for all such thinkers. It is not the prefect solution that matters, but the impact you make by implementing a feasible solution.

They use the open source HTTrack software to replicate educational sites in the Internet. One obvious question, with information in the web changing constantly, how do we keep the offline copy up to date? The key idea is to use a protocol that updates the offline copy based on the tentative update frequency of actual web sites. We need a similar protocol to do the other way round; that is, reflecting the changes done to offline copy in actual web sites. You can contribute to this project by allowing eGranary to use web content you own. Currently the update process is manual, but I think it is not far way goal to fully automate update process both ways.

It’d be quite useless to have gigabytes of information offline without a search facility. I am really impressed of the search engine that is provided with eGranary digital library – it’s simply like Google search result.

IMHO, this is a really good way to bring information to high school students in countries like ours. One further step would be to make different offline copies different sets of audiences.

There are other benefits of using the above idea as well.

As we all know, the Internet is full of information, most of which is useless for a particular group of audience. By filtering out only the useful information, we not only make information search quick, but also build a network of trusted web sites.

Parents are increasingly concerned about protecting their children from harmful content in the web while allowing them to access information.This'd be a good way to ensure we meet both objectives.

No comments: