Friday, September 24, 2004



DIGITAL DIVIDE - ONLINE

Development Gateway: biased, unaccountable and overpriced?
A study prepared for the Bretton Woods Project has found that the Development Gateway, an internet portal on development issues initiated by the World Bank, presents a biased picture of development debates, lacks independence and is inefficient when compared with other similar initiatives.

The Gateway seeks to promote sustainable development and poverty reduction through knowledge and resource sharing. Initially conceived and designed by the World Bank, it commenced operations as an independent not-for-profit organisation in July 2001. However, its launch and operations have been dogged by controversy as civil society organisations have objected to the Gateway's links with the World Bank and its potential for disseminating the World Bank's vision of development at the expense of more diverse and pluralistic views. They have suggested the initiative is ill-conceived and biased, leading to the further marginalisation of southern knowledge, and the crowding out of other knowledge aggregators.

Two evaluations of the Gateway have been published. The first was a broad evaluation of the World Bank's overall knowledge sharing policies and practices conducted by the Bank's internal Operations Evaluation Department (OED) in 2003. The evaluation claims that the Gateway has delivered "credible and high quality content" without providing any basis for this conclusion. It ignores the numerous criticisms by civil society organisations, saying that "the controversy that accompanied early plans for the Development Gateway has declined". The second evaluation was commissioned to a private consultant, Louise Walker Consulting, by the OED the same year. While this is specific to the Gateway it is based on a three week limited desk review during which 14 Bank staff and external individuals were interviewed and "a range of documents from the Development Gateway and the Development Gateway Foundation" were examined.

Given the limited scope and questionable independence of these evaluations, the current investigation was undertaken in light of both the initial criticisms and generally accepted knowledge sharing principles. The study is based on a review of existing documentation (from both the Gateway and external sources) coupled with analysis of the Gateway website and consultations with development professionals.

The focus is on the governance of the Gateway, the relevance and role of the Gateway, and the quality of content in terms of its comprehensiveness, uniqueness, diversity, organisation, usability, and cost-effectiveness. It is limited to the topic pages and, to a lesser degree, the country-specific sections known as 'Country Gateways'; it does not address the sections on consulting opportunities (dgMarket) or donor activities (AiDA). Three other development portals are studied as comparators: civil society portals OneWorld and Choike and research portal Eldis.

Lack of independence
Out of the 35 current topic areas, 24 are managed by World Bank or Gateway staff. Six of the twenty board members are current Bank employees, while another two are former employees. A $6 million a year service agreement for providing operating staff and services to the Gateway was won by the World Bank - apparently without competitive bidding. Clearly, the Gateway has a long way to go before it could be considered independent of the World Bank.

There has been a lack of accountability and responsiveness to civil society, and as a result a lack of trust among the Gateway's intended users and 'beneficiaries'. Key documents regarding the establishment of the Gateway are no longer available on the website, nor are the two existing evaluations. For two months, there was no response to requests for such documentation. Furthermore, despite the limited evaluation of the Gateway so far, there are no plans to commission an independent examination.

Many of the criticisms leveled at the Gateway echo those made of the World Bank as a whole. In particular, the tendency to ignore local circumstances and alternative viewpoints in favour of 'best practice' solutions is a common criticism of the Bank that manifests itself in the Gateway. It is unlikely that these criticisms will be addressed if the Gateway continues to be linked to the Bank.

Biased knowledge
The editorial policy, under which designated 'topic guides' select relevant content that demonstrates methodological rigour, severely disadvantages information from southern sources. A detailed analysis of the privatisation and trade topics showed that more than 80 per cent of the resources were from northern sources, and 96 per cent were in English. Telecommunications liberalisation was the single most popular theme, which brings into question whose interests are reflected in the choice of content. Under privatisation, 41 per cent of all resources were sourced by the World Bank or its affiliates. Both internal evaluations pointed to inadequate attention to local circumstances as a key concern. This was supposedly addressed by the Gateway through expanding the pool of topic guides and partners. However, only three out of 35 'topic guides' are from the south.

Encouragingly, there is no evidence that the Gateway has cannibalised other independent development portals. However, Roberto Bissio, director of Instituto Tercer Mundo, believes that this is "not because the Gateway has not tried to position itself as the major portal, but because they have not succeeded!". Bissio expresses concern that the Gateway may however have "diverted an enormous amount of funds intended to support development-related internet activities from the content providers in the South to a highly centralised operation in Washington DC."

An unclear definition of stakeholders and beneficiaries has been acknowledged by both internal evaluations of the Gateway. This is identified as a major problem in the context of customising the content for actual users. This is in conflict with the knowledge sharing principles espoused by the World Bank, that state clearly that the point of knowledge sharing programmes lies in the application of knowledge, not the mechanics of sharing. The Gateway has built a de-contextualised repository of development knowledge, without any clear idea of how this knowledge will be used. This is also reflected in the fact that the goals of the Gateway are framed in mechanistic terms such as achieving five million page views a month, rather than in terms of outcomes. Both existing evaluations found that the Gateway does not provide any strategic uniqueness.

Questioning content
Despite the expenditure of vast sums, the Gateway is not the most comprehensive web portal for development knowledge. The global civil society portal OneWorld and research portal Eldis provide as much or more content than the Gateway for social, political, and environmental topics, while the Gateway tends to be strongest in economic topics, and more specifically information technology related topics. This technological bias is also reflected in the categorisation of topics, with five out of the 35 Gateway topics allocated to information technology, and none dedicated to health, education, rural development, debt, labour, or conflict.

Other development websites can provide broader coverage by serving as true portals - pointing to the relevant information regardless of where it is located. This was clearly demonstrated by searching for specific information across all the portals. Out of forty search terms, the Gateway returned the highest number of hits for just four - broadband, ICT, internet and microfinance. Choike, by far the smallest portal, provided access to more resources than the Gateway for as many as 21 out of the 40 selected search terms. OneWorld and Eldis also provided more resources than the Gateway for 21 and 29 search terms respectively.

Access to country-specific information is chaotic, with different portions of the Gateway website giving access to wildly different numbers of Country Gateways. The OED may claim that the Gateway's content is credible and of high quality, but this analysis suggests that it is poorly organised and lacks comprehensiveness.

Who pays the bill?
The Gateway is significantly less cost-effective than the other portals. Total Gateway expenditures up to mid-2003 were $23.4 million. In contrast, total costs incurred up to mid-2003 were $4.6 million for OneWorld, $0.9 million for Eldis, and $0.4 million for Choike.
Dividing these costs by the number of resources created by each portal provides a measure of total costs incurred per resource provided. This was found to vary between a low of $57.50 for Eldis to a high of $407.88 for the Development Gateway. An alternative view of cost-effectiveness was obtained by looking at usage of each website. Dividing monthly costs by the monthly number of visits gives the cost incurred per website visit. This ranges from $0.26 for Choike to $4.85 for the Gateway.

Ways forward
The Gateway has consumed more than $30 million of mostly public funding since its inception and is currently raising another $40 million. This without having achieved many of the goals it set itself and with major question marks over its ability to deliver. We urge a full, properly independent evaluation, expanding on the work in this study, before any more money is spent.

Some of the steps needed to resolve the problems identified in this study include:

- Re-open the dialogue with civil society and official development partners to redefine the mission and priorities for the Gateway, clearly identifying the distinct categories and needs of users;
- Establish an ongoing monitoring and evaluation system;
- Undertake immediate action to diversify the board and staff to reduce the influence of the Bank and better reflect the needs of users;
- Terminate the World Bank service contract and develop alternative service partnerships;
- Launch an initiative to increase content from the South, through increased partnerships with southern civil society organisations, universities, media, or web portals;
- Improve transparency to all stakeholders in development, through provision of key documents, performance statistics, and consultation results on the website. Provide a forum on the website for an open discussion of the Gateway itself; and
- Restructure existing content by rationalising the taxonomy and rectifying the bias towards technology at the expense of important social and political issues.

Postscript
The study was sent to the Development Gateway for feedback at both the draft and final stages. Their response to the draft simply disagreed with the report overall without addressing any of its specific findings. Karen Lynch, the Gateway's Communications Director now suggests that they are "in the advanced stages of addressing the recommendations of the report". Accordingly, they plan to end the World Bank service contract by June 2005. Diversification of partners is an "ongoing goal" (though Gateway staff take issue with the basis for the study's statistics on usage and content). They concede problems with the organisation of the content and are working to improve it.
Date: September 2004

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OPEN SOURCE - SOFTWARE

Free software, Internet gives a voice to African activists
Proper management and planning can give lobby groups and campaigner’s cheap, rapid communications and information.
African lobby groups, as well as community and independent media, are using free software and the internet to fight a lack of money and skills.
The internet had also helped overcome the problems associated with widely dispersed audiences and, in some countries, government crackdowns on freedom of expression, speakers told the Highway Africa 2004 conference in Grahamstown last week.

Lynne Muthoni Wanyeki, a director of Femnet, a pan-African organisation based in Kenya, said the group had used the internet to campaign for and protect women's rights. It began by sending information via e-mail and SMS to women's groups across the continent and posting information on its website about the regional debates on the formation of the African Union. It had also lobbied its network to make nominations for the posts available for women in the PanAfrican Parliament.
Wanyeki said Femnet's experience showed there was a need to plan internet-based campaigns carefully, determining who needed to be reached, what needed to be achieved and how, and to understand better the technologies available.

John Lannon of the Praxis Centre at Leeds University said the internet had helped human rights movements because it was cost-efficient, suited non-hierarchical structures and could be used to skirt government controls. It was used to disseminate information to a wide audience rapidly and could encourage effective action. It was also a useful research tool and provided educational material. One organisation to use the internet well was religious group Falun Gong, harassed by China's government.

Some well-known South African examples of using the internet for lobbying are websites such as "hellkom", "telkomsucks" and "neverflysaa", which were begun by dissatisfied Telkom and South African Airways customers.

Telkom's senior manager of corporate communications, Hans van de Groenendaal, said there was a difference between lobbying and activism on the web. A ctivism went further than lobbying for example, by encouraging supporters to send e-mails, which Telkom considered an infringement on people's right to privacy.

Customers should have a right to express an opinion, and although companies might not like it, they should listen and respond by changing or correcting wrong perceptions, if that was the case, Van de Groenendaal said. Companies should be allowed to protect their brands and trademarks, and the media should take into account that opinions expressed on lobby sites might emanate from a minority.

Open-source software can also help cash-strapped media organisations. The Centre for Advanced Media Prague (Camp), a Czech-based subsidiary of the Media Development Loan Fund, gives technology assistance to independent news media in emerging countries.
In SA, Noseweek ran on Campware, MD Sava Tatic said, and the organisation had also assisted community radio stations in Indonesia and Nepal.
Campware, which was free, was available in multiple languages and included content management, customer relationship management and print distribution tracking software.
Another solution was using refurbished computers. Alan Finlay of Open Research said it was estimated that about 50% of Africa's computers were refurbished. These cost less than new ones and last at least five years.

But there were limitations to using the internet, Lannon said. Skills were often lacking, and human rights websites and e-mails were competing for attention with a lot of other noise in cyberspace. The internet was only a tool and could not "change the disengaged to the engaged".
Source; BusinessDay
Data; September 2004

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E-BUSINESS - E-PUBLISHING

Do-it-yourself book publishing takes off on the Web
When Ross Yockey and his daughter, Beth, wanted to write a book parodying the national No Child Left Behind educational standards, they had no time or interest in the traditional book publishing route.
Instead, the Seattle residents - who wanted their book in readers' hands before the November presidential vote - uploaded their completed manuscript to a North Carolina-based Internet company called Lulu.com.
Within minutes, the book was available for sale online. Each time a purchase is made, a printer in Rochester, N.Y., makes an individual copy that is shipped to the buyer, typically in 24 hours or less. The royalties are split automatically among the Yockeys, Lulu and the printer, ColorCentric.
"I'm a longtime author, with 15 books published," said Ross, who has also written biographies on former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl and composer-conductor Andre Previn. "This is the first one that hasn't gone those usual channels," which he said can be lucrative but lengthy.

The book, Strictly for the Birds, hasn't gone blockbuster yet, Ross said, although that's wasn't the goal. He and his daughter wanted to make a point — and fast. "It was super, mega, totally crazy fast," said Beth, 26.
Such on-demand printing is still a small fraction of the overall book industry. But it is quickly opening avenues for authors to bring their books to market directly, quickly and sometimes cost-free.

"There were a lot of early abortive efforts to try this," said Jim Hamilton, an analyst with InfoTrends/CAP Ventures in Weymouth, Mass. "There was a concept that there would be instant book kiosks in bookstores, and that did not work. ... But we are in a very creative phase now and it's very exciting."

What's more, this kind of publishing might just foster a market for book-writing in the same way Kodak first opened up photography to amateur picture takers nearly a century ago, said Frank Cost, a printing professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
"Everyone is starting to realize this works, and it's fantastic," Cost said.
A string of on-demand book publishers has cropped up in the last few years, including iUniverse.com, AuthorHouse.com, Xlibris.com, CafePress.com, uPublish.com and Lulu.com. While prices vary widely depending on the level of services offered, most work in similar ways.

Authors write their texts, sometimes including photos and illustrations, then upload the book via the Internet to the publisher. Some list the books directly with Internet retailers such as Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and Borders.com.
IUniverse.com, for example, is partly owned by Barnes & Noble and has positioned itself much like a traditional publishing house, requiring the author to go through copy editing and review. It also offers layout and cover design for a flat fee.
"We're focusing on being a farm team for people who want to get into the publishing industry," said Lynette Petersen, spokeswoman for iUniverse, based in Lincoln, Neb.

"We will always produce the books meant for friends and families. But we're designing books also so they have more appeal to the traditional channels in the publishing industry."

Other publishers, such as Lulu.com, opt for a more direct approach: Authors upload their text, which printers produce as is.
"If we are wildly successful, it's not that we're going to steal 5% of sales from Random House or other publishers," said Bob Young, Lulu.com's founder as well as the founder of open-source software company Red Hat. "It's because we're creating a whole new industry and bringing a whole new category of content to the market."
Printing experts say the entire concept of on-demand or instant books has reached a new level — publishers and printers can now produce one copy of a book profitably.
"A number of titles can be successful if run in quantities of 10 or 20 books, or even one copy," said Thomas F. Wetjen, vice president of Xerox Graphic Communications Industry, Production Systems Group. "We've been able to lay out a case to publishers to show them where there is value and where they can make money on that."

For example, a traditional publisher that expects a book could sell 1 million copies might decide on a print run of 800,000, then assign any remaining sales to an on-demand printer. It may also mean a book never actually goes out of print, since publishers could print small batches of books as needed.

"Maybe there's not a huge market for individual books," said Stephen Fraser, Lulu's director of communications. "But they are very meaningful to those who write them, for people who want to put their family history on the shelf, to create something special."
Source; USA Today. September 2004
Write; by Richard Mullins, Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle

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TECHNOLOGY - R&D

Last gasp of the fax machine
Office technology: That most exasperating piece of equipment, the fax machine, is on its way out. But it will take a very long time to die.
Who hasn't felt the urge to smash up the office fax with a hammer at least once? The machines are slow, testy and prone to breaking - usually at the worst possible moment. They became indispensable items of office life in the 1980s and 1990s, when huge rolls of paper curled from out-trays as lengthy documents arrived. (More advanced machines cut the paper, but then the individual pages ended up on the floor in random order.) Such clunkiness was nonetheless a major advance from 150 years earlier, when Alexander Bain, a Scottish inventor, patented the first fax - a device that connected two styluses using a pendulum and a telegraph wire.

Thank goodness, then, that faxes are now going the way of the typewriter and carbon paper. E-mail is mostly responsible: it is easier, cheaper (especially for communicating abroad) and paperless. Whereas fax machines must be checked constantly to see whether something has come in, e-mail simply pops up on screen. Stand-alone fax machines have been especially hard-hit, though multi-function machines - which combine the fax machine with a copier, printer and scanner - have also struggled. Peter Davidson, a fax consultant, says that sales of fax machines worldwide fell from 15m in 2000 to 13m in 2001 and are still falling. He estimates that faxes now account for just 4% of companies' phone bills, down from 13% ten years ago. Americans especially are shedding them fast: by 2006, Mr Davidson predicts, their spending on fax machines will be less than half what it was in 2002.

Junk faxing has helped to keep the machines whirring. But it too is fading as governments crack down. In January, for example, America's telecoms regulator, the Federal Communications Commission, fined Fax.com, a marketing company based in California, $5.4m (the biggest such penalty ever) for mass-faxing unsolicited advertisements in violation of a law passed in 1991. Fax.com had defended itself on the grounds of free speech, an argument echoed by telemarketers, who are also under fire as people rebel against intrusive salesmanship.

As well as fining six companies in the last five years, the FCC has issued more than 200 warnings. Stronger limits on fax marketing, requiring anyone sending an advertising fax to have written permission from the recipient, are due to come into force in January 2005, though Congress may yet soften this to allow businesses and charities demonstrating an “established business relationship” with customers to send them faxes without prior permission.

Even so, new technologies and regulations will not kill off faxes just yet. The machines are still helpful for communicating with people in rural areas or poor countries where internet access is spotty. They also transmit signatures: although electronic signatures have been legally binding in America since 2000, hardly anyone actually uses them. Besides, some companies are only just adopting e-mail. Abbey, a British bank, used to rely heavily on faxes to transmit information between its headquarters and branches. Personal e-mail for branch employees was only installed this year as part of a technological overhaul.

Publishers, among the first to embrace fax machines because they sped up the editing process, may be the last to bid them goodbye. Stephen Brough of Profile Books, a London publisher affiliated with The Economist, says that faxes are still useful in transmitting orders to distributors, and in allowing authors to indicate changes on page proofs easily. (Electronic editing, in which multiple versions of the same file swiftly proliferate, can be a nightmare.) Publishing contracts, which involve lots of crossing-outs and additions, can also be edited by fax. At Lonely Planet, a travel-guide company, a publishing assistant says she is sometimes asked to fax pages of company stationery to other publishers as proof of identity.

The persistence of the fax has much to do with the perils of e-mail. Because it is such a pain to operate, the fax is generally used with discretion (a relief after e-mail overload). Faxes also allow lawyers, among others, to have exchanges that they can later shred, without leaving an electronic record. The biggest gripe about document transmission via e-mail, however, is attachments: unless you have the right software, they are meaningless.

“One of the most common academic experiences is the failed attachment: a person sends you an attachment with incomprehensible formatting of immense length that crashes your system,” says Gillian Evans, a history professor at Cambridge University. “Then there is an irascible exchange of often quite stylish e-mails - at the end of which one of the parties says, ‘For goodness' sake, send me a fax!'” This is especially true, she says, during summers, when professors are often at home using slow, dial-up internet connections. Unless e-mail improves drastically, in other words, the fax machine seems likely to retain a devoted, if shrinking, following.
Source; The Economist. September 2004

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PRIVACY - SECURITY

Google omits controversial news stories in China
The internet's most popular search engine Google has been accused of supporting Chinese internet controls by omitting contentious news stories from search results in China.
State-sponsored internet providers in China routinely block access to internet sites deemed inappropriate by the government. These include both Chinese and foreign news sites carrying reports that criticise the Chinese government.
Researchers at Dynamic Internet Technology (DIT), a US company that provides technology for circumventing internet restrictions in China, have discovered that the recently-launched Chinese version of Google News omits blocked news sources from its results.
The origin of a computer sending a search request can be identified using its internet protocol (IP) address.

World view
Google admits to omitting some news sources within China but says this is meant to improve the quality of the service.
"In order to create the best possible news search experience for our users, we sometimes decide not to include some sites, for a variety of reasons," says a statement issued by the company. "These sources were not included because their sites are inaccessible."
Bill Xia, chief executive of DIT, however, accuses Google of reinforcing Chinese internet restrictions by leaving some sites off its list. "When people do a search they will get the wrong impression that the whole world is saying the same thing," he told New Scientist.
DIT enables Chinese internet users to get around government restrictions by connecting to computers located outside of the country.

Inside out
Some users recently reported that Google's Chinese news search returned different results depending when they searched using a computer based outside of China. The claims were substantiated by researchers who connected to computers inside the country.

In the past, other search companies have also been accused of supporting Chinese internet controls. In 2002, for instance, Yahoo's Chinese search engine was modified to provide only limited results for queries related to the banned religious group, Falun Gong.

And Xia notes that Google recently acquired a stake in a Chinese search company called Baidu.com.

Ben Edelman, of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, part of Harvard University in the US, says Google will face increasing pressure from the Chinese government to adhere to its restrictions as it extends its reach.
"As Google gains more interest in China and even comes to have financial interests in China, it's hard to imagine Google won't do so," he told New Scientist.
Source; New Scientist. September 2004
Write; by Will Knight

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TELECOMMUNICATIONS - MOBILE

Turkcell to become Iran’s second mobile operator
Turkcell, a Turkey-based mobile operator, has signed a license agreement with Iran to set up the first Iranian private mobile phone network, conditional on paying a EUR 300 million license fee
Date; September 2004
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