Archive for month: May, 2010

How to stay valuable when everything’s automated

Categories: Africa, Articles

Arthur Attwell has posted the text of his recent talk at a meeting of editors in Cape Town, South Africa. He focuses on the effect that increasing levels of automation have on the publishing industry, and how editors can stay valuable in the face of that.

This flow, from human creativity towards automation, is like a stream that you must keep swimming against to stay valuable – to keep your job, that is. Only by continually moving your skills (and value-adding activities) up the flow towards its creative end can you keep your job in publishing. Any jobs at the automation end of the flow are quickly taken over by robots of one sort or another. In the same way, in order to add enough value to the publishing process to be able to charge money for their products, publishing companies have to offer creative, human input to the content they gather from authors. That’s where editors are invaluable. Publishing companies that skimp on this will operate closer and closer to the automation end of the flow, employ fewer and fewer highly skilled staff, and eventually become no more than data-scrubbing clearing houses.

He ends on a positive note, emphasising the opportunities for anyone involved in making digital content for developing countries, where demand for that content will grow quickly, given the print-based cost and distribution problems it solves.


British Council – “First Hand”

Categories: Articles

In this text, published on the British Council main website, Octavio Kulesz describes his experience as a finalist for the International Young Publishing Entrepreneur Award in 2006.

“In 2005, I was working as director of a small independent publishing house, which was quite successful but not advanced technologically. I thought we should be using more technology, but did not really know how. I heard about the IYPY award and applied. It offered an opportunity to participate in the London Book Fair and tour the UK publishing industry, both of which presented a chance to make contacts and learn about new technologies.

My participation in the programme in 2006 was a very beneficial experience. I made a pitch at the London Book Fair for work published by my company and visited publishers in England and Scotland. It was a huge boost for me – a very encouraging and motivating experience for a young publisher. It led to many changes in my professional life and changed my way of thinking.”

More information


Arthur Attwell and Ramy Habeeb on O’Reilly Radar

Categories: Africa, Arab World, Interviews, Videos - Tags: , ,

In an article on O’Reilly Radar this week, James Turner interviews Arthur Attwell and Ramy Habeeb on their work in the lead up to this year’s Tools of Change conference.

From Arthur’s interview:

Mobile is one of the keys to that, I think, for Africa because of the existing penetration of mobile devices, but there may be other ways of harnessing digital as well that will include distributing e-books through libraries and internet cafes, kiosks, any infrastructure that doesn’t require someone to be spending a lot of money on a device. I think print on-demand has got a massive future for Africa, and developing countries in general, because of the way it caters to people with low cash flow and who just need a book right now; they can’t afford to get an e-reader or even a netbook computer to read books in the long-term.

Ramy focuses on the challenges of digitizing Arabic works:

One of the problems with Arabic e-books is that there is no OCR. Google claims that they have cracked the OCR nut, and if anyone can do it, it’s Google. But I haven’t yet actually seen that with my own eyes, to see how it works. Part of the reason why we have issues with OCR is because there are thousands of fonts that are usually customized to local publishing houses. It’s almost like a signature of that publishing house to create their own font, it’s part of the culture in publishing. Also, there are so many dots and lines and other things that an automated OCR system can mistake for a letter or distort into another letter. And to complicate matters even more, because the industry is relatively poor, the quality of paper and the quality of ink used isn’t always the highest. All of these factors combined make OCR an extremely difficult endeavor.


The value of low-cost computing

Categories: Africa, Articles

Recently on my blog, I mentioned JCR Licklider, who wrote the 1950s about the revolution that low-cost computing could bring, particularly to politics:

The idea on which Lick’s worldview pivoted was that technological progress would save humanity. The political process was a favorite example of his. In a McLuhanesque view of the power of electronic media, Lick saw a future in which, thanks in large part to the reach of computers, most citizens would be “informed about, and interested in, and involved in, the process of government.” He imagined what he called “home computer consoles” and television sets linked together in a massive network. “The political process,” he wrote, “would essentially be a giant teleconference, and a campaign would be a months-long series of communications among candidates, propagandists, commentators, political action groups, and voters. The key is the self-motivating exhilaration that accompanies truly effective interaction with information through a good console and a good network to a good computer.” (from Where Wizards Stay Up Late)

That’s a powerful vision, and one that has not been realised in Africa even sixty years after Licklider wrote it down. Computing is just too expensive. So I’m very excited to see a large-scale commercial venture (that is, beyond the wonderful and worthy OLPC project) bringing down the price of computing, along with providing 3G web access. Simon Dingle posted about it today:

Telecommunications group Vodacom has launched its Linkbook into the SA market – a super-low price netbook that will go for R199 per month on a two-year contract, including a monthly bandwidth bundle of 300MB. The Linkbook is running a customised Linux distribution based on Ubuntu, and ships with OpenOffice, some games and other applications. It has 2 USB ports, WiFi, a 8.9″ screen, 16GB of embedded flash storage, integrated 3G modem, webcam and a microphone.

The R199-per-month is about $27, and represents about a day’s wages for an entry-level job in South Africa. Till now, content creators in South Africa have only been able to deliver rich media or long-form content to two or three million people, a fraction of South Africa’s population of 50 million. This device is likely to be the first of many that that will explode that market size. And if you think like JCR Licklider, the Gov 2.0 possibilities are even more exciting.

(Thanks to Michelle Matthews at Trialogue for pointing me to the news.)