It is undeniable that the mobile Web can help to reduce the digital divide. Developments in this field have allowed greater access to web content in numerous countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. But what happens when it comes to creation and participation? How do we promote an open mobile web in which local users can be active players, rather than passive consumers? To discuss these issues, which are of vital importance for the publishing world, we talked to Mark Surman, Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation.
Archive for category: Africa
The intercultural, interdisciplinary and multilingual journal Bibliodiversity’s last issue focuses on the “Digital South”, thus highlighting the relatively unknown reality of digital publishing in countries of the South.
Based on a selection of the best papers and interviews published in French, Spanish and English on the Digital Lab of the International Alliance of Independent Publishers (IAIE), Bibliodiversity proposes a fresh outlook and provides a platform for voices that were until now little heard, or rather little listened to.
In a presentation at TEDxAIMS on 20 January, Arthur Attwell argued that the idea that “technology spreads quickly” is a common misconception. As wealthy, technology-oriented people, it suits us to say “technology spreads quickly”, but for most people in the world, new technology arrives late and slowly. The speed at which technology spreads is of course relative to our individual perception of time and progress. If we choose to believe it’s quick, argues Attwell, then we risk building products that our customers can’t use.
From the talk:
For instance, we’re told and we believe that the mobile web is moving like lightning through Africa. Then why, according to our recent census, do 65 per cent of South Africans have no Internet access at all? Why, five years since M-PESA revolutionised low-cost banking in Kenya, do we still not have a mobile-banking service in South Africa that the poor can afford?
Last month, a report said that broadband access in South Africa had more than doubled in the last two years. Is that fast? Well, it sounds fast. But if we remove the celebratory tone from the press release, maybe it isn’t. Broadband penetration increased from 5% to 11% of South Africans. So, here’s the most revolutionary, democratising, business-enabling technology ever invented and in two whole years we shift the needle by a measly 6 per cent.
New technology spreads slowly.
Ken Banks has written a superb article on mobile technology in developing countries (M4D). He is concerned that:
1. Everyone is still excited by the potential of mobile
2. The same projects surface over and over again as proof mobile works
3. Mobile is still largely seen as a solution, not a tool
4. It’s up to the developed world to get mobile working for the poor
5. The top-down mindset is alive and well
Banks is the founder of kiwanja.net, which “helps social innovators, entrepreneurs and non-profit organisations make better use of information and communication technologies in their work”. He’s also a key contributor to the revolutionary FrontlineSMS. In his article he argues:
Development is changing, powered by accessible and affordable liberating technologies and an emerging army of determined, local talent. A local talent that is gradually acquiring the skills, resources and support it needs to take back ownership of many of its problems – problems it never took original ownership of because those very skills and resources were not available.
Well, now they are. The ICT4D community – education establishments, donors and technologists among them – need to collectively recognise that it needs to ajdust to this new reality, and work with technologists, entrepreneurs and grassroots non-profits across the developing world to accelerate what has become an inevitable shift.
Last July, Arthur spoke at TEDxCapeTown on the surprising power of the photocopier, and how he’s using the ebook revolution in publishing to deliver books using photocopiers in developing countries. The text of the talk is also available.
On Publishing Perspectives today, you’ll find the introduction to Octavio Kulesz’s significant research into digital publishing in developing countries. The study was commissioned by the International Alliance of Independent Publishers with the support of the Prince Claus Foundation, and covers industries in Latin America, the Arab World, Sub-Saharan Africa, Russia, India and China.
In addition to the countless IT service providers in India and hardware manufacturers in China that support the Western platforms from behind the scenes, there are original and innovative digital publishing projects being carried out at this very moment in the South -– local platforms that will one day be able to compete with foreign ones. In fact, some of these ventures are so dynamic that instead of debating who will be the future Apple of China or the Amazon of South Africa, perhaps we will soon be asking ourselves who will be the Shanda of the US or the m4Lit of the UK.
For some time Electric Book Works has been working on their Paperight service, and they’ve recently started a blog to offer some insight into the process and what Paperight is about. The first post explains what Paperight is. From the post:
First, what problem are we trying to solve? In most developing countries, book stores are rare, especially in rural areas. And computing and Internet access are still not accessible enough for most people, so ebooks aren’t going to solve this problem soon. But, there are tens of thousands of photocopiers in businesses and institutions in these places. We can solve this problem by letting them print books out, and pay the publishers a rights fee to do so. Publishers have been selling print-distribution rights to businesses abroad for ages – Paperight just makes that process really easy and quick.
So, Paperight turns any copy shop into a book shop. Anyone with a computer and a printer can register as a Paperight copy shop and purchase licences to print and sell books. Publishers can add books and reach markets that conventional book distribution can’t. The publisher picks the countries they want to distribute to, and can set rights fees that decrease over time as a copy shop buys further licences.
In a new post on his blog, DMN co-founder Arthur Attwell describes five key challenges, which are also opportunities, for educational publishing in emerging markets. These include the need for publishers to provide content digitally before they are completely replaced by other businesses that are moving more quickly:
… publishers need to provide content now: not for the market’s sake, but for their own. Every new technology needs content, and for a long time, publishers had a headstart providing it, because they already owned most of the world’s high-quality educational content. For at least ten years the inevitability of the ereading revolution has been a no-brainer, and yet many publishing companies wasted that time in uncertainty or wishful thinking. Now other players are getting better at creating their own content, and a decade’s headstart is almost up. Technology companies, retailers, non-profits, governments and small startups are all producing content, and under very different business models to traditional publishing ones.
On the website of his company, Electric Book Works, there is a new, free short ebook called Embracing Digital on change and opportunity in educational publishing, focusing on publishing in emerging markets.
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.
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.