15 October 2008

Digital versus paper

I've no doubt digital content will displace a lot of paper in the long run in many areas, though paper will remain viable for specialist applications. Digital devices will also be a plaything of the wealthy for many years but, like mobile phones, will eventually find their way into the hands of those who need them.

At Frankfurt bookfair this year, the UN Environment Programme is not handing out the usual printed catalogues, but instead providing a bamboo memory stick with sample publications (all of their publications are now free online). Trade fair visitors love such things. A memory stick is much more portable than a mound of documents. Of course there are trade-offs. Some of the documents on the stick will likely be printed on a myriad of inkjets and laser printers, less efficiently than a central print run. Yet, only those who want them will print - removing the guess work for the publisher.

Digital reading devices - Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader, iRex - are fantastic. E-ink screens are easy on the eyes and you can hold dozens of publications for the weight of one paperback. Students rejoice! They are also connected: through WiFi and other options you could foreseably update your reading list on the fly.

These are book-shaped devices. There are also large, flexible screens being developed which are better suited for newspaper and magazine reading. Plastic is not the friendliest material but, being hardy, they benefit from relative longevity.

These gadgets may lack the tactile nature of print publications, but digital natives are unlikely to miss the filthy hands of a newspaper reader. This won't only be an issue for consumers, however. Publishers will need to find a viable way to support the format. I suspect that if Amazon and Sony were to open up their devices, so that people could simply read any content, then we could see mass adoption very quickly. Of course there would be piracy (of the type that has made MP3 players a phenomenal success), but there would also be terrific scope for self-expression; blogs as the new podcasts?!

14 October 2008

Open Access Day promotes communication

Few things could promote communications for devlopment more effectively than free and open access to knowledge.
Open Access Day and Open Access Week are an effort by the Public Library of Science, PLoS, to encourage bloggers to demonstrate their commitment to the open access movement, and promote the cause through word of mouth.
Open access is an antidote to the regulatory nightmare of digital rights management, over-zealous copyright legislation and ludicrous patenting terms which turn artists and thinkers - or their employers and publishers - into profiteers, and audiences and collaborators into 'consumers'.
Open access is a cause célèbre among many scholars whose ultimate objective is to connect with others, rather than earn profits. It is a cause to itself, but also a major challenge to the publishing industry which is still trying to iron out the wrinkles (or simply resist, in the hope that it will fail). Publishers and other intermediaries argue that they need to get paid for quality assurance, production and marketing. However, digital search and electronic archives are challenging traditional, paper-based publishing models just as digital downloads are forcing music publishers and movie makers to review the way they do business.
People who want to access knowledge will value easy access, especially if they do not have to pay. But publishers warn that there might be less quality material available if the free and direct model takes over. In fact, they want to be able to charge for 'value' of easy access, such as searchable archives.
The rapid growth of peer to peer communities such as Facebook and (earlier) MySpace show that information exchange can blossom without concern for quality or accuracy. However, the boom in Wikipedia and similar publications also points to the potential for generating timely, accurate and insightful knowledge with minimal costs to readers. That has to be good news for the development community.

2011: Visit Open Access Week
Earlier: Open Access News blog

10 October 2008

Publisher creates its own development programme

A development programme created by a private sector company? It makes perfect sense when you are India's largest newspaper publisher and the issue is something as fundamental as literacy.

India's Grass-Roots Teachers
55,000 volunteers from India's five biggest cities have signed up for Teach India, an initiative backed by the Times of India and the UN Volunteers programme working to spread literacy, and more importantly, quality education. In the first leg of the program — the biggest of its kind in India and possibly the world — 3,000 volunteers have already started teaching 53,000 children. "I want to take these children beyond just clearing exams," says Iyer. "I want to give them the power to think."
Run by the Times of India, one of India's leading English-language dailies, in collaboration with UN Volunteers, the program has already received over 100,000 applications from would-be volunteers and is struggling to accommodate them all. "Such a visionary and large-scale program has only been possible because we've been able to get the media, civil society and corporate sector together," says Adeline Aubry, a former UNV program officer under whom the initiative was launched. India has had a long tradition of volunteerism, she says, "but Teach India gives them a giant common platform for a common cause."

Read more in TIME magazine.
Learn more about the project from Times of India.

06 October 2008

Definitions of Communications for Development

The 9th UN Round Table on Communication for Development, 2004, hosted by FAO in Rome:
“Communication for development is about people, who are the drivers of their own development; It contributes to sustainable change for the benefits of the poorest; It is a two way process [and] is about people coming together to identify problems, create solutions and empower the poorest; It is an approach of equal importance to all stakeholders; It is about the co-creation and sharing of knowledge; It respects indigenous knowledge and culture and that local context is key; It is critical to the success of the Millennium Development Goals”

The Rome Consensus: Communication for Development – A major pillar for Development and Change’, statement by The World Congress on Communication for Development, October 2006:

“Communication for Development is a social process based on dialogue using a broad range of tools and methods. It is also about seeking change at different levels including listening, building trust, sharing knowledge and skills, building policies, debating and learning for sustained and meaningful change. It is not public relations or corporate communication.”

Article 6, General Assembly resolution A/RES/51/172, December 1996:
“Communication for Development stresses the needs to support two-way communication systems that enable dialogue and that allow communities to speak out, express their aspirations and concerns, and participate in the decision that relate to their development”

The General Assembly “recognized the relevance for concerned actors, …policymakers and decision makers to attribute increased importance to communication for development and encouraged them to include it … as integral component in the development of projects and programmes”.

04 October 2008

Photographer Awarded TED Prize for Work on War, Disease

The power of the news media to make a real difference in tackling a major disease is being actively explored in a unique private sector project

Wired magazine reports that photographer James Nachtwey received the 2007 Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) Prize for his work documenting images of war, disease and political unrest across the globe for over 25 years. As a result, he got a $100,000 prize to spend on a 'wish': a project that he otherwise wouldn't get a chance to pursue.

Nachtwey chose to "share an underreported worldwide story, prove the power of news photography in the digital age and raise awareness about a global health issue that has the potential to become a worldwide pandemic — Extensively Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis (XDR TB)."

Wired.com: What does TED have the potential to do for this cause?

Nachtwey: When an issue is more widely known, a lot of things become facilitated — funding, new programs, treatment and scientific research. And it becomes something that has to be dealt with.

Wired.com: How will the internet help spread the message about this disease?

Nachtwey: Because there are so few pages in the traditional press for serious subjects, the internet has really taken the place of the traditional press to get those stories out there. One of the purposes of journalism is to create awareness. If we’re not aware of something, we can’t deal with it. Tuberculosis has a cure. If you take action on TB, you will get results.

Read more