The two alternatives to the monasterisation of the World wide web

Saint Michael’s Abbey, in the Susa Valley, Piedmont. Source: Wikipedia.

In Medieval Europe, information was physically concentrated in very few secluded libraries and archives. Powerful institutions managed them and regulated who could access what. The library of the fictional abbey that is described in Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose is located in a fortified tower and only the librarian knows how to navigate its mysteries. Monasteries played an essential role in preserving written information and creating new intelligence from that knowledge. But being written information a scarce resource, with the keys to libraries came also authority and power. Similarly, Internet companies are amassing information within their fortified walls. In so doing, they provide services that we now see as essential but they also contravene the two core principles of the Internet: openness and decentralisation.

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Monday, 7 May 2018

WikiPrices

Erik Hersman, has recently created a site called Africa Signals. And it is not just a site: it is a wiki site. The site aims to collect and share mobile phone and Internet rates across Africa. (I have found about this site here)

Now. In my experience, one of the many reasons that makes poor a poor farmer is coping with a non-functioning market (I said it two posts ago). So I can just imagine how helpful would be to have a tool to make market work better.

Creating a wiki page to collect and share the price of one particular agricultural product in one particular time in one particular place would be great. But succeeding in integrating such a site with the mobile phone network would be even better.  How to do this? The government of Rwanda is moving in the very same direction without creating a wiki site. (It is difficult to imagine a government managing wikis). But bureaucracy is not something we usually associate with the words efficiency and effectiveness, especially in poor countries. And in any case we do not really need a government to make a site like this work.

Just think about a wiki site collecting and sharing data through sms. Actually Twitter, without the wiki interface, is doing it right now. So, think about a farmer receiving a message with updated price information the night before market day and, on this information, taking his/her decisions. And think about a farmer sending via sms the price information to the wiki site after leaving the market.

We can imagine the farmer to pay for the sms he or she receives and, on the contrary, we can imagine sending sms back to the site to be completely free.  And we can imagine some volunteers to be the administrators of the site (just like Wikipedia).

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

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