8/22/08

Digital divide, information overload and true conversations

A year ago, I gave my 2 cents on the extent of digital divide between ssAfrica and the rest of the world. It was a bit of a 1/2-assed effort on my part but the map that Martin created and that I inserted there is still one of the most viewed items on this blog.


(via Martin @ cyberbadger)

Well, It seems that two measly fiber optic backbones that are currently providing most of the African continent's bandwidth are about to receive a major boost within a year or two. (hat tip to White African).

A glut of bandwidth for Africa might be a strong statement. It's definitely an unfathomable concept for most bloggers in Madagascar. As Joan points out, just keeping up with the comments on their blogs is a major struggle for new bloggers of the Foko blog club.
However, the imminent arrival of the backbones is bound to change a few things.

Calestous Juma, professor of the Practice of International Development at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University wrote in this in a recent Science article about the state of connectivity for Africa and its implications:

"The country of Senegal, home of one of Africa's foremost universities, has a total available fiber bandwidth of 1.2 gigabits per second, one-tenth that of Harvard University or the University of Chicago, and that capacity is further shared with four neighboring countries. East Africa is completely unconnected other than by expensive satellite links. Costs are further driven up by national telecommunications companies with monopoly (or at best duopoly) licenses on the sale of bandwidth, who are often content with "high-cost, low-volume" business strategies."

What kind of changes the new bandwidth will bring is still to be determined. In his recent post, Hash explains that the growth of blogging might be detrimental to the absolute value of blogging because of information overload.
Information overload has been discussed potently by Oso. He came to the realization that it is okay to sometimes just observe the evolution of lifestreaming and take information in parsimoniously, a drop here and there.

From my Malagasy blogger's narrow perspective, I think now is the time to try to help shape the evolution of digital information back home. We can let it grow and see the direction it takes or we can help formulate a real conversation.
Basically, we can all talk at the same time about anything and no one really listens to one another; or we can read, ponder and then respond to another blogger's arguments, either on his blog or our blog. I am as guilty as anyone of not taking the time to read and foster a proper conversation.

I am not too sure how to go about contributing to the evolution of our blogosphere towards a more synergistic dynamic, a more effective social change.

I hope that the Barcamp being organized in Antananarivo in October will help structure the future of digital conversation in Madagascar. I hope many will wieigh in and participate. If anything, there will be food and surely some intriguing viewpoints.

6 comments:

  1. I agree with you Lova ... there is a challenge of scaling up the blogosphere, of adding more and more voices and yet maintaining some sense of coherent conversation. That's one of the reasons I like your blog - you tie together what seem like separate conversations from seemingly separate communities.

    I think that's when blogging becomes really compelling. Otherwise, the power of participation fades into a sea of noise. Unfortunately, I think I'm going to miss the Madagascar Barcamp by a few days. But I hope to make strong ties with the community and keep connecting online.

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  2. Hi David,

    As you will witness first hand, one of the silver lining of the limited access to internet in Madagascar till now is that the blogosphere is still in the maturation stage so implementing guidelines for a dynamic conversation ought to be feasible.
    Really appreciated the feedback. We will try to have a mini-barcamp :) when you are there so that the enthused netizens can start brainstorming with you.

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  3. In Zambia the internet is mighty slow and mighty expensive. About 100 dollars a month for the fastest possible (usually about 2-3x dialup speed). Those guys are not selling any more internet because they are hopelessly oversubscribed.

    What desparate people are doing now is installing a VSAT for about 3-4000 dollars and then paying 200 dollars a month. That gives you fast enough internet (when the weather is good) to do voice over IP.

    So some more lines would be good. Actually this is turning into a whole blog post so I'm going to leave it here and do some more research for my newly reactivated blog :)

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  4. with all the buzz around the two submarine optical fiber connection for Madagascar, I am under the impression that a major part of Madagascar-based people expect it to be a miraculous solution for any digital divide issue that Madagascar has - as if it's only an issue about bandwidth. Let's hope that besides intitatives like barcamp, Telomiova, or all the malagasy blogosphere, implementation of a real strategy for leveraging those submarine connections quickly finalize

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  5. @Mosi,
    wow, that situation sounds strangely familiar. The use of VSAT always intrigued me. In theory, it sounds very attractive but how long before it becomes a real alternative for the majority ?
    @saveoursmile,
    Thanks for the insight. It sure will be interesting how the bandwidth will be dispersed. it would be logical to give priority to universities and institutes but I guess we will see soon enough.

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  6. VSAT is not cheap enough for the majority of the people. It's super expensive... to get 6 VOIP lines it costs about 3000 usd installation and about 200 dollars per month after that. at least the solutions that are around here...

    The problem in Z is that the govt will not let go of its monopoly over the international data / phone gateway. Main reason is that govt companies provide phone and data services so deregulating access hurts their low volume / high cost business.

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