Not-so-simple solution

To help bridge the digital divide, a group of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have designed a simple Internet search engine specifically for developing countries with poor infrastructure. Unlike current applications, which are built for speed, the TEK, or “Time Equals Knowledge,” (tek.sourceforge.net) search engine capitalizes on the developing world’s most reliable resource: time. To conduct a search on TEK, a user in Mombassa or Tirana inputs search terms that are sent via e-mail to a server in Boston. The server conducts the search, pares down duplicate content and strips out bulky images, and e-mails the Web pages back to the user in a compressed file. Total turnaround time? Twenty-four hours or longer.

While the TEK approach minimizes the time Internet searchers must spend on
notoriously unreliable and expensive Third World network connections, this
advantage may not be enough to draw new users to the Web. According to Charles
Kenny, an infrastructure economist at the World Bank, rural telecenters and
satellite Internet outposts like those operated by Costa Rica’s Lincos project
( www.lincos.net) have had mixed results. “The target audience wasn’t
interested,” Kenny says. “Poor people don’t seem to think that the Internet is
the answer to all their problems.”

Similar efforts to bring low-cost, portable, bare-bones computers known as
Simputers ( www.simputer.org) to markets in the developing world, where they
were to be shared among communities, have not met initial expectations. Rather, short messaging service (SMS), or text messaging, over cellular telephones has become the communications tool of choice in many developing countries. SMS works, experts say, because it is cheap and straightforward and uses a medium- the cell phone-that is common even in rural Africa.

“You have to be very careful that what you are trying to do fits in the
environment that you are placing it in,” Kenny says. “Ultimately, though, the
only way to see if it will work in practice is to build it and see if people
come.” -Jennifer L. Rich

Expert Sitings Nina Hachigian directs RAND’s Center for Asia Pacific Policy
( www.rand.org). www.asiaobserver.com Asia Observer, a hobby site run by Asia
aficionado John Sandvand, is a good resource for English news and organizations
related to Asia. Each Asian nation has its own page with news headlines.
Another excellent source for the latest on Asian politics and culture is
www.asiasource.org. www.firstgov.com Citizens no longer need search libraries
for outdated policy pronouncements, instructions for obtaining government
licenses, and the like. Most are featured on FirstGov, the U.S. government’s
portal site. In Asia, Singapore has gone farther, allowing citizens to conduct
nearly 80 percent of government-public transactions online at www.gov.sg.
www.sumo.or.jp Before sites like this one, run by the Japan Sumo Association, I
used to struggle to stay current with Sumo wrestling. The site lists tournament
schedules, banzuke (official rankings), biographies of the competitors, and
more. www.sinosplice.com/chinablogs.html What is daily life like in China?
The Weblog phenomenon is more likely to answer this question than any other
information medium to date. Sinosplice links to numerous Weblogs that let
outsiders tune into life in China. www.timezoneconverter.com This time zone
converter makes calculating local times around the world easy.
groups.yahoo.com/group/chineseinternetresearch/The Chinese Internet Yahoo
research group exemplifies how the listserv phenomenon is changing policy
debates. It helps scholars and policy analysts from around the world share
ideas and data about Internet politics and culture in China as never before.

Lara Wozniak is an assistant editor at the Far Eastern Economic Review. Max
Pappas is a policy analyst for Citizens for a Sound Economy. Jennifer L. Rich
is a freelance writer in Washington, D. C.

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