Monthly Archives: November 2010

What’s next for Wikileaks?

Can be seen in this blog post: The Leak And The Coming Flood – The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan.

Like I said in my earlier post, business is the next target. And the material being sent to Wikileaks appears to be ramping up, much as I suspected. There is even a reference to Napster in this post!

Like I also said, what is the real story here is coming into focus, and it is not about the leaks regarding the U.S. government. It is bigger and wider than that.

More on wikileaks

This article in the Guardian, WikiLeaks: The revolution has begun – and it will be digitised by Heather Brooke supports some of the ideas in my previous post on Wikileaks. It dives deeper into them, though, and is worth a read.

Dealing with the arguments against Wikileaks (and why Wikileaks is like the Napster of Governments)

In reading the arguments that say Wikileaks should not be doing what they are doing, I am sympathetic to the feelings that people have about this, but I find there is weakness in the arguments that I’ve seen so far.

Let’s take one of the first ones: “Julian Assange is a <insert negative description here>”. If this is your argument against what Wikileaks has done,  let’s assume that he had resigned at some point and yet the leaks still continue. If you still don’t accept that it is acceptable, then whatever feelings or thoughts you have about Julian Assange are besides the point. If you now think it is acceptable, then it has nothing to do with the leaks themselves, and more than you don’t like Assange. I can see why people don’t like him, but to me, that is beside the point.

The next argument against Wikileaks is that it is treasonous. A related one is that the U.S government should legally stop Wikileaks from publishing the material. The problem with that is that as far as we know, Assange and the rest of the Wikileaks team are not Americans, therefore they cannot be tried for treason, not being citizens of the U.S. As well, Wikileaks (so far) is outside U.S. jurisdiction, making it difficult to stop them legally.

One blogger, Matt Yglesias talked about the  Long Term Consequences of Leaked Diplomatic Cables, including the arguments that there will be a a “redoubling of efforts—more phone calls, more compartmentalization,
more expenditure of resources on tracking Julian Assange down—and life
will go on”. Some of this is very unlikely. For one thing, people who work in offices need to document things. This is unavoidable, regardless of where you work. And nowadays, documenting things means storing it in a computer that is accessible via a network. The notion that large diplomatic organizations like that of the United States will limit themselves to phone calls is absurd. Embassy personnel, like personnel everywhere, need to demonstrate that they are working and being effective, and the way to do that is to document it. Preferably in a computer that other people can get access to, so that they too can be effective in their job. This means less phone calls and less compartmentalization, which results in many links in a chain. All you need is one weak link in that chain to end up in a document dump to Wikileaks.

As for tracking Julian Assange down and I assume killing him or stopping him somehow: I will get to that in a minute.

This blog post from Talking Points Memo contains two of the better arguments against Wikileaks:

But what Wikileaks is doing is categorically different. Many readers have written in to say — without knowing quite how to put their finger on it — that the indiscriminate nature of the release, just everything they could get their hands on — seems more like an attack on the US government itself than an effort to inform American citizens about what their government is doing on their behalf. And even though I’m in the business of unearthing and sharing information, my gut says they’re right.

The two arguments are that Wikileaks is indiscriminate and  that Wikileaks is attacking the U.S. government. First off, those argument contradict themselves. Wikileaks is indiscriminate: if there is agenda or a vendetta against a particular country or organization, I’d like to see evidence of that. If anything, the motivation of Wikileaks is to take material that is secretive or hidden and expose it as widely as possible, regardless of who it is against. Perhaps over time it will appear that Wikileaks has it out for the U.S. government. I would argue, though, that if Wikileaks received a dump of documents against the Iranian or North Korean government (or any government), that they would publish those as well. I don’t think they have it in particularly for the U.S. government. (Indeed, many of the documents in the recent dump embarrass alot of governments besides that of the United States.)

I would also argue that Wikileaks must aim to be indiscriminate. If anything, if they were to start publishing a portion of what they received, the argument against them would be: what gives you the right to decide what should be released and what should not. By being indiscriminate, they do not judge or decide on the relevance of the material they receive. Furthermore, if they did start to discriminate, it is very likely that someone else would set up infrastructure to publish this material instead. By increasing the chance of publication of the material (which is what they did in their arrangements with various publications like Der Spiegel, the New York Times, etc.) and by not editing the material, they increased their chance of getting the material in the first place.

Years ago Napster burst onto the scene. And while the recording industry has laboured considerably to stop downloading and sharing of music, I think it is safe to say they have been unsuccessful. Even if the recording industry has been successful in stopping some of the initial activity like the work done by Napster, they soon found out it was not about Napster. This was something much bigger. People have created IT systems to overcome the restrictions that prevented file sharing, and they have gone on to share music to a much greater degree. You can argue whether it is right or it is wrong, but you cannot dismiss what has occurred.

Likewise with Wikileaks. Getting back to the notion of tracking Julian Assange down and killing him or stopping him somehow. This result will be no different than stopping Shaun Fanning and Napster, despite the difference in severity. For the cat, so to speak, is out of the bag. If someone can argue convincing how the cat gets back in the bag, I’d like to hear it.

Instead, what is very likely to happen is that Assange and Wikileaks are going to turn and pivot and turn their spotlight on some organization that everyone loves to hate: bankers. And after that, they are going to snare someone else. I beleive they are going to continue to change the conversation as they go forward, if they can. And the arguments above will fall by the side.

Ultimately much of the discussion is focused on the wrong thing. However serious these individual matters are, ultimately it is not about the U.S. government or Wikileaks. It is about the increasing difficulty organizations are going to have protecting their secrets and limiting the access to information that they have. This should be a surprise for no one, but it seems to be. The challenges individuals have in separating the public from the private are the same ones that organizations are going to have. The challenges that media companies have with limiting access to digital representations of what was once scarce media are the same ones organizations are going to have.

This is the world we live in now.

Brilliant Photographic Overlays

This time using Photoshop and images from World War II and now, such as this:

For more, see The Ghosts of World War II’s Past (20 photos) – My Modern Metropolis

Why I used to think that stellar designers teaming with H&M was a great idea (and why I no longer do)

I used to think that the way H&M teamed up with great fashion designers like Karl Lagerfeld and Stella McCartney (and this year, the House of Lanvin) was a great idea. I agreed with Sofia Coppola who recently said (H&M – Fashion press release):

“”it makes it (Lanvin) so accessible to all kinds of young people to be able to afford it and wear it”.

I liked that idea alot: the accessibility of great design and great style — although not great materials — for young people. Why shouldn’t great style be accessible to everyone, I thought? If you are a big fan of the work of Alber Elbaz at Lanvin, or dream of being able to wear something by Lagerfeld, then this is your chance to buy it and wear it, regardless of the fact you are far from rich. Great clothes for everyone, I thought.

Well, as it turns out, the great style of H&M and Lanvin is available to only a few, despite the relatively low price. Doing some searches on Twitter (hash tag #Lanvin), and then looking up articles like this (How to Survive the H&M Lanvin Launch Like a Pro! – Style & Beauty –, I can see that what really happens is that there is a very limited number of pieces put out for sale, people line up for hours before the store opens to get them, and then they rush in and buy as much stuff as they can. There are limits (according to UsMagazine, rules such as each customer has a limit of two items of each product. So, no more than two sizes (shoes or garments) or pieces (jewelry or accessories) per customer. But based on what I can see people tweeting, the first ones in are doing a shopping grab and buying as much as they can, somewhat indiscriminately. They shop that way for two reasons: 1) they plan to return it if they don’t like it 2) they plan to sell it for a good profit on eBay (see this page and compare the list retail prices vs the eBay prices (Lanvin for H&M – Women’s Collection |

Now, if you are lucky and smart, you will pop into H&M in the next few day or so and leisurely get something from Lanvin that you love and that was returned by someone who gorged themselves on the stuff today and then decided they no longer wanted it. More likely you won’t get anything at all (save the rather unexceptional and overpriced scarves that still languished on shelves even when everything else had been snatched up).

Who benefits from this? Well, first off, Lanvin and H&M. As this article announcing the teaming shows (Lanvin to Make Clothes for H & M –

For Lanvin, the move toward a wider audience signals less a departure from its luxury roots than a further attempt to expand its market with new products and retail outlets. The company recently opened a store on Madison Avenue.

It’s a great coup for Lanvin. They have great buzz, and they are well positioned for moving down market. (H&M received equally a large amount of attention from this arrangement). Plus, because the quantities are limited, they can likely avoid the embarrassment of having their clothes lingering on the 70% off rack. (Indeed, I really believe that the scarcity of the clothes is meant to drive manic purchases and to limit the amount of it going on deep discount sales later.)

It’s also a fantastic deal for H&M. This is the weekend of Black Friday in the U.S., and unofficially the early start of Christmas shopping. It’s a great way to gain attention and get people into the store and spending money, for even if people don’t score any of the Lanvin, they likely will come away with something else (I can tell you this from personal experience. :))

Finally, it’s also a good thing for the rare shopper who managed to get something, especially in women’s wear. The dresses have great flair, both in style and colour. I can’t attest to the quality of them, but for anyone young looking for something to wear that will gain the attention of the room at holiday events, one of the H&M Lanvin dresses will meet the criteria for sure. (As for the men’s wear, I was underwhelmed.)

But for most people, it is neither here nor there. Whatever it is about, it is not about making great clothes accessible to people. (If anything, the work that Isaac Mizrahi did for Target or the lines that Martha Stewart did for K-Mart or Home Depot are about that.) It is more about getting great publicity for H&M and the annual designer chosen to do a line for them.

Is Jonathan Safran Foer’s new book the future of books?

With the ascendance of ebooks, why buy print books any more? One simple reason could be that the book as an object possesses qualities superior to the digital version. One such example of that is Jonathan Safran Foer’s new book, “Unmakeable”, which as described at swissmiss, is something that:

Book printers said … “could not be made.” Belgian publishing house Die Keure proved them wrong. Jonathan Safran Foer’s book is an interactive paper-sculpture: Foer and his collaborators at Die Keure in Belgium took the pages of another book, Bruno Schulz’s The Street of Crocodiles, and literally carved a brand new story out of them using a die-cut technique.

I have some printed books that are great to read and fascinating objects in themselves. To sell books in the future, more books will need to be made this way.

Speaking of email and workplace stress

Some thoughts on the causes of workplace stress

What causes workplace stress? Is it email? Or is it something else.

I got into a discussion on twitter — yes, you can have discussion on twitter!:) – with my IBM colleagues @ @ and @,
and I said “I think overwork is the main problem, not email. email acerbates the problem of overwork.” It was a result of this article, Email storm creates workplace stress – IBM, email – CIO.

Generally I agree with the article: “unanswered emails” contribute to workplace stress, email is the most commonly used collaborative tool but
is often used in the wrong way, and that new tools can make things less stressful and more productive. That is half the story, and I actually learned this over two decades ago, when I worked in an area of IBM that allocated more IT resources to thousand of VM users on our mainframes. If a user wanted more memory, or hard disk space, or system privileges, they would fire off an email to an administrator, who would read it and try to figure out what the request was and try to respond to it, something like this:

The emails were free form and  often unclear. And there were alot of them. It was hard work for the admins, and frustrating for the users.

That was Phase I. For Phase II, what we did was give the users an online form to request resources. The admin still got email requests, but now they were standardized and clear. As a result, the admins could process them more quickly, and became more productive. The process also became less frustrating for the users. Most requests were standard, but we allowed special requests go directly to the admins if necessary.

Finally we went to this:

Now we put a layer of software between the users and the admins. Because the requests were standard emails, we could process over 80% of them with software without the admin ever having to see them. This meant that we could process many more requests than before.

Overall, it was not so much that EMAIL was the problem, but the way people used email. Because we could standardize it this way, we were able to automate the processing of it and subsequently process ALOT more email and yet reduce the overall stress to the admins.

Now if that happened twenty years ago, why are we still having these problems? I think it is because eMail is the tool that people know. Instead of using the best tool, they use the default tool, which is email and which is often the worst tool. To compound the problem, people don’t even communicate effectively in email. I don’t know how many times I have seen this happen:

Where A sends an email to X, Y and Z to process with plan #1 by Friday. However, Z, who knows B, forwards the email to B, asking for some clarification. B then forwards the email to C, who says that plan #1 can’t work, so they should proceed with plan#2 instead. Now B for some reason tells X and Z that they should do plan #2, not plan #1. From here things either freeze up, a flurry of emails are generated, or a meeting is called to resolve the miscommunication.

So email is half the problem. The other half, the more important half, is that when people are busy or too busy, this happens more. I see this often because I do project work and I see email ebb and flow at the end and at the peak of projects. In the peak of projects, when work is at its highest level, there is more of a chance of these knots to occur, as well as lots of emails not to be processed in a timely manner because it is not clear what I am supposed to do with it.  ( it an FYI, is it a request for me to do work, is it a request for someone to do work?). Very busy people often produce and receive more email and often send out email with unclear purposes. I think the work drives the problem, and email itself enables this to occur. But if the workload is low, it is easier to reduce the problem.

I am a big proponent of social media tools. I think they are better in many ways than email as a form of communication. However, if your staff are overloaded, better tools, while enabling them to be more productive, will break down at a certain point. Any resource, human or otherwise, will do so. The challenge is to drive automation to support and enable your employees to be peak performers. Workload balance is one way to do that. Better tools (i.e moving away from email) is the other.


Some thoughts on Edouard de Pomiane and the need to redeem fast food

I was rereading this last night, for it is one of my favourite books. It got me thinking again about fast food.

Sadly, fast food has been burdened with a bad reputation. Most of us  equate fast food with bad food. If you do, first up, I highly recommend you read: In praise of fast food. It’s a great review of fast food, why we tend to think of it as bad, and how, if we really think about it, it can be close to perfect food. Some of the most memorable meals I have had have been at fast food places like Trzesniewski’s in Vienna, or locally, the Chip Wagon in my home town of Glace Bay, with it famous french fries peeled and cooked in the same truck.  Crepes in Budapest, ham and cheese sandwiches in Paris, tapas in Madrid, pretzels in NYC: these are all great examples of delicious fast foods that I have had. I am sure you can think of lots of places yourself.

It’s not the food or the way it is prepared that is the problem, I believe: it is the intersection of politics and commerce. Not that politics and commerce are necessarily evil either, but they seem to make it difficult to have food that is fast and good.

So whenever you find a place that serves food good and fast, patronize it and tell others about it. Likewise whenever you prepare your own dishes that are quick and tasty. And if you ever get a chance, read this book. It’s subtitle is: Adapting to the Rhythm of Modern Life. Like me, de Pomiane believed you could eat well and eat quickly, and he set out to prove it. We need more people like him, and more-better fast food.

Two decades ago today, Tim Berners-Lee proposes to build the Web

You can see it all in this memo: WorldWideWeb: Proposal for a HyperText Project. Hard to believe it’s been only 20 years!

Why the Twinkie Diet is a good idea and healthy (and why it isn’t)

There’s been alot of talk about the Twinkie diet that helped a nutrition professor lose 27 pounds (as reported at CNN and elsewhere).

First off, it shows once again that if you eat less calories than your body needs, you will lose weight. Mark Haub, the professor who did this, dropped around 800 calories from his typical diet. If you look at this article by David Katz, M.D.:on What Really Happens, you can see that adds up. So, from a weight loss perspective, it was healthy.

As David Katz shows, it is healthy from a cholesterol point of view as well. Haub’s cholesterol improved dramatically over this time. Another sign that this is a healthy diet.

Nutritionally, Haub covered the bases. For example, look at his typical day (provided by CNN):

Espresso, Double: 6 calories; 0 grams of fat
Hostess Twinkies Golden Sponge Cake: 150 calories; 5 grams of fat
Centrum Advanced Formula From A To Zinc: 0 calories; 0 grams of fat
Little Debbie Star Crunch: 150 calories; 6 grams of fat
Hostess Twinkies Golden Sponge Cake: 150 calories; 5 grams of fat
Diet Mountain Dew: 0 calories; 0 grams of fat
Doritos Cool Ranch: 75 calories; 4 grams of fat
Kellogg’s Corn Pops: 220 calories; 0 grams of fat
whole milk: 150 calories; 8 grams of fat
baby carrots: 18 calories; 0 grams of fat
Duncan Hines Family Style Brownie Chewy Fudge: 270 calories; 14 grams of fat
Little Debbie Zebra Cake: 160 calories; 8 grams of fat
Muscle Milk Protein Shake: 240 calories; 9 grams of fat
Totals: 1,589 calories and 59 grams of fat 

Now here’s the list without the cakes or the calorie free caffeine drinks in it:

Centrum Advanced Formula From A To Zinc: 0 calories; 0 grams of fat
Doritos Cool Ranch: 75 calories; 4 grams of fat
Kellogg’s Corn Pops: 220 calories; 0 grams of fat
whole milk: 150 calories; 8 grams of fat
baby carrots: 18 calories; 0 grams of fat
Muscle Milk Protein Shake: 240 calories; 9 grams of fat 

The protein shake and milk provide protein, while the carrots and the vitamin and milk provide most of the minerals and vitamins. The carrots and cereal provide some fibre, as likely do the cool ranch chips. And there is no lack of carbohydrates in this diet.

To summarize: the diet allowed him to lose weight (healthy), improve his cholesterol (healthy) and have enough nutrients and calories to get through the day (also healthy).  What’s the problem?

Well, to me, there are a number of problems. Without the vitamin and the protein shake, the diet falls apart (not surprisingly). The cakes provide energy and a feeling of being full and likely not much else. I think it would be better for someone to eat more fruits and vegetables and whole grains to get the same calories and likely better nutrients. And I would argue that apples and bananas and some other fruits and relatively cheap as is a loaf of whole wheat or multigrain bread. More importantly, getting into a habit of eating those foods is better than getting into the habit of eating cakes daily. Eating cakes daily is not a healthy way of eating (it should go without saying).

That said, I think this experiment is valuable, because I think nutrition tends to get dogmatic, and I think like any good science, it should not be. I have not seen anything to sway me from the belief that the best diet is one high in fruits and vegetables and low in fats and simple carbs.  But I think we should keep an open mind and realize there is alot to learn.

Time for a cookie. And some fruit.

(Image of Twinkies from Wikipedia)

A Classic: Pan-Cooked Salmon with Lentils

Mark Bittman has a great version of a superb pairing of lentils and salmon. How he prepares it is top notch, of course, and uses the best ingredients. But even if you used canned lentils and frozen salmon, you would still have a good – and fast – meal. I like to make a lemon vinegrette (1 part lemon to 2 parts olive oil) and toss a bit of it in the lentils until they have just a bit of lemony tang. I find that goes well together with the richer salmon. And I like to have either a peppery rose or a lighter red (pinot noir, Beaujolais) to go with it.

And doesn’t it look fantastic?

Stop being sad and be awesome instead

Awesome.png (PNG Image, 400×400 pixels)

What’s all this about Quantitative Easing (QE)?

Once interest rates are effectively zero, the central bank of a country is in a bind as to what it can do to improve the economy. One thing it can do is called Quantitative Easing, whereby they do something like what is described here: The Fed’s $600 Billion Statement, Translated Into Plain English on Planet Money for NPR. What I like about this article is the explaination of FED-speak into something everyone can understand.

I also like how it slams the head of the Kansas City Fed, too. 🙂 Frankly the guy is an inflation hawk and he should be fired. But hey, I don’t run the Fed.

More midweek music: Azure Ray – Don’t Leave My Mind


YouTube – Azure Ray – Don’t Leave My Mind

How French is this?


From one of my favourite tumble logs, purple DIARY. (Very NSFW…best round midnight).

Wednesday Night Music: Chrisette Michele – If I Have My Way


Is it even worthwhile to have anything other than national elections?

Coming from someone who is strong believer in greater public participation, that is an odd statement to make. But when I look at this graph found on the blog post, Yglesias » The Madness of Partisan Municipal Elections, and see this:

I see a problem. Seat changes in lower house match up very closely with what is happening in the upper house. It’s as if it doesn’t matter what the lower houses are doing: the voting public seems to lump it all together. That’s terrible, since you can have good governance from the majority government in a lower house that deserves relection, regardless of what is happening at a national level. But it seems not to matter. Yet it should.

Certainly in Canada I don’t think the provincial governments align with the national governments. In many cases, it’s just the opposite. As it should be. But the U.S. seems an odd and depressing counterexample.

How to Find the RSS feed for someone now there is the new Twitter

It’s easy, if you know how. And thanks to the blog, Stay N’ Alive, I know (and now you do too):

Currently the only way to find an RSS feed is to log out and visit the profile of the user when you’re not logged into Twitter. This might also be why Google Reader still recognizes feeds when you enter user profile URLs in the “Add Subscription” box. Firefox doesn’t recognize the feed when I’m logged in – it does when I’m not. It does make you wonder how long the RSS feed will be in the unauthenticated version.

(I added the bold and the italics. )

There’s no way to guess it, since the feed has a numeric id in it that doesn’t relate back to the person’s twitter handle.

I hope they keep the RSS feed: I like processing that feed in other blogs, etc.

Cape Breton Island and the supply chain as compared to Africa and IT

In Cape Breton these days, you can have a light supper of Italian capocollo, Spanish olives and an radicchio salad washed down with a nice glass of Barolo, before being driven to the theatre to catch a live simulcast of Anna Netrebko performing in the Met’s version of Don Pasquale. In other words, you can have many of the same experiences that someone in the big city like Toronto can have. This is astounding to me in some ways, because when I was younger and living in Cape Breton, that was not the case. What people in big cities enjoyed was something either you could not experience locally or something you got to experience much latter. Now, the people at Loblaws or the Metropolitan Opera didn’t get together and say: those poor Cape Bretoners…we should be nice and give this stuff to them. No, what happened is that first they found ways to be able to distribute these things cost effectively and profitably to areas like Cape Breton via innovations in their supply chain. Once they could do that, they understood that there was a market for these goods and services there just like there was in Toronto or Vancouver or other parts of Canada. And just like in other parts of Canada, not everyone in Cape Breton cared or wanted these things. But many Capers did, and that motivated these companies to distribute these goods and services to Sydney and Glace Bay and other parts of the Island.

Likewise with Africa and IT. As I pointed out here (Some thoughts on datafication and the poor way writers think about IT and Africa | Smart People I Know), it’s not a question of being nice. It’s a question of being innovative enough to reach and serve new markets that you were not able to reach and serve before. The demand is there. It’s a matter of the supply.

The comparison only goes so far, but often times when I read about people in India or Africa and other parts of the world, I think of my own experiences in Cape Breton. I think of the assumptions and limitations implied concerning Cape Bretoners, and then I try to see things in a more open way, just like I would hope people outside of Cape Breton see the people who live there.

(Photo of Anna Netrebko from the 2010 performance of Donzetti’s Don Pasquale.)

Some thoughts on datafication and the poor way writers think about IT and Africa

When it comes to thinking of IT and Africa, writers tend to lose their perspective and fall into one of at least two modes that drive me crazy. The first one is something like this, found in this article on Google in Africa, Googling Africa – By Dayo Olopade | Foreign Policy, where the author says:

Take Gmail, for example. Globally, the service has trailed those provided by Yahoo! and Microsoft. Magdalinski suspects it’s just too complicated for African modems. “Gmail is always loading with flashy chat and all this JavaScript,” he says.* By contrast, “Yahoo! loads fast — it works on a s— modem in an Internet cafe.” (As in the United States, users can opt to load a stripped-down in-box, but new applications like Google Chat to SMS — rolled out in Senegal, Ghana, and Kenya this year — require using the clunkier version.)

Note, it is not suspected to be the fault of Google, it is the African modems. In fact it is the case that Google (and lots of other service providers) develop Internet services with the assumption of high bandwidth. That makes sense when you are targeting first world urban markets. First world urban markets, and all urban markets to some degree,  have affluent populations in relatively small geographic centers, so of course they can handle web applications that are bandwidth intensive. It has nothing to do with African modems (or Indian modems or modems generally). It has to do with the adoption rate of technologies in various parts of the world.

Indeed, as this article shows, Bell wins nod to use wireless option in rural Web rollout – The Globe and Mail, rural Canada is also having challenges getting access to the same technology as their urban cousins. No one implies Gmail is too complicated for rural Canadian modems. That’s ridiculous, just like it is ridiculous when you talk about African modems. It’s a question of cost and innovation and implementation, not sophistication. The reason so many people in the world already have access to IT is because people continue to innovate in IT, continue to drive down costs, and continue to implement more and more IT so that more and more people have access to it. This will continue to happen in Africa and rural Canada and many other places. Focusing on “the place” may be easier than trying to understand and explain the limits of the technology, which is likely why this wrong mode of thinking crops up.

To see what I mean, consider Nokia. Unlike Google, Nokia is taking a different approach and trying to capture very big markets by driving down costs and deploying usable IT solutions to these markets. As this article,  Nokia Sees Cellphone Growth Among the World’s Poorest –, shows:

On Saturday at dawn, hundreds of farmers near Jhansi, an agricultural center in central India, received a succinct but potent text message on their cellphones: the current average wholesale price for 100 kilograms of tomatoes was 600 rupees ($13.26).

In a country where just 7 percent of the population has access to the Internet, such real-time market data is so valuable that the farmers are willing to pay $1.35 a month for the information.

What is unusual about the service is the company selling it: Nokia, the Finnish cellphone maker, which unlike its rivals — Samsung, LG, Apple, Research In Motion and Sony Ericsson — is focusing on some of the world’s poorest consumers.

Nokia is focused on innovating and driving down the cost of deploying these IT solutions to these markets. And these solutions work in Africa and India and any place where you have potential customers with similar needs. It is a matter of matching up people with the right technology that fills their current needs.

While this is good for Nokia, the framing of this article is the second mode on writing about IT and Africa that drives me crazy, namely the moralizing that is attended to it. The line of thinking here is basically companies should roll out IT to Africa based on doing good, which to me is condescending. There is nothing wrong with companies doing good, of course, but companies should be providing IT to Africa and other parts of the world because it is good business, both for them and for their new clients. IT, education, microloans: these are just some of the things that enable people to achieve the ability to make a better living for themselves. In some ways, it allows for the development of small business, for the development of capital — or as G.B. Shaw defined it: “spare money” —  that they can use to invest and grow and develop their potential. And that means they can purchase more and achieve more and companies like Nokia and others can sell them more goods and services, to everyone’s mutual benefit. THAT is why companies like Nokia should be selling low cost IT to India and Africa and other places, not because Africans are “poor” and we in the West should be “good”.

In the West we forget that not very long ago in the 20th century, many parts of North America and Europe did not have access to electricity. Electrification was undertaken, not just because it would provide more and more people with electricity to light their homes and power their  radios and appliances, but because it meant greater mass production could be undertaken. Greater mass production meant that more goods could be produced, it meant that jobs could be created so that people could purchase those goods, and it meant that they could have light at night so they could study and better educate themselves and improve their future and the future of their children. Electrification provided many goods, but it wasn’t just something provided to be “nice” or “upstanding”. It was something that mutually benefitted many, and continues to do so.

The same has been happening with datafication, too. Like electricity, it first was deployed to urban centers before spreading out to other parts of the world. And like electricity, sometimes it will be used for the benefit of work. Sometimes it will be used for education or leisure. In any case, providing it and using it will be to the mutual benefit of all. It will be beneficial for the users of IT and the data it provides and it will be beneficial to IT companies that provide the goods and services. The sooner that happens, the better, for everyone.

Finally, two things. One, I mentioned Africa, because I see a more simplistic way of thinking when Western writers write about it more so than when they write about India or parts of Asia or the Americas. The problem is the way of thinking, be it concerning Africa or any part of the world that is developing.  Two, this these are my own thoughts and opinions, and do not necessarily represent those of my employer.

Thanks for reading this.

Innovative Job Postings from Square!

I am impressed with Square’s job postings. Rather than the typical job postings asking for Superman/Wonder Woman, they have postings that are witty, specific, and flexible (e.g., one of them said that a university degree is not mandatory).

I also like this one that poses a test at the bottom of it. Now before you say, “I could just cheat on this”, you should expect to get another test in the interview.