Category Archives: global

How do young adults access websites?

I am currently at the fifth IGF in Vilnius and yesterday I presented some data from our study on the online routines of the digital natives at the GigaNet.  Here, i would like to share one observation that I find particularly interesting.  In the graph below you can see a summary of our coding of how our participants reached website during our observation sessions. It reflects coding of over 650 instance of accessing website in each China and the USArrivingAtAWebsite-Summary.

As we can see, in most cases, our participants searched; this is consistent across both groups and I think was not particularly surprising.  Similarly, the use of bookmarks was equally consistent across both groups, which in my view was more surprising (perhaps since I am not a big bookmark user).

The differences, as you can see, were in the use of autocomplete and reliance on links.  Interestingly, in the Chinese sample, there were significantly more instances of using reliance on links compared to the use of autocomplete.  In the US sample what we see is practically a mirror image of this trend – significantly larger proportion of instances involved the use of autocomplete.

What makes it even more interesting is a glimpse at where do the Chinese participants follow the links from.  We are still organizing that data, but my initial observation is that many of those are coming from websites that basically large repositories of links (for example take a look at www.2345.com or www.114la.com).

All this brings up some thoughts about the role of English in the online experience.  In my view, one plausable explanation of this data can be the knowledge of English language.  I can see how use of the autocomplete function comes more “naturally” to the native speakers, compared to those for whom English is a second language.  The large collections of links that were utilized by our Chinese participants, further support this idea – why would you make an effort of typing in an inconvenient language, when you can go to just one website, where all the links you use are?

There are currently more questions than statements suggested by the snippet above – there is still a lot of work to be done on these data.  Having said that, I’d love to hear your thought about this little observation.  Please share…

You can find the slides from the presentation here.

Is it the time to lobby?

It’s been quiet on this blog for a while, so I decided to share an observation based on some conversations I recently had at one of the Internet governance meetings.  The conversations were about ICT companies and the point was that while Western companies are extremely enthusiastic about emerging markets, they do not consider their regulatory systems with the same rigor as they do in the developed world.  In other words, while in the developed countries these companies invest considerable resources in working with the governments and lobbying, in the developing countries their efforts are primarily in marketing.  Even when they do work with governments, it is mostly done through the marketing departments where the governments are viewed primarily as costumers, less as regulators.

I heard similar observations from a number of industry players and also from a government official.  I listened and “filed” these observations, but they were  brought back to life with the recent explosion of the BlackBerry story.  You may know that the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and now also India and a number of other countries, are threatening to ban BlackBerry unless RIM allows them access to the encrypted email data of BlackBerry users, stored on the company’s servers.  India gave RIM an ultimatum until the end of the month to comply and the rumor is that the Indian government has similar plans for Google, Skype, and perhaps others.

I wonder how did RIM find itself in such a situation?  Will other global technological companies find themselves in a similar situation soon too?  Peter Svensson writes in Washington Post today:

“Threats by the governments of India, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to shut down BlackBerry’s corporate e-mail services reflect unease about a technology that the U.S. government also took a while to accept.  The foreign governments are essentially a decade behind in coming to terms with encryption, a technology that’s fundamental to the Internet as a medium of commerce. (…) RIM, the company behind the BlackBerry, doesn’t have years to wait for foreign governments to adopt the more relaxed U.S. stance toward encryption.”

I assume Svensson is right about his historical perspective; after all, writing about this is his bread an butter.  At the same time, given that all the governments currently having an issue with BlackBerry are in developing countries, I think he is missing the point made by the people I talked to about the Western companies’ attitudes to the emerging markets’ governments.

It did not take the US government years to figure out its stand on encryption on its own.  On the contrary, this position is a result of years of dialogue, argument, and debates between the government and the various interest groups, primarily the industry, through its lobbying activities, and the civil society.  We can see a similar discussion taking place these days around the issue of net neutrality.

It seems to me that until the RIMs, Googles, and Skypes of this world won’t take the regulators in the developing world as seriously as they take the governments back home, we will continue seeing more “BlackBerry” cases.  Until the multinational MICT companies will not engage in a meaningful  way with the local governments in the emerging markets, the barriers to their activities there will continue growing and become more sophisticated, especially when it comes to such a politicized area as information.

So, I wonder if it is the time for these companies to start lobbying in the developing world just the way they are lobbying here.  While I am aware of the potentially harmful influences of lobbying, it is an integral part of the policymaking mechanism and, for better or worse, it also has an educational impact on the policymakers.  At the end of the day, usually those are the governments that are catching up with technology, while the industry is ahead of the curve.

What do you think?  Is it the time to lobby?

Demand for internationalized domain names

Once a year or so ICANN holds a conference called ICANN Studienkreis.  This is another forum where one can get updated with various ongoing internet governance topics.  The last meeting took place earlier this week in Barcelona, but unfortunately there was no streaming of the event and I could not find any records or transcripts from it.  The only available record is the agenda with links to a number of PDFs of various presentation.  These are of course not very informative, but there is still something we can learn from them.

One presentation that caught my attention was by Andrey Kolesnikov from the Russian Coordination Centre for TLD.ru, which he gave in a session on internationlized domain names (PDF).  It caught my attention because I got recently interested in the debate surrounding this topic and hoped to learn about how things are going in countries that have already applied for a localized top level domains (other presenters on the panel were from Egypt and China). There is only so much one can learn from just looking at PPT slides, but here is an attempt.

Russia is the only country I know of that has already auctioned localized domain names, even though the approval of the top level domain in Cyrillic is still in the works.   As such, Kolesnikov was in a position to shed some light on the actual demand for localized domain names, as opposed to arguments about their great potential.  And if I read his slides correctly, I think he did.  Here is what he has to show:

RussianIDNdemand2010

The early registration process, or the “sunrise” period, is still going on, but these numbers are interesting.   There are currently over 369K domain names registered in Russia and according to Coordination Centre for TLD.ru, there are over 2.6 million domains registered under the .ru top level domain (RU).  In other words. we can see that the trademark holders and Russian domainers are either careful with grabbing this opportunity or skeptical of the entire enterprise.  Of course this is a very early stage in the process, but if it is indicative of a trend, than at least in the case of Russia, the skeptics might have a point.  Of course the situation may be different in other parts of the world and in other cultures, but Russian industry does not seem to be too excited.

Am I overanalyzing this?  Am I taking these number out of context?  What do you think?

The external voting question

This is somewhat a detour from the usual MICT stuff, but I hope you forgive me as I think the topic is interesting.

The Israeli political scene seems to be very disturbed recently.  No, it is not about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is not about Iran, and it is not about about the recent tensions with Syria.  The debate is about a proposal by the government to amend external voting in the law or in other words to allow Israeli citizens abroad to vote in the election (HE).  I’ve heard this idea floating before, but I have never seen such a vibrant debate about this issue, which has recently become very close to my heart.

The situation today is that anybody holding an Israeli passport can vote in the Israeli election, but this person has to be physically present in Israel on the election day.  If you are studying, working, or simply on vacation abroad during the election day, you cannot go to the consulate and vote.  The only people entitled to vote remotely are diplomats and sailors.

The debate is happening on two levels.  On one level, it is a purely political debate, because some believe that the voters living abroad tend to vote to the right and thus the government is pushing for the change of law and the opposition is vigorously opposing it (HE1, HE2, HE3).  On another level, which constitutes most of the rhetoric, the debate is about values – should people who are not living in the country, particularly such country as Israel, be able to decide for those who will actually have to live with the consequences ? (HE1, HE2, HE3, He4, He5, HE6, HE7, HE8)

Deciding on big issues - poster calling for release of Gilad Shalit in Tel-Aviv

Some context may help understanding the later facet of the debate better.  Ever since the establishment of the state, people moving to live in Israel were referred to as “olim” or people who are “coming up” to live in and build the country.  On the other hand, people who left Israel to live elsewhere were referred to as “yordim,” meaning people who “stepped down,” left, deserted or abandoned the enterprise of building a Jewish state.  Traditionally, it was completely unacceptable to leave the country.  People who did that, and in fact their entire families, were frowned upon and looked down at.  However, in the past decade or so the criticism softened and in fact Israel is experiencing a brain drain (there are about 500-700K holders of Israeli passports currently living abroad).  The argument of those opposing the law thus resonates with the old sentiment and claims that the people who decided to abandon the not-so-luxurious Israeli realities have no right to decide for those who stayed.  In Israel, they say, election are not just about social issues, which are also important, but they are also about existential topics like war and peace.  If you are not going to live with the consequences of the vote, you shouldn’t have the right to vote, in the first place.  If it is important for you to vote, you can invest in coming to Israel once in four years to do that.

And this is where it is getting personal for me I guess.  It is getting personal because I couldn’t vote in the last election and given the frequency with which elections happen in Israel, I most probably won’t be able to vote in the next one as well.  The issue I am taking with this situation can also be viewed on a couple of level.  First, there is a financial  and logistic concern.  As a student, I simply cannot afford a random visit to Israel.  No matter how much I care about the democracy, the Maslow principles are getting in the way (not to mention the fact that my life is pretty much dictated by the academic calendar).  Second, there is a more substantive argument about my right to influence the reality of my country.  At the end of the day you can take an Israeli out of Israel, but you cannot take Israel completely out of the Israeli.  It starts with the fact that even though I am physically not in Israel at the moment, I am still influenced by the political decisions of its leaders (whether these are some of the taxes I am still paying or protests I encounter on campus, on  street or anywhere else).  But even more that that, as someone currently living abroad on a student visa, I think I should be able to influence the realities I am supposed to come back to upon completion of my studies.  I may decide not to go back to Israel after I finish my PhD, but then it will be a totally different story; right now I don’t have any tools to influence the reality I am supposed to return to, which I think is counterproductive for the country if it wants me back (somewhat related HE).

2008-12-ElectionPosters2Small

I may be wrong, but at this point of my life it somehow makes sense (and apparently not just to me – HE1, HE2).  Many of the arguments I read are dismissing any variation of making voting accessible to Israelis living abroad (here is an article in HE stating that 66% of Israelis oppose this idea).  It is “either you are with us or you are against us,” which I find both outdated and counterproductive.  There was a study triggered by this debate, which compared the external voting arrangements in other countries and showed how most of the world has reacted to globalization and to the fact that citizens who live abroad are still citizens of the country (PDF in HE).  In fact, one of the proposed versions of the law is taking a moderate approach that limits the period when one could vote abroad to six years, subject to spending at least 40 days over that period in Israel (HE), but the public discourse neglects the details and focuses on the principle.  This situation is similar to the arrangement in New-Zealand for example.  To be fair, some people do say that students should be given the right to vote (HE), but I think that if such an arrangement will be accepted, let’s say with the conditions similar to what is stated above, it should cover not just the students, but everybody else as well.

I wonder if you have any thoughts on the subject and what the situation is in your country?

A glimpse at the Israeli tech

I have recently encountered some news articles discussing Israel and technology, so I thought I’d share a couple of observations: one about where Israelis are spending their time online and another one about the Israeli high-tech industry and its main challenge.

As to the first observations, it turns out that the five most popular websites in Israel are: Google (92.3%), Walla! (67.2%), Facebook (61.2%), Ynet (58.4%), and YouTube (54.9%). This is interesting and slightly surprising at the same time.  It is interesting because Facebook has outperformed Ynet and the Israeli equivalents of YouTube are nowhere near the top runners.  It is also interesting because US brands are occupying three out of top 5 places.  Of course in all of them, the users can do practically everything in Hebrew, but still, the local attempts to offer search, social networking, and online video, are not doing very well.

These statistics are also surprising, because there is an image of Israelis as being obsessed with news, but it seems like the social interactions are currently more interesting to them compared to the biometric database law and such.  Perhaps this is a sign of relative calm in the region.  Also, to me, one of the surprising aspects of the numbers above was that Walla! outperformed Ynet in popularity, because I was under the impression that Ynet is far more popular.  Perhaps that can be explained by the fact that Walla! offers not only news, but also email, shopping, and more (the exclamation mark in the name is there for a reason – they are taking the Yahoo! approach).  This may also be an explanation to why Ynet has recently offered its registered users a free email with unlimited capacity.

Asked explicitly about their browsing habits at work, the respondents to the survey listed the  same five websites at the top, but in a slightly different order: Google (87.8%), Ynet (52.8%), Walla! (47.9%), Facebook (31.2%),  and YouTube (25.3%).  It looks like the working people value news more than socializing and entertainment, but since I don’t have the actual survey in front of me, it hard to tell much.

As to the second observation, there is a new book out there, trying to analyze the success of the Israeli high-tech.  From its description the book sounds a bit too poetic (almost like a marketing brochure), but it cites  some interesting numbers and voices an important warning.  For example, there are around 3,850 start-up companies in Israel today and in 2008 the volume of venture capital investments in Israel was 2.5 higher compared to that in the US.  If you compare the per capita venture capital investment, the volumes in Israel are 30 times higher compared to Europe, 80 times higher compared to India, and 300 times higher compared to China (well, I guess this is one good thing about being a small country).  There are 63 Israeli companies traded on NASDAQ, which is the larger group of foreign companies from a single country on that exchange (the second largest group is Canada with 48 companies).  Finally, it turns out that Israel has one of the highest rates of investment in civil R&D in the world.  According to the article the country invests 4.5% (of its GDP I assume, because the article does not clarify that) in civil R&D, compared to 3.2% in Japan (the second largest) and 2.7% in the US (the third largest).

The book discusses a number of factors that contributed to the entrepreneurial culture and innovation in Israel (such as the immigration and combination of the army service and good higher education) and highlights one factor that endangers it all.  The authors, Dan Senor and Saul Singer, suggest that the state of the K-12 education in Israel is degrading and something needs to be done if Israel wants to maintain its innovative-entrepreneurial advantage – and I tend to agree.  I have not read the actual book, so I am not sure what exactly they are proposing, but I think it is good that this problem is getting attention in something that will probably become a popular read in the industry.

The Israeli TV industry: Some numbers

Israel is debating another reform in its broadcast TV industry, which allows an interesting peek on the numbers constructing the Israeli media market.

Currently there two private broadcast TV channels in Israel, which are supported through advertising (there is a government supported public channel as well).  Channel 2 started operating commercially in 1993 and Channel 10 joined the competition in 2002.  Both channels are operated through permits, which means that they have to be renewed every few years, which in turn is supposed to give the public body that monitors these channels, the Second Authority, the leverage to make demands for quality content.

One can debate whether or not the Authority is successful in imposing content quality standards, but the reform is aimed at moving from the permit regime to a license regime.  According to those pushing for the reform, this will allow to introduce another player to the Israeli broadcasting media market.  Since such a shift requires amending the law, the story starts with discussions in the Economic Committee of Knesset, the Israeli Parliament.

So, what can we learn from these debates?

  • According to Menashe Samir, the CEO of the Second Authority, the annual income of the commercial broadcasting TV stands on NIS 1.2 billion (around US $320 million), while operating a channel costs about NIS 400 million (around US $70 million).  Eran Pollack, from the Ministry of Finance, provided some more specific data, saying that in 2008 the commercial broadcasting channels had incomes of NIS 700 million for Channel 2 (US $187 million) and NIS 400 million for Channel 10 (US $107 million).
  • Eran Polack also said that in 2008 the overall TV industry in Israel had an income of approximately NIS 5.5. billion (US $1.47 billion).   The break down is really interesting.  The commercial broadcasting TV channels account only for a small portion of that pie; the Israeli cable and satellite TV providers account for almost two thirds of it.   HOT, the cable company had an income of NIS 2.085 billion (US $559 million) in 2008, and YES, the satellite company had an income of NIS 1.415 billion (US %378 million).  Also, the public channel accounted for about NIS 350 million of income (US $94 million).
  • As to the viewers, according to Yehuda Saban from the budget department, an average Israeli views 225 minutes of TV a day – over 3 and a half hours.  Children watch TV even more than that.  All this in spite of the fact that the costs of cable/satellite TV in Israel are relatively high; at the bottom 20% of the income group, people spend as much as 1.2% of their monthly income on TV.

It is f course also interesting to see how both supporters and opponents of the reform justify their positions through claims for greater societal benefit, but I won’t torture you with this now :)

OLPC – the Israeli pilot

More or less a year ago I had the pleasure of meeting Guy Sheffer, who represented Israel at the ITU Youth Forum in Bangkok.  Guy is a true open source enthusiast and has tremendous amounts of energy, which are rather inspiring.  He got really excited and interested in the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC ) project and when he went back home, he was determined to have an OLPC pilot in Israel.  He got together with Netzach Farbish , who heads the Astronomy, Computers and Young Leadership Programs at the Ilan Ramon Center, and when I was in Israel last winter I helped them to meet with Ushi Krausz of the Peres Center for Peace.  It turned out that the center had a stock of older XO’s that they didn’t use and were willing to contribute to the pilot.

In the video below you can see an interview with Guy and Netzah where they talk about the pilot:

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I understand that Guy is still working on reflections on the pilot and its results, which he will publish in his blog.  I have some thoughts of my own, but I will hold them untill he has his say :)

Beware of the Skypzzz!

Rhetoric has been always a very powerful tool in promoting both policy and business agendas.  Russian telcos are now putting the old-good argument of security in promoting legislation that may allow them to succeed where their European and other colleagues have failed.

DevilishSkypeIt seems that all around the world the telcos feel threatened by Voice over IP (VoIP) applications that run on their infrastructure and offer free of charge voice services, with Skype being an iconic example*.  Only recently, the European telecos tried to argue for unfair competition and asked to discriminate against the use of VoIP on their networks.  The European Commission took a firm stand against it arguing for principles of net-neutrality also on mobile networks.  In the US AT&T, together with Apple, work against VoIP applications such as Skype and Google Voice to be used on the iPhones.  It will be now up to the FCC to take a stand on that issue.  Finally, the Israeli leading mobile service provider, Cellecom, is also seeking ways of limiting its users’ access to VoIP and some other technologies, under the slogan of “quality of service.”  The Israeli Ministry of Communication actually took a pro net neutrality stand in this case, but the argument is still going on.

In Russia, however, the local industry decided to make the long story short and instead of appealing to amorphous concepts such as “fairness” in competition or “quality of service” it turned to a more basic instinct – fear.  According to this article, Russian telcos have warned the Kremlin that:

“…the foreign-made VoIP software, easily downloaded from the Internet, is a threat to national security because it is resistant to eavesdropping by Russia’s intelligence agencies.”

To make things a bit spicier, they also added some nationalism.  The lobbying group was quoted saying that:

“The majority of brands operating in Russia, such as Skype and Icq, are of foreign origin and therefore we need to ensure the defense of national producers in this sector”

While some civil rights activists are concerned with the state openly talking about spying on people, others view it a bit more pragmatically.  In a recent hearing on the subject it was estimated that in about 3 years 40% of voice traffic in Russia will be VoIP.  This creates a significant incentive for the industry to cooperate on legislation that “will bring order” to the VoIP market.  Indeed such an effort is currently underway in Russia.

There was limited, but critical reaction on this topic in the mainstream Russian media and  even the blogsphere reacted only on the margines; some expressed concerns, others healthy sarcasm.  I wonder though, if conversations about VoIP are going on in other countries as well, and if so, what arguments are made against and for it.

* Disclamer – I use Skype and, to the most part, like it.

Cretive Commons Monitor

I think if you are reading this blog, you must be familiar with Creative Commons (CC).  But have you ever wondered how widely spread this license actually is?  Well, there are people who are thinking about it and even started looking into the issue.  Giorgos Cheliotis is one of them.  He is currently a visiting scholar at Berkman and earlier this week he gave a talk about the CC Monitor project.

The project has been out there for three years, but the website is rather new and is still considered under development as the team is figuring out the best way to capture and analyze the use of CC licenses around the world.  They have built an online (wiki-based) platform/repository which presents the raw data and some visualizations for others to use and think about. This is what global distribution of CC licenses looks like.

Number of CC licenses globally
There are overall estimated 170,268,161 CC licenses in the world, but the map refers to a subset of them.  It includes only the ported (i.e. jurisdiction specific) licenses – those that could be linked to a specific geographic location.  Apparently, there are about 50 countries in the world that have strong CC communities who worked on translating and adopting the general licenses to the local jurisdiction.

The darker areas of the map correspond to the higher number of CC licenses in the country.  Here is for example what Europe looks like once we zoom in:

Numbers of CC licenses in Europe
If you go to the website, you can see the actual number once you hover over the map with your mouse.  The way they collect these data is through counting back-links (or in-links) to specific CC deed pages (like this one).  Of course it is not perfect, but it is more than what we had before and it is there for everyone to use.  The idea behind the site is to build a “live data wiki”, which brings its own challenges such as the data being updated constantly, but not the analysis and the explanations.

On the wiki you can find data about the individual countries and also what they call “freedom scores”.  These scores refers to the degree of openness of the licenses used in each place.  As you may know, there are different types of licenses one can give to his or her work.  This blog, for example, is licensed under by-nc-sa license, which would not score very high on the freedom scale (and I also need to fix things, so it would actually show here).  Overall, this is what the world looks like in terms of openness of the CC licenses:

Freedom index of CC licenses global
As before, the darker areas represent higher scores.  You may want to take a look at this table comparing the scores of different countries side by side.

If you have the time, I suggest you watch the talk (I wish it was possible to embed videos from Berkman website :).  Giorgos goes further into a case study, asking whether people utilize the CC licenses and actually work with the open content.  I know that I learned a lot about CC that I did not know about before.

Cornell OLPC goes to Mauritania

I have so much to write about, including updates from my experience at WTPF, but literally no time.  Between writing the A-exams, grading, writing the A-exams, traveling, and writing the A-exams, blogging moved to the second stage.  But this is really exciting news and I will make it brief.

So here is the update: a group of Cornell undergraduate students won a grant from the OLPCorps scheme and in a few weeks they are going to Tidjikja, Mauritania, to distribute 100 XO laptops to children and tutor them for about two months.  I am trying to help these guys with some advise, but they are doing great in spite of that :)

If you are interested, you can take a look at a wiki with the details of their proposal (PDF) and you can follow a blog they have recently started.  As I said, they received 100 XO laptops, USD 10,000 for expenses, and a week long training in Rwanda.  So, just two members of the team are actually going to Mauritania, but nevertheless they are still about USD 1,000 short.  If you happen to have an idea where they can apply for money on such a short notice, please share.  If you wish to contribute yourself (not necessarily the entire sum), you can do that as well (thank you in advance!).

I am really excited for the guys and I am sure this is going to an interesting experience from which we all will learn a lot.