"Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime."
The message is timeless. But the medium is quite different in the modern era.
Smart Communities program hosted over 1,000 trainings to educate both adults and youth how to use computers and mobile devices, including setting up profiles on social media, Microsoft Office training and how to find access to city resources. Classes in Spanish proved to be a tremendous asset to the program, as two of the communities were predominately Hispanic.
The program distributed laptops and software to 1280 residents who had gone through technology trainings and supplied 100 businesses with desktop computers. In addition to providing hardware, the city partnered with companies including HP and Sprint to set up large Internet kiosks in public locations throughout the communities and provide WiFi cards to give individuals access at home.
Any benevolent organization can give people a computer or smartphone and say that they have done their duty to expanding knowledge across the world. It is quite another thing to teach them to use those tools to help improve their lives.
Understand Why People Need Technology
In today’s hyper-connected American society, it’s hard to fathom why anyone would want to be disconnected. But there are still many Americans that don’t use the Internet. For the city of Chicago, Rodriguez said it was essential to the program's success to have data on why people don't use the Internet.
Are people concerned about the cost? Are they frustrated by lack of knowledge and skills? What if they just don't fundamentally understand why this Internet thing is in the first place? By understanding the reasons why people don't use the Internet, workshops can be tailored to address what the community needs the most.
Although residents had the ability to connect with broadband access, many of them chose not to use it. For Chicago's neighborhoods, cost was the largest factor deterring Internet use, surprisingly followed by a lack of interest with almost 40 percent of respondents showing no desire to be connected.
Internet.org wants to bring Internet to people like Jennifer in Ghana, a lofty goal considering the immense poverty plaguing many global communities. Photo credit: Selena Larson
Looking To The Future
Educating a disconnected community isn’t cheap. While bold in their goals, the Smart Communities program might have to restructure their ambitions when the initial funding runs out on September 30. Between hardware, staff and curriculum, the costs can add up quickly.
The challenge in most altruistic endeavors is that while hearts are in the right place, checkbooks are not. Facebook and its partners have yet to disclose how exactly Internet.org will be funded, but if it took Chicago almost $7 million to come this far, the early cost projections for connecting the world must be substantial.
The creators of Chicago’s Smart Communities did so with the purpose of elevating the community. The economic benefit to the city might have marginally increased, but it was the altruistic nature of the program that really drove success.
This is where Internet.org partners might find a hiccup. Although Mark Zuckerberg claims the intentions are charitable, it would be remiss to overlook the potential revenue an additional 5 billion connected people would bring. If the project survives, it will be on the shoulders of the companies' good intentions. Otherwise, when the project hits a significant financial snag, they might turn and run.
Of course these two initiatives are fundamentally different. Families living in Chicago’s underserved communities still live in a nation that is well connected and provides tremendous opportunities to rise out of poverty, while many of the people Internet.org will be serving face much larger struggles. However, if we look exclusively at the technology and structure behind the initiatives that focus on closing the digital gap, a fully connected world seems possible.
So what can this program teach tech giants like Facebook about closing the digital divide on a global scale?
Smart Communities garnered the support of the neighborhoods it would be servicing by partnering with economic development and community organizations that had already built trust with the residents.
“We really asked the community what their goals were,” said Francesca Rodriquez, a director at the City of Chicago's department of innovation and technology. “They didn’t go out and prescribe for the community, the community prescribed for them.”
No matter how beneficial to education and economic welfare an initiative is, companies might see push back from residents if they try to force connectivity down residents' throats. If Facebook and Google want to make an impact in impoverished areas across the globe, it’s imperative to begin building trust within the local communities.
Facebook’s new Internet.org initiative is the latest in a series of ambitious tech-company plans to solve a global problem: the lack of Internet connectivity across the developing world, and even poorer areas of industrialized nations. Too bad it's so short on the issue of how to get there from here.
The initiative began with founding members Facebook, Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung, eventually government and industry leaders will also be involved.
But Facebook might be able to take some pointers from an unlikely source: The city of Chicago.
First, some background. Last week, Facebook teamed up with six telecom companies to launch Internet.org, a project that vaguely promises to make the Internet available to everyone on Earth, specifically focusing on underdeveloped countries. Facebook's interest isn't entirely altruistic; like most all the companies working on similar projects, including Google, it has a business incentive. The social network has begun expanding in the developing world with its Facebook for Every Phone program, which now boasts 100 million users every month.
It’s not just the emerging countries that remain largely disconnected. About 20 percent of U.S. adults don’t use the Internet at home, work, school or by mobile device. The Obama administration is making a push to expand online access to citizens, and there are many efforts in marginalized communities to make that happen.
Extending Internet access to the world's underserved communities is a noble cause, but it won't do much good unless people also have the resources to use it to improve their education, economic development and elevate their communities out of poverty. And so far, Internet.org hasn't had much to say on that score.
The City of Chicago may have an answer. One program, called Smart Communities, offers a blueprint that could help bring impoverished nations into the 21st century.
Chicago’s Smart Communities
To tackle the digital divide, Chicago has changed the digital landscape of lower-income communities—bolstered by $6.8 million in federal stimulus funds in 2010.
The Smart Communities project, a program supported by the City of Chicago and a variety of community-driven organizations, set out to increase Internet connectivity in five moderate to low-income neighborhoods by educating residents on the importance and value of technology and providing the tools they need to access it.
After two years, the success was substantial. Over 30,000 households have adopted broadband through this program and over 14,000 people have gone through technology training. People in Smart Communities are 15 percent more likely to be online compared to those in similar neighborhoods.
What numbers don’t tell us is that many people who have gone through the program have gained increases in pay, received new jobs, and connected with their family members across the world. Smart Communities has also sparked new computer-related education and training efforts.
One such story is Englewood Codes, a 10-week summer program that teaches teens how to build a computer with the Raspberry Pi and then design multimedia websites. Its Kickstarter campaign raised almost double the initial ask of $5,500.
Linus Torvalds in his younger days.
Twenty-two years ago Linux was born as a "(free) operating system" that founder Linus Torvalds was quick to downplay as "just a hobby" that wouldn't "be big and professional." My, but how times have changed. So much so that Linux now dominates mobile (Android), servers and cloud. No wonder that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer derided Linux in 2001 as a "cancer" that "attaches itself... to everything it touches."
He was right. At least, as it relates to Linux's effect on Microsoft.
Earlier this week Torvalds celebrated the 22nd birthday of Linux by cheekily calling Linux "just a hobby, even if it's big and professional" now in a way he never envisaged back in 1991. To help gauge just how far we've come since then, I asked Eucalyptus CEO (and fellow Finn) Marten Mickos and Cloudera Chief Strategy Officer Mike Olson to help put open source in perspective. Both men have had an outsized impact on open source, particularly the business of open source, and neither were shy about estimating open source's impact.
On The Maturing Power Of Open Source
One of the amazing things to have watched over the years is the market's growing acceptance of this oddball movement, as Mickos highlights:
People didn't know what it was, how it worked, why people did it, how it could produce great software, etc. That's why the LAMP stack made it onto the front page of Fortune Magazine—it was so new and intriguing. Incumbents fought it. Now they embrace it (or at least pretend to).
Those who did open source just did it. Back then it was relatively few projects with relatively few people in them. Today there are probably 100-1000X the number of projects.
And while open source was born as an alternative way to develop and distribute software, it has become something more, as Olson intimates:
I've been pleased to see the ideas behind open source migrate to other important domains, and for APIs to become a kind of currency in the way that source code used to be. I think that open source was really a way to adopt the principles of scientific collaboration—i.e., publish your results, let your peers review and refine your work—to a field that badly needed it. I hope—I believe!—we are doing the same thing now with data and, to some extent, to services via cloud APIs.
On Torvalds' Other Big Innovation... And Getting Along
Arguably one of the biggest things to happen to software development in a long, long time is GitHub, the wildly popular code repository. While Torvalds didn't start GitHub, he did create git, the actual distributed version control system software itself. The creation of git is something that Olson credits with a very significant side effect:
It's been really interesting to watch git emerge. I think of myself as pretty deep in software, but I really wasn't paying it any attention five years ago. Remember when "fork" was an insult? Git encourages forking. It's changed the way that open source projects work by fomenting more diversity.
While not referencing git, Mickos describes a similar benefit of open source's peculiar licensing:
The purpose of the free and open source license and the governance model is not really to enable like-minded people to collaborate, although that's a benefit too. It's about enabling unlike-minded people to collaborate. The beauty of open source is that people who dislike each other can produce code for the same product.
In fact, while a genial person, Torvalds exemplifies one of the other characteristics of open source: a penchant for blunt, sometimes harsh, criticism. But this, insists Mickos, is one of the hallmarks of how open source succeeds:
When people complain about your open source project, you need to hear them as saying "I would love to love you, but right now I cannot." If nobody is opposed to your open source product/project, you are not really being popular... If you on a sustaining basis can truly love harsh feedback and if you can truly show enthusiasm and appreciation for contributions of whatever magnitude and type, you can be wonderfully successful in open source.
Where Do We Go From Here?
For Olson, sitting as he does at the heart of the Big Data movement, open source's future is wide open:
Open source has gone from a weird thing off on the fringes of hackerdom, through "cancer" and "communism," to absolute mainstream. People now think intelligently about its different attributes—a collaborative development model, a frictionless distribution model, and a powerful way to win platform dominance.
Mickos, a key player in the growing cloud market, suggests that while open source developers may have lost a bit of their bite, their impact remains unbounded, if more circumspect:
In the early days of open source it seemed that open source developers were true cowboys—out on their own, following their own individual paths, valuing their nearly unlimited freedom. Today many open source developers are happy to be salaried employees of companies that don't really stand for open source on a corporate level (Google, HP, IBM, Oracle, etc.). There is a voluntary submissiveness today that wasn't as common before.
There is still a lot of unbridled enthusiasm, often bordering on naiveté—with all the amazing upsides and inevitable downsides that this will bring.
Mickos goes on to conclude that "Some people will spend any amount of time to save money. Some will spend money to save time. Without money, open source will die." There's a whole lot of money in open source these days. Just counting recent venture capital raised by the cloud and data companies amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars.
But the soul of open source has not been corrupted. Thanks, in no small degree, to Linus Torvalds and his Quixotic endeavor to change the world with something small that turned into something huge.
Amazon is extending its might in the world of ecommerce to the world of mobile apps. Today, Amazon announced that its popular and long-running Associates program is coming to apps for Android and its Kindle Fire tablet available in the Amazon Appstore and Google Play.
You might be unfamiliar with the Amazon Associates program. But there is a good chance you have run across it on the Web. Amazon Associates is a program where websites can advertise Amazon products by placing a unique URL into website text that links back to a product on Amazon. Every time a user clicks on that link and makes a purchase, the Associate gets paid.
The Associates program is not new and has been shrouded in a bit of controversy in its time. As yet though, Amazon had not instituted Associates in its own Appstore. Today’s announcement changes that.
And it makes perfect sense.
Extending Amazon Associates to apps opens up a new type of revenue stream for developers that was not available before. Making money with apps is not an easy proposition. Developers can institute a variety of banner or rich media ads into their apps, set up “in-app purchases” (based on the “freemium” model of mobile monetization) or offer subscriptions to their services.
Amazon calls the new program Mobile Associates and it is available as an application programming interface (API) for mobile developers in both Google Play and the Amazon Appstore.
How Amazon Mobile Associates Works
Amazon Mobile Associates works in three ways; “selling a single item from within an app or game, showcasing a category of goods, or bundling the purchase of physical goods with the purchase of digital goods,” according to Amazon’s press release.
In essence, Amazon is extending its physical and digital world of goods into the world of Android apps. This is not just relegated to the Kindle Fire and the Amazon Appstore, but also apps available through the Android Google Play app store.
The Mobile Associates program works pretty much like Amazon Associates. When a user clicks on a product link in an app, they are shown a dialog box with the product information and cost. If the user then makes a purchase, the Mobile Associate gets paid 6% of the sale price.
All the normal Amazon commerce features are present, such as free shipping with Amazon Prime and 1-Click purchasing.
For developers, Amazon describes integration of the API as a fairly simple process:
Initialize the Mobile Associates API, and tell us what you’re selling--you can choose to supply a specific set of ASINs (Amazon Standard Identification Number), search terms, or use the Amazon Product Advertising API to query a list of ASINs and product information.
The Unique Amazon Mobile Position
Mobile Associates is a no-brainer. It further moves features of the Web into the world of mobile. It is a logistical move from Amazon and an astute decision. On its surface, Mobile Associates is a bit of a ho-hum type of announcement.
Mobile Associates should not be overlooked as just another Amazon feature coming to apps. Essentially what Amazon has done is create a fourth type of monetization for app developers. That is not to be understated. In this burgeoning era of mobile, nobody has really figured out a sure-fire method for making money through apps. The top developers make money through sheer volume on banner ads and subscriptions and in-app payments.
Amazon Associates has been available since 1996 and has long been a way for smaller publishers or individual blog owners to scratch out a few extra bucks. Bigger websites that use Amazon Associates can see significant revenue. It is a way to create another revenue stream that is not dependent on Google AdWords or other banner ad providers.
Mobile Associates could be powerful, especially for the thousands of ecommerce apps on Android. Imagine a Pinterest user creating the ability to link one of their lists to the Amazon ecommerce platform. That could be good for both Pinterest and its app users and would take very little effort to institute in the app.
Yahoo is rolling out its newly designed news and application websites including Yahoo Sports, Movies, Music, TV, omg!, Games and Weather. The aesthetic updates streamline the experience across the various Yahoo platforms and are improving the user experience on mobile and web devices.
Users will begin to notice these changes over the next few days. The redesign coincides with Yahoo's logo rebranding, as the new logo is set to be revealed next week.
VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger (center)
VMworld is rolling onward in San Francisco this week, a behemoth event that should be a great opportunity for VMware to fire up developers, partners and customers among the 20,000 attendees. But it seems to have spread some discord instead, with some partners worrying that VMware may be sidelining them in order to push its own technology at their expense.
Take, for instance, the announcement yesterday of the vCloud Hybrid Service, a new cloud service that VMware will provide directly to enterprise end users. The news met with more than a little ambivalence on the event floor. For one thing, VMware is not exactly well known as a cloud company. For another, though, there's this little conundrum: If VMware is going to provide cloud services, where does that leave its resellers, distributors and other partners who are already, y'know, cloud service providers?
See also: VMware Takes On Amazon—Again—With New Hybrid Cloud Service
Not many VMware partners are using vCloud-based tools. NaviSite just launched a VMware-based cloud offering last week. CSC and Verizon Terremark are two other U.S. partners; Colt, SingTel and Softbank play similar roles with VMware globally. The company's vCloud news yesterday could not have sat well with any of them.
The perception that VMware is no cloud provider may also hamstring the company. "VMware forgot the most important rule for a company," one attendee told me yesterday. "Don't put what you do in the company name."
Its success in virtualization actually makes it much harder for VMware to venture out into new technology territories. That's mostly a marketing and perception problem, but it's still something to push through, based on comments I heard at the event.
The Partners Are Restless
VMware was making its partners ill at ease before VMworld even started. During his Monday keynote, CEO Pat Gelsinger had to walk back comments he made in an August 14 Network World interview that seemed to deride the open-source alternative OpenStack as an enterprise technology.
"We don’t see it having great success coming into the enterprise because it’s a framework for constructing clouds," Gelsinger said in the interview. Given that a lot of VMware partners have a particularly strong interest in OpenStack—like, say, Dell, HP and Rackspace—those comments didn't win VMware a lot of goodwill.
In his keynote, Gelsinger clarified that he saw OpenStack as a valid choice for customers to use in their cloud deployments, and that VMware would still work with the open source cloud project to include it within their software-defined data center strategy.
See also: With NSX, VMware Aims To Do To Networks What It Did To The Data Center
The fumbles with partners extend to VMware's other big announcement from the show. The network virtualization technology known as NSX could be a big deal for VMware moving forward, but as CRN reports, partners weren't exactly feeling clued in.
VMware's channel moves are reminiscent of the way Twitter began treating third-party applications back in the spring of 2012, when the social media company started restricting its APIs and shutting down acquired tools in order to start looking after its bottom line.
See also: Twitter Kills Off Tweetdeck - R.I.P. Third-Party Clients
VMware seems to be looking out for itself these days in much the same way—though it's interesting that a vast majority of its revenue is driven by the same channel partners it's cold-shouldering. This could be a sign that VMware, despite having strong results for Q2 2013, is preparing for some rough times ahead. Possibly because so many partners and vendors are already looking at alternatives to VMware-based services.
VMware's very reaction, ironically, might start making that search for alternatives even more urgent.