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Web Delivery Models for Developing Regions

Time: Wednesday, May 9, 2007 (1:30pm-3:00pm)

Location: Beatty

Moderator: Amit A. Nanavati (IBM Research, India)


  • Saman Amarasinghe (MIT, USA)
  • Ken Banks (kiwanja.net, UK)
  • Krithi Ramamritham (IIT Bombay, India)
  • Umar Saif (MIT, USA and LUMS, Pakistan)
  • Kentaro Toyama (Microsoft Research, India)


This panel aims to find the right delivery model for the Internet services that can be applicable to people in developing regions. The panel will bring academicians and researchers from the industry working on projects in developing countries to brainstorm on the different requirements and the usability aspects of the population that has several economic, social and IT challenges. Based on such requirements, the panel will bring fresh viewpoints for the most effective means of delivering services over the web to such a population.

Despite the tremendous increase in the penetration of World Wide Web over the last two decades, more than 70% of the world population is still untouched by this revolution. The population in developing countries faces barriers in terms of the access mechanisms and infrastructure (among other reasons) that are used to get information from the web. The information need of these people is very often local: the masses are interested in knowing the crop prices, weather, bus timings, in their region. This kind of information is not globally required and hence is typically not currently available on the web. Therefore, it is important to find ways for this population (the producers and consumers of local information) to leverage and suitably adapt the World Wide Web to their own needs.

In countries such as South Africa, India and Brazil, several initiatives have been taken to use a kiosk-based model for information delivery. These solutions make use of an educated operator who manages the kiosk and operates the computer. She is responsible to disseminate the required information to the masses and to upload the information that she gathers from the masses. At the same time, the developing countries have seen a tremendous growth in the mobile phone penetration. Mobile phones offer a potential device that can be used directly by the masses to access information. However, to reduce the cognitive load on the end user, it is important to develop novel user interface techniques that simplify the end user interface. While the former removes the end user to know of technology usage, the latter has more penetration and direct interaction with the user. At this point in time, it is not obvious which approach is likely to be more effective in the short-term and as well as beneficial in the long-term.

We ask the panelists to present their views on what they consider the appropriate delivery model (not restricted to the two mentioned above) that best meets the need of this unique population. With the increasing focus on developing countries, and the potential to use information technology to improve the lives of masses, this is an opportune time to decide on the right delivery models for information access through the web. We also ask the panelists to debate and offer insights about the technological (simplicity of the interfaces, robustness of the infrastructure) and social challenges to bring about such a change.