A picture named dd10.jpg

"Conversation. What is it? A Mystery! It's the art of never seeming bored, of touching everything with interest, of pleasing with trifles, of being fascinating with nothing at all. How do we define this lively darting about with words, of hitting them back and forth, this sort of brief smile of ideas which should be conversation?" Guy de Maupassant

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Unfortunately, links to categories, pictures uploaded and permalinks to posts will be broken here, as Radio Userland has closed down.

New Blog URL - http://dinamehta.com/
Subscribe via RSS 2.0 - http://dinamehta.com/feed/
Subscribe via Atom - http://dinamehta.com/feed/atom/
Comments feed - http://dinamehta.com/comments/feed/

3:08:27 PM    comment []  trackback []

Monday, October 8, 2007

This is my last post on this blog. Radio Userland has served me well since I started blogging in 2003. I will post more details on the transition, at my new blog - for now I just wanted to make this announcement, and provide the new url and feeds.

New Blog URL - http://dinamehta.com/
Subscribe via RSS 2.0 - http://dinamehta.com/feed/
Subscribe via Atom - http://dinamehta.com/feed/atom/
Comments feed - http://dinamehta.com/comments/feed/

The new blog will also be called Conversations with Dina - it's just a new blogging platform - but the same old blog! I do hope you continue reading and feeding it.

My old blog will be archived at its old url (http://radio.weblogs.com/0121664/) and I will keep the archives going. Stuart, who has worked out the platform for Conversations with Dina on Wordpress has done some neato hacks - one that I love a lot is that the search function will not just search the new blog archives, but also my old Radio blog archives. And he has managed to transfer some of my posts over too. That's so cool!!! Lots more needs doing there ... and that will emerge I'm sure.

12:26:59 PM    comment []  trackback []

Thursday, January 18, 2007

I'll be in Sukabumi, Indonesia for the next ten days, at AsiaSource II. It really is going to be a camp, and am excited to be living fairly in dormitory style - takes me back to my college years! Its also an opportunity to meet an entire new set (for me) of folks doing some excellent work in the social media area in South Asia and South East Asia, as this is the first time I'm attending a conference in the Asian region.

There are four main learning tracks:

And the Afternoon Sessions promise to be really interesting.

When Sunil, who I met at the Global Voices Summit in Delhi, invited me to be a facilitator for the Open Publishing and Broadcasting track, my first response was how will I help - I'm not a geek. He then assured me that he was looking for someone who is a user .. and for someone who can help people explore benefits of the social and community aspects of this media. Apart from all the geeky stuff I am looking forward to immerse myself in, some of the conversations I'd like to encourage in this track are around:
  • risks in open publishing and managing risks
  • why organizations should adopt social media
  • role of social media/open publishing in disaster relief
  • communication, community, collaboration brought about by social media
  • open publishing is not just about blogging/wikis ... it is also about keeping track of conversations - session on RSS, trackbacks, social bookmarking, technorati, digg etc ... the entire ecosystem around blogging
I'd love your suggestions on other topics in this area you feel would be good to cover with NGO's and Small and Medium Enterprises. Do drop in a comment or email me.

I hope to blog my experiences while there!

Technorati tag: AsiaSource II

7:54:04 PM    comment []  trackback []

Saturday, December 30, 2006

.... has been a great year for me in many ways. Rob, in a recent post, wonders:

"2007 - When enough people leave Plato's cave?
I wonder - Will enough people leave the cave and experience the sunlight to cause a Tipping Point in 2007? Will Life 2.0 take hold? I think so!"

I think so too - and its not just me - I think I had left the cave a few years ago. The nice thing is I see I am not alone in the sunlight - and people from all spheres of life are beginning to see. Clients, friends, family, acquaintances and so many unknown faces that are beginning to bask in the same sunshine. I have been guided by some, have guided others - and still found my own little spot.

This year has brought a certain convergence in my 'traditional' qualitative research work and blogging and social media. More of my research work is in the area of tech and social communication - mobile phones, software development - and I've been able to use my research skills and marketing experience in bringing about workshops on how brands and companies could build communities through conversations that empower their customers to infact become their marketers. And, as in the last few years since I began blogging, much of the new and exciting work is coming in because of my blog connections. I really am looking forward to engaging in more of these conversations and I've already got some projects lined up for 2007 that are exciting.

Looking back on 2006, I thought it would be nice to do a recap (even just for myself) on how its unfolded - and give thanks for all the people I've had the opportunity to meet, and for the projects I've worked on this year, the conferences and unconferences I have attended.

It started off with the Brand 2.0 workshops I conducted with Stuart - thanks Vamsi from Starcom and Rajeev at Western Union for trusting us and giving us this first opportunity. More Brand 2.0 in 2007.

I attended BlogHer earlier this year in San Jose - a wonderful experience.

Thank you Liz Lawley - for inviting me to the Microsoft Social Computing Symposium in May.

I've also been so fortunate to be part of a pure Open Space Meeting coordinated for NPR by the amazing Rob at the New Realities Forum in Washington DC in May. The agenda was set completely by participants - if I remember right, there were more than 300 participants. However, it had a core theme - a very clear objective - and was really well-organized in terms of a lot of care taken in figuring out the venue, the rooms, making it easy for people to navigate through the free-flowing structure, and run by a real maestro in Johnnie Moore, who Rob describes as "an exemplar of calm courage and astonishing presence" which is a really perfect description of Johnnie. Thank you Rob - and Page and Dana from NPR, for allowing me into this amazing space you have created and for trusting - we hadn't met face-to-face until then! A picture named blogcamp.jpg

I was part of a large team that helped organize BlogCamp India in August - here are my reflections

The other area that my blogging has taken me into is activism of sorts - which started in December 2004 with the tsunamis blogging efforts - and this year, we formed collectives and groups to battle internet censorship and help out when we had the serial bomb blasts in Mumbai. Here are some links: MumbaiHelp blog and wiki. The Bloggers Collective was formed and we fought against blogs being banned, against censorship, and demanded our right to information.

A picture named kh2 (1).jpgOn research projects, I've done some interesting work for Unilever this year - have spent many days in rural India, facilitated a creativity session for one of their product groups, and I think (I hope) managed to sell them the idea of doing Brand 2.0 workshops :). I'd also say here I have thoroughly enjoyed working regularly with Pat and Lizzie at Social Solutions Inc and Gerald Lombardi at GFK-NOP through whom I've enjoyed working with Dean Gaylor, Chai Ki Lim and Sharon Asker at HP, who had come down to India. Also through SSI - I've done work for Kraft.

Some of my new clients this year - Nicole-Anne Boyer, a colleague from Worldchanging got me to do a learning journey and a few sessions with a bunch of French retailers here in Mumbai. Smita Pillai and Sanjay Gupta of Vistakon for whom we did a study, where we merged approaches from ethnography and more traditional motivational research. In November, Stuart Penny and Jude Rattle from Flow Interactive UK contacted me through my blog, and I did a small study on cell phones for them.

Its all paid really well - and most importantly has been a lot of fun! Thank you all for making this year a really fun and productive one.

For me its also been a year of change - with joys, frustrations and disappointments too. Many many thanks to my family and friends for supporting me through a really busy and somewhat difficult year.

End of mush :)

Looking ahead to 2007:

  • More Brand 2.0 workshops where I'd like to involve more collaborators and facilitators. Am currently talking with Euan Semple about a possible series in April this year in Mumbai.
  • A fall-out of the Global Voices Online Summit and a meeting with the awesome Professor Ashok Jhunjhunwala- has resulted in the setting up of a pilot outreach programme in rural India where the objective is to get a person from a village to prepare a story about any aspect of life in his or her village every day (25 days a month) and post it.A picture named Smalldina123.jpg
  • Developing further on my series of cultural insights and trends
  • A consulting gig for an MSM publication in India that would like to go Web 2.0. This would include research as well.
  • I'm going to be in Indonesia for 10 days beginning Jan 20th to facilitate the Open Publishing Track at Asia Source II - Free and Open Technologies for NGO's and SME's. This is an initiative of the UNDP Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme.
As I bring in the New Year at my place in Khandala ... I count my many many blessings :). A very Happy New Year to all.

10:59:45 PM    comment []  trackback []

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

I leave tonight and will be on a panel discussion on Day Two on Community Assistance:

Community Assistance: BlogHers are cutting through the red tape and doing it for themselves, delivering tangible aid to communities in need, locally and around the world. Many blogs focus on raising awareness, but sometimes they actually raise money, become a hub for victim assistance or even put those who want to help directly in touch with those who need the help. Betty Sullivan, whose Betty's List has been assisting the San Francisco LGBT community for years, talk to Sara Ford, Grace Davis and Dina Mehta about why and how they did it. Learn how you can too.

Will try and blog the event. There are some really interesting sessions lined up here are some that I have earmarked to attend - they might change when there :):

Day One:
So you have this crazy idea, Audience building and $$$s, Tagging, tracking and what's this structured blogging
Day Two:
Identity and Obligations, From Here to Autonomy - Blogger as Entrepreneur (which i will miss as it runs parallel to our session - will keep one eye out on that if i can), Next Level Naked,

I hope to share experiences and learnings around all the work we've done with the World Wide Help blogs and wikis, with MumbaiHelp and the Mumbai Help Wiki and the recent Bloggers Against Censorship activism. And am looking forward to learning about how others are using social media for community assistance!

11:28:09 AM    comment []  trackback []

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Peter links to a scanned version of the ACTUAL document that went out to the ISPs and Rediff tells us that the block on blogs (no, not the other sites) will be lifted in 48 hours plus notes on the kind of websites that have been blocked. [via Neha]

This is wonderful ... and a great testament to all our efforts at the Blogger's Collective Group and the Bloggers Against Censorship Wiki. It was wonderful to see 364 bloggers and supporters come together there, in 177 threads and countless messages, put the pressure on, as one voice. I got to 'know' and understand the perspective of so many bloggers from India, as a result. For the last few days, there have been times where there was almost an annoying mail-per-minute exchanged, resulting in some need for gentle moderation. The wiki was getting vandalised every second, so we had to get the front page locked. The media and a lot of influential international bloggers helped mount the pressure.

And now, that the ban will be lifted in 48 hours, one hopes we have all learnt from this. Yesterday, I was on a live debate called Face The Nation at CNN-IBN, where the Question of the Day - 'Should the Government step in the control the blogosphere' - where I shared the feeling that through the incompetent handling of the ban on the part of the government, and by the ISP's, they have done themselves a great disservice and us, a big favour. I know this is a sentiment shared by some bloggers - I was chatting to Peter on my way to the interview and we were talking about it.

Why do I feel that ... these actions showed us that neither the Government nor the ISP providers had any clue about how blogs work, the difference between blocking or filtering domains and sub-domains, and complete absence of transparency and communication with those affected, prompting bloggers to easily circumvent the ban with hacks, submit official queries and even consider litigation, which i feel must go ahead. Showing them we're not a bunch of idiots, we're not the ones that don't understand how these technologies work. And by their complete silliness in how they've handled the whole issue it has backfired on them - they've brought those blogs they wished to ban - see update 10 (why I know not still - some of them are completely innocuous) into the limelight - blogs we never knew existed - blogs we can access through proxies and anonymizers and RSS Feeds, blogs that can still be updated !

Why do I, like Dilip, feel they have done us a service ... because it has woken us up to the fact that this sort of arbitrary censorship is possible in India (yes .. believe it) and we must ensure that we protect ourselves. Dilip's suggestions:

"Part of that involves putting together workarounds for bans like these and making them public. Part involves finding out how this decision was taken -- maybe by whom too -- so we can work out how to stop it ever being taken again. The silver lining there is that we now have a tool -- the Right to Information Act -- to do just that. And part involves putting in place the laws and mechanisms that will prevent such a thing from happening in the future."

Another angle to this is, I have personally learnt so much about how to circumvent bans, how to participate in collaborative action against authorities. Things I wouldn't have dreamt of earlier or needed.

Lots of reflections are pouring in, not just on the goof-up but also, around the deeper issue of internet censorship in India. Early days for reflections ... Peter suggests in a mail to the Blogger's Collective "Much remains to be done. Remember, it could be your blog tomorrow, getting banned all by itself, with no horde of angry bloggers coming to rescue you."

Patrix airs some of these concerns when he says this is a dangerous precedent:

"What if tomorrow we wake up and everything is alright i.e. we can access Blogspot and Typepad without any hitch and can go back soon to our seemingly inane ramblings on the blogosphere. But on the flip side, the government gets all tech smart and manages to censor those "22 pages" of websites/blogs. Would that be an acceptable resolution to all concerned and involved in the current Bloggers Against Censorship campaign?

I am sure the majority of bloggers would accept that solution and go back to their normal blogging life. But thankfully, few blogger voices like Neha, Amit, Dilip [initially via email], and Confused have gone beyond the current scenario and examined the larger picture of censorship. As I mentioned yesterday, the act of censorship is as futile as it is self-defeating but it ends up setting a dangerous precedent that any speech - online or otherwise - if found unpopular can be stifled. It sets in motion a series of events that know no end as the parameters of censorship are widened each time to satisfy every section of the society."

Amit Varma says "there's no stopping free speech"

And Neha vents in Update 18:

" ... looking at Censorship as a whole. Weíve become relatively complacent in India. About how there is no censorship. Or that the state is at the most the eater of Bribes. Our mai-baap relationship with the Government ensures that we never really enter a more accountable relationship with the State. Irrespective of the content, censorship is indicative of fear. And of insulting citizens. That people cannot determine what is good for them."

A list of posts on censorship of blogs and websites is being compiled by DesiPundit.

Funny thing happened at the interview at CNN-IBN that brought that thought to mind ... there was this lawyer lady who really was talking vaguely about Govt censorship being ok if there were clear guidelines laid out. Anubha who was moderating the discussion, really ended the whole thing with a direct question to her ... "do you blog?" No prizes for guessing her response!

Final thought ... I think one of the issues here is the absolute lack of comprehension of this medium that is social media. What a blog is ... how blogs are not just individual journals but dynamic social communities. Communities that can do immense good in times of crises and work along with Governments, as we did in the case of MumbaiHelp. Communities that are passionate and compassionate. Communities that do far more good than 'evil'. There lies the power of this medium. And we must continue outreach programmes about these very aspects of blogging the best we can.

We can truly fight censorship once the government and the ISP's understand why we will not sit back and let it happen. Perhaps a tall order.

9:39:08 AM    comment []  trackback []

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

In all the craziness surrounding the blog censorships in India, Angelo, Bala and Nancy remind us that there are other crises elsewhere - they have been busy updating us on what's been going on in the Java Tsunami that hit yesterday at the World Wide Help blog

3:32:26 PM    comment []  trackback []

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

We have a post up there which says How can we help you - some of the bloggers there have been working non-stop to help folks touch base with their loved ones - this is really tremendous.

The wiki is up too - here are the links:

The MumbaiHelp Wiki

10:48:17 AM    comment []  trackback []

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Serial bomb blasts in first class coaches on local trains on the Western Line in Mumbai. The first was at Khar Station at 6.25 pm, and 5 other blasts are being reported at Jogeshwari, Matunga, Borivli, Bhayander, Matunga. Western Railway services have been suspended.

Telephone lines are jammed - I was lucky to be able use SkypeOut to make calls to family.

We're live blogging this at the MumbaiHelp blog - where you will find regular updates.

7:39:10 PM    comment []  trackback []

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

W. David Stephenson sent me a link to his speech to the International Conference on Complex Systems on how social networking projects such as TsunamiHelp and KatrinaHelp could leverage emergent behaviour that would make the general public effective participants in disaster relief.

In making his case for the adoption of networked communication technologies that encourage emergent behaviour, he draws upon the experiences following 9/11 and the Tsunamis and Katrina. I quote:

"In one of his essays describing the applicability of emergent behavior to the business world, Eric Bonabeau wrote that the three characteristics that emergent behavior exhibits are flexibility, robustness, and self-organization. When we look back at the Katrina experience, I think we'd agree that all 3 properties were missing from the governmental response.  

By contrast, think back to 9/11, when the only -- the only -- effective response was a classic example of emergent behavior: the way a group of total strangers on Flight 93 coalesced in circumstances when no one would have blamed them for instead dissolving into hysterics, to thwart the hijackers' plan to crash the plane into the Capital or White House. That was flexibility, robustness, and self-organization!

Less well known is the way that other individuals, many of whom have still never met physically, coalesced via the Internet to provide a variety of invaluable and reliable information to victims first of the tsunami, and, more recently, of Katrina. In particular, some of these people took it upon themselves to create, first the tsunamihelp blog and wiki, and, then a core group of those people took the lead in creating the Katrinahelp wiki."

Mr. Stephenson then goes on to ask the question - does the knowledge that emergent behavior is possible even under the trying circumstances of a terrorist attack or a natural disaster warrant making encouraging emergent behavior a formal part of homeland security planning, and, if so, how can it be done?

"In part, fostering emergence should be part of the plan the technology has already made the choice for us, whether or not officials recognize that reality. The advances in networked communications, combined with human nature, make it almost inevitable that, in a disaster, individuals will automatically turn to the increasing array of electronics they use every day to reach out to others for comfort and mutual assistance.

Equally important but less understood by decision makers, unlike landline phones or the broadcast media, these devices are themselves increasing networked, self-organizing, and self-healing. In many cases, such as mesh networks that were originally developed for the military in battlefield conditions and now are being used by civilians, the networks don't require any kind of external networking: simply turn them on and the network self organizes."

And ends with a powerful message:

"However, my closing message is to homeland security executives: you really don't have a choice whether to embrace this kind of networked homeland security system. Given the power of networked communications and the science of emergent behavior, government has already effectively lost control of the flow of information during emergencies. We, the people, have the power at our fingertips to network -- and human nature dictates that we'll use it in an emergency." 

Great speech - read it in full here.

7:41:44 PM    comment []  trackback []

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Angelo, on behalf of the World Wide Help Group sent out this email:

"In response to the Java Quake of 27th May, 2006, we have set up the Java Quake Help Wiki (http://javaquake.worldwidehelp.info) and since it was set up, in the past 24 hours we are coordinating disaster relief operations with major aid agencies and teams on the ground. There's also a team working with us in setting up sms relay communications into affected areas based on the previous relief efforts in the region.

The wiki has the basic design and structure in place but we URGENTLY NEED online volunteers to help us out with the wiki in terms of the following tasks:

1. Move relevant content from tsunamihelp ( tsunamihelp.info & quakehelp.asiaquake.org)
2. Scrape info from the blogs covering the quake on technorati
3 Post translations from helpjogja.net blog to the wiki (via Andy Carvin's link: toggletext.com)
4. Remove irrelevant info
5. Add static info on the main page
6) Spread the word out about the wiki


We have been and are in touch with ICRC-Geneva, TSF & IFRC and are receiving important information such as assessments directly from them which shows that they recognize our relief efforts on the blog and wiki. Additionally, we are being provided with 24/7 info updates from aid workers and their teams in the field and are also blogging at World Wide Help ( blog.worldwidehelp.info). We been requested by a couple of NGOs to coordinate and communicate with them in publishing their situational reps on the wiki and blog.

Any help from all of you for the organization and management of content on the wiki is most appreciated. If you're interested in lending a hand please head over to the wiki or drop us a line to javaquake@worldwidehelp.info "

Meanwhile, some other useful links:
  • Global Voices Online tells us of a special blog set up by an Indonesian University, providing complete information services on Earthquake relief.
  • Indonesia Help is an English Language blog with a great set of resources and regular updates on the Earthquake in Yogyakarta. Do check it out if you're interested in helping.
  • Enda Nasution, a Global Voices Online colleague, sends us this information:
"I just posted several phone numbers here that might help.The Indonesian Red Cross hotline number (24 hours) is on the right column of the blog, you can contact them too. HelpJogja.net has posted a damages database per village, contact number, condition, injuries, dead and so on, it is on continuously updated."

Tags: [/] [] [//////]

9:04:01 AM    comment []  trackback []

Monday, April 3, 2006

Martin Lucas and the Center for Social Media have produced a video called "Many to Many - Public Media and the Blogosphere". The 12 minute video shows the buzz at the Global Voices Summit in December in London, and features Neha and me talking about the Tsunami Help Blog initiative. It also showcases Chris Lydon's Radio Open Source and PBS's POV Borders. Directed and narrated by Martin Lucas, this video "takes a look at the emerging world of Internet self-publishers and citizen journalists and its implications for the larger world of public media and asks what public broadcasters in the US and the UK are doing to use new media tools to interact with their viewers and listeners in innovative ways." [Martin Lucas in an email to the GV email list].

12:27:35 AM    comment []  trackback []

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

This report indicates good news for India - the government is working on a system whereby disaster alerts will be relayed through mobile phones in several Indian languages, and specially set up wireless public address system in their locality in less than one minute.

5:40:18 PM    comment []  trackback []

Sunday, January 15, 2006

I finally got around to doing some housekeeping on my blog. Have edited the categories and links - am hoping they will render alright. The nice thing is each of them acts as a separate blog - so readers can subscribe separately to specific categories that interest you!

Here they are - links and RSS feeds :

Weblog Home : (all categories) subscribe

1:19:43 PM    comment []  trackback []

Sunday, December 25, 2005

In continuation to our efforts around the disasters, the WorldWideHelp group has set up a Remembrance Week. Here's how you can participate :

Remembrance Week - 26th December, 2005 - 1st January, 2006

Disaster Remembrance Week
Last year, on the 26th December, an earthquake, and then a tsunami, killed,wounded, or impoverished hundreds of thousands of people in South Asia.During the course of the year, other disasters took their toll too. Most devastating of them: Hurricanes Katrina and Rita on the South-Eastcoast of the USA; and another enormous earthquake near Pakistan's border with India.

These disasters took their immediate toll, and, each time, the world tried to help. But as calamity piled upon calamity, there has been a certain amount of fatigue. Perhaps people's stock of goodwill has run low. Perhaps seeing too much suffering hardens us. But, the fact is, the suffering from those disasters has not ceased. Parts of South Asia have still not recovered from December 26th, 2004. In the USA, normalcy hasn't returned to New Orleans. In Pakistan, thousands are still homeless, and may not survive the harsh Himalayan winter.

They need your help.

Last December and this January, the online community came together as never before to help in the aid efforts in South-East Asia. The lessons learned there were put to use, and improved upon, when the other tragic events of the year unfolded.

Can we harness that goodwill, that togetherness, that willingness to help once more?

The WorldWideHelp group would like you to join us in Remembrance Week. Here's what we suggest you do. Use your blogs, your home pages, your wikis, your newsletters. Link to your favourite charities and NGOs, write a paragraph about them and the work they are doing, and ask your readers to make a donation. (If you'd like to find some more charities and NGOs, please take a look at this page on our TsunamiHelp wiki, this one on our KatrinaHelp wiki, or this one on our QuakeHelp wiki.)

Please link back to this page to help pass the word. You can use the image above.

Please use this Technorati Tag: Disaster Remembrance Week.

In another post, we will also upload a few more banners and buttons, with intructions on the code you must post to use them.

10:13:42 AM    comment []  trackback []

Thursday, December 15, 2005

A reminder to the world, which might have forgotten that people are still suffering from the effects of the earthquake in Northern India and Pakistan.

Pim Techamuanvivit, fellow contributor to the SEA-EAT blog, and well-known food blogger, presents a way for you to help the survivors of the Kashmir quake. Donate US$5 at her A Menu for Hope II page at Firstgiving, and you could win any of the great stuff she has listed here.Funds collected via A Menu for Hope II go straight to UNICEF. The tote board stands at US$4,438 as of this time, and will stay open until December 24th. Prizes will be announced January 1st, 2006.

1:56:22 PM    comment []  trackback []

Saturday, October 22, 2005

A picture named pixars 2005 tsunamihelp.jpg

9:12:03 PM    comment []  trackback []

Thursday, October 20, 2005

There have been lots of interesting developments around the recent activities around the most recent earthquake in Pakistan and India. I haven't been able to blog much around them, but here's a little communications system set up by the members of the TsunamiHelp, KatrinaHelp and AsiaquakeHelp team :

"An SMS reporter blog has been set up - mail sms2blog@gmail.com or send an SMS [to a Pakistan cellphone number, Imran Hashmi] at +923008568418 and he will forward it to the blog. Your reports will not appear on the blog instantly, because of a blogger glitch, but the blog admins will take turns republishing the blog as often as possible. Your post should appear on the site within an hour, on the average.

The SMS Quake blog is dedicated to first person reports from the affected area, and is open to anyone. Repeat: Anyone. You don't have to be a member of the blog."

This should be automated - its something we're working on. More documentation at the wiki.

We couldn't use Skype this time round, since Skype doesn't have local numbers in India or Pakistan for us to buy a SkypeIn account for people to call into.

11:55:34 PM    comment []  trackback []

Monday, September 19, 2005

My experiences with the Virtual Call Centre we have set up and the thought of a Virtual Phone Bank, makes me wonder whether it is worth considering combining the concept of an automated version of this little grassroots call centre with the PeopleFinder Project. The PeopleFinder project is a centralized repository, where you can search the data from dozens of sites, databases and forums that have been established to help survivors of Hurricane Katrina find their loved ones, and to allow people to report missing people.

Benefits? It would take it to quite another level - from search to dialogue to action even. From an online service to one that could be accessed by millions more, without internet connections. In this way, during disaster situations, it would also be possible to reach out to regions that are poorly connected to the internet.

earthlights1.jpg [picture credit here]

Add to that a functionality that Evelyn Rodriguez [link via Nancy] talked about in her post from a few days ago. Skype to SMS and SMS to Skype messages that go onto a central site.

In an emergency, think: Cheap. Simple. Ubiquitous. Perhaps cellphone SMS messages that go directly to a central wiki that is hosted by an large easy-to-remember-even-if-I-never-imagined-I-would-be-in-a-major-disaster organization whether it is Red Cross or Google?

Here in India, cell phone cos have deals with Yahoo and MSN messengers - where as a user all I do is punch in a 4 digit number and i am logged on, I can send text messages thru the phone without any internet connection. This could be extended into an sms-internet gateway. Send text message not needing internet to phone number ... get reply back not needing internet to that phone number. At the back end of the phone number receiving the text message is a gateway box that dumps the query off to the internet, (perhaps a person perhaps a machine), and formats a response to go out.

Could all such logs or those we are getting with our SkypeIn number be recorded as well and automated to integrate into the PeopleFinder, ShelterFinder, Katrinahousing.net and all the other sites dealing with ? Can the Skype-Tellme link-up work here.

This isn't something I have my arms around completely yet, I just intuitively feel there is potential to grow and effectively scale-up the little whipped up centre we have at present. There are many questions that Phil raised when he was helping me articulate my thoughts and develop this idea - Can the tools we're using successfully scale-up to enable multiple operators to act simultaneously. With a more expanded functionality (like the red cross) do you need the other tools used in call centres - like scripts, call databases, traffic analysis, integration with other systems, etc? Or would keeping it very simple and clean (so people can volunteer more quickly and with less training) be a better approach?

Would we lose the visceral experience of being part of a self organizing team, of solving immediate and tangible problems, of helping people who really need, using your wit and compassion and connectivity.

Also see an earlier post by Stuart on Skype call centres, where he shared this scenario, and a possible how-to :

An entrepreneur is growing rapidly, his call center is outsourced and he needs to bring it in house for better quality. He's going to set up a bank of PC's to handle it. He goes to Walmart and purchases 50 Xandros Linux ready Skype PC's at $200 and adds another $300 for quality screen and a couple of other miscellaneous bits. He loads them all up with Skype and logs everyone of them on to "CorporateCallCenter". He goes to the Skype account page and purchases one SkypeIn Account for one year at a cost of 30 Euros and buys E50 worth of minutes. He's ready to go. His staff can now handle up to 50 concurrent calls in bound or outbound all using the same line and account.

11:44:39 PM    comment []  trackback []

Sunday, September 11, 2005

For those who are interested in the Internet's responses to disasters, here's something you may wish to attend, hosted by Jerry Michalski and Pip Coburn. Incidently they've both been to Bombay - I spent some nice moments with Pip at Juhu beach - he insisted on walking barefoot, and with Jerry by the sea front and then peeking into his 'brain' !

Internet Reponses to Disasters
Yi-Tan Weekly Tech Call #50
Monday, September 12, 2005

From the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center through the Asian tsunami and the recent hurricane disaster in New Orleans, Internet communities have evolved increasingly sophisticated and useful response mechanisms. Blogs, wikis, photo-sharing sites and other services have been put to use to improve rescue efforts,help collect relief funds, find missing persons and structure recovery efforts.

Because these responses harness the newest features of the Net around focused, important activities, they are a good barometer of what works on the Net and harbingers of what that might mean for other spheres, such as mainstream media, response agencies, participative design, citizen mobilization and more.

Starting with a review of the relief efforts after disasters from 9/11 to the present and accompanied by friends who participated closely in Net relief efforts, we'll discuss issues such as:

  • What have we learned from event to event? How are the responses improving?
  • What is missing? What would responders like to do that they can't do yet?
  • How is this changing the dynamics of disaster relief?
Our guests for this call will be Dina Mehta, Sascha Meinrath and Ed Vielmetti. Please check out (and add to) our Chronology of Net Responses to Disasters.

As always, an IRC Chat will be available during the call, here.

Date: Monday, September 12, 2005
Time: 10:30 PDT, 1:30 EDT
Primary Dial-in Number: 1-800-615-2900 (Toll Free in USA and Canada)
1-661-705-2005 (for callers outside the USA and Canada)
Participant Access Code: 778778

Hope I get a good SkypeOut connection to be able to participate !

9:57:21 PM    comment []  trackback []

Thursday, September 8, 2005

photo of Dina Mehta in her home office in Mumbai wearing headphonesI've been taking turns manning the virtual call centre we have set up using Skype linked to KatrinaHelp, to help cover 24 hours of the day. I am beginning to understand what it feels like to be a call-centre operator :).

Skype KatrinaHelpWhat amazes me though, is that I can volunteer my time, sitting in my living room at home in Mumbai India, and be of use to help those seeking information about their loved ones who are missing on that other side of the world. This morning, I was on a shift for a couple of hours, and I received about 8 calls on our Skypein number, and made a few on SkypeOut. It was really rewarding to be able to point the callers to resources and hook them up with those offering help. And they were so grateful someone was listening to them, and that they did not have to figure out how to navigate pages on websites and wikis.

Imagine how it would be to have a virtual Skype phone bank. One that is not just virtual, but ad hoc. Just-in-time emergent support. Always on when we have a bank of volunteers from all over the world, and at all hours. Our way of reaching out and helping those in distress.

Also posted at SkypeJournal - see the comments there for further discussion.

1:43:50 PM    comment []  trackback []