Wednesday, December 19, 2007

WebInnovation2007: Web 2.0 Conference at Bangalore

A well-attended two-day conference at the Ashoka Grand in Bangalore with 750 professionals from the Information Technology sector included engineers, marketing executives and designers, all eager to understand and appreciate the various dimensions of the emerging Web 2.0 paradigm. Rupesh Vyas and I made a presentation that explored many opportunities for Web 2.0 applications that we see in India and in our presentation we focused on grassroots level explorations that had been initiated in our classroom projects at the NID and those that could be taken forward with real impact to a huge user base across India. The presentation titled “User Driven Web 2.0: Design Opportunities for India” defined design as we now understand it, an activity where human intentions mediated with thoughts and actions are used to produce value, great value.

Image: Study of Sahpur is offered as an opportunity for the use of Web 2.0 approaches to connect villagers in the Indian sub-continent to map local resources and aspirations for development initiatives across India.
The whole morning session was dominated by discussions on how the business sectors dealing with Web 2.0 could indeed generate revenue streams. It almost seemed that the speakers and the audience were obsessed with how anyone could create community and use this to create a monetized value for himself or herself. Little discussion on what could be done but much on how and how much, very disheartening indeed. The keynotes too kept returning to the concept of making money and the difficulty faced by web based companies in retaining their hard earned leadership in a highly competitive space. Perhaps the industry should try and focus on what can be done in India at the grassroots where it is needed the most and the value generated would create wealth for all of us across the country.

Image: Project INFARM done in 1995 as part of the Apple Design initiative is offered as an example of farmers as users of rich Web 2.0 applications in India.
In my presentation I talked of the Web 2.0 as being a new mind-set rather than a new technology, although many new technological as well as business processes can be listed as part of this new and emerging paradigm. However at the core it is for me about people working together on a spirit of sharing and this has less to do with many of the concerns of the industrial economy and even he knowledge economy as we have come to understand it today. We need a new attitude to understand the offerings that are springing up all around us in the form and shape of the Web 2.0 economy, or should we use another term to describe this phenomenon that is perplexing all of us who are trying to make sense of the emerging paradigm.

Image: The Heritage Walk in Ahmedabad as a opportunity for creative mapping of our cities by students using GeoVisualisation tools to create citizen generated content and rich local knowledge sharing that can create value for tourists as well as visitors to the city.
Thinking about the evolution of human ideas while sitting in the conference it did cross my mind that we have evolved from the hunter gatherer era when fire and tools gave humans an edge over other species on our planet. The settled agriculture era saw the rise of land holding as our currency and measure of wealth and this also spawned the zamindari attitudes and created the nobles and commoners. The smokestack industries were built on mined minerals and energy from fossil fuels. Land, minerals and finance formed the backbone of the economy till this was disrupted by the hi-tech industries that used knowledge and technology as the prime drivers of the economy. The emergence of the web and the internet opened a new space for creative disruption and the brick and mortar establishments had to give way to the dematerialized economy where finance flowed through electronic networks and crossed national borders at will. We have now arrived at another disruption and suddenly concentration of wealth of the previous eras is being challenged by individual content creators and a new paradigm is needed to explain the open source characteristics of Web 2.0 and I think that we will need a new mind set to understand what this has in store for all of us. Surely creative sharing will be the driver of the web 2.0 era that is almost on us as we blog and share and build new applications that can accommodate all of us and our needs like never before.

Image: Handmade in India as a database that could bring Indian craftsmen on to a Web 2.0 platform as part of the creative economy of the future.
The four case examples that we used in our presentation called for design action starting from a deep study of user needs and aspirations and the users included villagers, farmers, students and craftsmen across India, who are all unusual subjects for a Web 2.0 initiative. However we believe that it is do-able if we can put together multi-disciplinary teams that can work closely with each user group and help build prototypes and concepts that can be refined and delivered in each of the sectors in which action is required. These cases are only indicative of what kinds of opportunities that we see in India and the scale of what is possible is indeed staggering. The details of the WebInnovation2007 Conference is available at this web link above and our presentation titled User Driven Web 2.0: Design Opportunities for India is a PDF file which can be downloaded from this link as a 2.2 mb file. The abstract of the presentation is quoted below.

Abstract of Paper and Visual presentation to the Web Innovation Conference, Bangalore in December 2007

User Driven Web 2.0: Design Opportunities for India

Prof. M P Ranjan
Chairman, Geovisualisation Task Group, DST, Govt. of India
Faculty of Design
National Institute of Design

Rupesh Vyas
Faculty of Design
Coordinator Information Design Discipline
National Institute of Design

India lives in many centuries and the rapid strides of development are impacting the lives of all of us particularly those who live and work in the rural sectors of our economy. It is here that most of our people live and perhaps where we should be making an effort to impact through a concerted impetus of design to make to make the tools and processes accessible to the people who need it the most.

How do we achieve this when the tools and technology have been held and operated by educated and urban oriented individuals and institutions for all these years? This is perhaps where design imagination and technological commitment can create new avenues for the application of these innovative tools and techniques in a democratic and ubiquitous manner all over our land. Is this a just in theory and like a distant dream or can or become a reality? Can we demonstrate this possibility in a few significant case studies so that it evokes a sense of commitment across the country to use these now widely available resources particularly in an IT enabled manner?

Can the emerging understanding of what is Web 2.0 create a platform of collaborators across disciplines to achieve what many institutions and Governments cannot do on their own? We believe that the time is right to take the technologies to the people and that we operate it in a bottom up approach with imagination and commitment to achieve what needs to be done. Do we know what is needed? Perhaps even here we will once again go to the bottom of the value chain and use the tools of co-creation to work our way back to new and exciting offerings that can transform our national, regional and local economies, one step at a time.

In this paper we will show that many new applications are indeed possible and these would cover the hitherto ignored areas of application in a participatory manner. This should make it both usable and relevant to the local conditions and meet the aspirations of the people whom it is to serve. Some suggestions have been made using examples of classroom and research projects conducted by the students and faculty of the National Institute of Design to show how these tools and knowledge domains in the area of Web based communication and exchange can be applied to new and interesting applications. This would establish that we can reach far into our rural hinterland and show that these could become a mission that would be achieved through active user participation to address local needs and aspirations in a variety of critical areas of application.

These could be called design opportunities since the intention is to add value to the local situation through making the information and knowledge both usable as well as accessible to the users in their own domains is a starting point for the design journey. With partners from technology and the user base much can be achieved which was hitherto not attempted. This is an invitation to imagination of what could be and not what is; do join us in this journey.


  1. Hi, Prof. Ranjan,

    I definitely benefited from your presentation in Web Innovation 2007, in Bangalore. It was so different and relevant compared to other presentations. Certainly made me ponder a lot after your presentation on the advent of Web 2.0. Agree, its since ages.....!!

    Great presentation Sir.... Keep it going...Also, really liked the last line summed up by Rupesh..!! Lets give India a chance of showing what it has...!!

    Cheers, Poonam
    Saltmarch Media

  2. Nice post, I bookmark your blog because I found very good information on your blog, Thanks for sharing web design


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