Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Digital India, the promise, the status

I heard about Digital Iindia from way too many people and could not ignore it anymore. So I went around looking for what it is. A google search led me to the Digital India Home Page. The page has tried to capture what government means by Digital India. Here is my analysis of the promise called Digital India. The site defines Digital India as "The Digital India programme is a flagship programme of the Government of India with a vision to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy."
The Digital India narrative is defined in terms of Vision Areas.

Digital Infrastructure as a Utility to every citizen

This is basically about infrastructure building. It defines a set of Digitial Services that government is planning to provide to its citizens.

Current Status and my expectation
Availability of high speed internet as a core utility for delivery of services to citizens
I think lot of work has happened in this area but still lot more needs to be done. Unfortunately, our fixation with mobile technologies will not solve this problem in short term. Solid high-speed internet can only be provided with wired technologies and for some reason most telecom providers are not very keen on building that business.
Cradle to grave digital identity that is unique, lifelong, online and authenticable to every citizen
Aadhaar has done a lot in this area but the government needs to work with service providers so they can utilize the infrastructure. Something on the lines of Social Security Number in the US. You can walk into any store, give your SSN and the shop keeper can provide you many services like offering credit. It also works as an identification proof.
Mobile phone & bank account enabling citizen participation in digital & financial space
I think the difficult problem is bringing banking to every citizen. The real financial inclusion will come when the credit market is democratized. An individual with top credit rating needs to pay at least 4% more than bank base rate while a corrupt industrialist with the chequered history of not paying loans, can get loans at sub base rate. If people have money, they will open bank accounts and that is not the biggest problem to be solved. Credit is the biggest problem. So all this mobile phone is just a gimmick and I don't think governments need to worry about this aspect. There is sufficient private investment in this area already at work.
Easy access to a Common Service Centre
Yes, great idea, something like the PCO revolution of earlier times.
Shareable private space on a public cloud
There is already a service called Digital Locker. As usual it is like a service designed by a government. There are some good features, for examples your issuers can directly put your documents in your digital locker. But currently there are only two issuers in the system. Why can't government get authorities like Income Tax Department to use this, I don't know? There is an app in Android Play Store called DigitalLocker, which looks like an app for this service, but the publisher of the app is Puja Singh. I was not sure that this is Government of India, so I did not install it. The service gives 1 GB of space, which in my view is too little. But still a good start if all the government departments sign-up and don't ask me to send them self-attested documents every now and then, it is probably worth it. If GoI thinks that it is a replacement of Google Drive, I am sorry, they are mistaken. I don't see anybody using this service if it is not useful for government work. 
Safe and secure cyber-space
This is just about CERT-in.

Governance and service on demand

Current Status and my expectation
Seamlessly integrated services across departments or jurisdictions
The vision talks about open source and open APIs being established by the government for functioning across departments. Unfortunately, they refer to a site https://egovstandards.gov.in/ which is not working at this time, so I can't really say much about ti.
Services available in real time from online & mobile platforms
This is all about mobile. They have created a mobile governance app store, I really don't see the point of it, if all the apps are android apps, why not publish these on android play store. There are 642 apps available as of this writing which are downloaded total 337145 times. Clearly the AppStore is not popular. In my opinion, the government should concentrate on building following this.
  • Build and authentication and authorization system which can be used by ISVs to authenticate and authorize users
  • Publish open APIs which use above authentication system and let independent developers build apps
All citizen entitlements to be portable and available on the cloud
This is where government needs to get out of the mindset of building platforms. Here information needs to be provided and the government owns that information. The area refers to the GoI cloud platform (Meghraj) but actually very little information is made available online.
Digitally transformed services for improving ease of doing business
This is about bringing government services related to starting and functioning of business online. Here also I think they need to take the open API approach. Since many regulatory compliance issues can be sorted easily by integrating business IT systems with GoI systems using these open APIs.
Making financial transactions electronic & cashless
Primary talks about a payment gateway just for government service. Would probably make paying government and receiving payment from government easier. Till the time it interworks with other payment gateways, I think it is a great step.
Leveraging Geospatial Information System (GIS) for decision support systems & development
Talks about integrating geospatial data in decision making. Very little information about what is happening or has happened.

Digital empowerment of citizens

Current Status and my expectation
Universal Digital Literacy
Primarily talks about two things. The first being extending the fiber network to villages and the second being about settings up institutes so that people can be taught how to do e-governance transactions. As per the documentation available on NOFN website, the fiber network is currently available till block level and the plan is to extend it to gram panchayat level.
Universally accessible digital resources
This is about making information available to citizens. Nobody can argue with that, but the only concrete reference is http://data.gov.in which is an insufficient and old news.
All documents/certificates to be available on cloud
Talks about making sure that citizens are not asked to submit documents and certificates in dealing with government offices. Nothing concrete is talked about here. 
Availability of digital resources/ services in Indian languages
Talks about making content available in Indian languages.
Collaborative digital platforms for participative governance
Talks about having a platform for collaborative governance. Refers to using social media and governments mygov.gov.in platform. We will have to see if the interactions on these platforms are truly collaborative.
The initiative Digital India seems to be a good idea. The only problem that I have that it probably has not been thought through. Many items are a continuum of what has been going on. There are very few breakthrough ideas. Also in a mission like this, government's job should be of the platform provider, facilitator, and regulator. Rather than that it seems to be a typical government program.
If Government of India can build a platform with standardized authentication and authorization and open APIs then the market can take over from there and end user experiences can be built easily. Rather than that, the government is trying to do too many things at the same time. One thing the market is very good at, that is creating user experiences and deepening the reach of services, as we have seen in the case of technologies like WhatsApp. Probably the reach of Whatsapp may be second only to the reach of Aadhaar in India.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Why we need a new twitter?

Twitter has become a garbage dump. Even though I don't follow many controversial people, still tweets, re-tweets, promoted tweets finally results in my timeline being full of garbage. So I am wondering what is the solution. There is still sufficient information that comes on my timeline that I am interested in but it is becoming more and more difficult by each passing day to decipher good information.

As a rule, I block anybody who I am not interested in. I have nothing against anybody who wants to say something, I am just not interested in spending my time in listening to it. Still some of my friends are interested in what others have to say and most retweet without thinking. That garbage shows up in my timeline.

So I am thinking what is the solution. Here is what I propose.

We need a cross-breed of Liinkedin and Twitter. What we need is the social graph of the LinkedIn with the degree of separation and approval and the broadcast capability and ease of use of twitter.

  • The edges  in social graph has to be directional. Basically, if I am interested in listening to what somebody has to say, that doesn't automatically mean he is interested in what I have to say.
  • I only see messages from my direct connections, if somebody else wants to reach me, he has to go through the message forward model of LinkedIn
  • Promoted messages should clearly mention which of  the attributes of my interaction are causing that particular promoted message to show up in my timeline.
  • If a person is blocked by a specified number of people, he is automatically thrown off the system. Basically we need an algorithm to locate people who are paid to abuse.
What say guys, somebody wants to build it. Or better still, fund me I will build it. I will call the system Cricket and a message would be called Chirp :-)