World’s Biggest Challenge

Hypothes.is – a brilliant, new startup – is attempting to solve what it calls “the world’s biggest challenge”!

Frustrated by the media?  Disillusioned by our seeming inability to come to grips with difficult issues?  Us too.  We think improving the credibility of the information we encounter is key to solving this problem.  In fact, we think it’s humanity’s biggest challenge.

Hypothes.is will be a distributed, open-source platform for the collaborative evaluation of information. It will enable sentence-level critique of written words combined with a sophisticated yet easy-to-use model of community peer-review. It will work wherever you are – as an overlay on top of news, blogs, scientific articles, books, terms of service, ballot initiatives, legislation and regulations, software code and more – without requiring participation of the underlying site

Hypothes.is is a non-profit effort built on strong principles, and a clear vision of what it wants to achieve.  When I first discovered it via Twitter, I was stunned by its clarity on the subject, from the concept video by its founder – Dan Whaley – to the FAQs that ask hard-hitting questions and answer them.

The project has been self-funded till now, but to deliver a working prototype, Hypothes.is has joined hands with Kickstart to help raise $100,000 via crowdsourcing.  Your pledged amount will not be charged unless they hit the goal.

Every dollar counts, and all of us will benefit from it. I’ve pledged my support, and hope you do too.

Update:
As on 13 Nov, 2011, Hypothes.is has raised over $230k from donors across the world!

An India that Deserves Better

It was in May of 2004 when I’d first blogged about a New, Improved India, based on the belief that a highly-educated economist being elected as the PM would help change India for the better.   India did change, but not for the better.

Within a few months, it had become evident that the Dr. Singh who was responsible for the visionary practices of globalization and liberalisation was not the Dr. Singh who was now the alleged “leader” of the country.  In fact, over the next few years, India would see multiple scams surfacing, each trying to outdo its predecessor in terms of the millions and billions it amassed for its kingpins.  And, the famous Dr. Singh was reduced to being no more than a mouthpiece for the venerable “G” clan – if at all he ever spoke!

Like thousands of others, I too saw a glimmer of hope when, a few months ago, a frail old man in a “Gandhi” cap – Anna Hazare – decided to take on the cause of “India Against Corruption” by declaring a fast-unto-death in the capital of the country.  He was doing so, in support of the Lokpal Bill that proposed strong measures against corrupt practices.

Frankly, the amount of activity online (Twitter, etc.) and on-ground, at the time, was a surprise to most of us.  But, the Govt. managed to postpone the problem by seeking some time to correct its steps and table the Bill.  Not one to give up easily, Anna promised that if suitable measures were not taken, he will return on 16th Aug – a day after India’s independence day.

What was eventually drafted by the ruling government was a completely stripped-down version of the Bill, with ommission or reduced liability for key stakeholders like the PM’s office and members of parliaments, and strict punishments for those who “wrongly” make an allegation of corruption!  And, true to his word, Anna was back.

By this time, however, the man had become a movement…

India Against Corruption was now a full-fledged initiative that sparked the imagination of millions of Indians, both here and abroad.  Twitter was abuzz with activity around hashtags like #anna and #janlokpal.  Thousands of people in most major towns responded to Anna’s call of jail bharo (fill the prisons), to mark their protest against the prevalent corruption.  Retired IPS officers and High Court judges were pledging their support in public.  Even NRIs were flying down from across the globe, in a show of solidarity!

Enough and more has been written about how India is a country that is too large and diverse to manage.  And, about how every coalition government has to make tradeoffs that may not be acceptable.  But today, for the first time, I feel that as a people, we have had enough.  The citizens of India are demanding a better government.  The citizens of India – youth and disabled included – are bunking classes and taking leave from work, to show up for candle marches and protest gatherings, at places like Azad Maidan and Tihar Jail…

800+ voluntarily got themselves jailed in Mumbai, just a few days ago.   Thousands have been detained in Tihar Jail already.  Hundreds of thousands are spreading awareness via SMS and tweets, to their friends and family.  1.5 million have pledged their support via the Facebook group – Jai Ho!  And, more than 13 million have registered their voice of dissent via missed calls, as reported by the IAC website.

Yes, some of us are still wishing that this is just a phase, and that “this too shall pass”.  Some of us are still squabbling over semantics, and questioning the “unparliamentary” manner in which this movement has grown from strength to strength.  Some of us are still arguing that as long as we continue to grease palms to expedite things, we have no right to protest against corrupt practices.

But, there is no denying that, what started as one man’s fight for an India that deserved more, has become a movement for which Anna is but a symbol – a face.  Nearly a century ago, a man named M.K. Gandhi taught us that you can shake a nation from its slumber, and oust a colonial ruler, by non-violent means. Today, Anna is using those means to re-ignite a spark in millions.  And, he’s doing more for our society than most of us ever will in our lifetime.

I support Anna because Life is hard as it is, and for decades, we Indians have (mistakenly) lived with the belief that we are like this only.  I support Anna because it takes a lot to get the youth of our country to even care about what’s happening to it.  I support Anna because he may be our only hope, in our fight against corruption and injustice, and an ineffective government.  I support Anna because, years later, when my grandchildren ask me if I had any role to play in the “freedom struggle” of my time, I want to be able to say “Yes, I did!”

I do hope that this flame does not die out too soon… for your sake and mine.

Read Also:
Wikipedia on Jan Lokpal Bill (Anti Corruption) of India
Answering Anna’s critics: 10 posers and rebuttals

Personal Truths

A good friend – Neeraj – posted another good entry on his blog, this time on the issues concerning how much we reveal of ourselves online, and what that means for relationships.  Naturally, it made for an interesting read.  Here is a brief excerpt…

A (Twitter) timeline that follows 150 people or more moves fast… Sometimes I try to put those thoughts together into a coherent picture of the individual and I fail. It reminds me of a Salman Rushdie novel I’d read where a man isn’t allowed to see his prospective wife, but only parts of her through a veil. He sees the eyes, nose, hands, chin, feet and is smitten. When he sees her after the wedding, the whole is decidedly less than the sum of the parts. This is what worries me about online friendships.

Over the past year that I’ve spent on this medium (Twitter) I’ve been fascinated by some of the people I follow. I think I know them, I think I relate but I don’t know if they’ve really let me into the most private realms of their world. A privilege few extend and fewer deserve.

Until I meet them I can only continue to build my edifice of thoughts, letting a chosen few enter in the hope they extend the same faith.

See what I mean?  Thought-provoking, it certainly was.  And, I found myself responding…

My take is that it differs from person to person. If you’re the sort who doesn’t care much for “what people may think” and are true to your identity, you’ll behave online how you really are.  But, others could just as easily create an elaborate exercise of projecting the kind of impression they want to project.  To make matters worse, both types may post about only a limited range of topics, and almost certainly not include the thoughts they consider “personal” to them.

So, I guess, I’d agree with him for the most part – you can’t really tell how someone truly is unless you’ve met them. And, then too, you can only build up a picture from what they allow themselves to reveal…

That said, every once in a while, you come across someone who you immediately connect with. Your wavelengths match, your ideas resonate and your discussions make sense… And, you’re pretty sure that if they lived in your neighborhood, you’d be good friends, and hang out as much as possible.

And, somewhere deep down, you believe that it’s not just a “persona” – it’s all true!

No Way Out

Here’s a perspective on the amount of data and information that’s out there, and continues to be created every day…

The amount of digital information created in 2010 (1.2 zettabytes) will equal 75 billion fully-loaded 16 GB Apple iPads, which would fill the entire area of Wembley Stadium to the brim 41 times (via Information-Management.com, May 2010)

The amount of digital information created annually will grow by a factor of 44 from 2009 to 2020, as all major forms of media – voice, TV, radio, print – complete the journey from analog to digital (via EMC)

Twitter is estimated to have 175 million users, generating 95 million tweets a day (via Twitter.com, Sep 2010)

As of mid 2010, Facebook reports more than 500 million users worldwide who share more than 30 billion pieces of content (web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photo albums, etc.) each month (via Facebook.com)

Shocking statistics, aren’t they? The question really is: How are you gearing up for it?

Here’s what I think.  The problem is only going to get worse in the years to come.  There’s not much you and I can do about that.  What we can do, however, is develop the ability to filter out the noise from the music.

That’s easier said than done, especially when you’re looking at “information overload” so large that no single phrase can adequately describe how BIG the overload really is.  We’ve all faced consequences of it, either by way of a burgeoning Inbox that refuses to quiet down to manageable levels, or via the endless barrage of tweets and status updates we have subscribed to, or even the always-on Blackberry culture that keeps us tethered to the office.

For some, it may mean reducing the number of xml subscriptions in their newsreader, reviewing the number of twitterers to follow, or even unfriending some folks from their FB list, even if it means risking some “social quotient” in the bargain.  For others, it may mean changing their complusive habits, and slowly but steadily, learning the art of focusing on the essentials and ignoring the rest… 

Whatever be our approach, we’re all going to have to make some tough choices.  It’s the only way out.

P.S. For good measure, let me share with you a link to an incisive TED talk on achieving the balance we so desperately need. Highly recommended.

Watch Out!

Pritish Nandy puts forth some great points in his recent post entitled ‘The deficit of trust‘…

I live on the 24th floor of a well secured multi storied building no one can enter without an ID card. Yet how often have I left my front door open? Never. How often have I left my car unlocked and run out for an errand? Never. How often do I stop on the street and help someone in need? Not as often as I ought to. How often do I stop and feed a hungry stray dog? Not as often as I could. Why? I am programmed to fear it may bite me. How often do I help an accident victim? Rarely. Why? I worry about being drawn into a police case. How often do I give money to an urchin? Not as often as I’d like to. Why? I fear I may be encouraging begging. Behind every small act of ours is a deficit of trust.

… We are always warning friends, associates, colleagues, spouses, children to be wary. Never take candy from a stranger, is every mother’s first tip to her child. Never hire a great looking secretary, is every wife’s first threat to her husband. Think twice before you marry a great looking or successful guy, is every friend’s advice to another, he can always ditch you for someone else. In fact, the moment you ask someone for advice, on anything related to a relationship or a health issue or a property deal, be sure to be warned.

Our first reaction to everything is: Watch out! We even sign off, saying Take Care.

As an informed citizen, most of this comes naturally to me, as it does to many of us.  As a parent, I hardly even think about the alternatives, when it comes to erring on the side of safety for my children.  Nandy argues that “the deficit of trust besieges us with fear”.  It’s changing our lives, and not for the better, I’m afraid…

Will we ever be able to break out from this?  Or, are future generations doomed to live a life of even more mistrust?!