This post is a continuation of the last blog post. It tries to show more areas where FOSS application can make a meaningful contribution to the society. Most of the ideas used/given here would be India specific but who knows if something similar exists somewhere else or not.
1. Understanding the IT Act :- Lemme digress a bit . About 2 years back or a bit more CNBC Awaaz started a show called ‘Tax Guru‘ . Around that time ‘The Firm – Corporate Law in India’ also came into being. While the former gives answers to queries about general income tax related issues (generally) while the FIRM tries to make sense of the various law and policy issues to be decided in the near future and what the stakeholders need to know/understand.
Now a little before these two shows came two pieces of legislation in the forms of Act came into being showing the maturity of the Indian market. They were the IT Act 2000 (amended as IT Act 2008) and the RTI Act 2005 . Both these pieces of legislation were and are revolutionary as it gave framework for the various activities happening. While the IT Act for the first time made cyber crime a cognizable offence RTI or Right to Information made Govt. departments answerable to the common man. While there have been number of non-profits and NGO’s who have been taking a huge part in making the RTI Act accessible to the general public there has been no such help forthcoming on the IT Act front. This is specially worrying as the Act has far-reaching consequences for the general populace from small and medium businesses-es to people who use Internet in a cyber-cafe . What has also been surprising is both the times the Act when it was passed in the Parliament was without discussion in part perhaps people were/are not aware of how it changes things around us. I didn’t see any attempts in the mainstream media to make the IT Act accessible to us.
While I do and can rant about the media in general the businesses and the govt. have also been less than helpful in reaching out to the general public. There have been some instances where the govt. has used IT to some extent but still has to go a long way.
Lemme start with an interesting implementation which has been happening over the last 2 years. From around a year or two some business houses and some parts of government have been using SMS (Short Messaging Service) to converse or broadcast news to the public. For e.g. I have an active interest and curiosity about the Indian Railways and specifically the whole Western Railways. About a year back Western Railways started a service where one would receive updates/notifications about Traffic blocks , something like this by signing up for the service by typing ‘ START WRUPDATES ‘ to 56070. While the service is still not the most optimal as I get feed of the issues/happenings happening in Mumbai rather than Pune its something. Banks like ICICI Bank, HDFC Bank and Bank of India have been front runners in giving these kind of services to their customers for years.
Another interesting phenomenon has been the rise of twitter as a conversational and customer service centric tool. I just saw a fascinating study done on it. I will have to point out though that while twitter uses and is part of social media scene identi.ca is and can be a better fit for SME’s in the long-term (but that is material for another blog post 🙂 )
While both the above examples do give an insight about how media could be used for betterment of society till there is no way that messages from one to the other can be exchanged and till more and more government departments and businesses don’t start using it, it is a niche product. For e.g. if the Income Tax dept. were to give an automatic SMS when IT forms are submitted, there would be huge relief for people who filed the forms electronically (there are still issues there) . Similarly is the case of many businesses. For e.g. I am an AMD fanboy . If there was an SMS service where I could sign up and dealers giving AMD solutions would SMS me with offers it would be cool. Also a potential user would subscribe to the service till he buys a system to his liking. This would be an “pull” service rather than “push” service .
In the end, it would be unfair to only blame the media for all the issues outlined, the public at large should also come forward and demand such services. Till people don’t demand such services will not come.