A website standard that is affordable to the poorest demographics in developing countries?

Fact: the In­ter­net is ex­cru­ci­at­ingly slow in many de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, es­pe­cially out­side of the big cities.

Fact: to­day’s web­sites are de­signed in such a way that they be­come prac­ti­cally im­pos­si­ble to nav­i­gate with con­nec­tions in the or­der of, say, 512kps. Ram be­low 4GB and a 7-year old CPU are also a guaran­tee of a ter­rible ex­pe­rience.

Fact: op­er­at­ing sys­tems are usu­ally de­signed in such an ob­so­les­cence-in­duc­ing way as well.

Fact: the In­ter­net is a mas­sive source of free-flow­ing in­for­ma­tion and a medium of fast, cheap com­mu­ni­ca­tion and net­work­ing.

Con­clu­sion: lots of hu­mans in the de­vel­op­ing world are miss­ing out on the benefits of a tech­nol­ogy that could be amaz­ingly em­pow­er­ing and en­light­en­ing.

I just came across this: what would the in­ter­net 2.0 have looked like in the 1980s. This threw me back to my first forays in Linux’s com­mand shell and how en­am­oured I be­came with its re­spon­sive­ness and cus­tomiz­abil­ity. Back then my lap­top had very lit­tle au­ton­omy, and very few class­rooms had plugs, but by switch­ing to pure com­mand mode I could spend the en­tire day at school tak­ing notes (in LaTeX) with­out run­ning out. But I switched back to the GUI en­vi­ron­ment as soon as I got the chance, be­cause nav­i­gat­ing the in­ter­net on the likes of Lynx is a pain in the neck.

As it turns out, I’m cur­rently go­ing through a course on en­ergy dis­tri­bu­tion in iso­lated ru­ral ar­eas in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. It’s quite a fas­ci­nat­ing topic, be­cause of the very tight re­source mar­gins, the dra­matic im­pact of so­cietal con­sid­er­a­tions, and the need to tai­lor the tech­nol­ogy to the ex­ist­ing nat­u­ral re­new­able re­sources. And yet, there’s ac­tu­ally a profit to be made in­vest­ing in these pro­jects; if man­aged prop­erly, it’s win-win.

And I was think­ing that, af­ter bring­ing them elec­tric­ity and drink­able wa­ter, it might make sense to ap­ply a similar cost-op­ti­miz­ing, shoestring-bud­get men­tal­ity to the In­ter­net. We already have mo­bile apps and mo­bile web stan­dards which are built with the mind­set of “let’s make this smart­phone’s bat­tery last as long as pos­si­ble”.

Even then, (well-to-do, smart­phone-buy­ing) thrid-wor­lders are some­what ne­glected: Sam­sung and the like have spe­cial chains of cheap An­droid smart­phones for Africa and the Mid­dle East. I used to own one; “this cool app that you want to try out is not available for use on this sys­tem” were a mis­ery I had to get used to.

It doesn’t seem to be much of a stretch to do the same thing for out­dated desk­tops. I’ve been in cy­ber­cafés in North Africa that still em­ploy IBM Ap­tiva ma­chines, me­chan­i­cal key­board and all—with a Linux op­er­at­ing sys­tem, though. Heck, I’ve seen town “pubs”, way up in the hills, where the NES was still a big deal among the kids, not to men­tion old ar­cades—Guile’s theme goes ev­ery­where.

The log­i­cal thing to do would be to adapt a sys­tem that’s less CPU in­ten­sive, mostly by ton­ing down the graph­ics. A bare-bones, low-band­with in­ter­net that would let kids wor­ld­wide read wikipe­dia, or clas­sic liter­a­ture, and even write fic­tion (by them, for them), that would let na­tion­wide groups tweet to each other in real time, that would let peo­ple dis­cuss pro­jects and thoughts, con­verse and play, and do all of those amaz­ing things you can do on the In­ter­net, on a very, very tight bud­get, with very, very limited means. In­ter­net is sup­posed to make knowl­edge and in­for­ma­tion free and uni­ver­sal. But there’s an en­try-level cost that most hu­mans can’t af­ford. I think we need to bridge that. What do you guys think?