Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Akshara and Radio Mirchi

Akshara was live on Radio Mirchi last week!

If you did not Tune in to 98.3 FM to hear the Mirchi RJ interact with the children at the Akshara - Juniper library at Annasandrapalya and hear the children demonstrate their proficiency in reading and math you can do so below.

1st Part

2nd Part

On True Fans

An interesting take on new models of music creation and distribution. The case for and the case against.
I have a notion that we're turning a corner (or experiencing a swing in the pendulum) where an artist who focuses on a smaller number of fans and serves them with a high level of direct interaction and communication will be the new model for success, even in the face of new technology and the shift in old school music business procedures. I think a new definition of success will be the artist who has 5000 passionate fans worldwide who spend 20-30 dollars a year on your creative output.

Piracy = Good

A telling exchange between an author and a publisher with the latter explaining how piracy of the author's book is great!
Fantastic! There's absolutely nothing you can do about it, and unless you see sales dipping off then I don't think there's anything you *should* do about it. The HF books work really well as books, so at best the torrents act as advertisements for the superior print product (not often you can say that with a straight face). At worst most of your downloads are going to people who wouldn't have bought the book at cover price and who will, if they enjoy it, rave about it to others.
Picture by peasap

Text Books and Subsidies

Tim Lee on why textbooks paid for or subsidised by the government is a bad idea.
This is a bad idea for a bunch of reasons. For starters, there's no reason to think that government-funded textbooks would be any good.

What's really needed, I think, is to find ways to leverage the web for lower-cost distribution of instructional materials.
Exactly what some organisations are attempting to do.

Picture by Simon Shek

Monday, April 28, 2008

Publishers go blog-hunting for content

A visit to the vegetable mandi brought home a strange cucumber that bore an uncanny resemblance to the letters 'Om' in Sanskrit. And the family that bought it thinks there's a divine intervention at work. 

Within minutes, there is chaos ruling. Neighbours come rushing in and so do print media and news channels.

Such a cock-eyed and fictional look at a "holy" incident that happened with a middle-class family in Mumbai has got blogger B. Keshav stand a chance to get his story featured in Penguin India's compilation of short stories from the web — Blogprints.

Many publishers like Penguin are going online to gather material for their publications. Meaning, they are picking up outstanding creative blog posts, be it short stories or poetry, and putting it together into a book.

Small wonder, the trend has got the unsung creative talents like Keshav and Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan much excited.

"It's a reason enough for me to keep my blog updated with the best short stories. Sulekha.com will soon be choosing one author per month from its vast set of bloggers for publishing their work," says Keshav. 

But with thousands of posts and creative talents on the net, its not easy for the publishers to sift through hundreds of the posts to pick out the best of works. So, they have devised strategies like online creative contests to find fresh talents.

Apeejay Group's Oxford chain of bookstores has been running e-Author since last five years. The online short-story contest, which invites entries from aspiring writers, has roped in publishers Harper Collins and Readers' Digest this year to partner in the hunt for new and emerging talents by going through the web route.

The short stories would be subsequently published in Reader's Digest and the winning novel would be published by Harper Collins with Oxford retaining the IP for two years.

However, opening of the floodgates has its cons too. V. Karthika, editor-in-chief, Harper Collins India, says, "You have 20-somethings writing on blogs and sending their transcripts to publishers. The approach sometimes is very amateurish and one ends up sifting through a lot more work than one would really be required to."

Source: DNA, Mumbai

On Cognitive Surpluses

Clay Shirky on television, it's slow death spiral and the rise of Wikis.
If I had to pick the critical technology for the 20th century, the bit of social lubricant without which the wheels would've come off the whole enterprise, I'd say it was the sitcom. Starting with the Second World War a whole series of things happened--rising GDP per capita, rising educational attainment, rising life expectancy and, critically, a rising number of people who were working five-day work weeks. For the first time, society forced onto an enormous number of its citizens the requirement to manage something they had never had to manage before--free time. And what did we do with that free time? Well, mostly we spent it watching TV.
She then goes on to talk about a growing cognitive surplus and how we might direct that surplus.
And this is the other thing about the size of the cognitive surplus we're talking about. It's so large that even a small change could have huge ramifications. Let's say that everything stays 99 percent the same, that people watch 99 percent as much television as they used to, but 1 percent of that is carved out for producing and for sharing. The Internet-connected population watches roughly a trillion hours of TV a year. That's about five times the size of the annual U.S. consumption. One per cent of that is 10,000 Wikipedia projects per year worth of participation. I think that's going to be a big deal. Don't you?

Picture via James Good

Round Up

Rahul Matthan on the democratisation of photography.
Art, today is judged, not by a clique of snotty art critics, but by a community of ordinary people spread across the length and breadth of the planet. Like other mediums of expression, it has managed to shrug off the middleman.
Tim Lee on the oft made mistaken fact that open source is about salaries when it is actually about organisation.
There is no "central management" for the Linux kernel, and it would probably be a less successful project if there were.
Some interesting results from a WikiEducator Survey [PDF Link]
  • Half of the members are over 45 years old.
  • WE is a community of educators, with 72% of respondents identifying themselves as teachers, lecturers or trainers
  • 69% of new account holders want to learn Wiki skills. -- that's very encouraging.
  • In September 2007 - there was a male gender bias (60% male and 40% female.) It appears that they are now on the right track with a 49:51 spilt between male and female respectively.

An Article on Pratham Books

ThinkChange India has an article up on our work.

Thank you, TC-I!

Friday, April 25, 2008

'The Grid' 10,000 Times Faster Than Broadband Could Soon Make the Internet Obsolete

In a recent article, Fox News claims that the Internet could soon be made obsolete. The scientists who pioneered it have now built a lightning-fast replacement capable of downloading entire feature films within seconds.

At speeds about 10,000 times faster than a typical broadband connection, “the grid” will be able to send the entire Rolling Stones back catalogue from Britain to Japan in less than two seconds.

The latest spin-off from Cern, the particle physics centre that created the web, the grid could also provide the kind of power needed to transmit holographic images; allow instant online gaming with hundreds of thousands of players; and offer high-definition video telephony for the price of a local call.

David Britton, professor of physics at Glasgow University and a leading figure in the grid project, believes grid technologies could “revolutionise” society. “With this kind of computing power, future generations will have the ability to collaborate and communicate in ways older people like me cannot even imagine,” he said.

The power of the grid will become apparent this summer after what scientists at Cern have termed their “red button” day - the switching-on of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the new particle accelerator built to probe the origin of the universe.

The grid will be activated at the same time to capture the data it generates.Cern, based near Geneva, started the grid computing project seven years ago when researchers realised the LHC would generate annual data equivalent to 56m CDs - enough to make a stack 40 miles high.

This meant that scientists at Cern - where Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the web in 1989 - would no longer be able to use his creation for fear of causing a global collapse.

This is because the Internet has evolved by linking together a hotchpotch of cables and routing equipment, much of which was originally designed for telephone calls and therefore lacks the capacity for high-speed data transmission.

By contrast, the grid has been built with dedicated fibre optic cables and modern routing centres, meaning there are no outdated components to slow the deluge of data. The 55,000 servers already installed are expected to rise to 200,000 within the next two years.

Professor Tony Doyle, technical director of the grid project, said: “We need so much processing power, there would even be an issue about getting enough electricity to run the computers if they were all at Cern. The only answer was a new network powerful enough to send the data instantly to research centres in other countries.”

That network, in effect a parallel Internet, is now built, using fibre optic cables that run from Cern to 11 centres in the United States, Canada, the Far East, Europe and around the world.One terminates at the Rutherford Appleton laboratory at Harwell in Oxfordshire.
From each centre, further connections radiate out to a host of other research institutions using existing high-speed academic networks.It means Britain alone has 8,000 servers on the grid system – so that any student or academic will theoretically be able to hook up to the grid rather than the internet from this autumn.

Ian Bird, project leader for Cern’s high-speed computing project, said grid technology could make the internet so fast that people would stop using desktop computers to store information and entrust it all to the internet.“It will lead to what’s known as cloud computing, where people keep all their information online and access it from anywhere,” he said.

Computers on the grid can also transmit data at lightning speed. This will allow researchers facing heavy processing tasks to call on the assistance of thousands of other computers around the world. The aim is to eliminate the dreaded “frozen screen” experienced by internet users who ask their machine to handle too much information.

The real goal of the grid is, however, to work with the LHC in tracking down nature’s most elusive particle, the Higgs boson. Predicted in theory but never yet found, the Higgs is supposed to be what gives matter mass.The LHC has been designed to hunt out this particle - but even at optimum performance it will generate only a few thousand of the particles a year.

Analysing the mountain of data will be such a large task that it will keep even the grid’s huge capacity busy for years to come.Although the grid itself is unlikely to be directly available to domestic internet users, many telecoms providers and businesses are already introducing its pioneering technologies.

One of the most potent is so-called dynamic switching, which creates a dedicated channel for internet users trying to download large volumes of data such as films. In theory this would give a standard desktop computer the ability to download a movie in five seconds rather than the current three hours or so.

Additionally, the grid is being made available to dozens of other academic researchers including astronomers and molecular biologists.It has already been used to help design new drugs against malaria, the mosquito-borne disease that kills 1m people worldwide each year. Researchers used the grid to analyse 140m compounds - a task that would have taken a standard internet-linked PC 420 years.“Projects like the grid will bring huge changes in business and society as well as science,” Doyle said.“Holographic video conferencing is not that far away. Online gaming could evolve to include many thousands of people, and social networking could become the main way we communicate.“The history of the internet shows you cannot predict its real impacts but we know they will be huge.”
Picture via : Tim tom

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Open Science

Scientific American, in a recent article, discusses the opportunity that the Internet has enabled in allowing researches to share raw laboratory data:

The first generation of World Wide Web capabilities rapidly transformed retailing and information search. More recent attributes such as blogging, tagging and social networking, dubbed Web 2.0, have just as quickly expanded people’s ability not just to consume online information but to publish it, edit it and collaborate about it—forcing such old-line institutions as journalism, marketing and even politicking to adopt whole new ways of thinking and operating.
Science could be next. A small but growing number of researchers (and not just the younger ones) have begun to carry out their work via the wide-open tools of Web 2.0. And although their efforts are still too scattered to be called a movement—yet—their experiences to date suggest that this kind of Web-based “Science 2.0” is not only more collegial than traditional science but considerably more productive.

Bill Hooker, a postdoctoral cancer researcher at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Portland, Oregon says:
"To me, opening up my lab notebook means giving people a window into what I'm doing every day," Hooker says. "That's an immense leap forward in clarity. In a paper, I can see what you've done. But I don't know how many things you tried that didn't work. It's those little details that become clear with an open [online] notebook but are obscured by every other communication mechanism we have. It makes science more efficient."
And the expected counterpoint:
The whole point of publishing papers is that scientists wade through vast amounts of data, extract those that are informative, and generate figures that accurately and concisely distill out the useful features. Why would a working scientist want to expend the huge amount of effort necessary to wade through, extract, and distill this same information on her own?

My prediction is that "Open Lab Notebooks" is an idea that is going to go absolutely nowhere, at least in the biomedical sciences, and for a very good reason.
picture via Stacina

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Crowdsourcing is Exploitation?

Or maybe it isn't.
No one is being forced or compelled to do these translations. They're doing it because they are getting compensated in their own way. It's either recognition from the community, or merely the fact that doing this enables them to use Facebook more effectively -- and that's compensation enough. For the users who do the translation, it's obviously a fair trade, otherwise, why would they take part?
Picture via by inju

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Free Books. Free Mind.

Steven Poole on his experiment with free books. Do read the whole piece.
At the end of last year, I decided to give away my book, Trigger Happy, in DRM-free .pdf format. I called it “a kind of experiment”. Thirty thousand downloads later and counting, it’s time to collate the lab results.

Internet distribution is awesome, but you knew that already. More people got Trigger Happy from this website than ever bought a copy of the printed book. The interest shown in an eight-year-old book about videogames by people as far afield (from my point of view) as Brazil and Russia has been immensely gratifying. My book was converted to be readable on the Nintendo DS; and the Nebraska Library Commission made a spiral-bound printed copy for their collection. Links to the download attracted a lot of attention to this site, and in December there was even an article about the book published in the French newspaper Libération.

All of which is to say, it was a pretty good publicity stunt. It might have sold a few more hard copies; more importantly, it gives my future books a better chance of at least being picked up in a bookstore by people who downloaded this one.

Although I didn’t do it for the money, I was also, of course, interested in testing the idea of giving stuff away and allowing people freely to express their appreciation. So I put a PayPal button below the download. Is this, as some people say, an exciting new internet-age business model for writers and other creative types?
A lot of wisdom in the comments too. To wit:
The model described is already in place for writers of the magazine/newspaper variety. Specifically the part where a paying client needs something written and must come up with an incentive to get it done. This is different from the traditional book model where a writes comes up with a book, and must convince someone to *retroactively* make it worth their while. You could, for example, write on a form of commission, coughing up chapters and ideas as your audience shows willingness to pay for them. No pay, no write. The internet happens to make this part easy too.
Your dichotomy only exists if you assume that you have to create the work first and figure out a way to compensate for all that lost time second.
This is how I’ve found open source software to work: enough gets written for free to scratch the creator’s particular itch, but specific feature requests or promises of reliability aren’t addressed without some form of payback: a service contract, maybe a job.
picture via teresia

It's About the Us

The New York Times discusses the rise of the 'my' generation on the 'web and how companies are taking advantage of this to personalize interactions with their customers.
...they illustrate how corporations are striving to show that they can be as intimately connected to their customers as in-vogue social networking sites. They’re not just impersonal businesses; they are your close, intimate friends.

And more on the Penguin initiative that used the 'web to tell collaborative stories.
...the final sixth story is coming out on Tuesday, and it's the one I'm most impressed by. It's basically an unholy cross between a text adventure, choose your own adventure, and dungeon map. Technically speaking, it's not very sophisticated, but it has an interface that I'm sure hasn't been done before...

Friday, April 18, 2008

Open Source Economics

"Law professor Yochai Benkler explains how collaborative projects like Wikipedia and Linux represent the next stage of human organization. By disrupting traditional economic production, copyright law and established competition, they're paving the way for a new set of economic laws, where empowered individuals are put on a level playing field with industry giant."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Random Round Up

Cory on why, in the age of digital books, you may not own your library.
It's funny that in the name of protecting "intellectual property," big media companies are willing to do such violence to the idea of real property -- arguing that since everything we own, from our t-shirts to our cars to our ebooks, embody someone's copyright, patent and trademark, that we're basically just tenant farmers, living on the land of our gracious masters who've seen fit to give us a lease on our homes.
Andrew on why Amazon's latest publisher push may be a bad thing. And Tim on the same as well.
It is a free-market economy, and competition is the name of the game. But as Amazon's market power increases, it needs to be mindful of whether its moves, even those that may be good for the company in the short term, are ultimately destructive of the ecosystem on which they depend. I believe that they are heading in that direction, and if they succeed with some of their initiatives, they will wake up one day to discover that they've sown the seeds of their own destruction, just as Microsoft did in the 1990s.
Fawkes commenting on what may be the new news process ecosystem.
Shyam on the future of the newspaper and media in India.
That is a tough one to answer and the answer it itself probably lies in the fact that kids who will be born 10 years from now won’t have a primary instinct to write on or read anything from a piece of paper. Their primary instincts would be driven towards handheld devices or to a keyboard on a computing device. The current usage of print media is sustained by generations who have the primary instinct to write on and read off a paper. Maybe, some twenty or thirty years from now, that generation won’t be the ones who hold the purse strings in terms of spending. From that point of view, the future is very bleak for print media.

That said, print also has been one of the oldest forms that have been around. It has survived radio and television till date and I don’t see why it would not survive the onslaught of the internet. The internet is more of a tectonic change that has consequences much beyond the little sphere of media, so it would be unnatural to assume that print would be left untouched by it. I think what will save print would eventually be technology. It may well not survive as the print we know of now — of being printed on deadwood — and probably move into a form that is only similar in shape, but in the end it may just surprise us all by surviving and doing well 40 years from now.
Cory, again, on the dilemma that piracy presents and a surprising answer.
Matt's spiel is great, and for the first 30-or-so minutes, I found myself just nodding along as he expressed -- eloquently and delightfully -- things I'd heard others like Lessig, Barlow (and me!) say. But then he got to his kicker, and I sat up, electrified: "The best way to profit from pirates is to copy them."
A video on piracy and how it is good, again. And via a comment on Reddit, a summation:
Bittorrent (and the nature of digital media) means that you can't put the worms back in the can. What's more, advertising space in commercial breaks costs so much money that you can actually buy a whole episode from the producer and distribute it (via internet or even by mailing a DVD to everyone) for less money than paying for the advertising. You could then also put a "bug" (like the channel marker in the top-left or top-right) for your brand all the way through the episode. Broadcast media will live on (at least for the time being) for live events and sports.

Masnick on why free content does not mean worthless content.
Content may be becoming free, but that's opening up tremendous value (which drives more content creations) and that content is coming from a much longer tail of diverse and varied content producers. It may be troublesome for the big entertainment infrastructure he's used to dealing with, but it's hardly bad for the real content industry.
And Masnick, again, on why the Internet, as a platform, matters as it enables innovation.
Of course it'll lead to a ton of crap, but it'll also lead to a ton of really interesting, fascinating and useful things that'll rise up out of that crap. It'll also lead to a lot of innovation and, potentially, totally unexpected and different ways to use the internet. And that should be exciting.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Akshara Foundation

A short video introduction to the Akshara Foundation.

Learning Tomorrow. Leaving Today.

In my future model the "school" is only a PC/game machine/mobile phone/headset thingee that clues me in about everything around me and helps me learn what I need to know. Why would I ever give that up? The truth is we won't. If we have more students, we just build more devices. Classrooms aren't absolutely necessary, nor will location even matter.
Robert Cringely thinks so.

picture via mexican 2000

Automatic Books

Via the New York Times comes the story of Philip Parker who has managed to automate the process of writing a book.
"It’s not easy to write a book. First you have to pick a title. And then there is the table of contents. If you want the book to be categorized, either by a bookseller or a library, it has to be assigned a unique numerical code, like an ISBN, for International Standard Book Number. There have to be proper margins. Finally, there’s the back cover.

Oh, and there is all that stuff in the middle, too. The writing.

Philip M. Parker seems to have licked that problem. Mr. Parker has generated more than 200,000 books, as an advanced search on Amazon.com under his publishing company shows, making him, in his own words, “the most published author in the history of the planet.” And he makes money doing it."
So the future is one where publishers may not matter and authors are computers? It reminds me of what Roy Amara once said:
"We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run."
We're not in Kansas anymore, are we?

picture via xrrr

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Mapped Stories

Penguin books is working with 6 authors to tell 6 stories in 6 weeks. The first one, The 21 Steps, is told via embedded Google Maps.

The 21 Steps is told by following the story as it unfolds across a map of the world. Follow the trail by clicking on the link at the bottom of each bubble.


via O'Reilly Radar

25-Cent best-selling children's book!

Thousands of books get published each year. Most of them soon slip into oblivion. But “The Poky Little Puppy,” by Janette Sebring Lowrey, originally published in 1942 as a 'Golden Book' sold more than 15 million copies and is still in print. Why? Because at 25 cents, the book has been affordable and accessible to millions of Americans. Surely, one of the best ways to get children to read is to give them books at low costs. Without compromising on quality of course.

Leonard S. Marcus describes how the Golden Books won children's hearts and became an American icon in his book GOLDEN LEGACY.

"Marcus, a highly regarded children’s-book historian, tells the story of the pioneering collaboration between Western Publishing and Simon & Schuster to introduce a series of books priced at 25 cents. The idea behind the venture, as Marcus explains, was that “the populist conviction, far from universally shared by publishers, that the known book-buying market represented only a fraction of the market’s potential” and that less well-off Americans would buy books if they were cheaper.

And so, in 1942, Little Golden Books appeared, to immediate commercial success. The books were sold in toy stores, department stores and supermarkets, quickly becoming an impulse buy within the reach of the average American pocketbook. They were presented on special racks and floor displays, and came with a gaily decorated slipcase that could hold a multiple purchase of four or six titles. Their success quickly generated spinoffs: deluxe Big Little Golden Books of 124 pages that sold for $1.99; Tiny Golden Libraries (boxed thematic sets of 12 tiny books written by Dorothy Kunhardt of “Pat the Bunny” fame); 78 r.p.m. Little Golden Records; and, in 1959, the 16-volume Golden Book Encyclopedia, a venture that sold 60 million copies in two years.

But despite the success of Little Golden Books, with more than two billion sold in the past 65 years, the books from the start were roundly criticized in some quarters. Influential librarian-critics who wrote for publications like The Horn Book and Booklist disparaged the overall quality of the series.

The serviceable texts, many written by staff members (who received no author credit or additional pay over and above their regular salaries), explored modern-day experiences, describing the world of firefighters and policemen, of new babies and fractious siblings, of trips taken in taxis, trains, boats and airplanes. Some of the books were even published with commercial tie-ins to products (like the popular “Doctor Dan the Bandage Man,” which came with six Band-Aids) and increasingly, in the 1950s and ’60s, to well-known Disney cartoon and television characters.

Some critics thought any book costing 25 cents had to be inferior to the beautiful, expensively produced children’s books published by the more literary houses for $1.50 to $2. But as Marcus points out, perhaps the main objection was philosophical, propelled by the belief that children were better served by imaginative stories derived from the inexhaustible world of myth, history, fable and fairy tale. Little Golden Books’ populist approach was to try to appeal to all tastes and do a little bit of everything, and to satisfy children’s natural curiosity about how the world works and their place in it."

If reading for joy must become an integral part of a child's life, the prices of books have to come down. So, can we have the 'cheap and best' option for children's books in India too?

You can read some of these books online, for free too.

Shekhar Kapur Gets It.

A mainstream content creator who actually believes that piracy is not the evil that it's made out to be? Surely not!
"Intellectual Property (IP) is not and cannot be either constant or extreme. If it were, then in the modern world there would be no chance of sharing of ideas, of scientific discovery, even of propagation of faith."
"We are more and more moving int a digital and an instantaneous world. Where the commercial life of a product may be huge but for shorter and shorter periods of time. For example a Video on youtube when it works ut its revenue models. A popular video in the future may get a billion downloads in a couple of days and make a billion dollars. In that scenario, how long would the video maker ask for protection of intellectual property ? One week maybe ? And then allow the video to be downloaded free, so that he/she gets a huge following for the next video."
"Microsoft complain about Piracy in India and China and calculate the loss of revenue in billions fo dollars. Knowing full well that none of the people who bought pirated copies of the software would have ever been able to afford buy the software at it's official retail price. But in using their (even pirated) software, they are becoming users of hardware and software, and are entering the consumer market. Surely that must be good for growth of Microsoft."
Yes. He does get it. Go read the whole piece.

I particularly recommend the first comment on the piece, "Piracy is due for a re-brand...let's call it "enlightened opportunism" from now on..."

via Spicy IP

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Blossoms in Malihabad

April in Malihabad is full of promise[1]. The huge mango trees are full of blossoms – signs of the heavy harvest in the months to come. Already in each village, there is much mango related activity. While blossoms are turning into fruit, planks are being into wooden cartons and boxes for transporting mangoes all over the country and abroad. The mangoes from here are very famous. They will travel all over the country and maybe go abroad as well.

There is another blossoming happening in Malihabad. Quiet, steady and almost invisible. We stop at a government primary school. Like many other schools in the area, there are big mango trees leaning into the courtyard. In the verandah Children of Std 1 sitting in a verandah outside a row of classrooms. They are reading? All the children have the same colourful story in their hands.[2] Their heads are down, eyes on the page, concentrating. In the story-card, there is a monkey. The monkey has just snatched a roti from a boy and he is sitting on a wall and eating it. Down swoops a bird and picks the roti from the monkey. The bird lands on a tree. The dog barks. The bird is startled and drops the roti. The dog runs to get his roti….Roti aayi roti gayi. Jiski roti usay mil gayi. [ Read more about this title "Roti Roll" from Pratham Books

I sit down at the edge of the group. Softly I ask the boy next to me about the monkey. The boy looks nervous and hesitates. I am a stranger. He is very young and unaccustomed to be asked about what he is “reading”. But some of his friends are not shy. Soon I am being told about what happens in the story. Different children add different pieces. They show me the pictures of the action. 

Maybe some of the children can read or at least recognize words. Most can read alphabets. On the little pieces of paper all around me I can see evidence of how much these children have blossomed. 

A few kilometers away, just off the road is another school. Here the children of Std 1 are in a classroom. But it does not seem like the usual kind of classroom. All the children are in the middle of the room huddled together in a tight circle. There is one story book open on the floor near the teacher and many copies around it. “Mera Parivar? ” I ask. [Read more about this title "My Family" from Pratham Books] The children are very surprised that I know the book. Here there is no hesitation or shyness. “This is the grandmother” says one girl. “We call her badiamma”. A quick discussion follows. Who has how many members in their family. I talk about another book in the set. “Have you read Tap-Tap-Tapak?” [Read more about this title "Drip Drop Drip" from Pratham Books “Oh yes!!!” A rapid stream of voices start telling me about the drop of rain and how it falls on the leaves and how the animals in the jungle get scared. 

April in Malihabad is full of promise. The mango flowers will soon turn into mangoes. The boys and girls will soon be reading. The mangoes will travel across the country. Soon the word will also travel that children can enjoy storybooks early in their school life. The harvest is going to be rich. For the mango crop and for this crop of children. 

[1] Malihabad is a block in Lucknow district. It is very famous for its mangoes. [2] From January to April 2007, Pratham and UP government collaborated on a joint program called Nai Disha. This program was designed to build reading skills and basic arithmetic ability for children in Std 1 and 2. As part of this program, children in Std 1 and 2 received a different set of story cards and mini-books every 10 days. These sets circulated in a cluster of schools for a period of several months.

Source: An article by Rukmini Banerji, Pratham

Girl on Bag Picture via Dey

Friday, April 11, 2008

Pratham Books "Namma Bengalūru. Reading Bengalūru"

Through the Karnataka Learning Partnership program Bangalore had 45,000 new young readers in less than 2 months. But how does one continue the reading spark in these little children? Pratham Books took the initiative to collect pledges in order to gift these children storybooks.

In association with Mirchi Care, Pratham Books carried out the "Namma Bengalūru. Reading Bengalūru" prgoram. All listeners had to do was pledge as little as Rs. 25 to get a Pratham Books' storybook in the hands of these new little 'Readers'.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Where Our Books Go....

So where do our books go?

A number of channels, the biggest channels are through libraries run by Pratham, Room to Read and other non-profits, to government run school libraries and education programs and a very small percentage to the market at large via our online store or via walk in buyers.

The Karnataka Learning Partnership is a unique public private partnership between the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and a number of NGO's including Akshara Foundation. It was set up to improve learning outcomes among primary school children in all government schools in Karnataka to ensure that they are learning at the age appropriate level.

There are multiple programs being implemented under the Karnataka Learning Partnership:
And they have very cool GIS mapped data too!

Some of our books enter the reading program, above, either as books or story cards. Story cards are condensed, one page, versions of our books that are laminated for durability.

And here's a video on the KLP Reading Program.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Publishers told to learn to hug trees too

And while we are on the topic of the dead tree variety of books here's an interesting article on moving towards alternate technology within the publishing industry.

Did any of you attend the seminar in Delhi?
Though Indian publishers are rated among the best in the world in terms of quality, there is urgent need to adapt to today's needs and move towards cleaner and greener technology, Delhi chief minister Mrs Shiela Dikshit said today."The time has come to introspect on what to do in the publishing industry as cleaner and greener practices come up," Mrs Dikshit said inaugurating a conference on environment-friendly publishing, organised by The Energy Resources Institute.Mrs Dikshit exhorted the publishers and printing industry to look at ways and means to reduce pollution as well as lower the consumption of precious raw material. The CM called on the stakeholders to look at new technology to reduce this dependence on polluting know-how. Speaking on the occasion, the Union minister of state for environment, Mr Namo Narain Meena said while the government has set out stringent norms for the paper and pulp industry, the publishing industry needs to look at new technology and solutions to check pollution. "They must add recycled paper to the list of technology for the future," he suggested.The day-long conference brought together leading publishers, including from the newspaper industry, paper manufacturers and printers for a debate on environmental issues plaguing the industry.
Source: The Statesman, Publisher's Post

Picture via tonx

Book Review : A Man Called Bapu

Pratham Books' "A man called Bapu" gets rave reviews!

Buy the book

Round Up

From the TimesOnline:
The internet, in the television industry as in many others, is both the infection and the cure. It will do to television what it has done to journalism: make everyone a producer and everyone a potential star.

Chris Anderson writing at the Long Tail writing about Random House's Crown imprint's first free book experiment:
  • The book was downloaded 45,000 times over that four days, compared to just 15,000 times for a previous experiment in free ebooks, The Beautiful Children, which was published by Random House in January. (That pdf was posted after the book was on sale.)
  • Over the four days, Infected went to #1 on Amazon's Horror List, and #150 overall in book sales (from being in the two thousands before). It's too early to know what the bookstore sales are like, but on the online sales alone, the experiment looks like a success so far.
  • The Infected microsite became Crown's top site.

Nicholas Carr writing at the Britannica Blog on the new economics of culture:
As the Internet becomes our universal medium, it is reshaping what might be called the economics of culture. Because most common cultural goods consist of words, images, or sounds, which all can be expressed in digital form, they are becoming as cheap to reproduce and distribute as any other information product. Many of them are also becoming easier to create...

The shift from scarcity to abundance in media means that, when it comes to deciding what to read, watch, and listen to, we have far more choices than our parents or grandparents did. We’re able to indulge our personal tastes as never before, to design and wrap ourselves in our own private cultures. The vast array of choices is exciting, and by providing an alternative to the often bland products of the mass media it seems liberating as well. It promises, as Chris Anderson writes in The Long Tail, to free us from “the tyranny of lowest-common-denominator fare” and establish in its place “a world of infinite variety.”

Picture via estherase

Pangea Day. Kenyans sing for India.

Leading film-makers are seeking to change the way we think about other countries. This is one of a powerful series of films to be shown on Pangea Day, May 10, "the day the world comes together through film".

Here, set against the backdrops of Nairobi city and the beautiful landscape of Uhuru Park (Maasai country), a Kenyan choir sings the Indian national anthem. The director has chosen the Indian anthem because Kenya is home to a sizeable Hindu population (including Sikhs & Jains also) of approximately 2.5 million, most of them descendants of the East African Railways labourers who were brought over by the British during the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the British colonialists ruled Kenya and the rest of the East African region.

And what does this have to do with the publishing industry? Just that the internet doesn't recognize national boundaries. And books, online, can do what video online does. The world is global; the globe is local; produce locally and consume globally.

It's a fast changing world out there...

Friday, April 4, 2008


This is our current catalog:

Read this doc on Scribd: Pratham Books Catalogue

Obscurity vs. Piracy

Tracy Chevalier, the chair of The Society of Authors, which represents more than 8,500 professional writers in the UK, recently stated that:
"... we need to think radically ... we have to evolve and create a very different pay system, possibly by making the content available free to all and finding a way to get paid separately."
This was in the context of how the publishing industry was failing to adapt to the digital age.

An interesting aside from the article referenced above:
In 1701 The True-Born Englishman, a satirical poem by Daniel Defoe became a bestseller after an estimated 80,000 unauthorised copies were distributed. It did not make him rich but it did make him famous. In the preface to a later edition he wrote of his gratitude to the “pirates” who had sold it, the first known reference to intellectual property theft as piracy
Perhaps the awning gap between that which seeks our attention and the limited attention we have to give will culminate in a model where advertising, as a separate model merges with content as a model. A state where content is advertising and advertising is content. And that the content needs to be engaging.

And to go back to the title of this post, is obscurity a bigger threat than piracy?


Picture via Hazel Tsoi

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A little story....

... that involves Binyavanga Wainaina and new models in the publishing industry.

Achal Prabhala was kind enough to allow us to share with you a presentation he had made to us internally.

If nothing else, it does make you think differently.

Digital Curators

Steve Rubel argues that "digital curators" are "the future of online content."

Is that, then, what publishers are fated to become?

And here's a little more on the Flexbooks project, that I had earlier posted on.

And while on the subject of Flexbooks, The Playful Librarian asks whether this project would create:
"... a climate of tribalization in which children will be taught only according to regional and local bias, rather than some more universal version of "truth"?"

Picture via *Ijon

Publisher or Platform

An author/illustrator writes for their audience.

The audience supports an author/illustrator when they 'buy' their work, either in monetary terms or in terms of attention.

So what, then, is the role of a publisher? To connect the author/illustrator with an audience? To polish their work for an audience?

What if technology disrupts this? What if a platform could replace a publisher? What if a platform connected content creators to their audience? What if the platform allowed niche content to find a market and allowed the market to fill the niches? What if it permitted consumer to consumer interactions and permeability between consumers and content creators and above all, innovation and imagination because of small overheads and deep community support?

To quote Seth Godin:

Encyclopedia salesmen hate Wikipedia,
And newspapers hate Craigslist,
And music labels hate Napster,
And used bookstores hate Amazon,
And so do independent bookstores.

And courier services hate fax machines
And monks hate Gutenberg.

Apparently, technology doesn't care who you hate.
What's a publisher to do? What's an author to do? What's an illustrator to do?

Picture via kokjebalder

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Open Learning Resources

As promised in my previous post, below are a few resources that are openly accessible, with no 'fee' involved, and in two cases, allow you to contribute to the body of openly accessible knowledge.

A common question is why make such educational and cultural resources openly and freely accessible and modifiable. In essence:
  • Faster response time to changing, new knowledge.
  • Customizable to local needs that require a different presentation of material.
  • Lower cost.
  • Wider base of contributors and potentially richer content.
  • Faster translation to languages by members of the community.
And as the Wikipedia experience shows, generating and maintaining content by a community base need not necessarily mean inaccurate data because in such systems, problematic content and translations are shallow because given a large enough audience, peers, readers and commentators, almost all problematic content will be quickly noticed highlighted and fixed.

1. Connexions

Connexions is an environment for collaboratively developing, freely sharing, and rapidly publishing scholarly content on the Web.

They state that, "...when people share their knowledge, they can select from the best ideas to create the most effective learning materials. The knowledge in Connexions can be shared and built upon by all because it is reusable. Just as knowledge is interconnected, people don't live in a vacuum. Connexions promotes communication between content creators and provides various means of collaboration. Collaboration helps knowledge grow more quickly, advancing the possibilities for new ideas from which we all benefit."

2. FlexBooks

Flexbooks came into being because textbooks are limiting, expensive and are difficult to update and consequently, teachers find it hard to introduce new concepts and cater to different needs. What is needed is a more flexible and less expensive system to create and distribute books and online content and FlexBooks, by their very nature, satisfies this need. They contain high quality online content, and are easy to create, update and print. They provide a new system that will follow an open source philosophy to place content on-line that can be "mixed, modified and printed".

3. MIT OpenCourseWare

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has made available content from over 1800 courses that they teach. OpenCourseWare is a free publication of course materials used at MIT and includes lecture notes, problem sets, labs and lecture videos and demonstrations on a wide variety of subjects.

Interested yet? And if so, how do we, given our mission, harness these ideas and technologies to get a book in to the hands of the last child in the last village in the furthest corners of India and the world?


Picture via svenwerk

Opportunity or Threat?

Robert Cringely, writing in last weeks column, states that:

"There is a technology war coming. Actually it is already here but most of us haven't yet notice. It is a war not about technology but because of technology, a war over how we as a culture embrace technology. It is a war that threatens venerable institutions and, to a certain extent, threatens what many people think of as their very way of life. It is a war that will ultimately and inevitably change us all, no going back."

He speaks of this particularly in the context of education basis what he has seen and how "... we've reached the point in our (disparate) cultural adaptation to computing and communication technology that the younger technical generations are so empowered they are impatient and ready to jettison institutions most of the rest of us tend to think of as essential, central, even immortal. They are ready to dump our schools."

To be sure, this doesn't really apply to the Indian context where we are still attempting to get every child in to a school and the pervasiveness of Internet access is abysmally low. But this is for now. However, what if one can use the Internet to unglue education from brick and mortar institutions and separate content from a physical medium? Will that help speed education? Will allowing members of a community to work on and with material for education improve the quality, in specific local contexts, through a quick iterative process? Will it enable local organizations and people to functions as proxies for distribution and learning?

He goes on to say that "Technology is beginning to assail the underlying concepts of our educational system..." and in my next post I'll cover some ground on current efforts to provide open access to learning and initiatives that are harnessing the power of the community to create learning materials.


Picture via dullhunk.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

We Think: On Mass Creativity

Charles Leadbeater, who is an authority on innovation and creativity, writing in the Guardian states that:

"...the motto of the generation growing up with the collaborative logic of the web is not the solitary 'I think, therefore I am', it is be the social 'We think, therefore we are" and that this idea is so powerful that it has the possibility to radically transform “... how we can be organized without the hierarchy of top-down organizations [and] there is also huge potential to create new stores of knowledge to the benefit of all, innovate more effectively, strengthen democracy and give more people the opportunity to make the most of their creativity."

He has an interesting book out titled We-think where he examines the growing collaborative culture of the internet and its opportunities and challenges. Leadbeater says we’re at a crossroads involving mass creativity, crowdsourcing and the new world of shared and free content and questions whether or not all this collective creativity is a good thing. The first three chapters and the entire original draft of the book are available on his site.

Given this identified trend, how then can publishers harness and engage the power of a motivated community, in a quid pro quo manner, to contribute to the publishing workspace, especially in areas where there is a low incentive for traditional publishing houses to work in either because of small market sizes or because or low margins.

Leadbeater, has an interesting presentation on how libraries can become centres for open innovation and focal points of the creative economy.

These are some of the areas, please read our introductory post, that Pratham Books works in and some of the areas we are exploring and we'd be interested in hearing from you.

A Copyright Law Primer

A few months ago Nandan Kamath, an intellectual property rights lawyer and an entrepreneur, was kind enough to make a presentation to us on copyright law and how it affects the publishing industry. With his permission, I'm sharing this below.

I hope you find it as useful as we did.

Nandan co-founded GoSports, a "... venture to give sport its rightful place in the lives, hearts and minds of the average Indian [and their] immediate goal is to groom the next generation of world-beating Indian sporting champions and to thereby invigorate the country's sporting ecosystem."