Friday, 7 December 2007

Some questions and answers about the ComPart Flowers

>Some time ago I posted an introduction about the ComPart flowers on the I-collaborate blog (which by the way is a very interesting blog). Two people gave some interesting comments and asked some questions. I am posting my reactions on this blog, because I assume they are of interest for you as reader of this blog.

Joitske Hulsebosch experienced some problems with bandwidth in Southern countries, especially with Delicious and wiki. The way we try to tackle the bandwidth problem is to keep the wiki’s as “light” as possible avoiding (large) pictures for example. For delicious of course it remains a problem when the set of tags gets (too) large. Therefore we try to be efficient with the tags and seek specificity using “cleaver” combinations of tags. But of course even then for some partners in the South the bandwidth problem remains. That is why we will be transferring the most important information which can be found on the wiki’s and blog’s by way of memory sticks. The idea is that when a colleague visits a partner organisation the information on the sticks will be downloaded on the computer of this partner, who in that way also can stay updated, unfortunately a little later though.

An anonymous person asked a couple of questions, a first one about the handling of the scattered information among the “numerous” online services. Indeed this is a challenge. For all services which will be used by normal users as wiki, blog, delicious and google we use one shared password and where necessary one shared username. So if you know the username and the password you can access and contribute to these services. Of course this password, at a certain moment, will get “too known” outside the circle of intended users. As soon as we get such indications we will change the password and inform all who have to know, and if we forget someone they will have to ask ;-)

For the administration of these services we use other passwords only known to the admins. The same applies for services which will not be used by normal users as Conduit and feedburner.

A second question was about how we handle sensitive information. That is indeed a “sensitive” issue which leads to many discussions. What information is sensitive and why? The starting point however is that all information is public unless there are clear reasons to keep it private. A sound principle I guess for our type of organisation, working with public funding. But of course we also use private versions of the tools with passwords only known to those who should have access. Anyhow we try to avoid working with more than two or three different passwords as to have everything as accessible as possible. And in certain cases we just do not let the information get beyond our firewall.

A third question was how participants would decide on the way they would like to get the information and avoid double information. In fact that is all up to every individual user. Anyone can choose whether or not to subscribe to email alerts or feeds, using an I-Google page or not, to have a daily look at the wiki’s or not. And of course the idea is that anyone who gets to information on the web which is of their own – or for that matter their colleagues – interest, is stimulated to tag that information in Delicious, because this tagging is the “motor” which makes the information flowing (in a selective way).

And of course it would be a good idea to follow anonymous’ suggestion to write up some usage-scenarios. However we do not have them yet. Our idea is to construct the whole system by doing and sharing our experiences and in that way learning how to improve or way of using these services.

To end I want to thank Joitske and Anonymous for their interesting contributions. I hope it will stimulate others to react on the postings in this Blog as well.


herman said...

In addition to the issue of how to deal with sensitive information, I'd like to raise the issue of security of web 2.0 tools in general. Whenever I tell people about the way data are non-centrally stored on the net through Google or Delicious tools, they believe it's great but are hesitant to use it. Not because of tech fobio, but because 'the CIA may be reading with us' or because they don't trust the privacy policies of Google etc. Given the current attention and awareness in ICCO for the impact of counter-terrorism measures on NGOs worldwide, this is not a hypothetical concern.

I don't know enough about how our data are secured, so I cannot respond well to these concerns. I believe it would aid the introduction of the ComPart Flowers in the ICCO Alliance if we pay more attention to it. Can anybody help out here? thanks!

Maarten said...

Indeed Herman, this is an important issue. My view is that really sensitive issues such as related personal issues in the field of human rights or counter-terrorism measures always have to be treated with much care. It would be more or less the same as using the telephone. We know that it is always possible that “big brother” may listen to conversations. That certainly applies to the countries in which human rights and terrorism issues are playing. But even in our so called “decent democracies” the providers of internet services are forced by law to keep all information of their users available for the government and possible investigations. Just think about all discussions about Internet based pornography with children. So caution is necessary always, using Web2.0 tools but also for normal email traffic. We can never be sure it is not viewed by people we would rather not have them to see it.
So my conclusion is that you always have to take care not to, even unintentionally – harm personal interests of individuals or certain groups when using whatever communication tool other than talking in private.
Nevertheless I think that most information we are sharing by way of the web2.0 tools are not sensitive and contain no secrets. Therefore these tools can very well be used for information and knowledge sharing.