Digital Inclusion Unconference

On Saturday I went along to the Digital Inclusion Unconference hosted by We Share Stuff. I went there tot try and gain more ideas for fizzPOP as part of it is about getting new people in who may not have otherwise dabbled with technology.

Of the four discussions that I took part in two really caught my attention. The first was the talk on what digital inclusion actually is and what it means. After an hours discussion and lots of note taking I still don’t think I was any closer to deciphering what it means to be digitally included

My notes. Still makes little sense

Although there are government plans afoot to get more people online in some way (access to TV, PC or mobile phone Internet access) does that mean someone is digitally included? Is it measured by the amount of comments people leave on blogs or if they even have a blog or Internet presence? What does digital mean anyway? Most of the things in my kitchen are in some way digital, so does that mean I’m somehow more digitally included than my neighbour? Also, what about those who just simply have no desire to go onto the Internet?

For me, digital inclusion is first about inclusion and then about the technology second. For example, having a hyperlocal blog doesn’t mean that suddenly all of the community will start to become active members. However, these are just one aspect to encourage inclusion.

The second discussion that caught my attention was the one about open source software. Possibly before the inception of Linux there’s been an ongoing effort to get more people to use open source software and for more manufactures to supply products that use it. What we were discussing in this session focussed on the benefits to individuals, commercial companies and voluntary organisations. We also tried to highlight success stories.

It seemed like everyone at the discussion knew what open source software was and the benefits of it, so I wont go over that again. For that, wikipedia does a great job of explaining:

Open source describes practices in production and development that promote access to the end product’s source materials—typically, their source code

What was interesting to hear was the reasons that they haven’t changed over to using open source software. Many have switched to Firefox/Chrome or OpenOffice already either because it’s faster and has more features than the commercial alternative or because it’s free. For some the move to OpenOffice was spurned by it’s cost but also out of frustration of the new Microsoft Word 2007 interface and native .docx format, which was initially unreadable by anything other than the 2007 package.

That last point brought about an interesting point. Some had gone to OpenOffice, with it’s familiar pre-Offce 2007 interface because they didn’t like the change that came with a new version, even though some have agreed that after a bit of tweaking it’s better than its predecessor. Perhaps people haven’t moved over to using open source software or operating systems because it’s a change from the norm of Windows. Costs involved with retraining staff has often been cited as a reason for not moving to any new software, proprietary or open source. Afterall, many of us, including me, have gone through 18+ years of education system using Microsoft products. Any change, however slight, will cause disruption

Of course there are technical reasons for not moving to open source. Sometimes it’s incompatible with hardware and, unless you buy a preconfigured system, there’s never any guarantee that all will work as expected (for example, on my Dell 155 laptop, after a time I cannot change the brightness of the screen).

However, as with most technology it can only change and get better. No operating system is without its bugs. The main issue seems to be how to encourage a shift over to open source software.

We didn’t come up with one answer but a few ideas, some of which are already in progress:

  • More adoption in the voluntary sector
  • When needing an upgrade, use open source software on computers in schools and government services
  • Present open source as an option when buying a computer
  • Those who use it should promote it more