Julia Zoo

Julia Zoo (eHomemakers): Julia received her BA with a dual major in Education and Sociology from Yonsei University in Seoul. She also attended Assumption University in Bangkok for two semesters as a transfer student in her sophomore year. After graduation she worked as a computer programmer for an IT service company in Seoul, Korea and interned at the United Nations ICT Task Force in 2006. Julia then received a Master’s degree in International Public Policy from New York University Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service, where she studied development policy for information communication technology for development (ICT4D).

The pitfall of quick and easy ICT

11 Jul

One of the first tasks I was assigned after arriving here was to troubleshoot IT problems in the office. I instantly gained a status of an IT guru by helping them setting up a scheduler program and creating vacation messages and forwarding option at outlook. But in many times, the issues were as basic as un-muting the sound level at windows volume control or sorting emails by date received, which didn’t necessarily require any able hand of an expert at all.

A challenge turned up very soon, however, which was about actually transferring our web host to a new company. eHomemakers’ website was hosted by a Malaysian web hosting service, which had been doing its job free of charge for nonprofit organizations like eHomemakers and receiving certain amount of government grant to compensate its cost. However, as eHomemakers network has gained reputation during these past years, the website started to attract more traffic, which also, unfortunately, included hackers and spammers.

After several hacker attacks earlier this year, eHomemakers was left with two hacked index pages in Malaysian and Mandarin versions of its website, which greeted visitors with an auto-played audio file announcing that ‘this site is proudly hacked by xxx.’ Furthermore, an increasing number of our email newsletters started bouncing back as spammers used our domain name to send junk mails. Obviously, the promise of ICT as a great outreaching tool was coming back to us as a double-edged sword.

Help from our web host was quite difficult to find. After two months of silence since the initial request from eHomemakers to ‘unhack’ these pages, we were suddenly informed of a three-week-notice of end of service. According to Ching Ching, behind this abrupt end was an absolute ‘never mind’ attitude; that they do not bother helping us any more. “When we applied for the grant, they gave me a list of government-contracted IT companies from which I should choose my IT service.” In short, she went on, there are virtually no competition and no need to respond to customers, once you have succeeded in placing your name on the list. As a nonprofit organization receiving this ‘benefit’, you are usually left with no other choice than finding a less irresponsible ‘IT consultant’.

That was why this time, she was so determined to find a US-based host, who would be supposedly more responsive, reliable and better equipped with technology. And this time, I could not even start my usual argument that “why a US-based one when you have such strong ICT infrastructure here in Malaysia already.”

Well, in principle, it would be better to find a local hosting service to which we can access easier and faster, on top of the fact that the choice would be more desirable to ‘build the local capacity’. Already impressed and amazed by the ICT infrastructure in Malaysia, I thought web-hosting service would be the last thing you need to – or should – import from the US.

However, on the other hand, there was this pressure of reality at hand, slated to roll down to us at any moment. The most important asset eHomemakers has is its 13,000 Internet members and we cannot really imagine a single day without a properly working website. By the same token, our monthly newsletters are our best outreach solution and we cannot afford more than half of our newsletters being bounced back due to the fact our name is wrongfully marked as a spammer. But to solve the problem – for our own survival – what they chose to do was to relocate our server by engaging with Knownhost company. When we jumped on the running train of ICT, we earned the name of an innovative organization using ICT for development. But was it only done at the expense of a firm basis for the next step, the capacity of local users and the service providers?

Three-week time has past very quickly. Wrapping up the adventure of transferring a website from a scratch, I realized anew the divide that should be bridged; that still, technology is not quite there to help people working for the most marginalized. Perhaps it is because I’m working for a nonprofit, or because I’m here in the global South, places where we experience limitations coming from scarce resource in ICT.

The distance to technology that ordinary people feel is still very wide here. eHomemakers’ staff were so eager to solve the problem, but the IT capacity was not quite there to do it by themselves. They put aside the problems they encounter, jeopardizing the rationale behind using the ICT in the first place – to improve efficiency. And the able hands around them were simply not interested in helping a not very lucrative small NGO office. It is not only about implementing an information system and throwing them a user manual kindly translated in local language, but about, seriously, ‘building capacity’ of people – users as well as local technicians to help them when they are stuck in problems. There is still a long road to ICT for development. And perhaps, that is the reason why ICT remains to be a luxury in many parts of the world.

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Posted By Julia Zoo

Posted Jul 11th, 2007

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