An Equal Access

Published Date
01 - Jun - 2007
| Last Updated
01 - Jun - 2007
An Equal Access
The Internet changed all that. It has broken down the barriers that exist between people and information, effectively democratising access to human knowledge. Think about it-a schoolboy in India with an Internet connection can now access almost exactly the same information as a high-school student in Oxford or California.

The Internet has also rewritten all the rules of production and distribution-bringing unprecedented freedom to millions of people worldwide: the freedom to create and communicate, to organise and influence, to speak and be heard. Shelf space, air time, room on the pages of a newspaper-these used to determine which artists got their records played, what TV shows we watched, and which elite opinions appeared in print.

Now millions of people can record songs and put them online; shoot home movies, edit them, add special effects and broadcast them to millions worldwide; or start a blog, sharing opinions and comments with readers in different countries and on different continents.

We're increasingly living in age of people-powered media. YouTube is the classic example of this. It has shown that people are no longer prepared to be passive recipients of information. They want to be active participants in the creative process. It's the first rule of the Internet-people have a lot to say.

In fact, the amounts of information we are creating are simply staggering. Most Digit readers know about gigabytes and megabytes, but it's estimated that in 2002, the world created five exabytes (a byte followed by eighteen noughts) of information. Let's translate that into something we can all understand: to watch five exabytes of data would mean sitting in front of a screen for 40,700 years.

The Web has taught us that if you put simple, intuitive technology in the hands of users, they will create content and share it. The fastest-growing parts of the Internet all involve direct human interaction. Think about the blogging phenomenon and social networking sites like MySpace in America, Bebo in Britain, Orkut in India, CyWorld in Korea, and Mixi in Japan. In 2007, the virtual communities so prevalent in Asia and amongst students are becoming mainstream.

Political pundits may worry that society is becoming atomised, but online communities are thriving and growing. The Internet is helping satisfy our most fundamental human needs-our desire for knowledge, communication and a sense of belonging.

So what does the future look like? As more information becomes available, the harder it will be to find what you are looking for, and the more important search will become. Expect to see more personalised search too-with quicker, more accurate results.

Think mobile-because people are increasingly going to access the Web through their phones. Opening e-mails, checking the weather, reading the news headlines-you don't need to be at your desk to do these things.

We're going to see the development of simultaneous translation-search in English and get the results in Hindi, for example. The potential is enormous-especially for people in emerging markets.

History has proven that humankind has the ability and ingenuity to solve problems and improve the quality of people's lives if only we are given the freedom to do so. And that's exactly what the Web does. Its success is built on technological superiority: protocols and open standards that are ingenious in their simplicity. Time after time they have trounced rival telecommunications standards that made perfect commercial sense to companies but no practical sense to consumers. In the battle of the acronyms, IP (Internet Protocol) has beaten Token Ring, ATM and CATV/Co-ax-the list is endless-because it always means more choice.

Change on the scale we are seeing today is bound to be disruptive to established systems-business models from the last century, traditional media, long accepted notions of national jurisdiction, even old concepts of control. Change is always challenging and some of the "disrupted" may well feel the need to push back. But rather than focus on how to control the Web, all of us should concentrate on how to get Internet access to more people in more countries. This will require greater liberalisation, additional investment in infrastructure, and increased competition. But as the mobile operators in India have proved so successfully, it is possible to hook people up to digital networks even in emerging markets.

The prize is a world in which every human being starts life with the same access to information, the same opportunities to learn, and the same power to communicate. I believe that is worth fighting for.

Sukhinder Singh Cassidy is Google Vice President, Asia-Pacific & Latin America Operations. She is responsible for all of Google's sales operations in these regions. Cassidy has gone on record as saying India has "the best talent pool in the world."

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