The potential for web-based knowledge sharing may be limited by local circumstances such as low bandwidth, but a little creativity can help us make the most of these situations. Nancy White (Full Circle Associates) facilitated a session on Low Bandwidth Solutions for KS addressing processes, technologies and decisions we can make to ensure that people in countries with poor internet access don’t get left out of the knowledge sharing loop.

The most important lesson is to accept the limitations and try to work within them. Many knowledge managers in the developed world are accustomed to a culture that is “always on” – they’re twittering, flickr-ing, and working online, all the time. However, in the developing world, connectivity is not only slow, but harder to come by. Local partners may only be able to go online once per week at the local cyber café. “We have to change our expectations based on their reality,” commented one of the session participants.

Nancy shared some advice for dealing with a number of issues raised by people in the session. A common concern related to the best ways to use Skype or other Voice Over IP (VoiP) programs which use up bandwidth but are often more reliable and clear (and much cheaper) than calling through phone lines. Tips for better access included opening a chat box simultaneously with the call, to support the conversation when the call drops. It also may help if the lowest bandwidth user dials the others, rather than vice-versa. As well, shutting down other programs while skyping can help. Useful websites that support low-bandwidth VOIP include GizmoProject, Hi Def Conferencing and www.interfree.com

Another issue was related to email. Some of the participants pointed out that a POP3 program, which downloads messages to a computer and allows people to compose emails offline, is often a better approach than webmail. However, this does not take into account those users who do not have their own computers or at-home internet connection, and must use shared terminals at cyber cafes to get online. Nancy suggested that DGroups is one of the low-bandwidth solutions to email lists, which has an online repository of messages, but still allows users to compose emails offline. DGroups is currently upgrading to include more web2.0 technologies and may soon address other low-bandwidth needs as well.

Use of offline devices, such as USB drives and CD ROMs, were other approaches suggested by participants. www.winpenpack.com allows you to download applications onto a USB drive and use them portably on any computer.

Other practices can be incorporated into web-based KS to help include low-bandwidth users. Agree on appropriate response times, rather than impatiently expect all users to respond instantly. Agree on file size limits, particularly for email attachments. By using the lowest bandwidth as the common denominator we can challenge ourselves to communicate effectively without necessarily compromising quality. Visit the Knowledge Sharing Toolkit (http://www.kstoolkit.org) for details on all of these tools and share your own tips on how to work in a low-bandwidth context.

Advertisements