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Design Axes for Indian Language Computing

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Design Axes for Indian Language Computing

Joseph Koshy

The Indic-Computing Project

Fifth draft.

$Date: 2008-08-15 16:15:38 +0530 (Fri, 15 Aug 2008) $

Revision History
Revision 5 August 15, 2008 Revised by: jkoshy
Revision 4 June 10, 2003 Revised by: jkoshy
Revision 1 April 20, 2003 Revised by: jkoshy


Despite nearly five decades of work, access to digital information in local languages remains largely unavailable to the common man in the Indian subcontinent. In this article we identify seven core issues, namely power, usability, interoperability, locality of information, value addition, the effect of social structure and the quality of the supporting development ecosystem, that need to be addressed before pervasive Indian language computing can become a reality. These seven issues are considered to be core, in that they determine the long-term success or failure of an attempt to bring computing to the masses in India.

We analyse a few existing projects and show that the levels of success achieved by these is consistent with the level of attention paid to these seven core issues. Finally, we present a ``road map'' for making computing pervasive in Indian society and list the areas where the Indic-Computing Project hopes to make a contribution.

Document Status: Fifth draft.

Table of Contents
1 Introduction
2 The Design ``Axes''
3 Analyses
4 Road map
5 Acknowledgments
6 Further Reading

1 Introduction

The so-called ``digital divide'' remains a yawning gulf today for most citizens of the Indian subcontinent. In a country with over a billion citizens, an estimated 99 out of 100 do not use computers. Numerous attempts have been made in the past to increase the penetration of information processing technologies in the Indian sub-continent. To date, these efforts have been relatively unsuccessful (see the sidebar The Case of the Missing Market). Local language computing has not made inroads into mainstream Indian society.

We believe that this situation has arisen because prior efforts, while individually excellent, have not taken note of the core characteristics that underlie the Indian context. These core characteristics turn out to be different from those in developed societies--in other words, a successful product or service for the Indian subcontinent has to be designed differently from one aimed at a developed market.

The major contributions of this article are as follows:

  • We identify seven core areas that a computing technology needs to address before it can succeed in the Indian context.

  • We provide a model that explains the lack of success of prior initiatives to bridge the digital divide. This model can be used to evaluate the impact a new technology would have in the Indian context.

  • We offer for discussion, a ``road map'' for pervasive Indian language computing, that we believe has a higher probability of success than current efforts.

1.1 Target Audience

This document has been written with the following audiences in mind:

  • Planners designing computing infrastructure for developing societies. Many of issues highlighted here are likely be present in other developing societies, and the solutions developed would be of use there too.

  • Software developers and development managers interested in developing software for the Indian language software market.

  • Educators, especially those in Indian technical colleges.

  • Open-source developers attempting to add support for Indian languages to open-source software.

1.2 Prerequisites

Awareness of the technical issues in Indian language computing is assumed. A reader wishing to refresh his or her acquaintance with these issues may find tutorial sections of the Indic-Computing Handbook, and some of the questions and answers in the Indic-Computing FAQ to be of help.

1.3 What this article is not

A few statements about what the article does not cover are also in order.

  • The article does not cover the benefits that a pervasive computing infrastructure brings to Indian society. It also does not go into the issues of the appropriateness of information technology.

  • We do not identify specific end-user solutions that are needed in the market today. In this document, we only sketch the characteristics that we believe a successful solution in the Indian context will possess.

1.4 Structure of this document

The rest of this article is structured as follows:

  • In Section 2 we look at the seven core issues that need to be solved before large-scale deployment of computing technology can succeed in the Indian context.

  • In Section 3 we analyse a few existing projects using the framework from Section 2.

  • Section 4 lists some of the next steps that need to be taken before pervasive computing can become a reality in the Indian context. This section also provides the rationale for the tasks that the Indic-Computing project has taken up.

This, and other project documentation, can be downloaded from [ ].

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Contact: jkoshy
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