Responsible Democracy at work… online


CapeInfo’s upgrade hasn’t been an overnight transformation and it has taken an enormous amount of thought and work.  As it came to the end of the long slog, there was a story in the media about Durban city council spending R6.5 million on a 2010 website for that city.  The mind boggles – what sort of traffic is needed to justify that kind of expense?  But then public money is so easily misspent!  It’s different when you have to pay for something from your own pocket.

The process of developing CapeInfo’s platform has been fascinating, and I think I’ve earned a Ph.D. from the University of Google for research.  I’ve joined Mark Shuttleworth and millions of other devotees to “Open Source” software.

What’s the definition of Open Source?  “Open source is a development method for software that harnesses the power of distributed peer review and transparency of process. The promise of open source is better quality, higher reliability, more flexibility, lower cost, and an end to predatory vendor lock-in.”

More than anything else, Open Source is about communities of helpful people who share and contribute to shared goals.  There is great karma in that.  The most successful Open Source applications are those with the most vibrant communities.

The heart of these communities are the various forums for individual applications.

CapeInfo’s new platform was achieved without using consultants and I’m certainly no IT fundi — I can’t even read PHP code.  Very few of the applications used were paid for.  Does that make you wonder if Durban’s 2010 website is the product of more cash than brains?

Let’s use one example.  This blog is written on WordPress MU.  WordPress is the best blogging platform available at any price… and it’s free.  WordPress MU, or multi-user, has the capacity to run hundreds of thousands of blogs with a single install of WordPress.  On WordPress.com it serves tens of millions of hits on millions of blogs each day.  It’s also used by newspapers like Le Monde and universities like Harvard.

The new CapeInfo platform owes its existence to help we received from other users on forums like http://www.sigsiu.net/forum/, but I’ll write more about that in the next post.

Helping others is part of human nature: it generates karma.  So why so few forums in South Africa where it really counts?

Nothing brought this into sharper focus recently when I tried to sort out a problem with MWeb — SA’s largest ISP.

They changed their greylisting system in January and, since then, CapeInfo has been plagued with delays in emails to their customers – MWeb, iAfrica, etc.  And sometimes, emails don’t go through.   Now many of these are people we’ve corresponded with for over ten years and there is no reason for CapeInfo to be greylisted.

Calls to MWeb’s call centre confirmed that their system had changed but pointed me to emailing abuse@mweb.com.  Now that seems to be a robot, because you get no joy there and you can’t speak to anyone (– a typical rant if you look at the complaints about MWeb at hellopeter.com).

So after more calls and more emails to MWeb, and more CapeInfo emails to their clients being delayed or not delivered, I decided to call MWeb’s CEO, Rudi Jansen — because the PA to the CEO is usually the most effective person in most companies.  I’ve called 021 596 3024, the CEO’s direct line twice, getting a message saying it’s the mailbox of Rudi Jansen and Liesel Hermans (sp?).  Twice I left a message asking for my call to be returned.  No response!

The closest one  comes to a forum for MWeb is hellopeter.com, where rants against MWeb predominate.  Is MWeb an accessible, transparent and responsive company?

Open Source communities work because they are participative and democratic.  Knowledge is shared in forums and one is encouraged to ask for help.

CapeInfo wants to get this kind of participative, co-operative spirit going in our tourism and hospitality industries in the CapeInfo forum.  There is a ot we can learn from each other…  But we’ll get to starting that soon — watch this space.

In 2003, CapeInfo received the following from the Nelson Mandela Foundation to preface some of our content:

The wonder of the Internet and its promise of a world without borders, of a global citizenry empowered, enriched and interconnected, also brings with it the hope of a world that is more compassionate, more caring and more committed to eradicating poverty and suffering everywhere.

I make this appeal to the worldwide Internet community to support us in our efforts to rebuild and uplift the lives of the most vulnerable of the victims of South Africa’s past – our children. — Nelson R Mandela

So let’s use the internet more effectively, not only for children but our wider society.


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