Thomas L. Friedman: Anyone, Anything, Anywhere

Tom’s column posted today is about an outsourcing operation in Uruguay that is partnered with Tata Consulting Services, India’s biggest technoloy company. It has a few thoughts that directly relate to our work:

The New Yorker once ran a cartoon by Peter Steiner of two dogs, with one sitting at a computer keyboard saying to the other, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” …

One of the most interesting features of this era of globalization is how any entrepreneur — with the right imagination, Internet bandwidth and a small amount of capital — can assemble a global company by matching workers and customers from anywhere to do anything for anyone. Maybe the most important rule in today’s increasingly flat world is this: Whatever can be done, will be done — because so many people now have access to the tools of innovation and connectivity. The only question is: Will it be done by you or to you?

… in today’s world having an Indian company led by a Hungarian-Uruguayan servicing American banks with Montevidean engineers managed by Indian technologists who have learned to eat Uruguayan veggie is just the new norm.

That cartoon illustrates a crucial aspect of the Internet. People don’t know if you’re a “dog.” They also don’t know your sex, race, religion, or political beliefs — unless you tell them. Yes, Google can discover this information sometimes, but in the OSS world even that doesn’t matter: You are measured by what you do, not who you are.

There’s another kind of flattening going on. It’s not new; it has always been with us and unfortunately it always will be. It is the “flattening” wrought by the earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones, mudslides and hurricanes that can level large areas in an instant.

But something is being done about it, using the global access to the tools Tom’s mentioned. For example, just after the devastating 2004 Tsnuami, IBM was one of serveral organizations that worked with a small group of programmers based in Sri Lanka to assemble an open source system to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. It is called Sahana. The project has some received some recognition, for example it was the SourceForge Project of the Month for June 2006.

It’s worth noting the initial effort was led by Sanjiva Weerawarana, a former IBM Researcher who voluntarily left IBM to return to his home country to help improve its economy and educational system. In short, a volunteer effort of the highest order.

Work on Sahana continues to this day, but much remains to be done. Indeed, I started writing this note immediately after concluding a call with an IBM team that is working with other groups on the design of new function to be added to Sahana.

This illustrates perhaps the greatest challenge facing our project: Is it possible to assemble a team of volunteers that can work with — and create as needed — major projects that will require a sustained effort — one measured in years or even decades — to make real progress?

There’s only one way to learn the answer — try to do it.


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  1. By Posts « The Wayward Word Press on November 2, 2006 at 00:37

    […] Thomas L. Friedman: Anyone, Anything, Anywhere […]

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