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When Twitter is the medium

Source: The Indian Express, October 11, 2012

Social media was part of the message during the government’s experimental conference

A few weeks ago, we made the decision to do a live interaction on Twitter, to explain the government’s strategy to democratise access to information. The medium was very much part of the message.

The UPA’s commitment to more transparent, participatory governance is clear from the public information initiatives it has launched. We were looking to convey some specifics about these projects and why they are significant. Information unlocks possibilities, it is key to openness, accessibility, accountability, networking, decentralisation and, as a result, democratisation.

The government’s plan to build a nationwide public information infrastructure will transform India’s 1.2 billion people into 1.2 billion opportunities. This includes a national knowledge network that will digitally connect 1,500 nodes including our public universities, R&D labs, etc. As of now, 877 institutions are already connected on this network. We know from global experience that interaction and collaboration between various institutions that generate research, as well as between disciplines, is a vital spur to better research. The national knowledge network facilitates such sharing. It will enable participating institutions to seamlessly connect at speeds of 1 gbps or higher, and the system is designed to support overlay networks, dedicated networks and virtual networks.

We are also investing in a national optic fibre network, which will link 2,50,000 panchayats through broadband, and enable these villages to access e-governance initiatives.

Another initiative is the open government platform — already functional at — that gives the public full access to government datasets, with a variety of feeds from ministries and departments. It is meant to open up government functioning and allow anyone the chance to put public data to innovative use. A national data sharing policy has also been announced by the government to strengthen this effort. We are also planning to put ICT solutions to use in justice delivery, which includes computerising district and subordinate court data, as well as finding ways to widen access and reduce avoidable judicial pendencies and delays.

This is an ambitious set of reforms in our public information systems and the UPA has extended full financial support to this vision. Our Twitter conference was an effort to share these facts directly with the people. It was the first such exercise in India and an experiment in direct conversation. Personally, I was overwhelmed by the response. We got about 2,000 tweets in a matter of 45 minutes — we had participation from more than 150 locations, largely from India, but also from Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and other parts of the world. I appreciated the participation and efforts of our media and all those who actively or passively participated in our Twitter experiment. The energy and enthusiasm we found is reason enough to try this kind of interaction again.

Social media platforms like Twitter offer great value in allowing one to directly communicate with people. It helps one communicate ideas to specific target audiences that are interested in “following” our work and updates. The format, the 140-character limit, is also useful to keep this communication precise and to-the-point.

In addition, you can share your ideas and work in varied forms — I tweeted in 140 characters, I spoke for a few minutes via video, I shared links to my websites and I also shared some of my presentations and reports. And it helps you connect, in real time, both one-to-one as well as one-to-many — a freedom that is missing with traditional media.

We have understood a few things about Twitter in specific that should help us in future interactions — to spend more time on the conference and spend more time and energy building up to it. Releasing the video a day before and timing it for global participation would also have helped. Being more focused and quick, in thinking and in typing, is always an advantage on Twitter.

I believe that we, and the government as a whole, are just beginning to explore the utility of these platforms. As with anything else, it will take us some time to try our experiments, make mistakes, imbibe learnings and realise the power of these tools as well as the ways in which we can best use them.

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