Websites at Risk – Archiving information on human rights, governance and peace

Websites at risk

I created and launched Websites at risk yesterday as a simple yet effective means through which to archive information and knowledge produced on the web in Sri Lanka on human rights, peacebuilding and democratic governance.

This has been on my mind for a while ever since I was appalled to be told that the website of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) completely shut down, without any notice, once it left Sri Lanka in early 2008. Everything on it – all their situation reports, press releases, CFA violations statistics, briefings and special reports are lost, perhaps irrevocably.

It’s this kind of information loss that is anathema in a peace process and for a serious scholar and historian of peace process, borders on the catastrophic.

As I note on the new blog,

A litany of issues is to blame. These range from an incumbent regime that is viciously intolerant of alternative narratives and perspectives on war and peace to a disturbing lack of awareness of, emphasis on and interest in securing information and knowledge for posterity by NGOs and other content producers, including governmental processes and actors. There is also a significant lack of any sort of business continuity planning amongst NGO and civil society actors in Sri Lanka. Most never learn, even when disaster strikes once.

Having archives of this nature is also helpful for students and researchers, since once downloaded, the entire contents of a website are available to browse offline, without any need for an Internet connection.

Design considerations

  • I chose WordPress because is is easily and effectively scaleable, is extremely reliable and not hosted in Sri Lanka.
  • I also chose it because it is much harder to block this specific site. The case of India after the Mumbai train blasts for example suggests that Governments are not averse to blocking entire blog sites. Doing so however guarantees international headlines – so it is hard to brush it under the carpet.
  • The WordPress database itself is kept as small as possible for easy portability.
  • No graphics at all are used in the site.
  • The archives are standard ZIP files that open on any PC – Windows, Mac or Linux.
  • All the archives are hosted on www.box.net. I bought a year’s worth of storage for around US$ 70 and uploaded the archives there. Considerations that weighed in favour of box.net were ease of use, access, reliability, familiarity with the system, a good feature set and security at a relatively cheap cost. It also offers unlimited downloads for each file. Box.net also offers WordPress integration, which I haven’t leveraged at the moment.
  • The name chosen is also scaleable. Since the essential idea is a valuable one for other countries, the idea was that each country or region would use sitesatrisk and at the end plug in their name – e.g. sitesatriskuk, sitesatriskkosovo.

Please visit Websites at risk and pass the word around to colleagues who will I am sure find the information already archived on it useful for their research on issues central to peace and governance in Sri Lanka.

InfoShare – Transforming society through technology

InfoShare

I’m a founding Director and Head of ICT and Peacebuilding at InfoShare, which was set up in 2004 and currently provides services to a range of leading organisations in the development and civil society sectors in Sri Lanka and South Asia.

InfoShare’s main skill is in its ability to design ICT applications and services to support and strengthen the work of civil society and the development sector.

To date, our work has included systems for mission critical peace negotiations support, anti-trafficking collaboration systems in Sri Lanka and India, high-level donor coordination systems and civil society / NGO project and programme management platforms. Our work has also included, as part of Microsoft’s Unlimited Potential programme, designing and writing syllabi for sectors including media & journalism, tourism, garments and agriculture.

InfoShare is also a partner in the Last Mile Initiative. The LMI Project will utilize an innovative franchise business model that will empower local entrepreneurs in rural communities to offer value-added ICT-enabled services to rural customers. By developing a profitable business model, the project will seek to attract private investment and market entry in the provision of ICT-enabled services to rural customers.

The project is a multi-stakeholder partnership between civil organizations (InfoShare and its NGO partners), the government (Vocational Training Authority, or VTA), and donors (USAID and Microsoft). Approximately 60 CTCs located at VTA facilities will be supported, with upgraded infrastructure development supported by Microsoft in four regional centers, and additional infrastructure provided by USAID for VTA centers in the tsunami-affected areas. Using the UP curriculum as a base, the project team will develop industry-relevant courses that enhance the employability of the students. A train-the-trainer component will cover 180 VTA and NGO trainers; InfoShare will also establish a help desk to provide telephone support to these trainers. More than 3,200 people will receive the direct benefit of IT skills training at the centers. An additional 12,000 people will participate via the information and communications technology awareness program.

More information here.

We are a global thought-leader in ICT4Peace and are key partners with the ICT4Peace Foundation’s high-level ICT4Peace process. We don’t however just work at the policy level – our expertise and experience lies in designing and deploying ICT architectures on the ground / in the field, in support of peace and conflict transformation within cycles of violence.

In 2007 alone, we’ve managed to design a world-class human rights violations monitoring and reporting system, multi-lingual citizen journalism websites and various civil society, media and NGO websites with custom tailored content management systems that support English, Sinhala and Tamil.

More details of our work in the attached PDF.