Access to Knowledge Platforms and Collaborative Ventures starting to get their due?

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“It is no good to try to stop knowledge from going forward. Ignorance is never better than knowledge.” –The thinker who’d come up with these immortal words, Enrico Fermi, would have been glad to hear about the current tidings in India, vis-à-vis ventures relating to access to knowledge. In the past few days, as many as three separate events have caught the eyes of the Spicy IP team that promises the development of a promising new trend of such ventures receiving both financial support and due recognition.

The first of these would be Techpedia, which is the brainchild of Professor Anil Gupta since 2008, a faculty member of IIM Ahemdabad. It is an open source portal that provides a virtual platform, wherein anybody can put up a project or other information, edit and improve upon the same and can even seek clarification or assistance on solving problems. In short, it is much like Wikipedia’s technical counterpart. The motivation behind building such a platform was to no longer allow the thousands of ideas and projects that students of engineering, healthcare, pharmacy and other colleges come up with to go to waste, simply because of lack of exposure, despite a large number of such projects having tremendous social and commercial possibilities. Techpedia also presents a wide range of problems relating to myriad disciplines like agriculture and hotel management for brainstorming purposes. Already certain innovative solutions to long-pending problems have presented themselves through this forum, just like several existing solutions have been popularized, ranging from the use of the bullock-based tractor post-1994, devised to help farmers owning small tracts of land, to using pressure cooker as an espresso machine etc. Supported by state-funded universities like Punjab, Gujarat and Maharashtra, which require their students to list all their projects in this websites, Techpedia is rapidly emerging as “a breeding ground for generating ideas of future”, by bridging the chasm between innovations and its popularization and creates awareness among the city minds of the practical difficulties faced by the rural population and encourages such minds to find solutions to the same. Several corporate bodies have also sought help from budding engineers via this forum to provide solutions to their unique problems. Recently, in an NIT conclave hosted by the Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology, the portal was officially presented before the NIT engineers. Some have even perceived it as akin to a national laboratory using students for social transformation and forming clusters of innovators in the process.

The second one in this list is Knimbus, which has been created by a start-up concern in Gurgaon (headed by Rahul Agarwalla and Tarun Arora) by fusing popular features of social networking websites. It is essentially a search and collaboration networking platform that would facilitate scientists getting access to contents, sharing their own findings and networking with their peers on a real-time basis. The platform hosts a wide range of academic and technical discussions ranging from development of cures to deadly diseases to decoding complex terms. Since its inception in September, 2011, Knimbus has already acquired an enviable user-base of 30,000 researchers and scientists. One of the major reasons behind its popularity is the availability of a single access window to a large volume of technical literature, which is in sharp contrast with the traditional academic approach of closed-door research submitted to journals, subjected to peer-reviews and then publication for the benefit of other scientists, which incurs considerable time and expenditure in the process. And this collaborative effort is already bearing fruits in brining academia and industry closer to each other. Recently, for instance, Procter & Gamble Co. has sourced ideas for several major products from CSIR’s National Chemical Laboratory, sourced through CSIR’s ‘Open Source Drug Discovery’ programme, a technology platform concentrating on easy-to-afford healthcare, new therapies and drugs produced by CSIR. The sheer scope of the market requiring scientific, medical and technical information is mind-boggling, ranging to almost $25 billion in a world-wide level and India accounts for at least 4% of it. Given the figures involved, it is no doubt that a collaborative platform like Knimbus can reap enormous dividends and at the same time, also be of significant help in lowering the costs of research, information acquisition and sharing of knowledge. Knimbus is thus all set to become the new-age knowledge network.

The third and final piece of welcoming news in the field of access to knowledge is the grant received recently by the Centre for Internet Society (CIS) from the Wikimedia Foundation for developing their access to knowledge program in India to further heights. CIS, which is an independent institution with proven credentials in the field of research regarding Internet policy, will now collaborate with the Wikimedia community of volunteers in India to expand upon Wikimedia’s Indic language free knowledge projects. The grant will also facilitate improvements in India-relevant free knowledge in Wikimedia’s English projects and wider distribution of Wikimedia’s free knowledge within India. The grant will range over two years and will amount to $200,000 USD in the first year and the same for the 2nd year subject to budget review and inflationary tendencies. The 5-member strong CIS Access to Knowledge program team will operate from Delhi and it has already shown interest to hire a program director and other Indian program consultants advising the Wikimedia Foundation. It intends to build upon its current Indian initiatives, including community growth partnerships in several Indic languages, support for a new Malayalam education program, a GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) partnership at the Crafts Museum – New Delhi, new Wikiclubs at the British Council, ongoing efforts to leverage social media, and an exponential increase in blog coverage of the Indian community’s work.

The overall trend that can thus be noticed in such efforts and collaborations appears to be rather promising and the Spicy IP team hopes that similar developments along this line are likely to strengthen Indian presence in the Access to Knowledge scenario much further beyond its current state. 

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