Introduction

Electronic communications, including satellite, enables people to access the Internet regardless of their location. E-businesses can be successfully implemented in rural areas of the world using these connections to expand market channels--providing that there are appropriate software and people-ware available. People-ware has been the scarcest element and usually will hold back a rural business from taking advantage of the new Internet technology. BIT (Build It Together) aims to create a practical implementation of rural e-businesses including a web-based cooperative system that links together needed expertise. The project will focus on implementing an e-commerce site in a small hill-tribe village of northern Thailand.

This research begins with a sensitivity to the lack of skills and human resources that most rural businesses face when attempting to implement an e-business solution. This work also observes other requirements for novel e-business candidates including backend business organization and management, cultural impact of technology and cost effectiveness of rural e-business. It concentrates primarily on finding solutions for two common problems: technical complexity of building on-line systems; and the lack of skills necessary to create/design system contents. The project assumes that the target community has access to Internet connection and needed computer equipment.

 

 



 

 

Ban-Tart is a small rural hill-tribe village in MaeFa-Luang district of northern Thailand. The population of Ban-Tart is approximately six hundred. Most villagers are poor and earn their income primarily from crops. Handicrafts are commonly made by the villagers and sold to tourists. Although handicrafts provide reasonable per piece return to their makers, the market is limited to tourists visiting the area.

In 1998, a computer lab was established in Ban-Tart by Media Labís Lighthouse project. The lab facility includes ten computers all connected to the Internet via satellite and is accessible to the local artisans. The existence of a computer infrastructure and the handicraft industry suggests that an e-commerce site could benefit the community.

Potential benefits through e-Business

Economic development

Expanding Mae-Fa-Luangís handicrafts market to global consumers provides a promising economic development. The uniqueness and authenticness of each handicraft can be valued as an alternative to decontextualize mass-produced goods.

Social development

One of the most important aspects of this project is to give the local community a sense of ownership over the system. This allows the local community control over product, price and content of the system. It can also generate a self-motivated desire to learn good business practice as well.

Design of on-line systems: Problems and Solutions

The development and maintenance of on-line e-commerce systems faces two major difficulties in communities that are not technologically fluent. First, infrastructure fluency: the process of creating a web site is complex (particularly where, in an e-commerce site, the content is dynamic). Although the technical skills are learnable, a high-level tool that automates some of the complex tasks is preferred. Second, the lack of necessary skills needed to build a practical system. Translation, content editing and web layout design are examples of necessary skills that are usually unknown to rural communities.

 

 


The e-commerce project is being developed using BIT in a hill tribe village located in Mae-Fa-Luang district of northern Thailand

 


Ten computers, all connected to the Internet, are available to the artisans.

 

 Quicktime VIDEO

An introduction movie of Mae-Fa-Luang and the e-commerce project at Ban-Tart: [8.51 min]

- 320x240 (26M)
- 160x120 (2.7M)


A very short
version: [<1 min]

- 320x240 (2.5M)

SLIDE SHOW

 
Slide show of my Jan 2000 visit and workshop (Soon)

BIT: A cooperative model solution

The heart of BIT (Build It Together) is a web-based tool that would facilitate the building process of rural e-business systems. BIT will create an environment that enables cooperation between local e-business owners and other cooperators located anywhere on the Internet.

This environment will provide an interface that automates complex procedures of web content creation. Furthermore, it supports resource sharing, allowing multiple users to access and modify each element of the site cooperatively.

The above diagram shows four groups of contributors and their access channel to the system. Each group will access through a user interface (UI) that is optimized to suit their contribution.

Interface design plays an important role in BIT implementation. The goal is to provide an environment that eliminates as many decontextualized procedures as possible allowing contributors to spend most of their time performing their specialized function within the full context of the site.

The system will be transparent to all users. All modifications or transformations (such as translation) of an element will be shown to all of its contributors. Internal messaging between users will allow them to negotiate and comment on each change.