Monday, March 23, 2009

Death of an IIT Kharagpur student: Issues with media

I just came across this news of the death of an IIT Kharagpur student, Rohit Kumar due to alleged 'negligence' by hospital authorities. A follow up post was written by Ashish Gourav, another resident Kharagpur campus. He mentions that Director has resigned from his post. He goes on to mention that the internet services were down and no media were allowed, alleging deliberate sabotage of external communication by IIT authorities.

Before I proceed, I must express condolences to the student's family and the entire student community of IIT Kharagput. It is an unfortunate incident and everything should be done to avoid it in future.

The truth is that there was no deliberate sabotage of external communication from the campus, as PTI did publish this news about 15 hours ago. Several other publication followed suit and this made to the front page of The Telegraph today. Other major publications of Kolkata like Indian Express, Times of India and others did publish it today.

This is an interesting case of improper use of media by enraged students, misquotes by media, and following rage by Students across the country. Also, about a typical passive follow up by media on the issue of construction of a hospital at IIT Kharagpur.

I also spoke to Arnav, VP of IIT Kharagpur's Technology Students' Gymkhana. Here is the official line:

  1. Internet services were not brought down as a reaction to this incident, but happened due to another failure in computer center.
  2. The doctors in their campus didn't have neurologist among them. That's why they didn't act further than stopping external injuries.
  3. Rohit did not have any history of epilepsy as suggested by news media.
Here is the official press release:
Rohit Kumar, a third year student of IIT Kharagpur, was regularly visiting the institute hospital since the last three days on account of chronic headaches. On his way back to the hostel on the third day he fainted and fell off a cycle rickshaw and sustained serious injuries.

He was again rushed to the hospital, upon which it was decided that he should be taken to Kolkata. However, on the way, his situation deteriorated and he was instead taken to Midnapore, where he was unfortunately declared brought dead.

This incident triggered off strong emotive response from the students as they felt that the medical facilities were inadequate. The students immediately met the authorities and lodged their strong protest. The institute has expressed its condolences to Rohit's family and friends. The administration took note of the issues and met the student general body and assured them and laid out a plan in which they would work together with the students towards improving on campus medical facilities.
Note these:
  1. No mention of Director's resignation on this issue
  2. Overturning a car at Director's residence and breaking window panes is just "Strong Emotive Response". Grow up, people!
As you can see, everyone's playing with media. Media itself is playing with itself. Kharagpur is no Mumbai to have three super-speciality hospitals within 2 kms of campus. But so has been the condition of most population of India. Do the 'elite' students of IIT might have a bigger need of medical facilities than an average Indian citizen?

I say, No. Everyone should have better facilities. What do you say?

Update: I had no idea that what I am getting into by expressing my opinion in public. A section of students from IIT Kharagpur has forgotten debate and started a scathing personal attack on me. For the moment, I have enabled comment moderation. I hope that can keep the discussion on this blog a little sane.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Power of Twitter

Twitter is unbelievably real-time voice-of-crowds. I'm thoroughly impressed and, now, hooked on to it!

Let me give you a recent instance. @dkris wrote that he was sitting next to the cutest girl of BCB8, in one of the sessions. Tweets like that would obviously incite my interest and I asked if someone has more details than that. Very soon, several more tweets followed describing where he was and if this should have been the focus in a Barcamp.

Moral issues aside, the whole community got into action and in less than 10 minutes @alagu and @amigos uploaded of two photos the girl concerned having a chat with @dkris on TwitPic.

Here I am, sitting in Mumbai (could have been anywhere else in the world too!) getting real-time updates (and photos) on what's interesting in a Barcamp in Bangalore, without any charge (on a device of my choice) and from at least 100 different sources.

Distances don't matter. And there is enough being said for all possible interests e.g., a girl in Barcamp Bangalore (how geeky!)

Twitter is Great! :D

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Why do we need an expert?

Some of my friends who attended BarCampMumbai4 are already aware of my fascination with Wisdom of Crowds. But few of them know that I have gone ahead and started a research project to explore what happens to the expert in the era where getting wisdom of crowds, at least on basic yes/no issues, is so easy?

Ankesh would point to fallacies to the power of the crowds and crowdsourcing. But, to me, something fundamentally shifted after reading this book, as a part of the Knowledge Economy course at SJMSOM in Aug-Sep 2008.

With the advent of email, I don't need to host a party or wait for people to come to a particular place to conduct an opinion poll. Right from the days of Yahoo Groups, the cost of seeking 'crowd' opinion has reduced to negligible. I can run a simple poll on an ad-supported free site to get opinions/surveys. If nothing work a Google or Wikipedia search will (I would like to believe that it is, in a broad way, wisdom of crowd).

Why, then, does society need an expert? Why is it that we still look forward, and often travel thousand miles, to hear an expert. If she is only a synthesizer and aggregator of information, once I have access to all resources that she has, or once there is a healthy community of my fellows, do I really need her?

Looking at a special case of media, where an editor very rarely adds any extra information and plays a role of only a filter, I may do without her. May be her - as a single person, if not her as a community. For example, Benkler describes how does the network of blogs act as a filter themselves. He describes a Strongly Connected Core which acts as the filter for blogosphere.

The question I am grappeling with is: If filterning is the only critical function performed by editor/expert, in the present day I may not always need an expert for all small issues. Why then is it so important for the society to venerate an expert?

Also, if I have become an 'expert' in my field through my education and experience. What is the implication of wisdom of crowds for my future?

No just me, all of us are under threat by wisdom of crowds! :)