Tag Archives: India

Growing India’s FOSS Ecosystem with Planet FLOSS India

A Conversation with Planet FLOSS India’s co-founders Sankarshan Mukhopadhyay and Sayamindu Dasgupta.

Planet FLOSS India

Planet FLOSS India

India’s free and open source software community is known for its vibrant diversity. It is diverse geographically, technologically and ideologically and has voices that range from the inspired to the obsessed. Planet FLOSS India is a successful online platform representing India’s many FOSS voices. I’ve known the planet’s co-founders, Sankarshan and Sayamindu for many years now and recently talked to them about the planet’s origins, success and future. Here is what they had to say.

1. India’s FOSS community is large yet mostly unknown. Planet FLOSS India is helping make the community’s voices more widely known. Tell me about how this Planet came about and who came up with the idea.

Sankarshan: http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://planet-india.randomink.org shows that May 20, 2004 was when Planet FLOSS India first appeared on the World Wide Web. The idea for this planet was floating around in our heads for at least 3 months before that. As far as I recall, one evening, at Sayamindu’s place, we realized that the two of us read other planets all the time. We ended up wondering what it would take to build one for India.





It took ten minutes to register the domain and a day or so to obtain the hosting space. Sayamindu helped out a lot by doing some research and selecting Dreamhost. Between the two of us, we did not actually know many folks; so we decided to get some word of mouth going (including instances where we had folks telling us “you have a piddly 12 folks blogging and getting syndicated on the planet and you call it Planet FLOSS India ?”) That was then. We’ve come a long way since then I’d say.

Sayamindu: We could do more stuff really :-) I guess we are limited by our own interest in getting things through.

2. Planets are excellent tools for community building. What has helped you in building and managing this community and maintaining its quality.

Sankarshan: Personally, one of the satisfying results of helping host this planet (I pay for the hosting while Sayamindu does other larger bits) has been seeing the breadth and quality of people we have come across. Most of the time the conversation has been long-lasting and interesting. There is a tremendous amount of work in the FLOSS space that happens in India, and what we syndicate now represents the subset of just those who write. Having a pan-India planet is also interesting as it allows us to see the regional or task specific ones (planets) like Planet Durgapur LUG and so forth.

Sayamindu: I’d also like to believe that it has allowed an online space for conversation. We have had bloggers send us notes of appreciation when someone stumbled on to their work because they were syndicated and, thereon collaboration flourished. This makes us happy.

3. Have you ever had a problem where you had to drop a blogger off.

Sankarshan: We don’t actually have a policy on the content. The planet began with an aim to allow both of us to get to know folks and, we do tend to believe that it is always better to let every facet of personality shine through. Having said all of that, there have been times when we have had to comment out the feed URL in the configuration file thus taking the blogger off the planet.

Sayamindu: As a best practice, we try and reach out asking for a specific feed and so forth. It has not been a problem but yes, like other planets we have had to exercise some editorial control on the content.

4. What are your plans about growing Planet FLOSS India?

Sankarshan: The planet’s growth has been more of an evolution.

One aspect we’d like to think about is how to get folks to have the discipline to write about what they are up to. The more they think about it in terms of collaboration (and less in terms of PR for their projects), we should see a good amount of writing coming up. We also try to convince folks to write in their local languages. Local language content would make a good amount of material fly past our readers, but it would be good to see content and blogs getting syndicated in Indian languages.

We haven’t run too much analysis on the content that goes on the planet. Nonetheless we tried to test the grade at which it was written (turns out that it is mostly easy to read) but I’d say that in our evil plans :-) there is this idea of expanding the ‘S’ in FLOSS beyond Software per se and make it easier for anyone to feel that they could be syndicated.

Sayamindu: There are some technical parts to the infrastructure that we have to look at in the near future – these include the ability to self-add oneself to the planet. For example, The Fedora Project Planet does this nicely. We also need someone to do up a newer theme and CSS for the planet now that I don’t have the time at all. ** The current theme was cooked in one night and uses quite a few hacks which fall apart in some corner-cases. It would be nice to have someone preserve the look and feel, but rewrite the entire HTML/CSS part in a cleaner fashion. **

5. How do you support the infrastructure for the Planet. Do you take donations, gifts and hardware? What about ads? How many hits do you have to handle?

Sayamindu: Hosting and domain charges are paid entirely by Sankarshan personally. We have around a 1000 unique visitors to the site per month (its not very high, but most of them access the site daily). Moreover, people also access the site via RSS feedreaders. There’s also a Google SMS channel which sends out a mobile text message when a new post shows up on the Planet. Most of the visitors are from India, and some are from North America and Europe.

6. What’s next for Planet FLOSS India. What’s in store in the future?

Sayamindu: A major priority is cleaning up of the design (visual as well as from the point of view of HTML/CSS). I also have some ideas like having a Google custom search so that people can search the posts made by the people on the Planet, letting people share and designate favorite posts directly from the planet interface, making the Planet self service (for example, people can add themselves, change their hackergotchi/rss feel url) etc.

And of course, we are always looking for people who would like to get syndicated on the planet. Please email us if you are interested in getting syndicated or volunteering to help with planet maintenance.

Thanks Sankarshan and Sayamindu for discussing Planet FLOSS India. I wish you great success in growing Planet FLOSS India!

Wikimedia India becomes an official chapter

As Wikimedia Foundation, parent of Wikipedia, grows its global network of chapters, it is exciting to see the announcement that Wikimedia India has been approved unanimously by the Wikimedia chapters committee to become an official Wikimedia chapter. Read more here about the announcement.

If you love what Wikipedia has done so far (I do :D), join in making India’s chapter successful. Browse submitted proposals, contribute your ideas, join and organize a workgroup to add to your favorite content source.

ICT to the rescue in Bangladesh



I recently read a compelling story about how women are creating waves in rural Bangladesh using netbooks, GSM mobile phones, blood pressure monitors and other gadgets to help Bangladeshis and, at the same time, provide them with an opportunity to break out of poverty.

The story shows how a good idea along with some resources and local effort can solve real problems using information and communication technology (ICT). Even though this idea seems simple, there are few projects in the Indian subcontinent which utilize ICT successfully to educate and empower people in rural areas. Currently these netbooks run a version of Windows. It would be great to see projects like this get even more mileage by using FOSS and open knowledge repositories like Wikipedia.

Highlights from the article:

“Akhter belongs to a motley band of “InfoLadies,” who are piloting a revolutionary idea – giving millions of Bangladeshis, trapped in a cycle of poverty and natural disaster, access to information on their doorstep to improve their chances in life.

“…An InfoLady’s netbook is loaded with content especially compiled and translated in local Bangla language,” says Mohammed Forhad Uddin of D.Net, a not-for-profit research organization that is pioneering access to livelihood information.”

“…It provides answers and solutions to some of the most common problems faced by people in villages.”

“…In Bangladesh this means nearly three-quarters of the nearly 160 million that live in rural areas. From agriculture to health, sanitation and disaster management, the content follows simple text, pictures and engaging multimedia animations to include all users, many of whom are illiterate.”

Brazil and India: The Next Generation of Open Source

Brazil and India: Next Generation of Open Source

Brazil and India: Next Generation of Open Source

Those of us who follow the growth of open source in the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China) know that both Brazil and India are leveraging open source at a rapid pace towards economic development.


India is a heavy user of open source. Sectors leveraging open source include software development outsourcing, business process outsourcing, government services, technical education as well as industries such as banking, insurance, manufacturing, oil and gas, defense and space. According to Wikipedia, India produces 2.5 million graduates every year from which only a small percentage, about 700,000 people are employed by India’s BPO industry. The BPO industry which has flourished on cheap, skilled labor has started to leverage open source software based automation to gain further cost advantages.


Brazil has also been a hotbed of open source activity in recent years. Government agencies, private industry, universities have been teaching and implementing open source solutions to create local centers of knowledge and gain expertise around open source in the country. Seeing India’s success in IT outsourcing, Brazil has also declared an interest in using open source to gain leadership in the market of software development outsourcing.

According to recent articles in Network World and Computer Weekly, Brazil has a few humps to overcome to fully leverage the power of open source for software outsourcing. These challenges include a predominantly non-English speaking IT industry and higher hourly wages. But the Brazilians are optimistic that deep knowledge of open source can overcome such factors and help them compete globally.

Brazil’s open source experts in IT, government and education are very active in international open source forums as well as engaging international experts in Brazil. For example, the Linux Foundation will be holding its first-ever Brazil summit later this year. Such exchange of ideas, skills and expertise can help stimulate the local knowledge economy and give Brazil an edge especially in open source expertise.

Brazil has other advantages that it could combine with the knowledge of open source to develop its software development outsourcing markets with special focus on the US. These advantages include geographical proximity to the US, in-country advanced technology research and excellent infrastructure such as roads, airports, power and telecommunications.

Collaboration is good

In the true spirit of open source, both India and Brazil can learn a lot from each other. India’s IT and outsourcing industries could certainly learn a thing or two from Brazil’s commitment to open source to foster innovation and develop its internal and export markets. Making deeper commitments to adopting open source can only help both countries grow their economies while sharing their experiences and best practices. Knowledge economies can only thrive on continuing the pursuit of better education, deeper expertise, more innovation and long term collaboration.

Finding common ground

Ideas worth meditating on …

Many Faiths, One Truth

Today’s Op-Ed in the New York Times by His Holiness the Dalai Lama -

“Finding common ground among faiths can help us bridge needless divides at a time when unified action is more crucial than ever. As a species, we must embrace the oneness of humanity as we face global issues like pandemics, economic crises and ecological disaster. At that scale, our response must be as one.”

Drupal Sprint in Pune this weekend

Drupal in India by Prasad Shirgaonkar

Drupal in India by Prasad Shirgaonkar

Drupal seems to be picking up momentum among Indian developers and students this year. Reflecting this new-found interest is the upcoming Drupal Sprint on October 30th and 31st in Pune. The sprint is taking place at the Bhaskaracharya Pratishthana (BP) campus on Law College Road and is being organized by Pune Linux Users Group (PLUG) enthusiasts and BP.

At this cosy and focused FOSS gathering, you can participate in a sprint to fix bugs, write documentation, develop Drupal modules as well as learn about migrating from Drupal 6 to the latest Drupal 7. And if you’re not into developing code or documentation, you can learn about how Drupal is being used in websites, blogs and online magazines by attending talks and workshops which occur in parallel.

After organizing PLUGMASH a couple of years ago, I’m glad to see the PLUG organizing this event. It would be impossible to pull off this sprint without Vivek Khurana, Manjusha Joshi, Sudhanwa Jogalekar and all the folks volunteering their time to share their passion for Drupal.

Registration is free for this sprint. So all you need is time and of course an interest in building beautiful websites. If you’re in the Mumbai-Pune area, do stop by and participate. I’d love to hear from you about the event, so send me your feedback :-)

Thought provoking…

A couple of thought provoking links…

India’s Malnutrition Dilemma, The New York Times, October 11, 2009

“But there is a ghost at the party, and its name is malnutrition. India is often compared — and often compares itself — with China, but the fact is that as China became an economic powerhouse it greatly reduced malnutrition. In an all-fronts effort, China cut child malnutrition by two-thirds between 1990 and 2002. Today only 7 percent of Chinese children under age 5 are underweight, whereas the figure for India is 43 percent. Even in sub-Saharan Africa, which most people assume to have the direst poverty statistics, the average child-malnutrition rate is 28 percent.”

Nepotism in Indian Politics, The New York Times, October 12, 2009

“Across India, political families are entrenched at every level of government and politics. At least nine of the 32 members of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s cabinet either descended from political families or have children seeking or holding office. Parliament is littered with political families; a recent study found that 31 of the 58 women elected had a husband, brother, father or father-in-law in politics.”

Letting Students Blog: Why India’s universities need student blogs

Education in India

Education in India

India has tens of well known, reputable universities – Indian Institute of Technology (IITs), Indian Institute of Management (IIMs), and medical colleges including AFMC and AIIMS. Tens of thousands of students from all over Asia, Africa and the Middle East, as well as from within India itself, apply to these institutions every year. The current admissions process is highly competitive and dryly mechanical.

Leading global universities are exploring alternative approaches. For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) now allows students to blog without censorship on the university admissions website. Many other top universities like Amherst, Haverford, Vassar, Wellesley, Yale have also chosen to integrate student blogs into their official university websites.

MIT’s admissions office thinks blogging has helped humanize the process of applying to the university. It has helped students select one school over the other based on the community they feel most comfortable with. Prospective students read about shared interests, hobbies, life on campus and summer activities blogged by students already at the university.

Many of India’s universities can easily adopt the same strategy to attract top students that best fit the curricula and environments they have to offer. Integrating student experiences into their websites through student blogs is a great way to build a more healthy student community as well as to bind together the larger alumni community. Blogging can add new energy to an obsolete dog-eat-dog process of college matriculation in India.

India’s FOSS community celebrates Software Freedom Day 2009

SFD 2009

SFD 2009

Today is Software Freedom Day. India’s FOSS community has organized install fests, software demos and talks to promote free and open source software across the nation. University FOSS clubs, Linux User Groups (LUGs) and Open Source User Groups (OSUMs) have been organizing grass-root gatherings all week.

Coverage from some of these events includes:

It’s pretty exciting to see so much activity. Hope to see even more schools and colleges participate next year. Happy SFD 2009!

A Portrayal of Life

A Portrayal of Life

A Portrayal of Life

Satyajit Ray’s portrayal of life in 20th century India has captivated many Indians like myself who live abroad. Reading an article with a slideshow in the New York Times today reminded me of my admiration for Ray’s stories, scripts and characters. From “Pather Panchali” to “Shatranj Ke Khilari”, his films emphasize a refreshing realism.

Ray’s work is on display in “First Light: Satyajit Ray From the Apu Trilogy to the Calcutta Trilogy” at the Film Society of New York’s Lincoln Center this month from April 15-30.