Afterword

ThimphuTech was the first technology blog in Bhutan. We started writing it in 2009, just as broadband and mobile internet started to take off. (Although internet in Bhutan was launched in 1999, it was either super-slow or super-expensive, and was only used by a selected few).

In the blog, we wrote about technology and food, but also about plenty of other stuff. The blog became popular and influential in Bhutan. A companion bi-weekly column -- Ask Boaz -- was published for many years in the Kuensel, Bhutan's national newspaper. (The complete Kuensel columns are available as an ebook, Blogging with Dragons).

We stopped updating the blog when we left Bhutan in 2014, but the information within the posts can still prove useful, and thus we decided to keep it online.

We thank all our readers.
Tashi Delek,
Boaz & Galit.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

More websites in Bhutan hosted for FREE by Google

Google Sites is a free service by Google which allows you to easily create and update websites. Here are some of the advantages of using Google Sites for your website:

  • EASY: Creating and updating web pages with Google Sites is as easy as editing a Microsoft Word document.
  • FREE: Creating and hosting a site with Google is free. You save tens of thousands of rupees every year.
  • RELIABLE: Google Sites is as reliable as other Google services, such as Gmail. 
  • SECURE: Your website will not be a target to hackers.
  • SAFE: All your web pages, images and files are backed online, and for free. 
  • AND MORE
The revolution has started! More organizations in Bhutan are switching to Google Sites. They save the time, money and hassle of dealing with webmasters. Organizations using Google Sites include tour operators, contractors, various educational institutions and other tiny, small, medium and large organizations. 

I've created a Facebook group, Google Sites Bhutan, which will serve as community forum to learn, exchange, and share information about using Google Sites in Bhutan. Feel free to join the revolution!

4 comments:

  1. Given that dozens of Bhutanese websites are being helped via these workshops, I hope the organizers have appropriately covered the privacy implications of using Google services for business, non-profit, and governmental sites.

    Google’s services are all free to users for a reason: Their main business and hence main source of income is advertising, and Google can attract more advertisers if they have a larger user-base. So they offer free online services, and since these services are so great, you and I sign up for them. And that’s how we become a part of the product being sold to advertisers.

    This is not all bad if we know what’s happening and we accept that the price we pay for useful & free services is that we become fodder for advertisers and lose our online privacy. And if you are an individual user, with a personal home page, or private email then it is not all that bad… the benefits do outweigh costs or potential risk.

    However, for businesses, NGOs, and governmental departments, these privacy implications can be significant. There are a number of reasons for that but I’ll illustrate two:

    - Google’s “Terms and Conditions” states that they are able to parse through your content in order to extract information which will allow them to best target users with ads. So even if ‘technically’ no human eye will see your email or private content, it will still be ‘read’ by Google. This may be of concern to companies with sensitive information that are shared in ‘private pages’.

    - You do not OWN the website or webpage. This is quite important to understand. Google has the power to shut down your page any time without due notice. Now of course this is a low probability scenario, but there have been a number of instances where Google has been pressurized by either companies (like music companies) or governments (like China) to shut down websites due to some content that the website posts. So a dissident Chinese poet may find that their website has disappeared, or a company may find a website’s disappeared coz they innocent but illegally embedded a music track. So one does not have complete ownership and control of one’s site. Very important for companies & government sites.

    Just these two reasons should be enough to give pause to creating websites on Google pages for larger organizations, and those organizations with sensitive information, or where up-time in very important. If your website is going to be the ‘face’ of your company then you might as well spend money on getting something more robust, and something you have good control over.

    The above arguments are relevant not only for Google Sites, but also Gmail, Google Calendar, Google reader, Google documents, Google Search, Google Accounts, Google Shopping etc etc… and tellingly, even to post to a comment to this blog I’m using my google ID. This list alone illustrates how much dependency many of us have on Google, and although the company’s motto is “Don’t be Evil”, it is always good to remember that the company will always do what is best for their shareholders, and for their bottom line… and many times, that is not necessarily what is best for the users.

    There’s no such thing as ‘free’. However, if we are informed users we can take advantage of these services efficiently, while at the same time minimizing risks and unexpected consequences.

    Hope the organizers can address these issues in the workshop. We have a naive web user population and thus it is important that information about these issues is provided along with how-tos and step-by-steps.

    ReplyDelete
  2. @anujkp, thanks for your comment. Internet privacy is indeed a major concern for all. However, I don't see the direct relevance of the Internet privacy issues that you raised to public websites hosted by Google Sites (the topic of this post).

    Your first point is concerned with Google scanning private content. This is not relevant to public websites. Search engines (such as Google, Bing etc) crawl, parse and read all public Internet websites, whether hosted by DrukNet, your own private server, Google Sites, or any other hosting company. Organizations actually want Google to crawl their websites so that a user can later find them.

    Your second point relates to ownership. Unless you own the physical web server, you do not "own" the website, so the issue is content ownership. Google Terms and Conditions clearly state that you have the copyright to the content that you created. If I understand correctly, your main concern is about Google shutting down your website due to illegal content. I don't see how this is different from any other hosting service. If a website hosted by DrukNet breaks Bhutanese law, DrukNet will shut down this site as well. And even if you were to host illegal content on your own server, the ISP will shut you down.

    In summary, the points that you raise are not of concern with regards to public websites hosted using Google Sites any more than with any other hosting service. I hope that this discussion helps alleviate any concern that people might have regarding privacy and content ownership.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Your points are all well taken, and of course you are correct about what you replied about the parsing of sites & the shutting down of illegal sites.

    However, it seems that either you may have misunderstood my concerns as being simplistic, or I may not have been clear about them. e.g. about the two examples I offered as reasons for being wary about using Google to host sensitive material or major websites. So let's try this again:

    1 - WRT accessing of site content, I did not mean public content, which obviously the site admin would want to be crawled and indexed. I raised the concern about private content on the website being accessed by Google.

    Google sites allows one to have private sections of the site accessible only to authorized users (I assume you will cover that in your workshop). However there is no preventing Google from parsing that 'private' space as well. Unlike other web servers where settings can be put in place to specifically prevent search engines from crawling the site, Google sites does not allow that facility (as far as I know).

    Hence the privacy offered by Google Sites' 'private pages' is an illusion, and users should at least know about it. A site's documents can potentially be compromised if one wholly trusts privacy assurances from Google. Thus my concern about important organizations & govt agencies using a service like this, lest they have sensitive material saved in the so-called private pages.

    2 - I suppose I may not have been clear abt what I meant by ownership or control. Yes, one does not own webspace.. one pays for hosting, and will be kicked out for "illegal" content, or violating terms & conditions.

    However, my concern was less with "illegal" content per se but content that can be "perceived" as illegal or 'dangerous'. This then becomes an issue of free speech.

    Illegal content does result in shutdowns. But if the content is not necessarily illegal but is perceived as harmful by some powerful body or corporation, then that content can be "taken down" by measures designed to give individual users no recourse. And unfortunately Google has an unfortunate history of doing just that.

    It is a gray area, and probably not relevant at all in Bhutan at this point, but why not make it relevant in discussion? This is obviously more of a hypothetical situation for Bhutan.. But these points are still relevant at least in the academic sense, and as general knowledge for web users. And that was all that I meant as the gist of my first comment (although i evidently couldn't express it succinctly).

    We have a fledgling population of web users. Your website does an admirable job of educating users about the pitfalls of the internet including scams and other nuisances that abound in cyberspace. In that same spirit, I was recommending that along with your course on Google Sites, it would be appropriate to include a primer on privacy issues, both explicitly associated with Google Sites, and in a more general sense with the entire web.

    Thanks for taking the time to interact.

    Best

    ReplyDelete
  4. Dear Anuj,
    Academic and "political" discussions of the "goodness" of Google, Microsoft or other technology-enabling giants are interesting and important and exist in many excellent blogs. However, I am bringing our discussion back down to the reality in Bhutan, which is what our blog and efforts are about.

    Given the ground reality in Bhutan, Google Sites offers an incredible alternative to the often-hacked, hard-to-update, and expensively-hosted websites, which are created by webmasters who often lack knowledge of usability yet charge an arm-and-leg and tend to disappear.

    I am glad that you raised questions that others have also asked during workshops, so that the facts are clarified and concerns are relaxed.

    ReplyDelete

We love to hear from our readers!
Comments are reviewed before being published, so it might take a few hours before you see your comments posted.