NET NEWS: Project Helps Internet Have-Nots Search the Web

Science  01 Aug 2003:
Vol. 301, Issue 5633, pp. 573a
DOI: 10.1126/science.301.5633.573a

Gathering information from the Internet is laborious and sometimes impossible in developing countries, where computers are scarce, phone lines often unreliable, and online time expensive. By letting a computer in the U.S. perform searches and package the results, a project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology called TEK aims to spread online data to knowledge-seekers who don't have lightning-fast connections or their own machine.

TEK delivers Internet content without requiring the recipient to log on to the Web. Curious users e-mail their queries to the TEK server, which will scour the Net, glean relevant sites, and copy and compress each one. The return message contains these duplicates, which anyone can read offline. “It's a huge time savings because it takes much longer to load those pages into a browser,” says project co-director Libby Levison, a specialist on appropriate information technology. She sees schools and community centers in developing countries as the main beneficiaries of the service, but she adds that TEK could also aid residents of the developed world who are frustrated by sluggish Internet connections. A free program will allow users to communicate with the server and view the duplicated pages. You can test and critique a prototype of the software at the project's Web site (cag.lcs.mit.edu/tek). Levison says that the team plans to release an upgraded version in 3 or 4 months.

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