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“Today we live in a world where everything is interconnected. Your spectacles, your watch, your mobile phone and may be even your shoes. And who knows, in mere future the very chairs you sit on may communicate with your trousers.” The outset of the most awaited event of the month was marked as such.

Google has always been the core engine of almost all the internet related searches. Adding to the interest of young intellectuals, Google has launched many additions like the Google Student Ambassador Program, Google Summer Code and Google Map Making. In parallel to those, with the purpose of running the awareness and guidance to the enthusiastic Sri Lankan youth, a meet up was organized for the Google Students Group in Sri Lanka by the Google Student Ambassadors.

Akshika Wijesundara addressing the audience

Akshika Wijesundara addressing the audience

The meet up, which was a result of efforts taken by the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at UOM, to enhance the skills of the university undergrads, was held on 3rd September 2014 at 1700hrs at CSE seminar room, UOM. The meetup was organized by Akshika  Wijesundara (Engineering undergraduate of CSE), along with the fellow Google student ambassadors. It was compered by Malith Jayaweera, an Engineering undergraduate of CSE UOM. The proceedings of the meeting were followed by the welcome speech delivered by Akshika  Wijesundara.

‘Google Summer of Code’ is a global program that offers students stipends to write code for open source projects. The CSE undergraduates Bhathiya Supun, Sachith Senevirathne, Sachini Herath and Buddhika Dilhan were the experienced seniors of GSoC at the gathering. The audience was thankful when these members came up with a presentation which included their experiences and a brief description of the projects each had contributed.

Department of Computer Science and Engineering at UOM never lack winners. The department included two out of the three winners of G-CV. The competition involved online CV creation using Google Sites and the winners were as follows.

  • 1st place – Justine Win, Philippines
  • 2nd place – Rajith Yashodha, Sri Lanka
  • 3rd place – Sachith Senavirathne, Sri Lanka

The next in the agenda of the Google student meet up was the award presentation to the two G-CV winners Rajith and Sachith thus appreciating their noteworthy achievement.

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Subsequently, the presentation on Google Map Making was staged by Dulshani Gunawardena (GSA for South East Asia). The presentation attracted a considerable attention of the audience that it was followed by a lengthy Q&A session.

“How would the accuracy of an included detail will be confirmed by the map making community?”, “Who has the authority to accept and confirm any details requested to be added?”, “How can one request his/her details to be reconsidered once the request is rejected?”

were a few questions asked and answered during the session.

A person’s interests could vary with time. The meet up was scheduled on a time when the waves of interest were flowing in an around the university premises. The new found interest was regarding the upcoming Google translate week. Adding to the mentioned interest, Kasun Gunasekara (GSA for SouthEast Asia) came up with a presentation which included essential details of the upcoming event.

The most awaited moment of the most awaited event was scheduled next. Dulshani Gunawardena, was once again on the stage with a bunch of stimulating facts and points regarding the Ambassador Summit. Adding to the interest, was a short video depicting their delightful experience in the last summit.

The meet up was an outcome of a collective effort. Its fruitfulness lied in the dedication and the support of many who were involved in the organization. The vote of thanks, which included all the gratitude towards the parties involved was delivered by Samadhi Poornima.

The crowd seemed to have gained so much interest regarding the Google Student Group – Sri Lanka and its associated events. Hoping for their enthusiastic participation in the upcoming events, the  meeting was adjourned with a group photograph taken by Dilshan Pathirana.

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Ingress is a location based mobile game popular among Sri Lankan youngsters and it now has its own community that keeps growing each day. This game has two teams or say two factions, the ‘Enlightened’ and the ‘Resistance’. The game is all about destroying enemy builds and territories, claiming them to your team and expand your faction’s ground area by actually traveling places around the country and world using mobile phones.

For the Enlightened faction, some of the agents (players) came up with a team activity to increase motivation and enthusiasm of Enlightened members. In January 2014, there was a global event organized for the Enlightened agents around the world to actively participate in Ingress as a motivational and an effort of uplifting the Enlightened network and statistics in a global scale. It was named after Summer Olympic games and the event was ultimately launched as ‘Ingress Enlightened Olympics’ that had nine Ingress related activities which were matched to the exact Olympic sport names.

Inspired by the internationally organized ‘Ingress Enlightened Olympics’ event, those Sri Lankan Enlightened agents was able to organize and execute the first ever Ingress competition called ‘ENL Games LK’ in Sri Lanka for the local Enlightened community.  (ENL for Enlightened)
After weeks of elaborate planning and discussions, they successfully finished the said community build up project ‘ENL Games LK 2014’, an event that commenced on 22nd of August and ended on the 29th. Sri Lankan Enlightened agents who participated in this event had shown their game skills in various ways and they played very enthusiastically to compete against each other to win places. But ultimately it was team play, enthusiasm to level up and mind blowing stats that decorated agent profiles.
The eight-day event consisted of the following ten Ingress sporting events.
  1. Sprint - Gain maximum points during one hour.
  2. Marathon - Gain maximum points during the Games week.
  3. Hurdles - Create the highest number of control fields during the Games week.
  4. Relay - Make the highest number of overlapping control fields as a team of two to three Enlightened agents.
  5. Shooting - Score the largest points gain from a single attack on an enemy portal.
  6. Boxing - Highest energy loss through attacking an enemy portal.
  7. Long Jump - Make the longest link inside Sri Lanka during the Games period.
  8. Triple Jump - Create the largest control field by geographic area.
  9. Javelin - Create the largest control field measured in Mind Units.
  10. Taekwondo - Highest points gained for destroying enemy resonators, links and control fields during the Games week.
From among all the participants, only twenty two agents could make their way to the top ranks in the leaderboard at the end of this event. A community meetup was held at Independence Square on 30th of August to mark the end of this event to give away prizes to those Enlightened participants who won in aforementioned ten events. The meetup ended with a farming session (excessive walks around several high level portal clusters to gain more items beneficial for the game play by hacking them), to strengthen solidarity among agents and spotted new faces too.
As a whole, ENL Games LK 2014 was a huge success for Sri Lankan Enlightened community and it wouldn’t have been this successful without the organizing team and the judges who worked till late night finalizing scores.
ENL Games Prizes

ENL Games Prizes

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ENL Games LK 2014 Stats Infographic

ENL Games LK 2014 Stats Infographic

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    Google Student Ambassadors have launched a Sinhala Translate week (#SinhalaTranslateWeek) to improve the translation efficiency of Google Sinhala Translator tool. Sinhala Translate Week will be held from 1st to 7th of September 2014. As per Google, the sole purpose of Sinhala Translate week is to get people to contribute to Google Translate through the newly introduced Google Translate Community.

    Google Translator is one of the widely used tools in the online community and it has introduced the Sinhala language to support the needs of Sinhala language users. The Google Sinhala Translate week seeks to improve the quality of the Sinhala translations, by crowdsourcing the words to the translator.

    If you are interested in helping Google improve its Sinhala Translator tool, here is the chance for you. There are three ways in which you can contribute for the Google Sinhala Translate Week.

    Translate and Win Prizes from Google

    If you have free time that you can allocate for translations, here is an opportunity for you. You can help Google to improve its translator tool by translating, matching, rating and comparing words. All what you need to do is to get yourself registered as a contributor and contribute during the week. You can get yourself registered here. Your contribution will help to enhance translation for millions of users who use Sinhala language.

    Contributing for Google Translate during this week also will allow you to win prizes from Google. Registered contributors with most number of contributions will stand chances to win. It does not stop there; this week will also allow you to be a part of the Google Sinhala Translate community by joining the Twitter conversation on #SinhalaTranslateWeek or engaging on dedicated Google Plus and Facebook Groups.

    Participate in a Translation Run

    Translation Run is an informal gathering of people who are enthusiastic about Google Translate, with the sole purpose of contributing, sharing knowledge, taking pictures, having fun, and posting them out to the public to let the world know that it is happening. During the Sinhala Translate Week, there are many Translation Runs happening around the country, predominantly based on universities and colleges. As of now, Translation Runs have been planned to be held at University of Sri Jayewardenepura, University of Moratuwa, University of Ruhuna, SLIIT and University of Jaffna. More details can be obtained here.

    Host a Translation Run

    Apart from participating in a Translation Run, you also have the opportunity to organize/host a Translation Run during the Sinhala Translate Week.  You can organize Translation Run in your university, institute, school or work place.  Hosting a Translation Run should be carried out according to the guidelines provided by Google. More details can be obtained here.

    If you think Sinhala language users deserve a better Google Translate, here is your chance to make the tool better. Contribute and help others to use Sinhala language online!

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    Glancing on the future of technology, two undergraduates from Faculty of Information Technology, University of Moratuwa has founded ‘SoftBeetles’. They are working with one of the prior startups guidance program in Sri Lanka, MIT Global Start-up Labs (GSL) 2014 powered by Massachusetts Institute of Technology in USA.

    SoftBeetles‘ has focused on an important problem which is periodically faced by university students to initiate their first product. Finding boarding places for first year students and other academic year students has grabbed their attention to find a stable solution. This can be introduced as one of the major issues which new comers face when they enter to universities. Most time before entering to universities, applicants try to find good boarding places but the issue is there is not a unique platform for providing such services. Even though there are some platforms which provides similar services, there is no unique, dedicated platform, providing what SoftBeetles are trying to introduce as their first product. Covering all existing solutions for this problem, they were able to showcase the product ‘boarding.lk’ during ‘Demo Day’ for MIT GSL 2014 on 30th July.

    The students who have initated with the help of mentors at MIT GSL are Hiruma Punsali and Sandarekha Ramanayake.
    boarding.lk has its own values. Ratings, recommendations, reviews of the boarding places from students and up-to-date information will be offered for students. This will be the first product of SoftBeetles and they hope to extend this idea for all over universities and other institutions as well.

    Hiruma and Sandarekha during mentorship Industry Day 2

    Hiruma and Sandarekha during mentorship Industry Day 2

    With more students joining with GSL programme to take entrepreneurship seriously, the goal of setting up 1000 startups (as targeted by SLASSCOM) by 2022 could well be a reality in Sri Lanka.

    Feature image photo credit – Hiruma Punsali

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    These days we do a lot more than making calls on our mobile handsets. Many spend much more time on internet browsing or instant messaging than using the device for calling someone. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t see any innovation on the voice call front; given the ultimate purpose of phones, is to call others. In the last few weeks Mobile HD Voice has been one of the much publicised topics in the country. As the name suggests, we are talking about high quality voice calls in mobile networks, with an improved user experience.

    A new innovation?

    HD Voice service was first introduced to Sri Lanka by Dialog, back in early 2012. Dialog was the 42nd operator, globally, to introduce the service to their customers. Last month Etisalat became the second operator in Sri Lanka (and 107th operator globally) to add this feature to their network offerings. So, clearly it is not entirely new to Sri Lanka.

    So what exactly does HD Voice mean? And how does it work?

    To start with, HD Voice is an umbrella term that refers  to the technologies that enhance the quality of an audio call (or even the ‘audio’ part of a video call). Yes, that means there are more than one technology used together or separately to achieve the ¨HD Voice functionality¨…or rather the improvement.

    HD Voice improves the quality of the voice call. It provides more natural sounding calls. HD Voice also helps people hear better in noisy environments by reducing the background noise, using noise cancelling techniques. Which means, with HD Voice, your caller’s voice will sound less robotic and you will be able to differentiate between ‘s’ and ‘f’ easily. Overall HD Voice improves the user experience. This is not something new. VoIP services like Skype has been using such feature for a long time and probably you have used it too, but we are talking about bringing the feature to mainstream mobile voice communication.

    The technology behind HD Voice

    There are three mechanisms that are widely used to achieve the HD Voice functionality.

    Frequency Range: Narrowband vs Wideband. (Image Source: road2it)

    Frequency Range: Narrowband vs Wideband. (Image Source: road2it)

    First, doubling the audio bandwidth. Instead of limiting a voice call to the current narrow-band frequency range of 300 Hz and 3.4 KHz, HD Voice makes use of Wideband audio technology that transmits at the range of 50 Hz to 7 KHz. To achieve this, operators use an audio codec called Adaptive Multi-Rate Wideband (AMR-WB), which doubles the audio bandwidth compared to traditional  telephony. In ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T) terms AMR-WB is codified as G.722.2 codec.

    Secondly, improved acoustic design. This is more or less something that the device manufacturers need to focus on. Since HD Voice utilizes greater bandwidth with the help of AMR-WB codec, the devices too need to be designed in a way to utilize the greater bandwidth offered to them. Here’s where acoustic design comes into play. Components like the microphone and speaker need to be of good quality and they need to be well integrated to the device, in such a way to optimize the HD voice features.

    Thirdly, redesigned signal processing algorithms. Processing of the audio (in the background ) is an essential part of the whole process. The algorithms that handle this part, are capable of handling higher ‘sampling rate’ compared to regular voice calls. Regular voice calls take 8000 audio samples per second (8 KHz) to process the call. In HD Voice it is doubled to 16000 audio samples per second (16 KHz). Hence, users will be able to hear ‘more details’ from a person’s voice. Another algorithm used in this process is a noise suppressor. This helps in reducing the background noise while a person is using HD Voice.

    Global availability

    According to the latest report published by Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) on 2nd June 2014, 109 mobile operators across 73 countries around the world have launched the HD Voice service for public. And Sri Lanka is one of the 22 countries which has more than one operator offering the service.

    HD Voice: Global Availability. (Image Courtesy: Global Mobile Suppliers Association)

    HD Voice: Global Availability.
    (Image Courtesy: Global Mobile Suppliers Association)

    As I mentioned before, Dialog (the largest mobile service provider in Sri Lanka) introduced the service on their 3G/HSPA network back in February, 2012. Etisalat joined the club last month (May 2014) by upgrading their 3G/HSPA framework with this capability. On GSM/HSPA platforms, all it takes the operator is to upgrade their existing network infrastructure(i.e no need to add new base station components), in order to offer HD Voice service. Since HD Voice feature is an upgrade to the operators existing infrastructure, they will not be charging you extra for the service. You will be charged the regular rates when you make a call, while the call quality gets better. Sounds cool, right? Well, read further!

    Requirements to experience HD Voice

    That brings us to the important part. As an end user (customer/ subscriber) what does it take you to experience mobile HD? Well there are few requirements.

    1- Your phone and the phone on the other end need to be HD Voice compatible.

    Imagine this like calling someone on Skype. Just like you both need to have Skype installed on your devices to make the video call, both devices need to be ‘HD Voice compatible’ to use the HD Voice service offered by your mobile service provider.
    According to GSA report of March, 2014, there are at-least 329 mobile phones from 19 manufacturers that support HD Voice (AMR-WB, currently available. Most of the new devices introduced daily, are compatible with the feature. You can have a look at the device list here.

    Does my phone needs to be a smartphone?

    Not really. AMR Wideband was first developed by Nokia. HD Voice technology was first implemented in 2009, when the number of smartphones were limited. And Nokia was one of the first manufacturer to integrate the technology in their handsets including the ones that ran S40 and Symbian S60 OS. Hence, your device does not need to fit into ‘smartphone’ category to experience HD voice. But it should be compatible with AMR-WB. Most new devices released these days support it. (So, in my opinion, ‘lack of smartphones in the market’ is not the only reason for ‘less public awareness’ about the service, over the years). Given many phones don’t come with extensive user manuals these days, you can simply Google the model name or refer to this list provided by GSA to check the availability of AMR-WB on your device.

    2- Both devices need to be connected to HD capable base station

    Both the caller and receiver need to be connected to the HD Voice capable base station of their respective network. In Sri Lanka’s case it should be 3G/HSPA stations of Dialog and Etisalat since both networks support HD Voice over 3G/HSPA network. (Instead of GSM(2G) or LTE).

    Does that mean you need to be connected HSPA (Data)?

    No. Actually some media outlets have reported that you have to be connected to 3G (as in data) to experience this. Even Etisalat’s media report claims you need to be ‘connected to 3G’ – but what they actually mean is that you need to be connected to a 3G capable  base station.

    This should not be confused with VoLTE or Voice over LTE which puts voice and data in a single radio layer. Here calls are carried over IP technology (same as data) instead of circuit switched path (regular calls) used in HSPA networks like Dialog or Etisalat. VoLTE supporting networks are currently limited  to 8 worldwide, and VoLTE supporting device are limited too. LTE offered by Sri Lankan networks is limited to data only at the moment. (i.e – you can’t make voice calls when your network mode is set to ‘LTE Only’ on Dialog or Mobitel)

    Again, just because your carrier supports HD voice does not mean they support it all around the country. Reason is, there are places that have only GSM(2G) base stations instead of HSPA ones. So if your device is connected to a 3G base station and your friend’s is not, even though you both have compatible devices, then you will not be able to experience it.

    Interoperability: Another less publicised, but very important requirement for HD Voice is that when the call involves two different networks, they both need to be using HD Voice on compatible network modes in-order for HD Voice to work. (Wait, what?) Yes, that is because HD Voice technology is not inter-operable at the moment. At the time of writing, as I mentioned above, both Etisalat and Dialog support HD voice on their HSPA network. But, I have not got enough data that confirms that both networks are compatible with each other. Which means there is a chance that caller and receiver need to be on the same network to experience the feature. The problem widely exists in the US since different networks support HD Voice in different modes like GSM, CDMA and LTE. And not many devices are compatible with all these modes. Now, you know why HD Voice has not got great public attention over the years. That is because not many people have been able to experience it even though they have a compatible phone and they are on a compatible network.

    Growth of HD Voice (Image Courtesy: Global Mobile Suppliers Association)

    Growth of HD Voice
    (Image Courtesy: Global Mobile Suppliers Association)

    So that brings us to the important question…is HD Voice another gimmick?

    I will safely say it is not. It has been practically proved that HD Voice improves user experience by increasing call quality and reducing background noises. (Simply do a YouTube search to check some demos). In my opinion it should be supported by default on all handsets and all networks should adopt to it. What is keeping us behind is the compatibility issues, which is a shame.

    What does the future hold?

    Sri Lanka has been one of the first countries to bring latest mobile innovations to public, thanks to our wonderful service providers (yes, seriously). We are one of the first to have LTE in the region. VoLTE or Voice over LTE is seen as the next big trend in voice communications. GSA says that Sri Lanka is actually testing this service. I foresee a future where major networks in Sri Lanka adopt to VoLTE that provides seamless connectivity and HD Voice on the same platform without any hassle. It is always good to be optimistic!

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      Let’s be honest. We all love software updates on our smart devices. Be it Android, iOS or Windows Phone, we all love to run the latest OS version. It is surprising because, not so long ago when we were all using feature phones made by Nokia or Sony Ericsson (now Sony), we never bothered about any such OS updates. But the smartphone era has changed the way we see our handsets. We do a lot more than making a call or sending a text message on a smartphone.

      iOS distribution across devices

      iOS distribution across devices
      (source: https://developer.apple.com)

      OS features define which platform we choose. And new updates to the system software means new and improved features. But getting updated to the latest OS on your device is not fun always. Especially if you are on Android. Take for example Android 4.4 KitKat, the latest version of Android which debuted at the end of October 2013. As of May 2014, only around 8.5% of Android devices run KitKat (4.4.x). On the other hand, iOS 7, the latest version of Apple’s iOS, which saw public release in mid September, 2013, runs on at least 88% of iOS devices(7.x.x).

      Yes, Apple does have an advantage since they build their own hardware and software. On the other hand there are a number of manufacturers (or OEMs – Original Equipment Manufacturers) with 100s of Android devices under their brand name with varying hardware specifications. And providing the latest software to all those devices is harder than you might think. But lets focus on high end devices or flagships. You spend a good amount of money. But there are times you have to wait for months to receive your updates from the date Google announces a new version of Android. So why does this happen? Why does it take so long for your OEMs to provide software updates? Few months ago both Sony and HTC tried to shed some light into what actually goes behind the whole process. I’ll try to present a breakdown based on these reports:

      Android platform distribution across devices

      Android platform distribution across devices
      (source: http://developer.android.com/)

      Before we get into the process, note that android devices can be categorized into 4 main categories.

      1- Carrier Devices - Devices that are released for/by a particular carrier (like the Dialog branded devices in Sri Lanka). These devices are locked to the network, most of the time. They may be sold on a contract at subsidized prices. And the updates are pushed by the carriers with support from OEMs. (This category is not seen in our local market. Even Dialog’s self branded devices are not latest flagships)

      2- Unlocked Devices – the regular devices you get in the market. Sold by country dealers or distributors for the manufacturers. The OEMs are responsible for updating these devices.

      3- Nexus Devices – Sold directly by Google via Google Play (There were times before Google Play, when manufacturers sold it. Still some do in countries where Google Play is not present). Updates are pushed directly by Google. Updates usually arrive as soon as a new Android version is announced.

      4- Google Play Edition Devices – Once again, sold by Google via Google Play, These devices are based on manufacturer models (i.e flagships) except they run mostly pure Android. Updates are mainly pushed by Google, with help from the OEMs.

      Now to the process. Carrier edition devices go through a complex process to get updates. We are not going to talk much about them since they are not much relevant here. Also the carrier branded ones are locked to that particular network, so you can’t use them in a different country.

      The regular unlocked devices have the largest market here. Nexus devices too are catching up locally, as of late. Even though Google Play edition devices are not widely available, that does not mean they cannot be used here. They are basically unlocked flagships with a nexus feel.

      The update process can be divided into 5 phases.

      Phase 0 – Evaluation

      This is when Google releases the Platform Development Kit (PDK) to the OEMs or hardware partners. The PDK is usually released at least 2 months before a major android version is announced, enabling hardware manufacturers to come up with innovative ideas for their devices. This also means the hardware partners will actually know what’s in store for the next big OS release. And some time after (around two months) the PDK is released, Google announces the newest version of Android. Major android versions are usually released along with new Nexus hardware (smartphone/tablets). And Google also announces update to existing Nexus devices. This updates starts rolling out (via OTA) globally within few days of the announcement. This actually completes the update process for Nexus devices, which is pretty fast.

      Once the OS is announced, Google provides source codes to the OEMs and the chipset manufacturers (like Qualcomm). The OEM will evaluate the source code to see the requirements. The chipset manufacturer plays an important role here. they will evaluate and decide whether to support the newest version on their chipsets and if so which models will actually support. (In the case of Nexus devices, these are done in-house at Google before announcing the updates). The chipset manufacturer may take their time delaying the process.

      Phase 1 – Development.

      At the early stages of this phase the chipset manufacturer will announce (to the OEMs) which of their chipsets will support the new OS. If any of their chipsets are excluded from this support, then whichever the device that is powered by that chipset, will be excluded from the update. If the chipset manufacturer decides to support the OS, they will go ahead and release the necessary drivers along with optimizations. And the chipset manufacturer will release what is known as a Modified Board Support Package (MSP) to the OEM.

      Much of the work required to update the Google Play Edition devices ends here. Since they essentially run an unadulterated version of Android, the process is shorter, and goes directly to Phase 3.

      Phase 2 – Integration

      This phase involves the regular devices and the ones specially designed/modified for carriers. It is in this step that the OEMs decide whether to support  the new OS and if so on which devices. They also release a maintenance release (MR) and assign teams to work on integrating the OS with their own custom UI skins (i.e Sense by HTC, TouchWiz by Samsung). This is an important step since this defines how the OS will look and function on the device. If the OEM decides to exclude support for certain models, those devices will not get any update. They do it for various reasons, including that – continuous updates to older devices has a chance of affecting sales of newer models. It is also in his phase that OEM works with carriers to add any modifications to the OS to support carrier exclusive features (read: bloatware).

      Phase 3 – Testing/ Certification

      During this phase all versions of devices (including GPE) go through internal testing. If any issues or critical bugs are found, a newer version is created and tested again. Once done,more testing and certifications are done by Google and other players like regulators. If this process is a success, then Google issues a Technical Acceptance (TA). For carrier versions, a TA is issued by the carrier too.

      Phase 4 – Push to end users

      And now it is time to roll out the update! Updates are mostly done as OTA (Over The Air) and carrier updates are handled by carriers along with OEM. OEMs handle the updates for the regular devices while Google come into play when GPE devices are updated.

      So, now you get an idea as to how the update process works in the background. It is obvious such a lengthy process requires time, since it involves multiple parties. And there is no surprise that the OEMs take a long time to release updates. Sometimes Google might actually release another version of android by the time this process comes to an end. All hail Nexus!

      Check out the detailed infographic by HTC, describing the process, here.

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      The World Conference on Youth 2014 was held in Colombo last week where youth representatives and various stakeholders including government officials gathered from nearly 160 countries to discuss the issues of the youth community. The theme of the conference was based on developing the post 2015 agenda on youth development and various aspects related to youth development were discussed. These findings of the conference were documented in the Colombo Declaration which would become a primary input for United Nation in coming up with post 2015 youth development strategies. The conference emphasised on the importance of Information Technology (IT) in youth development and some of the highlights are discussed below.

      The Secretary to Sri Lanka’s President Mr. Lalith Weeratunga addressed the main plenary session on Mainstreaming Youth in the Post-2015 Development Agenda and highlighted the importance of Information Communication Technology (ICT) in youth development. He said “Throughout the years, ICTs has not had a more robust and loyal champion than the youth. They have effectively exploited ICTs to dictate the trends in a major growth industry, and fostered it to generate youth entrepreneurship as a solution for youth unemployment. Be that as it may, these are not advantages that youth all over the world enjoy. For those in developing countries in particular, ICT access comes at an unaffordable cost.”  The main argument put forward was the making ICT affordable for all youth as a mean to empower them in the development process. Mr. Weeratunga further stated that there is a powerful potential for ICTs to cut across many recommendations to strengthen their outcomes. However, it was also presented that the governments must go beyond simply enhancing access and become actively involved in training and creating programmes aimed towards the empowerment of young people.  In commenting on the IT and job opportunities, Mr. Weeratunga said that becoming ICT-savvy does not only open doors for job opportunities, but also motivates and enables young people to learn about their communities and become active in the local development process.

      Secretary to the President of Sri Lanka Mr. Lalith Weeratunga is seen speaking at the plenary session on “Mainstreaming Youth in the Post-2015 Development Agenda: What We Want” at the World Conference on Youth 2014.

      Secretary to the President of Sri Lanka Mr. Lalith Weeratunga is seen speaking at the plenary session on “Mainstreaming Youth in the Post-2015 Development Agenda: What We Want” at the World Conference on Youth 2014.
      (Photo credits : Official Photographer)

      The round table session on Poverty Eradication and Food Security discussed the importance of technology in achieving this aim. Mr. Anushka Wijesinha from the Institute of Policy Studies highlighted the ability to use technology to eradicate poverty. He noticed that youth participation in the agriculture industry has been dropping over time. However, citing an example from the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka, he stated that the youth who are already engaged in the agriculture industry use mobile phone applications to support trading. Further, he also commented on the use of social media at the global scale in order to support the agriculture industry while concluding that technology is a great method to eradicate poverty and address food security.

      A section of the audience at the plenary session on “Mainstreaming Youth in the Post-2015 Development Agenda: What We Want” at the World Conference on Youth 2014.

      A section of the audience at the plenary session on “Mainstreaming Youth in the Post-2015 Development Agenda: What We Want” at the World Conference on Youth 2014.
      (Photo credits : Official Photographer)

      The outcome of the conference was the Colombo Declaration which included 97 recommendations for youth development. Among many recommendations that are related to IT/ICT, following recommendations are identified as prominent and expected to be implemented at a global scale:

      • Encourage the use of Information and Communication Technology in education the establishment of inter- and intra-regional youth innovation and technology centers, as a means of disseminating knowledge, skills development, innovation and connectivity, thereby enhancing infrastructure in these areas.
      • Increase recognition of non-formal education and vocational education, including volunteer schemes and Information and Communication Technology models and apprenticeships, as an effective means of empowerment and skills transfer.
      A section of the audience at the plenary session on “Mainstreaming Youth in the Post-2015 Development Agenda: What We Want” at the World Conference on Youth 2014.

      A section of the audience at the plenary session on “Mainstreaming Youth in the Post-2015 Development Agenda: What We Want” at the World Conference on Youth 2014.
      (Photo credits : Official Photographer)

      It is interesting to notice that IT/ICT being given the due importance in the post 2015 development of youth. According to Mr. Ahmad Alhendawi, the U.N. Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth, this was not the beginning or the end but an opportunity to cater to the issues brought forward for the benefit of the youth of the world. Hence, we can expect more and more development in IT/ICT fields in terms of supporting youth development which is crucial for the betterment of the society.

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      A look back at the digital journey of Starbucks as mobile payments makes its headway.

      Starbucks is undoubtedly at the forefront in terms of technological advancement. The company’s mobile payment system is considered as one of the most successful solutions offered by a retail chain in the world. Mobile and gift card payments now account for over 30% of total U.S. payments for Starbucks. Nearly 10 Million customers now pay through the mobile app of Starbucks which brings in about 5 Million transactions a week. In 2012, purchases through Starbucks’ mobile app were $250 Million and recent studies revealed that it reached $1 Billion range last year.

      February 2008 was a significant landmark for the global coffee chain. Starbucks closed all its stores in United States to train their staff after identifying many weaknesses. It was a very tough decision for then CEO Howard Schultz who made a comeback to take active control of the company he built from scratch. It was with great patience that Schultz progressed with the initiative of rebuilding the core values of Starbucks. Though the decision was heavily criticized by Wall Street media, focus on enhancing customer experience has brought tremendous success.

      In this success journey, improvements to the digital experience has been pivotal for the Seattle based company. The stepping stone for the digital journey was the launch of “My Starbucks Reward” program in 2009. A closed loop mobile app was launched in 2011 as an initial effort with the basic functionality of making payments by redeeming the reward points with the Smartphone. This was facilitated through a barcode mechanism linked to the Starbucks card account. Since then, many services were introduced around the rewards platform which uplifted the customer experience.

      In this success journey, improvements to the digital experience has been pivotal for the Seattle based company.

      As Starbucks felt responding to the changes in the external tech environment is vital for the continued success, a new role of Chief Digital Officer was created in 2012. This move gave Starbucks a great opportunity to work on digital developments continuously. Starbucks soon identified the increasing use of mobile wallet based solutions among its customers. In order to facilitate mobile based credit and debit card payments, Starbucks entered into a partnership with digital payment startup Square Inc in 2012. Square is a simple digital wallet solution which was Co-founded by Jack Dorsey who also Co-founded Twitter. The partnership came in the form of a funding of $25 Million by Starbucks which made CEO Schultz a board member of Square. Proving the predictions of Schultz right, the Square wallet has complemented the usage of existing Starbucks payment systems. However, Schultz left Square’s board late 2013 and was replaced by a former Goldman Sachs Chief Financial Officer.

      Starbucks-iPhone-app-teaser-004

      Over the years, Starbucks has created what Schultz call as a “3rd place” between home and work place for its customers. This symbolizes that customer retention has been considered as a top priority. Similar to customer retention, creating stickiness in a mobile payment service is a big challenge for many solution providers across the world. This is where Starbucks has taken an edge over most of its peers.

      Another wise move of Starbucks was that they were prepared to cater to both traditional customers who prefer card based reward redemptions and tech savvy mobile users.

      Enabling mobile payment stickiness demands high level of effort from the company to create constant interaction with its users. The distinctiveness of Starbucks solution is that it has used the reward platform, social media, in store experience to complement the payment mechanism. The reward program is a big draw and the mobile app has brought in a gaming experience to it. Each time a customer grab a grande they earn a digital star. Five stars get them to the green level, which is good for free refills and coupons. When they have collected 30 stars they become eligible for a free drink for every 12 and more bonus offers.

      Another wise move of Starbucks was that they were prepared to cater to both traditional customers who prefer card based reward redemptions and tech savvy mobile users. The creation of proprietary world class digital mobile payment and card technology today has placed Starbucks in a strong position. There are more than 7 Million active Starbucks reward cards in the U.S. The company launched the cards in China early this year and reported that the card has been well received.

      Thriving on these innovations, the latest addition was the “Digital Tipping” feature on its mobile app for Apple users. This service was launched in March this year for its customers in US, UK and Canada. Customers using the app have the option to leave a tip for the baristas through their mobile at more than 7,000 stores. Starbucks reports that this feature would further expand the digital experience of customers and stimulate mobile usage for transactions which is currently at 11%.

      Starbucks reports that it has lot more in their pipeline in terms of technological application to enhance customer experience. These services are also supported by its existing initiatives such as augmented reality app, wireless charging at the outlets and “Tweet a Coffee” campaigns. Managing these initiatives while serving 60 Million customers a week through nearly 20,000 stores across the world is a challenging task. The case of Starbucks is a great example to symbolize how mobile payments can attract customer interest and improve stickiness when offered in connection with related other facilities.

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        BestWeb.lk 2014 a unique, innovative competition organized by the LK Domain Registry will be held for the fifth time this year. This web-based competition recognizes high-quality Sri Lankan websites in a number of different categories. It is aimed at encouraging site owners and developers to improve the quality of their sites.

        Entries for the competition opened on 5th May with judging scheduled to take place in July. The awards ceremony will be in early August. Sites will be judged on both creativity and technical achievement. The Panel of Judges comprises industry experts in their respective fields with broad web expertise and ability to spot excellence. The public too can contribute by voting for their favourite site.

        Jiffry Zulfer, Chief Technology Officer of Anything.lk says that “Participating and winning in the Bestweb.lk competition was an important milestone in the growth of our company”. Rosheeni Madanayake Wijesekera, Vice President Group Corporate Communications of DFCC Bank says that “We look forward every year to the Bestweb.lk competition. It’s a healthy competition which compels participants to strive towards presenting innovative, user-friendly web solutions”.

        This year competitors can compete under nine(9) categories:  Government, Nonprofit, Commercial, E-Commerce, Corporate-Banking & Finance, Advertising & Marketing, Media, Sports & Entertainment, Travel & Tourism.  In addition to these, a number of special awards will be presented. More details can be found online at www.bestweb.lk.