With 2G internet restrictions in place during a global Coronavirus crisis, this article discusses the greater value of independent collaborative initiatives like the COVID-19 Kashmir Tracker developed by young Kashmiri IT professionals Haider Ali, Mudasir Ali and Vikas Bukhari.
Three young Kashmiri developers and programmers have created a timely website, covidkashmir.org, to track the spread and containment of COVID-19 in Kashmir. Haider Ali, Mudasir Ali and Vikas Bukhari joined heads to take a prototype by Mudasir to the next level by launching a proper website that aggregates official reports on COVID-19 cases in Kashmir as they progress throughout the valley. The data is fed manually through a series of Google Spreadsheets into the website, particularly because of the sensitive nature of this information that could otherwise be automatically processed and aggregated. All the information about cases, their progress and fatalities is taken from verified press articles sourced from the public domain.
The foresight of these three developers is apparent, considering the fact that they have put the source code up on GitHub, the most popular platform for collaborative and community-based open source project development. In plain terms, people with enough IT experience can add, extend, contribute and debug the project and help it grow at an accelerated pace if the need arises. This is of crucial importance since there are multiple concurrent tracker websites of this source, also running from Open Source, and customized to particular places at a nation-wide and city-specific level. Programmers like Haider, Mudasir and Vikas can customize such code according to the needs and requirements that are particular to their area or region.
Currently, the project source code for the COVID-19 Kashmir Tracker is hosted on Haider Ali’s GitHub account, from where it can be cloned (or “forked” in Gitspeak) for local testing and development. The GitHub profile of the project also lists Sahil Langoo as the fourth member who has joined this young developer team (at the time of writing this article). The project source code has already been forked (cloned) for independent development a few times by other Kashmiri developers, who through the GitHub framework can take the original source code and add/update/modify/test/debug it accordingly without impacting the official version that is running on the covidkashmir.org web server.
The importance of these details is perhaps not apparent to many people and news outlets who might perceive this effort to be a simple website that works as a repository of timely information about COVID-19 cases in Kashmir as well as a directory of essential/verified information about the virus. Beyond this apparent fact, this project affirms the observation that whatever cutting edge and innovative work you think is being done in the most advanced societies of the world is also being done in Kashmir, by Kashmiris, and that too youngsters in their 20s and teens. Similarly, whatever set of great ideas are being explored in the most privileged and elite circles of the world beyond the Himalayas, are also being entertained and thoroughly evaluated in Kashmir by a variety of people.
Now, as far as the COVID-19 Tracker is concerned, its developers have strategically relied on Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) development platforms and frameworks to ensure that the project can be transferred countless times to anyone willing to contribute to its development and refinement via updates that they can openly share with its creators. Taking a look at the source code put on GitHub, the project has incredible potential to become more refined as the situation demands, in turn requiring countless hours of development work. Certain features already live on the COVID-19 Tracker are the standalone mobile/desktop app version that you can download from your web browser such that you can then click on the app’s icon on your desktop or on your phone’s home screen and interact directly with the data and information displayed on the covidkashmir.org website, live, in real time. This standalone app feature is based on the new Progressive Web App (PWA) functionality that allows you to view any specific website as if it were a mobile or desktop app. It really saves time since you don’t have to open a browser window and type in the covidkashmir.org web address—instead tapping on the web app icon on your mobile or desktop opens it instantly. The best part about the project is that it has been intelligently designed in view of limited internet speeds available to Kashmiris and is super lightweight in terms of load times and amount of data download/transfer. At Inverse, we’ve been testing out these same features in our bid to optimize our journal website to a 2G environment.
Looking at the source code of COVID-19 Kashmir Tracker on GitHub, another feature that might be under development are Push Notifications that automatically send you a notification once the data on the site has been updated. As such, if you install the web app from your browser on mobile (by clicking on Add to Homescreen) or simply allow the COVID-19 Tracker website to send notifications to your browser, you would get instant updates if that functionality is implemented. The guys on the other end of this ‘website’ might probably be thinking about incorporating this functionality since the GitHub code they’ve put online already shows files with basic initial code (and upon finishing the final draft of this article, within a 24 hour period from when it was written, the developers have effectively implemented push notifications on their COVID-19 Tracker, that can be received via web browser or the Progressive Web App that sits on your desktop and mobile home screen. Now every time the site is updated, those who have turned on notifications for the site from their browsers will get instant updates).
Click on the + button on the side of your browser’s address bar to install the standalone desktop app version of the COVID-19 Kashmir Tracker. On mobile, simply click on the “Add to Homescreen” button.
The standalone mobile/desktop app (PWA) version of Inverse Journal and the COVID-19 Kashmir Tracker in action on my laptop.
One your mobile browser, you will see the Add to Home Screen button to install the mobile standalone app.
Once you click on the Add to Home Screen button, a pop-up will ask you to confirm the installation.
The COVID-19 Kashmir (PWA) app securely installing on my mobile.
The greater story that emerges from this unique collaborative effort goes headfirst against the notion that the education system as well as the social environment of struggle and competition in Kashmir do not inculcate teamwork culture since many aspects of everyday life are individual-centric. Along with these young IT professionals, there are many other young creators and professionals who over the years have demonstrated in concrete terms the level of excellence that Kashmiris can achieve when they join heads, skill and talent to work together on specific projects. From young musicians, emerging artists, poets, writers, activists, volunteers to journalists, students, academics, medical professionals and a vast array of other professionals and youngsters in training, the capacity to solve problems in groups and communities has put forth the resourcefulness that Kashmiris are capable of exhibiting—regardless of the many challenges and hurdles that people in other societies elsewhere do not have to confront on a daily basis.
At the same time, there is a lack of understanding, and an internal condescension towards meta-commentators and meta-observers by certain few factions in Kashmiri society that are too hung up on a “cult of personality” notion of individuality (I have repeatedly had people in Srinagar ask me tze kaem banovukh amiuk maam?). Meta-commentators and meta-observers are those who observe any event, structure, process, paradigm or dynamic at play and then proceed to comment on it from a specific epistemological framework grounded in key knowledge to assess its impact and relevance, the way theorists and meta-theorists do. In contemporary Kashmir, we have quite a significant number of meta-observers and meta-commentators when it comes to the socio-political and (if we are lucky) even cultural aspects of society. Nonetheless, not too much is presented to readers about what the youth are doing and what specific value it has beyond the visibly apparent.
The press will report covidkashmir.org as a resourceful website, which it most certainly is, and beyond that there is no greater or in-depth engagement that can facilitate a more profound assessment and appreciation of the type of work that its creators have done—which by the way, involves hours and hours of coding, testing, debugging and collaborative interaction to bring forth the site that you as end users visit. Similarly, no commentary is available about the massive technical knowledge that young Kashmiri artists and musicians exhibit through their creative elaborations. At one point, we will have to ask ourselves whether we as a public are merely (passive) consumers or people who critically engage with what is placed before us to dig deeper for a more holistic understanding. The more pertinent question here is: at what level are we thinking, interacting and interpreting events, situations and conditions when we engage with what is presented before us by those who innovate and create?
Now, coming back to the COVID-19 Kashmir Tracker, which works as a website and as a standalone mobile and desktop Progressive Web Application, a closer inspection of what is under the hood reveals that the developers rely highly on Open Source technology and develop in frameworks that facilitate easier, scalable and seamless collaborative development. The same Tracker has become a familiar site all across the globe for a reason, yet the need of the hour is indigenous and resident developers who understand the particularities about a place like Kashmir to custom-tailor the Tracker to the challenges and obstacles that Kashmiris face currently while the pandemic progresses.
The three main developers for the project are relying on Python (a programming language that has become an enterprise standard) and Jinja2 as the template engine to generate the web pages for the COVID-19 Kashmir Tracker. More relevant is the fact that their covidkashmir.org website is lightweight in terms of data and space, with a first-time load of the site on your web browser requiring only 423 kilobytes of data to be downloaded as opposed to Inverse Journal’s homepage that takes 3 megabytes of data to download for the first time to engage with our content. Of course, once you have loaded our website for the first time, revisiting only requires a few kilobytes here and there and the site refreshes/reloads in a few seconds.
The importance of such detailed information is key to understanding what it means for a 2G user in Kashmir to visit covidkashmir.org and what it means for that same user to visit inversejounral.com. A first time load of covidkashmir.org with a total download of 423KB (at the time of writing this article) means that on an antiquated GPRS 2G connection that downloads 6.25 kilobyes (50kbps) per second, the site would take one minute to load the first time and then open instantly thereafter (since web browsers save web data and reload from cache upon revisit). Meanwhile, loading inversejournal.com under the same GPRS 2G connection would require 8 minutes to load on the first time and then only a few seconds when revisiting the site since that first-time load data has already been saved in your browser cache and history. For this specific reason, we have readjusted this journal’s site content using AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) and mobile users are served alternate content that is light-weight and meant specifically for 2G and mobile devices for much (much) faster loading.
You can access the AMP/mobile 2G-friendly version of our site by visiting https://www.inversejournal.com/amp or clicking on the “Inverse for 2G” link on the top and bottom menus of this website. Rest assured that 100% of our content is not optimized for mobile viewing since we embed a lot of high-end media such as videos and visually rendered links from other sites using oEmbed and iframes that do not render correctly in AMP without detailed customizations and webpage re-adjustments that would take me weeks, if not months, to implement. Nonetheless, the main content, such a text and images, are optimized for mobile viewing such that the AMP/2G friendly version of Inverse Journal’s homepage only takes 578 kilobytes of data to load for the first time, which on a barebones/low-end 2G connection would take 57 seconds to 1.5 minutes to load for the first time, and only a few seconds thereafter.
Now, in the case that Kashmiri internet users are lucky to connect via a 2G connection based on the EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution) network, download speeds reach a maximum of 384 kilobits per second, which is 48 kilobytes per second, making the non-2G optimized Inverse Journal homepage load in 12 seconds, while the covidkashmir.org tracker site would load in 8.8 seconds. Additionally, under such optimal 2G E conditions of connection, the regular Inverse Journal site homepage would load in 62.5 seconds, which is why I’ve been working around the clock to make sure that the https://www.inversejournal.com/amp URL is there to allow Kashmiri visitors to engage with our content in a 2G environment.
Considering that the GPRS 2G connection framework was launched in 1995 in India, with Airtel scheduling phasing it out last year to now re-scheduling its disappearance to mid-2020, it is astonishing for Kashmiri IT professionals to have to think that in this era of IoT (Internet of Things), we have to work with network speed limitations that set us (along with our Kashmiri visitors) some 25 years back and that too at such a critical and vulnerable time. Given such absurd and outlandish restrictions, the COVID-19 Kashmir Tracker has stood out through the effective implementation by its developers to provide not only a site, but Progressive Web App that can be downloaded and installed as a standalone on any standard smartphone, laptop or desktop computer, making it accessible within one click or tap of its application icon. As for the many features that save visitors a considerable chunk of time, they are far too many to enumerate here and are best seen in action when visiting the covidkashmir.org website. Some of these are: a) a data dashboard that visually summarizes how the disease has spread by numbers and area, b) a list of on-call medical professionals and important phone numbers, c) a directory of home delivery services, d) data taken directly from the WHO page on the pandemic, e) a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) and certain myth busters about the disease, and lastly, f) government statistics.
This article was written without previously consulting with any of the developers of the COVID-19 Kashmir Tracker. All the information contained herein is based on in-depth research from all the media and material available through the site and the links that it provides for reference. Amendments of the good kind may be made to this article in case of any factual inconsistency. On a 4G connection, this article would load in 4.7 seconds, while its AMP mobile-optimized 2G version would load in 1.6 seconds (according to GTmetrix).