Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Cuba's intranet portal is now on the Web

Cuba should stick to things where they have a comparative advantage -- as the saying goes, "do what you do best and link to the rest."

A year ago, a team of students and employees at the University of Information Science (UCI) launched a digital portal designed to unify all services and applications available on the Cuban intranet. Doug Madory discovered that it is now available on the international Web at Redcuba.cu, so I took a look at it.

The front page of the Redcuba portal

As you see above, the portal links to various services -- Papeleta, a "billboard" to advertise cultural events, Reflejos, a blog hosting site, Ecured, Cuba's would-be version of Wikipedia, Andariego, a Cuban map site and Cubadebate, an extensive pro-government news site. There are also links to a selection of government, health and education-oriented material.

But the centerpiece is a search engine for the Cuban intranet, so I checked that out with a vanity search on my name "larry press." It returned seven hits, dated between 2003 and 2015. Two were copies of this article on different sites and one was to this article, but none of the others worked. Three were to a Reflejos blog that had been "archived or suspended" and one returned a database error.

Well, I am evidently not a rock star on the Cuban intranet, but my friend Jesús Martínez Alfonso, who led the team that first connected Cuba to the Internet, must be -- right? Wrong. Five of his eight links were to broken pages that seemed to be trying to list committee members for a session at the recent Informatica 2016 conference in Havana. One of the good links was to this article (in which I had also been mentioned), another to this article on the early Internet and a link to a link to the previous article.

You get the picture -- this search engine cannot be compared to a Web search engine in any way, but that is not surprising. China may be the only nation that can support a search engine in competition with giants like Google, Microsoft or Yahoo. The infrastructure to support such an effort is nearly unimaginable and there is no point in Cuba trying to build a search engine unless it is as a teaching exercise for students at UCI. Building a search engine rather than allowing Google or another service to index their material is goofy. (The same goes for Reflejos and Ecured).

I was not familiar with the Andariego map service, so I also checked it out. As you see below, it has a bug -- only displaying the southern half of the island when you zoom out:

Andariego, the map service

But, if you zoom in, the entire screen fills, as shown here in a search for Playa Giron:

Andariego map of Playa Giron

For comparison, I searched for Playa Giron using Google Maps and turned up this map:

Google map of Playa Giron

In this case, the Cuban map shows more detail than Google's. While they cannot hope to compete with Google search, Wikipedia or a blogging service like Blogger or Wordpress, Cuba is in a position to develop better maps of Cuba than Google.

Cuba should stick to things in which they have a comparative advantage. Content like Spanish language entertainment and educational material and applications in areas where they have special needs and knowledge like appropriate-technology medicine. As the saying goes, "do what you do best and link to the rest."

Update 8/11/2016

Cuba has unblocked access to the Revolico classified ad site in parts of their domestic intranet. Does that reflect a policy change? I wonder who made the decision and why they did it. I also wonder why it remains blocked in other internal networks. Uncoordinated bureaucrats?

Update 7/2/2018

The original post announcing this portal has been deleted from the UCI Web site, but you can still see it at the Internet Archive. The portal has been redesigned and new links have been added since it was created.

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