Offline Webpages

Cubans have adapted to the lack of telecommunications infrastructure by creating their own Internet, an offline Internet based on peer to peer information sharing. This offline sharing culture takes on the role of a wide variety of telecommunication services: (1) mobile, (2) television, and (3) fixed Internet.
For mobile services, offline sharing happens through the exchange of apps and information from phone to phone. For television or smart TV services, offline sharing works through El Paquete. Finally, Cubans have developed a wide variety of offline websites that do not require a fixed Internet connection to function, creating an offline sharing culture for the Internet itself. The focus of this article will be on the latter.
The main way of sharing these offline websites is through El Paquete. With one pen drive or terabyte storage unit, Cubans share information not through physical wires, but through their social networks of family, friends, acquaintances, and neighbors. In El Paquete, users can find folders with offline apps, movies, music, TV series, magazines and offline websites that don’t require actual connectivity. (Refer to the El Paquete page for more information.)
Revolico, an offline website accessible through El Paquete, also has an online version accessible from anywhere in the world, including the United States. Revolico is the Cuban equivalent of eBay or Craigslist, where users can post what they are selling and view what others are selling. Revolico’s interface is not as user-friendly as eBay or Craigslist, and does not offer the option of buying online, since credit card services are not yet available in Cuba. This offline website is adapted to the Cuban context and provides the necessary contact information to make in-person transactions possible, including names, phone numbers, and information about items for sale. Revolico is a functioning marketplace accessible not only through the Internet, which 75% of Cubans cannot access according to the government statistics, but also through the El Paquete sharing network.

Revolico Nav.png

Revolico online.png
Screenshot of Revolico's online website. Photo by Mariela Machado

Another example of how Cubans adapt websites to the lack of connectivity is the incredible ingenuity around Airbnb. Similar to Revolico, Cuba’s very limited Internet and complete absence of credit card services demand a solution A La Cubana for Airbnb. In order to solve connectivity issues, Cubans rely once again on their social networks to post and manage ads. One or two Airbnb managers in each town or neighborhood who usually have good Internet connectivity and are tech savvy are in charged of managing, updating, maintaining, and publishing apartments or houses for a small fee. At the same time, the problem of lacking digital payment options has been solved through a service only available in Cuba called Vacuba, which is unseen in the rest of the world. Vacuba manages the money deposited to each Cuban Airbnb host, and then goes door to door to deliver cash payments to the hosts each month. This is the only payment option for Airbnb hosts based in Cuba. Vacuba asks only for a name, address, and telephone number to use the service, thus making it easy and accessible for Cubans to become Airbnb host.
VISTAR is another good example of an offline version of an online web page. This magazine is similar to People Magazine in the U.S., focusing on Cuban celebrities and artists, while also providing information about the international celebrity and arts scene. As in the case of Revolico, this magazine reaches the vast majority of Cubans through El Paquete.
Given this Internet offline sharing culture, what can Cubans teach the rest of the world? Cubans can teach the world that the Internet is not the only medium of communication, and that there are other ways to share information by taking advantage of the social capital present throughout the world. Information and Communication Technologies include a wide variety of technologies that enable communication and information. Offline information sharing could play a key role in enabling a new form of communication. Additionally, ICTs not only increase the speed of connection and transfer of information, but they also open up a whole world of digital information that can be shared and transferred to improve quality of life. Cubans are redefining the meaning of sharing and can teach the rest of the world to adapt to lack of Internet infrastructure with resilience and innovation.

Written by: Mariela Machado Fantacchiotti
Edited by: Laura Lehman and Emily SylviaGraphic by: Tricia Johnson