April 1, 2009

GoodVision: Powering corporate social responsibility

This post is condensed from an April 2008 dispatch from Israel on Socialmedia.biz.

Group shot

JD LasicaWe had a fascinating conversation over a lunch of yummy falafels at GoodVision, an Israeli consulting company that specializes in planning and managing corporate social responsibility processes in firms and governmental agencies. General manager Ivri Verbin took us through the site’s mission and mentioned these sites, which also support community efforts:

  • The Corporate Social Responsibility Newswire, a good U.S.-based resource for news about the space.
  • Global-demos.org, which describes itself as “a transnational civil society platform. It pools the globally dispersed and fragmented knowledge on the social and environmental performance of corporations. It empowers citizens, unites civil society and democratically embeds global business practices.”
  • Koldor.org, the first Jewish global platform of young leadership. established seven years ago by professionals around the world.

But the highlight came when six young people trooped into the room. Ariel Markhovski, Moran Haliba, Polina Garaev, Yael Rozanes and Gregory Karp were brought in to discuss perceptions of Israel around the world, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other high-minded issues. (Two of the young women wore their Army uniforms.) Their view of the prospects for peace ranged  from skepticism to hope. “I think when our own children grow up, then there will be a chance for peace,” said one.

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March 31, 2009

WordPress and TypePad compared

Both services are versatile, but WP has pulled ahead

Matt Mullenweg, CC photo by Robert Scoble

Matt Mullenweg, CC photo by Robert Scoble

JD LasicaPeople still ask us all the time which blogging platform they should use. (Micro-answer: It depends on what’s important to you.) During the first few months of 2009, we decided to launch two new ventures — Socialmedia.biz and Socialbrite.org — on WordPress.org platform. Let me explain why.

I’ve been blogging since May 2001, first at Dave Winer’s Manila platform and since 2003 on Six Apart’s TypePad. I was content for a long while, but over the past couple of years a revolution was brewing at WordPress — and finally reached the point where I could no longer ignore its pull. In WordPress.org, Matt Mullenweg (pictured above) offered a free, open source platform that thousands of developers were coding for. (We opted for self-hosting rather than the hosted wordpress.com version.) Somewhere between 2007 and 2008, WP became not only comparable to TypePad, but better. Not because of Matt’s coding prowess, but because of the power of crowdsourced development. I now find myself attending WordPress Camps, alongside BarCamps, Social Media Camps and other open media efforts born of my involvement with Ourmedia.org.

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March 24, 2009

Social mobile: A moral duty to do more?

kiwanjaIs the future of social mobile an empowered few, or an empowered many? Mobile tools in the hands of the masses presents great opportunity for NGO-led social change, but is that the future we’re creating?

In The White Man’s Burden – Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good,” William Easterly’s frustration at large-scale, top-down, bureaucracy-ridden development projects runs to an impressive 384 pages. While Easterly dedicates most of his book to markets, economics and the mechanics of international development itself, he talks little of information and communication technology (ICT). The index carries no reference to ‘computers,’ ‘ICT’ or even plain old ‘technology.’

But there is an entry for ‘cell phones.’

smallbeautifulE. F. Schumacher, a fellow economist and the man widely recognized as the father of the appropriate technology movement, spent a little more time in his books studying technology issues. His seminal 1973 book – Small is Beautiful – The Study of Economics as if People Mattered” – reacted to the imposition of alien development concepts on Third World countries, and he warned early of the dangers and difficulties of advocating the same technological practices in entirely different societies and environments. Although his earlier work focused more on agri-technology and large-scale infrastructure projects (dam building was a favorite ‘intervention’ at the time), his theories could easily have been applied to ICTs – as they were in later years.

Things have come a long way since 1973. For a start, many of us now have mobile phones, the most rapidly adopted technology in history. In what amounts to little more than the blink of an eye, mobiles have given us a glimpse of their potential to help us solve some of the most pressing problems of our time. As the evidence mounts, I have one question: If mobiles truly are as revolutionary and empowering as they appear to be – particularly in the lives of some of the poorest members of society – then do we have a moral duty, in the ICT for Development (ICT4D) community at least, to see that they fulfill that potential?

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March 4, 2009

Chipping away at the SMS literacy barrier

kiwanjaWith all the excitement surrounding Monday’s launch of FrontlineForms, we almost forgot the other improvements we’ve made to the FrontlineSMS software. As well as support for IntelliSMS – another Clickatell-style online aggregator – we finally got round to adding Unicode support which, to the non-technical, means you can now send and receive messages in foreign scripts, i.e. non-Latin or non-Roman character sets. Projects in India and the Middle East have been asking for this, and it’s exciting to see it finally delivered (thanks Alex!).

FrontlineSMS Arabic

Although there are still very real literacy issues for SMS-based social mobile projects, at least allowing messages to be sent and received in the local language – assuming handset support is available – removes at least one more barrier. We’re excited to see how much this ends up being used, and what further opportunities it opens up for FrontlineSMS users around the world.

March 2, 2009

FrontlineSMS: Data collection just got easier

kiwanjaIt’s been a hectic few months, but we’re finally there. Today we’re excited to announce the release of the new FrontlineForms, an SMS-driven data collection tool that seamlessly integrates into our existing and growing FrontlineSMS platform.

Sure, data collection tools already exist, but many require mobile internet access to function, degrees in Linux to get running, or PDAs or the kinds of phones that just aren’t available to the masses in most developing countries. FrontlineForms runs on most high- and low-end Java-enabled phones, can be downloaded directly onto a handset over-the-air, doesn’t require internet access beyond installation, and utilises the already-proven simple user interface of FrontlineSMS. In short, FrontlineForms compliments our existing focus on empowering the social mobile long tail with an entry-level, usable data collection tool.

According to my thinking, tools for the long tail need – among other things – to run on readily available hardware wherever possible, and be simple to install and easy to use. These innocent little criteria can create huge challenges, though. Writing an application which runs on all desktops (Windows, Mac and the various flavours of Linux), that interfaces locally with the widest range of phones and modems, and connects remotely with a data collection tool which runs on as many Java-enabled handsets as possible is a huge technical challenge. Many other mobile solutions concentrate on one desktop operating system, or a small family of mobile phones (sometimes just a single phone), which is all fine if you want to concentrate on users higher up the long tail. With our focus on grassroots NGOs, we don’t.

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