February 2, 2009

Social mobile: Myths and misconceptions

kiwanjaA couple of weeks ago – in “The long tail revisited” – I briefly touched on the topic of “myths in the social mobile space.” It wasn’t the major focus of the post, but as is often the case it kicked off a completely separate discussion, one which took place largely off-blog in the Twitterverse and via email. I’ve been thinking more about it since, particularly as the social mobile space continues to hot up and people begin to face tools and projects off against one another – sometimes for the right reasons, more often for the wrong.

So, here’s my current “Top Ten” myths and misconceptions in this emerging field. Feel free to add, remove, agree, disagree, debate or dismiss. In no particular order …

1. “High-end is better than low-end”

Firstly, one mobile tool should never be described as being better than the other – it’s all about the context of the user. There is just as much a need for a $1 million server-based, high bandwidth mobile-web solution as there is for a low-cost, SMS-only PC-based tool. Both are valid. Solutions are needed all the way along the “long tail“, and users need a healthy applications ecosystem to dip into, whoever and wherever they may be. Generally speaking there is no such thing as a bad tool, just an inappropriate one.

Server Farm - via Flickr (Jemimus)

2. “Don’t bother if it doesn’t scale”

Just because a particular solution won’t ramp-up to run an international mobile campaign, or health care for an entire nation, does not make it irrelevant. Just as a long tail solution might likely never run a high-end project, expensive and technically complex solutions would likely fail to downscale enough to run a small rural communications network. Let’s not forget that a small deployment which helps just a dozen people is significant to those dozen people and their families.

3. “Centralised is better than distributed”

Not everything needs to run on a mega-server housed in the capital city, accessed through “the cloud.“ Okay, storing data and even running applications – remotely – might be wonderful technologically, but it’s not so great if you have a patchy internet connection, if one at all. For most users centralised means “remote”, distributed “local.”

4. “Big is beautiful”

Sadly there’s a general tendency to take a small-scale solution that works and then try to make a really big version of it. One large instance of a tool is not necessarily better that hundreds of smaller instances. If a small clinic finds a tool to help deliver health care more effectively to two hundred people, why not simply get the same tool into a thousand clinics? Scaling a tool changes its DNA, sometimes to such an extent that everything that was originally good about it is lost. Instead, replication is what’s needed.

Toolbox from Flickr (_sarchi)

5. “Tools are sold as seen”

I would argue that everything we see in the social mobile applications ecosystem today is “work in progress”, and it will likely remain that way for some time. The debate around the pros and cons of different tools needs to be a constructive one – based on a work in progress mentality – and one which positively feeds back into the development cycle.

6. “Collaborate or die”

Although collaboration is a wonderful concept, it doesn’t come without its challenges – politics, ego and vested interests among them. There are moves to make the social mobile space more collaborative, but this is easier said than done. 2009 will determine whether or not true non-competitive collaboration is possible, and between who. The more meaningful collaborations will be organic, based on needs out in the field, not those formed out of convenience.

7. “Appropriate technologies are poor people’s technologies”

A criticism often aimed more broadly at the appropriate technology movement, locally-powered, simple low-tech-based responses should not be regarded as second best to their fancier high-tech ‘Western’ cousins. A cheap, low-spec handset with five days standby time is far more appropriate than an iPhone if you don’t live anywhere near a mains outlet.

kiwanja Mobile Gallery

8. “No news is bad news”

For every headline-grabbing mobile project, there are hundreds – if not thousands – which never make the news. Progress and adoption of tools will be slow and gradual, and project case studies will bubble up to the surface over time. No single person in the mobile space has a handle on everything that’s going on out there.

9. “Over-promotion is just hype”

Mobile tools will only be adopted when users get to hear about them, understand them and are given easy access to them. One of the biggest challenges in the social mobile space is outreach and promotion, and we need to take advantage of every opportunity to get news on available solutions – and successful deployments – right down to the grassroots. It is our moral duty to do this, as it is to help with the adoption of those tools which clearly work and improve people’s lives.

10. “Competition is healthy”

In a commercial environment – yes – but saving or improving lives should never be competitive. If there’s one thing that mobile-for-development practitioners can learn from the wider development and ICT4D community, it’s this.

January 30, 2009

Mobile phones join the rural radio mix

pcworld

kiwanjaA little over a year ago I found myself sitting in the San Francisco offices of an international humanitarian NGO. Their main focus at the time was a major human-rights treaty, and they wanted advice about mobilizing rural communities to lobby their governments to ratify it. There was clearly great potential for a mobile phone-based solution, and they wanted me to help them understand how text messaging – and FrontlineSMS in particular – could be of use.

So, it came as something of a surprise when I recommended they look more closely at rural radio instead. Although I’m a great fan of mobile phone technology, it isn’t by default the best tool for reaching out to rural communities. Radio – far from being outdated and irrelevant – remains a powerful, relevant and far-reaching medium. Unrivalled, in fact.

Radio stations existed in Africa long before many of its countries reached independence. Over the last twenty to thirty years, however, liberation of the airwaves in many of these countries has opened the door to a new wave of broadcasters including commercial, private, community and public radio stations. This expansion has created some new and exciting opportunities.”

kiwanja’s latest PC World article looks at the potential of mobile phones and rural radio stations to jointly deliver relevant, timely and useful information to rural populations in developing countries, and allow listeners to engage with radio programmes in a new way. Projects highlighted include initiatives in Africa by Farm Radio International and Developing Radio Partners.

Head on over to the PC World website for the full article.

This post originally appeared at Kiwanja.net.

January 2, 2009

A new service for cause organizations

JD LasicaMy longtime friend Tom Watson, author of CauseWired, launched a new venture on Thursday: CauseWired Communications LLC.

I’ve long thought that there’s a market opportunity for consultancies and social enterprises to serve the needs of nonprofits and cause organizations that don’t have the financial or staffing resources to take advantage of the social Web.

Tom writes on Facebook:

Susan Carey Dempsey, my longtime partner in publishing onPhilanthropy.com, is joining me in launching the new firm, which will assist organizations and campaigns in creating inspiring messages for causes that change the world. …

What will CauseWired Communications do? Two things:

1. We will work with nonprofit organizations, foundations, companies and individuals on communications and development assignments – using story-telling, social networks, strategic planning, management and communications expertise to turn great programs into actionable causes.

2. We will publish onPhilanthropy.com, the global resource for philanthropy professionals, and run the annual Summit onPhilanthropy conference in New York each year.

I hope to collaborate on some projects with Tom and his partner Susan in the year ahead. Congrats on the launch, Tom!

December 16, 2008

Activism and the social enterprise

JD LasicaOne of the extraordinary things about the Bay Area is the relative ease with which you can bring a large number of bright, passionate, committed people under the same roof. When it’s a bar (and not just a barcamp but the real thing), so much the better.

And so it was earlier this evening when Sundeep Ahuja — a born connector and former marketing chief for Kiva who’s now on the executive team at RichRelevance.com — organized the second  awareness2action event at the Dragonbar in San Francisco’s North Beach. The event, attended by about 60 people involved with various social causes, featured an hour of socializing and an hour of panelists discussing social enterprises.

On the panel:

• Premal Shah, President of Kiva.org (here’s the video interview with Premal I published last week)

• Kevin Jones, Principal at Good Capital

• Steve Newcomb, serial entrepreneur & founder of Virgance.

No one videotaped the event, but here are a few snippets:

Continue reading

December 11, 2008

A guide to cause agents and change makers

JD LasicaTom Watson, one of the people who have made a difference in this space, has written a new book, CauseWired, and here’s a review I published to Amazon.com:

causewiredIn the past two years I’ve been more and more drawn to the world of social causes. (I’m the co-founder of Ourmedia.org and have participated in some Social Media Camps.)

But something was missing. I needed a roadmap. A guide to the world of using Web 2.0 to do good.

So it was serendipitous that Tom Watson came along with his timely, practical and clueful "CauseWired." (Disclaimer: I’m briefly quoted in it.) I just finished reading this 225-page pearl (the paperback) and now feel much more grounded in knowing the who, what and whys of social actions and philanthropy in the digital age. And, importantly, the "OK, what now?"

Continue reading

December 1, 2008

Podcasting, music and the law

Bad news for podcasters who want to abide by the law — it’ll cost you

Guest post by Matt May

ASCAP has updated its Internet licensing to reference podcasts — oh, excuse me, pod-casts. The move may have been intended to answer some questions as to the legality of using music in podcasts, but, as with the webcasting era, it left a lot of people scratching their heads. Is this all we need, just a $288 license to this agency, to be covered through the end of the year?

Well, there’s some bad news. The truth is that, no, that’s not everything. In fact, the landscape for music licensing is even more confusing than most people would imagine, and it at times consists of entities who may not even want to sell you a license. Here, I try to break them down. Know that I am not a lawyer, and as such am not going to know much more detail than is absolutely necessary.

Continue reading