By now, you may be tired of hearing about how important it is to think about “mobile.”
For one thing, it’s a huge topic. Do you need to think about mobile marketing? SMS fundraising? Responsive design vs. a dedicated mobile site?
The answer is, of course, “Yes.” But then you get into problems of time, scale, and cost, because really, mobile needs to be thought of holistically, not in some piecemeal, “Oh, the Red Cross raised a lot of money, so we should do a mobile fundraising campaign, too” kind of way.
Rethinking socially responsible design in a mobile world
Last Monday was an exciting day for us when we picked up the prestigious 2011 Curry Stone Design Prize for FrontlineSMS. The Curry Stone Design Prize was created to champion designers as a force for social change. Now in its fourth year, the Prize recognizes innovators who address critical issues involving clean air, food and water, shelter, health care, energy, education, social justice or peace.
This award follows closely on the heels of the 2011 Pizzigati Prize, an honourable mention at the Buckminster Fuller Challenge and our National Geographic “Explorer” Award last summer. It goes without saying these are exciting times not just for FrontlineSMS but for our growing user base and the rapidly expanding team behind it. When I think back to the roots of our work in the spring of 2005, FrontlineSMS almost comes across as “the little piece of software that dared to dream big.”
How socially responsible mobile technology is evolving
With the exception of the Pizzigati Prize – which specifically focuses on open source software for public good – our other recent awards are particularly revealing. Last summer we began something of a trend by being awarded things which weren’t traditionally won by socially focused mobile technology organizations.
Being named a 2010 National Geographic Emerging Explorer is a case in point, and last summer while I was in Washington DC collecting the prize I wrote down my thoughts in a blog post:
On reflection, it was a very bold move by the Selection Committee. Almost all of the other Emerging Explorers are either climbing, diving, scaling, digging or building, and what I do hardly fits into your typical adventurer job description. But in a way it does. As mobile technology continues its global advance, figuring out ways of applying the technology in socially and environmentally meaningful ways is a kind of 21st century exploring. The public reaction to the Award has been incredible, and once people see the connection they tend to think differently about tools like FrontlineSMS and their place in the world.
Perhaps the most anticipated keynote at last week’s Where 2.0 conference in California’s Silicon Valley came from D.J. Patil, the former chief scientist of LinkedIn who is now chief product officer of the hot Silicon Valley startup Color, which recently raked in $41 million in venture backing.
Patil gave a memorable presentation about how we’re connecting to each other in new ways using social tools. Toward the end of his talk he began pondering how we’re starting to see empathy turned into action through the power of proximity.
Color is one of the new breed of social media sharing apps that lets you share images, video and text with the public – and, this is key, not just your friends or social network but with everyone. Every photo or video you share in Color can be seen almost instantly by anyone nearby using the app, so if you’re at an event, your uploads become part of a greater visual story, with lots of points of view. (Here’s a quick video demo.) Color is like a Twitter for images.
We’ve known for some time that people are increasingly willing to share social objects online with family, friends and, increasingly, the public at large. (Thank you, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr.) And while the vast majority of this social sharing is done for entertainment purposes, and a small subset revolves around business or commerce, an even smaller centers on social good, causes and social justice.
You may have noticed the larger trend taking place in the social causes space over the past few years: People increasingly want to help a specific person, cause or project rather than a general cause or organization. So you see people loaning money to specific entrepreneurs on Kiva, donating to community projects on Jolkona, funding specific public classroom projects on DonorsChoose and helping out specific individuals or causes on give2gether.
Can physical location provide added context?
Until now, location hasn’t been a major part of this conversation. But perhaps that’s about to change.
In his presentation, Patil outlined a vision where physical proximity adds context to a location, leading to an increase in the level of trust and familiarity between participants, whether they’re neighbors, attendees at a wedding or eyewitnesses to an event.
“Technology should enable us to share each other’s experiences through each other’s eyes, helping us walk a mile in someone else’s shoes,” he said. “That leads to empathy, which in turns spurs people to take action. It changes the paradigm.”
I sat down with Patil after his talk for a quick interview. “As you’re able to follow someone’s stream or thread and really get a sense of what’s happening with the person,” he said, “suddenly you’re able to combine proximity with his or her well being. If this person isn’t feeling well, how do I move that empathy to compassion and action? Maybe it’s bringing the person a bowl of soup or checking in on them. It can come in all sorts of forms.”
Under the current models of online interaction, he said, “there’s no easy way right now for you to say, ‘This person needs my help.’ Or, ‘How do I assist you?’ We’re all dancing around that question.”
But a new generation of social tools may begin to change that. “You can meld all these elements by using social tools,” he said. “It starts with proximity data but it goes much further. You have to be in physical proximity with people to achieve that level of bonding. We’re focused on enabling and extending those kind of close, nearby, immediate relationships.”
GroupMe, Ditto, LocalMind & some other cool apps you may not have heard of
Icaught a fair chunk of the Where 2.0 conference yesterday in Santa Clara, Calif., plus part of Tuesday’s sessions. I think it’s fair to say this is the best annual gathering of thought leaders in the mobile space — people from the future who beam in to bring us up to speed on where this whole mobile revolution is taking us.
I got to spend some time with two of the rock stars of the mobile world: Di-Ann Eisnor, VP Community of the cool beat-traffic-jams app Waze, and DJ Patil (another initial guy), former chief scientist of LinkedIn and now chief product officer of the hot startup Color, which recently raked in $41 million in venture backing.
I’m always impressed by the visual eye candy at Where 2.0 and this gathering was no exception. Check out the 90-second clip above, Waze Presents: An LA Traffic Story (music), which visually represents a 24-hour time lapse of traffic congestion, accidents, police activity and more in Los Angeles, based on the automatic GPS tracking in the Waze app as well as reports by Waze members. Fun!
Some other highlights from Where 2.0
Alexa Andrzejewski of Foodspotting, Jyri Engestrom of Ditto, Di-Ann Eisnor of Waze.
I didn’t get to all the sessions I wanted to, but here are a few other highlights and takeaways:
• Good to meet the folks behind SeeClickFix, a site that lets people report community problems to local government, and one that I’ve admired for some time.
“We’re getting to the point (where) almost everything can have a unique identifier associated with it — things, people, even plants and animals. Then the whole conversation changes.”
— Jyri Engeström, Ditto
• My favorite new toy: the GroupMe app, a group messaging service for ad hoc groups of friends, family, co-workers, college buddies. Says co-founder Steve Martocci: “It’s like a it’s like a reply all chat room on your phone. … This is a very intimate tool that’ll buzz everyone’s pocket.” Yowza!
• 40 percent of ratings on Yelp is coming in through mobile devices. Yelp now has 50 million unique visits per month in eight countries.
• One out of every 10 Israelis (not just drivers) uses Waze.
• Localmind is a new service that allows you to send questions and receive answers about what is going on — right now — at places you care about. If it scales, this would be an awesome service.
• Loved this quote from Jyri Engeström of Ditto (just downloaded the app: “Looking to hang out? Find out what your friends are up to, have a conversation, or get a group together. Ditto makes it easy to get recommendations about restaurants, movies and things to do.”):
“A lot of the conversation that goes on at conferences like Where 2.0 is based on the assumption that we’re talking about places and buildings. But the resolution of social objects is getting higher and higher so we’re getting to the things scale and person scale, with almost everything being able to have a unique identifier associated with it — even plants and animals. Then the whole conversation changes.”
• Raffi Krikorian of Twitter: “People want to say ‘I’m in Vegas, baby!’ without giving away their exact location.” His hourlong talk about the different tiers of “local” was fascinating. I was also digging terms like “geohash.” And: “The holy grail of geo-location is to use some kind of GPS triangulation.” Follow him on Twitter at @raffi.
• Jack Abraham, Director of Local at eBay: “Any product that can be digitally distributed, will be.” He noted there were 465 million active IP addresses in 2009 and that number continues to balloon. Also: ecommerce still makes up only 5 percent of all commerce in the United States. Continue reading →
With the explosion of mobile giving in the wake of this year’s humanitarian relief efforts in Haiti and the Gulf Coast, nonprofits and social change organizations are now taking a new look at what mobile might be able to do for their own causes.
Nicola Wells, regional field director for the Center for Community Change’s Fair Immigration Reform Movement, offers nonprofits a half dozen tips about how to get started with mobile and create an effective mobile campaign, whether for fundraising, recruiting or other goals. The 11-minute interview was conducted just after we presented the Mobilize Your Cause bootcamp at City University of New York as part of Personal Democracy Forum.
The Fair Immigration Reform Movement is a national coalition of immigrants rights groups whose work in social media has three goals: to build a list of individuals who can be called upon when needed to press for immigration reform legislation; to communicate important news and information to those individuals as the campaign evolves, and to engage those supporters and build a relationship with them.
Nicola noted that immigrants and people of color tend to use mobile more than the general population, and a lot of FIRM’s supporters did not have computers and did not belong to Web-based communities like Care2 or Change.org. Thus, mobile was the perfect tool for keeping in touch with them.
Wading into the mobile space should not be done lightly, however. “It really takes a lot of staff time just to set up the mobile piece: to create the messaging, do the copy editing and to deal with the day-to-day functioning of the list,” she says.
When the mobile initiative got underway, the executive team had to make sure they had staffing in place and in alignment, including having a key manager of the social media team involved in the mobile campaign. Next, they dedicated to the team a tech expert who was familiar with mobile campaigns and brought in Mobile Commons — a text messaging platform for mobile marketing — to handle the back end.
They talked with partners before they began building the list so they could figure out the right positioning and managed to negotiate relationships to get their long-term buy-in, Nicola said. Finally, they began thinking deeply about the user experience, particularly:
calls to action, including urging them to attend rallies on behalf of the cause
alerts, so that when specific high-tension information came out, people would be in the loop
a feedback loop that gave members a sense of having access to the campaign
Key lessons learned along the way
Some key lessons they learned, Nicola said, were these:
You really have to put your short code and mobile information everywhere you put your url.
Person to person is the best way to sign people up, not through email.
Have people at your events walking through the crowd to recruit people for the mobile list. “Computers are not the best way to sign people up.”
Once you have a short code, try not to change it, because you’re building a brand around your code and number. For example, FIRM uses the short code JUSTICE (Justicia in Spanish) texted to 69866.
You really have to learn the art of communicating complex ideas in 160 characters. “Allow one or two people on your team to take ownership of that,” Nicola says. “I like to call them the gatekeepers.”