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L324 - Session 2

Page history last edited by Kathryn Peters 14 years, 2 months ago

Session notes


Session Title: Cell Phone Applications and Development in Africa


Discussion Leaders:

  • Naima Green 



Ushahidi 101: crowdsourcing crisis response
    Kenyan election violence updates
    Haiti crisis management
Frontline SMS: allows any one person to manage mass text messages worldwide
    Used to poll people
    Used to broadcast information
    State dept lead-up to Obama speech in Nairobi to take in questions, take polls, send excerpts of speech (using a similar service).
        (17,000 responses!) (similar online outreach in South Africa, though, 250,000 responses)
        Huge variation in usage of internet/twitter/cell phones - no one has clear numbers
The point: mobile phone penetration is significantly higher than internet technologies.

Tristan: The major problem is bandwidth. Small Bean is a three-person 501(c)(3) based in Boston with two people on the ground in Tanzania, so we're on the front lines with all of this. We are looking for volunteers right now, so if you're asking, we have work for you.

Who are major players?
    Most of the networks are heavily government-run even when they're private companies; there's a high rate of monopolies on internet services.
Are we translating existing services to low-bandwidth or starting from scratch?
    Tristan: I'm really hoping to see or find a low-bandwidth blog platform - blogger and typepad are pretty heavy comparatively. Twitter is something we hadn't thought about yet, and the fact that you can use SMS text is helpful. Just getting photos from kids is difficult - facebook is simply too heavy a platform - zipping pictures and letting someone come into the city to use an internet cafe is possibly the best solution.
    Posteris is doing multiplatform blogging tools, which helps a good deal.
    Kiva lenders have the same problems needing to contribute bios and photos to the main site in exchange for funds - we ended up with one trusted bus driver who would pick up a flash drive, take it to a web cafe that could upload them for us, and bring it back.

    Use of portable apps on flash drives as a way to reduce bandwidth by providing key functionality on the local machine.

    How much of the problem is AJAX-style dynamic back-and-forth applications? Definitely an issue - to some degree we need to keep working in web 1.0. Then again, AJAX can do load-balancing and allow users to set up files that it later uploads whenever the bandwidth is there.
    Maybe uploadable text files and a plain white interface for dumping them up would serve well.
Is expanding networks something major NGOs are working on or supporting?
    Tristan: I don't know, but I'll ask a friend at the ONE foundation. The main issue is cost because prices are comparable to here. 
What is succeeding? What is failing? What applications are under development and who is doing it?
    Look into Click Health
    Wiring money via cell phones; moving beyond simply using airtime as currency
    Indigenous communities in Brazil using GPS to get coordinates of culturally significant locations and monitor illegal logging ops - data sharing with google earth and the brazilian government.
    Ethan Zuckerman and Geek Corps (Berkman Center for Internet at Harvard Law School)
    SMS-listserve interaction? FrontlineSMS allows for this
     Book: SMS Uprising - use of SMS in social, & political activism
Issues of identity and accountability: when we use these systems, what issues arise?
    shared mobile phones mean shared household identities in many places.
Communications with diaspora communities? How to integrate/leverage/involve transnational communities?

     We don't know

What about trust?

    Didn't Iran just shut twitter down?
    Google in China
    The trend is towards private construction of these networks, and they are putting up towers even in remote areas, so the problem remains cost to users.
Cultural considerations and alternate communications?
    Use of "missed calls" as signals that don't cost anything; two missed calls means I'm on my way, for example.
    Text messages are cheaper than talk time; figure out how to get twitter-like platforms in places that can be both sms and web and reduce costs.
Where do we go from here?
     Naima: Specifically Sudan - activism and outreach
     John: Taking lessons from development successes and expanding on them/translating them elsewhere
     David: Looking at these successes and taking from them for further tech developments


Follow-Up Items


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