“Using an ethnographic action research approach, the study explores the challenges, practices, and emergent framings of mobile-only Internet use in a resource-constrained setting. We trained eight women in a nongovernmental organization’s collective in South Africa, none of whom had used a personal computer, how to access the Internet on mobile handsets they already owned. Six months after training, most continued to use the mobile Internet for a combination of utility, entertainment, and connection, but they had encountered barriers, including affordability and difficulty of use. Participants’ assessments mingled aspirational and actual utility of the channel with and against a background of socioeconomic constraints. Discussion links the digital literacy perspective to the broader theoretical frameworks of domestication, adaptive structuration, and appropriation.”
Posts in category 'Africa'
Their task was to gather the mobile minds from across the continent and the world and ask them to vision out what they saw happening in the mobile space in Africa in the year 2020.
The result was published yesterday.
Low investment in wired telecommunication infrastructure has driven increased mobile penetration, creating a user base that supports a rise in mobile innovation and increased interest in content development, according to observers.
Data for a better planet
Now that more people have location-aware smartphones and the Web has made data easy to share, personal data is poised to become an important tool to understand how we live, and how we all might live better.
Citytracking presents data on cities for map, visualisations
Citytracking, created by design and technology studio Stamen, presents digital data about cities that journalists and the public can easily grasp and use, and provides a series of tools to map and visualize data that lets people distribute their own conclusions.
Mobile data will be crucial to economies
In a short video interview on IdeasProject, Ushahidi co-founder Erik Hersman says once the data processing capabilities on mobile devices improve that it will be a huge growth area with huge social implications to economies all over the world.
“Researchers say the web as it was originally, if idealistically, conceived — a largely free, monolingual space where a shared digital culture prevailed — may soon be a distant memory. And it’s happening remarkably fast.”
“More than 4 billion of the 6 billion people on earth now have a cell phone, with a quarter of those owners getting one in just the last two years. And many are using them, in a giant global experiment, to change the way life is lived, from Manhattan to Ouagadougou.
The phones now allow Masai tribesmen in Kenya to bank the proceeds from selling cattle; Iranian protesters to organize in secret; North Koreans to communicate with the outside world; Afghan villagers to alert Coalition soldiers to Taliban forces; insurgents to blow up roadside bombs in Iraq; and charities to see, in real time, when HIV drugs run out in the middle of Malawi.”
The democratization of mobile telephony in Africa, its availability, ease of use and, above all, the extent to which it has been appropriated by the public, have made it a major success story. Very low-income populations are not only actively demanding access to mobile telephone services but also innovating, by creating the functions and applications they can use. Development is thus happening “from the bottom up” and an entire economy, both formal and informal in nature, has come into being to meet people’s needs. Many different actors – private, public, NGOs – are now mobilized.
Operators and manufacturers have successfully changed their economic model and adapted their products and applications to allow access to services at affordable prices. NGOs have in addition created a range of messaging- based services in different sectors. However, the future evolution of mobile telephony is not clear. A range of different approaches will co-exist, from SMS up to full Internet capacity, including experimental initiatives using smart phones and “netbooks”. Falling costs will lead to an increase in the number of phone devices with data receiving capacity. Individuals and companies involved in creating services or applications for development will need to take account of their users’ demographics and incomes, as well as the pricing systems of telecommunication companies in countries where they wish to operate. In this, States and regulating authorities have grasped the crucial role which they must play in promoting an investment-friendly environment with the goal of achieving universal access and stimulating innovation – key factors in achieving a “critical mass” of users.
The advent on the African continent of high-capacity links via submarine cables will change the ground rules and force operators to seek new sources of revenue. The inventiveness that has already been evident in mobile voice telephony will be needed once again if the “mobile divide” (in terms of costs, power supply, and so on) is not to widen.
This report takes stock of developments in this sector, which is crucial to Africa’s economic development, and suggests a number of possible directions it might take.
“We’re selling ourselves short if we think the flow of innovation only goes way. There is a lot we can learn back from the developing world about the inventive uses they find for the technology we take for granted.”
“Wandering through winding alleys dotted with makeshift worksheds, one can’t help but feel clouded by the clanging of hammers on metal, grinding of bandsaws on wood, and the shouts of workers making sales. But soon it becomes clear that this cacophony is really a symphony of socioeconomic interactions that form what is known as the informal economy. In Kenya, engineers in the informal economy are known as jua kali, Swahili for “hot sun,” because they toil each day under intense heat and with limited resources. But despite these conditions, or in fact because of them, the jua kali continuously demonstrate creativity and resourcefulness in solving problems.
In Making Do: Innovation in Kenya’s Informal Economy, Steve Daniels illuminates the dynamics of the sector to enhance our understanding of African systems of innovation. The result of years of research and months of fieldwork, this study examines how the jua kali design, build, and manage through theoretical discussions, visualizations of data, and stories of successful and struggling entrepreneurs. What can we learn from the creativity and bricolage of these engineers? And how can we as external actors engage with the sector in a way that removes barriers to innovation for the jua kali and leverages their knowledge and networks to improve the lives of those who interact with them?”
The report outlines major trends and main obstacles for increased use as well as key opportunities and potential for scaling-up mobile applications. It draws on secondary data and statistics as well as field work carried out in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya during 2008 and 2009.
It identifies relevant applications in an East African context for reaching and empowering the poor and contribute to social and economic development. The identified mobile applications range from small pilots to scaled-up initiatives – from simple agricultural, market or health information services to fairly advanced financial and government transaction services.
From the executive summary:
“The ‘killer application’ in East Africa is peer to peer communication, i.e. voice, SMS and beeping. The number of subscribers who use their phones to access internet is however steadily growing, which opens up for a whole range of new applications and possibilities. Many of the existing SMS based applications that could benefit the poor the most are still in their infancy in the region. A few successful cases, namely mobile money transaction systems and various health related solutions are being used at scale, but the fact remains that the number of scaled-up mobile services are still few and/or limited geographically.
So, what hinders the take off of mobile applications for economic and social development in East Africa?
- First the cost of communication must go down – SMS is very overpriced and so is voice and data traffic.
- Secondly, many applications and services never reach out to the masses due to poor marketing and the non-existing meta data about the available applications. Subscribers must know what solutions are available, why and how to use them. This will lead to volumes intensive which will eventually lower the price of the particular service. In other words, there is a huge need for marketing (of the product) and education (for the end user) in order to make mobile applications sustainable.
- Thirdly, many interventions are not designed with scale in mind. Few implementers are familiar with all the costs involved and seen from a technological point of view, the requirements on networks and different requirements on handsets and end-users that mobile applications have must be understood better.
Despite these challenges, we are witnessing a small revolution regarding new applications and services added to the mobile phone.
Some high potential application areas include financial services and various governance related services. After successful implementations of mobile money services in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and most recently in Rwanda, m-banking is set to grow. As it grows, there will be an integration of m-transactions systems into existing applications and services and m-commerce in general will thereby take off rapidly and widespread. Public service delivery can be improved by integrating services with m-transactions and facilitating interaction between the state and its citizens.”
They have now produced a video that is a synopsis of the projects, themes and trouble-shooting expressed at the event.
“We have edited down a conversation between UNICEF sponsored rapid design prototypers to profile what they have created in order to respond to and alleviate actual needs of families and children. This video is intended to help make transparent the iterative process that development must undergo in order to create a new device that can respond to global concerns. Also touched on are ways for the organization to make the process of creating prototypes more streamlined, and to take what is developed and make it open source in order to create a sustainable and beneficial outcome to those that need it.”
McCormack is a filmmaker who has spent much of the last five years documenting the successes and failures of business-oriented development projects in developing countries. Reports from various parts of the world can be seen on his website Flooded Cellar.
“Many people who are not directly confronted with this reality on the continent are usually lured into a false sense that things are looking up because of the fountain of good news that is the telecom sector.
The truth though is that the seeming proliferation of ICT success stories across the continent masks the real picture, which is one of a splattering of embers in a desolate patch of darkness.”
Curators of the Real-Time Web: Distilling the chatter to relevant, actionable information
By Jonathan Gosier (Appfrica)
“Information wants to flow and it wants to flow freely and torrentially. Twitter, SMS, email, and RSS offer unprecedented access to information. With all these channels of communication comes a deluge of overwhelming retweets, cross-chatter, spam, and inaccuracies. How do you distinguish signal from noise without getting overwhelmed? Can we somewhat automate the process of filtering content into more manageable portions without sacrificing accuracy and relevance?
These are the exact questions I attempted to answer during the recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. As the Director and System Architect of SwiftRiver at Ushahidi, we’re working on an open-source software platform that helps journalists and emergency response organizations sift through real-time information quickly, without sacrificing accuracy. These earthquakes, however unfortunate, offered extreme use-cases for testing ideas internally, as small nonprofits and organizations as large as the U.S. State Department were relying on us for verified information.
The approach SwiftRiver takes is to combine crowdsourced interaction with algorithms that weight, parse, and sort incoming content.”
The FedEx UX Journey, Part 1: The genesis and early progress of FedEx’s UX practice
By Thomas Wicinski and Brice Stokes (Digital Access, Fedex Services) and Mike Downey (UX Magazine)
“Underlying FedEx’s global shipping and logistics business is a complex technological infrastructure with many digital customer touchpoints. FedEx has recognized the need to improve the user experience of its systems, and has taken strong steps toward not only creating a UX practice area, but also toward moving the entire company to pay closer attention to UX in its customer-facing products. This interview is the first in a set of articles we’ll be running over the coming months to examine how FedEx is building its UX competency and practice. They’re still early in what they call the UX “maturity model,” so this interview focuses on the genesis of the effort and some of its early goals and successes.”
How UX can drive sales in mobile apps
By Jeffrey Powers, Vikas Reddy and Jeremy Olson
“This is an interview with Jeff Powers and Vikas Reddy, the founders of Occipital and creators of the popular iPhone app, RedLaser. We became interested in their story when we learned the differentiating factor between a somewhat unsuccessful first version and a wildly popular second version was due to their attention to UX.”
The article devotes particular attention to Kiva.org, a San Francisco-based peer-to-peer (P2P) non-profit, which uses the principles of social networking to connect individual or group lenders to entrepreneurs via microfinance institutions (MFIs) around the world, and Zopa.com, a British matchmaker for borrowers and lenders.
“Just as eBay shook offline retail to its foundations, P2P lending models such as Kiva, though still marginal, threaten to disrupt high-street banking. Although the public’s faith in banks has been damaged and credit remains hard to come by, evidence suggests that a new trust-based economy is proving more efficient than traditional lending. [...]
If P2P finance has yet to prove scalable or profitable, it’s also true that, not so long ago, the same was said of other web ventures which went on to change the world.”
Loren Ghiglione, Professor of Media Ethics at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University
News & the news media in the digital age: implications for democracy
Herbert J. Gans, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Columbia University
Are there lessons for the future of news from the 2008 presidential campaign?
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication, & Jeffrey A. Gottfried, senior researcher at the Annenberg Public Policy Center
New economic models for U.S. journalism
Robert H. Giles, Curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University
Sustaining quality journalism
Jill Abramson, Managing Editor, The New York Times
The future of investigative journalism
Brant Houston, Chair in Investigative and Enterprise Reporting at the College of Media at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The future of science news
Donald Kennedy, President Emeritus and Senior Fellow of the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University
International reporting in the age of participatory media
Ethan Zuckerman, senior researcher at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University
The case for wisdom journalism – and for journalists surrendering the pursuit of news
Mitchell Stephens, Professor of Journalism in the Carter Institute at New York University
Journalism ethics amid structural change
Jane B. Singer, Associate Professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Iowa
Political observatories, databases & news in the emerging ecology of public information
Michael Schudson, Professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism
What is happening to news?
Jack Fuller, former President of Tribune Publishing Company
The Internet & the future of news
Paul Sagan & Tom Leighton, Fellows of the American Academy
Improving how journalists are educated & how their audiences are informed
Susan King, Vice President for External Relations at Carnegie Corporation of New York
Does science fiction suggest futures for news?
Loren Ghiglione, Professor of Media Ethics at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University
poetry: In a Diner Above the Lamoille River
Greg Delanty, poet
“While developers in the United States rush to make flashy games for Apple’s latest gizmo, the iPad, these young developers are trying to tackle Africa’s most vexing problems.
Many are doing so with simple text message applications on phones that cost no more than $25.
Text message phone apps now help African people check market prices, transfer money, learn languages and alert authorities to the need for food or other aid in the event of a disaster. And this all comes despite Africa’s reputation as the “least wired” continent in the world.”
Prerequisite to Prosperity
Why Africa’s Future Depends on Better Governance
by Mohamed (Mo) Ibrahim
Harnessing the Mobile Revolution
by Thomas Kalil
Phone vs. Laptop: Which Is a More Effective Tool for Development?
by Iqbal Quadir and Nicholas Negroponte
Connecting a Nation
Roshan Brings Communications Services to Afghanistan
by Karim Khoja
From Operations to Applications
Advancing Innovation in Mobile Services (Innovations Case Discussion: Roshan)
by Al Hammond, Loretta Michaels
CellBazaar: A Market in Your Pocket
by Kamal Quadir, Naeem Mohaiemen
Can CellBazaar Survive without an Urban Marketvand Fulfill Its Development Potential?
(Innovations Case Discussion: CellBazaar)
by Kim Wilson
Mobilizing Money through Enabling Regulation
by David Porteous
Blurring Livelihoods and Lives
The Social Uses of Mobile Phones and Socioeconomic Development
by Jonathan Donner
The Case for mHealth in Developing Countries
by Patricia N. Mechael
A Doctor in Your Pocket
Health Hotlines in Developing Countries
by Gautam Ivatury, Jesse Moore, Alison Bloch
Large Companies, ICTs, and Economic Opportunity
by William J. Kramer, Beth Jenkins, Rob Katz
The paper describes a collection of initiatives delivering support via mobile phones to small enterprises, small farms, and the self-employed. Using a review of 26 examples of such services currently operational in Africa, the analysis identifies five functions of mobile livelihood services: Mediated Agricultural Extension, Market Information, Virtual Marketplaces, Financial Services, and Direct Livelihood Support. It discusses the current reliance of such systems on the SMS channel, and considers their role in supporting vs. transforming existing market structures.
It was published in Communication technologies in Latin America and Africa: A multidisciplinary perspective (pp. 37-58), edited by Mireia Fernández-Ardèvol and Adela Ros.
Download chapter (all other papers are also online)
There is a also a youtube video of Donner’s paper presentation at the original conference in Barceona.
CGAP is an independent policy and research center dedicated to advancing financial access for the world’s poor, housed at the World Bank.
His first post, which obviously deals with the topic of mobile banking in emerging markets, is just an introduction, but we will surely follow his contributions.