Villages have voices

BBC News has a great article – Giving a voice to India’s villagers – about an experiment in rural India, using mobile phones to bring people news made by local villagers. People call a number to ‘upload’ a news item which is then sent out as a text message to all subscribers.

“No-one has given any information about the Mongra dam and the displacement it has caused in 14 villages. I want the voice of the poor to reach the people through my report.” – Bhan Sahu, Citizen Journalist for CGNet Swara

Mobile phones are pivotal to the service and, in the remotest parts of India, are more accessible than the TV or newspapers. They make it easy to capture conversations and also spark new debates as people gather round to receive the latest news. Mainstream media dedicates just 2% of space to rural villages. Social media can do better.

When virtual training trumps classrooms

The common perception is that online or virtual training courses are no substitute for the real thing: a classroom with a teacher or professional. Yet research published in the New Scientist begs to differ.

A programme in West Africa created to pass on new technologies and techniques to women farmers adopted two approaches: 1. watch a training video; or 2. attend a training workshop. The results speak for themselves:

  • 74% of women attended the video, just 22% attended the workshop
  • Uptake of the new technique was 72% of those who watched the video and 19% of those who attended the workshop

To put that into context, imagine 2 villages each containing 100 women farmers. Village A is shown the training video, village B runs a workshop. In village A, 53 out of 100 women adopt the new technique. In village B, 4 out of 100 women change how they work.

Why such a difference?

The study comes up with some reasons that should be of interest to any organisation looking to improve training:

  • Democratised access to knowledge beyond the usual elites
    The video was shown communally in early evening so that everyone could attend. With limted places at a workshop, a selection process is inevitable
  • Storytellers were fellow workers and trusted more than the experts
    The video differed to the workshop in that it used fellow women rice farmers to demonstrate the technique. Viewers trusted the message. The workshops were delivered by outsiders – scientists and NGO* workers
  • Videos were designed to make the principles of the technique obvious
    67% of the women who couldn’t afford the equipment created alternatives. Attending a workshop, you do what the expert tells you… if you can.

“When they understood that rice shouldn’t touch the water, they provided their own solutions.” Paul Van Mele, Africa Rice Center

These 3 lessons could also be invaluable in any organisation. Online training can be made available to anyone, anywhere at anytime (even those who don’t use a computer as part of their normal working day). When introducing new ways of working, peer demonstrations trump management objectives. If there is no expert to give all the answers, people will innovate and provide their own solutions. And some of those innovations could lead to new opportunities…

As for the programme in Africa, the video has since been translated into 20 African languages. Five additional rice-related videos have been produced and more are planned for other crops. Brilliant!


Tags: education blog

* NGO – non-government organisation

Desperately seeking a new business model

(Side note: The challenge with writing blog posts on my mobile phone whilst travelling on a train is that I forget about them. Just discovered this one, written over a month ago and updated based on recent news. Oh, and for those of a certain age, hum the related Madonna tune to yourself whilst reading.)

‘A-ha’ moments tend to sneak up on you. It’s no shock to state that Google is top dog when it comes to searching the Internet. But the breadth of their services was made clear when helping to fix my mom’s computer. Opening the browser, I asked if she really wanted MSN as her home page. Not really was the answer. We established the sites she visited daily were: Gmail (email), BBC (news) and The Met Office (weather). I suggested we look at iGoogle.

Explaining how iGoogle worked showed just how far Google has come to dominate the information-seeking side of the Internet. Default gadgets on the iGoogle page included: Email (Google), News (Google), Maps (Google), Weather (Google) and Video (Google). Dropped in a second news gadget (BBC, some habits die hard) and ‘daily puzzle’ gadget.

Google is to information-seeking (still the current primary activity on the Internet, regardless of what the Web 2.0 crowd might say) what Microsoft was to the desktop computer in the 1990s. And when you’re the dominant player, you get first shot at taking control of the ‘next big thing’. That doesn’t mean you will be first. Highly unlikely given the next big thing usually involves disrupting the current big thing, i.e. your world. But, being the current top dog means you should have ample resources to retaliate, in round 1 at least.

When Netscape established itself as the first dominant browser for the Internet back in the mid-1990s, introducing a new world of working with information beyond the desktop, Microsoft didn’t exactly take it lying down. But that was just round 1. In the late-1990s, a couple of PhD students at Stanford tried hawking their shiny new PageRank algorithm, to no avail. The main Internet players didn’t believe there was any money to be made from search. And so Google was born.

What is/will be Google’s challenge? The two trends with the most potential to disrupt how we use the Internet are: mobile devices and social networks. New (and old) companies have already emerged as key players in both areas.

In the world of mobile devices, Google Android is going to face an uphill battle to challenge Apple’s iPhone, which has humiliated all previous efforts at making the Internet easy to access from a mobile device. But the mobile phone market is far far bigger than the target audience for the iPhone. Some of the best examples of adoption have been in developing countries, using mobile phones for activities as diverse as shepherds tracking goats, fisherman trading surplus stock and people not needing cash or credit cards to purchase goods. I’m not sure that Facebook has such a solid hold on the world of social networks. It’s a crowded playground that Google ought to be able to join through its Gmail estate. All the more so if Skype were to be bagged from eBay. The stickiest social networking sites seem to be those that also have an interface designed for mobile devices…

And we’re back to the good old Innovator’s Dilemma. In 1998, the assumption was that there was no money to be made from search, that controlled navigation (directories) better suited traditional forms of advertising – banners and friends. Google changed everything. Now, everyone wants to make money from social networks and the mobile Internet, using current advertising methods. And it isn’t working.

Online advertising works well with information-seeking activities. Social networks are not about information-seeking. They are about people-seeking and information-sharing. If advertising is to succeed on social networks, it needs to be in a different format, one suited to conversations and tribes. What can be done to encourage people to share the adverts? The mobile Internet is about information-seeking, but in a very different format to using a computer and traditional web-browser. Limited screen-size means all noise must be eliminated from a web site to make it usable. And adverts are part of the noise, no matter how concise they may be. People are unlikely to do online shopping from a mobile phone, the target for many adverts. But they are likely to have their mobile phone with them when they do real-world shopping. Add GPS to the mobile phone, and new possibilities arise. Currently, it is the mobile operators that have come up with profitable solutions. (Something Apple has recognised and leveraged with the iPhone.) I pay a much-increased monthly premium to T-Mobile in order to have an unlimited data plan. I typically use less than 20% of the included minutes/texts per month. Limited battery life and patchy network coverage ensure unlimited data doesn’t mean that much data. Along with a dearth of usable web sites…

The next Microsoft, Google, whatever will be the company that creates (intentionally or accidentally) a new business model that better fits with the new big thing than current business models that were designed for the current big thing.

Related posts:

Technorati tags: advertising; social networks; mobile Internet

English sheep and Indian fishermen

Or rather, how mobile technologies are enabling better supply chain management in rural India than in not-so-rural England.

Whilst listening to a MIX08 session online – I Wanna Go Mobile – the host, Michael Platt, retold a story about Indian fishermen benefitting from mobile technologies. In the past, rural villages along the coast of India relied on their local fishermen for food. Without enough fish, people starved. With too many fish, food was wasted. Thanks to mobile phones, there are now fish merchants along the coast. When the fishermen catch more fish than their local village needs, they can contact the merchants and sell their surplus. A simple solution and everyone benefits.

In the same week, I discovered sheep in England eating chocolate fudge. When a certain will-remain-unnamed retail organisation orders too much food, they have an arrangement with a company to remove the surplus on a daily basis. Doesn’t matter what the surplus is, it must be gone instantly. This isn’t food that has gone past its sell-by date. Presumably it’s more efficient to get rid of excess stock than to store it in warehouses. And that’s fair enough. But, with our government spending a whopping 50p per school dinner, wouldn’t you think we could come up with a better method for distributing edible surplus stock?

Technorati tag: mobile technology

Mobile Social Networks

A few days ago, Charlene Li (Forrester) posted an article – Social networks will be like air. My immediate thought was ‘the mobile phone is the social network’. But perhaps it should have been ‘the mobile phone carries the social network’. It’s a thought that has been percolating through my brain since the comments from Davos:

¨If someone doesn’t have a mobile phone they will lack the basic functions of what it is to be human¨ – Wang Jianzhou (CEO, China Mobile)

By the middle of this year, it is predicted that 1 in 2 people will own a mobile device. The PC will never get that close. Eric Schmidt (CEO, Google), commenting at the same Davos conference, was right to state that we will see new kinds of applications thanks to the mobile phone (and its integrated features – GPS/location-aware, camera, audio/video, storage, telecoms + wifi etc.)

Bill Thompson, in an article on the BBC – How Twitter Makes it Real – makes a comment that highlights how social networks are going mobile:

¨Thanks to Twitter I carry my online networks with me¨

I think we are seeing a glimpse of the early formation of Web 3.0. I can’t be doing with people calling Web 3.0 the semantic web or social graph. Semantics and graphs are tools that feed, and feed upon, all that we are seeing as Web 2.0 – the read/write web, abundance replacing scarcity, digital natives and digital social networks. At best, tools like social graphs upgrade Web 2.0 to, maybe, Web 2.5

Web 3.0 (and yes, the analysts will probably call it Web 3D) will be another paradigm shift. I think it will become known for ‘augmented reality’ – bridging the virtual (think SecondLife), digital (the Internet) and physical (Earth) worlds. In the future, Web 3.0 won’t need a specific device. It will be meshed in our daily lives through ambient devices – sensors in our clothes, houses, cars… and eventually our bodies. But the first device to bring it to reality will be the first device that we constantly carry with us – the mobile phone. And the first software application to bring it all together is Twitter.

[Update: 27 Mar 08] Interesting comment made by a frustrated Motorola employee, as reported by Engadget:

“the next big feature in [mobile] handsets isn’t a camera or a music player – it is social connectedness”

References and further reading:

Filed in Library: Trends/Mobility and Systems/Social Networks

Technorati tags: Web 3.0; Web 2.5

Mobile Ads Can Work

As mobile technologies continue to develop, it feels inevitable that advertising will ultimately find its way on to our mobile phones. When it happens, it actually could be a very good thing (sadly, the easy spammy bad option will likely arrive first).

Imagine heading out to your local shopping mall, parking the car, and then swiping a machine with your mobile phone. On the display, you can choose which shops within the shopping mall that you are interested in and for how long. You click OK and you have just opened access for those shops (and only those shops) to send adverts to your mobile phone for a limited period of time. A clothes shop might send you a 5% discount voucher if you spend it in the next two hours. Another shop might highlight that free ‘coffee and cake’ vouchers are being given with all purchases over £25. You make a mental note to visit that shop just before lunch… As you walk past the bakery later on, you receive an instant message that all produce is now half price (its late in the day and they need to sell their perishable items).

Done right, this could be a win:win scenario. The recipient controls the process and the advertisers get warm to hot leads versus spamming and annoying anyone and everyone.

The more likely scenario to reach us first will probably be localised search. Imagine coming out of a business meeting, you’re starving and in critical need of a caffeine injection. Open a web browser on your phone, click on a local search form, check the boxes for what you want (food, coffee, wine), the form picks up the location of your phone and you get a list of cafes, food shops and restaurants within 10 minutes of your location, ideally linked to an Amazon-style review system and ‘1-click-to-reserve’ option if you decide you’re sitting down to eat.

Related blog post:

Filed under: Mobility

Technorati tags: mobile technology

Mobility replacing PCs

That mobile devices are more prevalent than traditional PCs (desktops and laptops) is well known. But a recent talk at Davos highlighted just how much more important the mobile device will become during the next decade. Notes taken from the TechCrunch report

Eric Schmidt (Google CEO):

¨Mobile devices will have GPS and other features that will allow for new kinds of applications, as well as location-based advertising¨

Wang Jianzhou (China Mobile CEO):

¨If someone doesn’t have a mobile phone they will lack the basic functions of what it is to be human¨

Now you can argue the CEO of a mobile phone company would make that sort of comment. But the numbers in China are sooo big – 317 million subscribers today and adding 6 million new subscribers each month!

If you’ve never read it, there is a great book that highlights the impact that mobile technology can have on society – Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, by Howard Rheingold. Getting a little old now, given it was published back in 2002, but some great examples


Filed under: Mobility (new library topic)

Technorati tags: mobile technology

The Mobile Web

One Internet-related trend that has been slow to take off has been the mobile web – bringing the Internet to mobile devices. The following article has a good write up about marketing and the mobile internet: Mobile Marketing has finally arrived

The mobile web faces various challenges, not least that many web sites today have yet to create site designs suited for small screens. But I suspect the biggest reason for slow adoption has nothing to do with the technology.

I like to use my mobile phone for sync’ing email and browsing the Internet. But. It costs a small invisible fortune. For starters, the majority of mobile phone networks seem to focus their pricing structures around phone calls and sending texts. Your monthly subscription will typically include a lump of free call minutes and free text messages, but zero freebies involving the Internet. And even if you have to pay for your calls, you can judge how expensive the call is going to be. Even if you can’t remember your actual call rate, simply multiple the duration of the conversation by 50p (in the UK) should give a suitable worst case scenario. Text messaging is even simpler – you pay a flat fee per text usually. But data is an invisible mine field because the mobile operators typically charge by the volume of data downloaded. This poses some challenges. a) there is no visual clue about how much data is downloaded when you are browsing the web or sync’ing email, and b) you can’t easily control the volume of data that has to be downloaded. Net result: After seeing some hefty data charges on my monthly bill, my mobile internet browsing days are being scaled down to the bare minimum.

I am rubbish at text messaging, and don’t use anywhere near my free allowance. I don’t use up all my call allowance each month either. I want a mobile phone subscription that includes a certain amount of free data downloads too… but that still does not solve the second issue – how do you control how much data is downloaded? Is it going to be trial and error to find out which sites are mobile-friendly versus mobile-costly?

Technorati Tags: Mobile Web