web 2.0 for development

1 Comment

Vertical geography: the next frontier

If the question is “what do you see in the near future of the web?” my answer is for sure: “I see the explosion of vertical geography”. Nonetheless, while writing this post, I’m sure the value and the relevance of “Vertical Geography” have not been generally perceived yet.

But I want to add more details to my statement. As a consequence of the launch and spreading of GoogleMaps, I saw a new science taking place. In my mind, I call it “vertical geography” because it offers the ability to store data and content on a map, adding a vertical layer of information over the traditional horizontal one.

Since Google opened its service, many things changed for geography but I see the best yet to come. At the beginning (February 2005), GoogleMaps appeared to be a sort of  “exercise”, a geeky tool for the web surfers, who could have fun waiving through the maps of cities, vacation places and meetings. The real power of the tool was not clear at that time. But now, GoogleMaps is no more a simple gadget of our websites. With millions of information stored in its graphical layers of seas and mountains, it makes a totally different sense: it adds a new dimension to geography and our knowledge. Being passionate for geography, I perceive this power coming out powerfully.

Thanks to GoogleMaps we have a fully new approach to the way we mentally and physically organize and propose a bulk of information. By definition, a vast majority of the data we store in our minds is ideally connected with some places on planet Earth (and not only there but also on Mars, the Sun, Jupiter!). Adding generic details about data location can be the first step to localize them. Placing data on a map is the next big step ahead. This process happens because giving a visual approach is a tremendous help for recognition and storing of the information.

Commercial activities are the ones which immediately, and more than everyone else, benefits of the vertical dimension. But they are not alone. The possibility to create new virtual services is huge and only a small part has been explored and exploited till now.

Some examples? Download and launch Google Earth. Have a look at the left-hand menu of layers to switch on and off. What do you see? A lot! From hotels to restaurants, from hospitals to B&Bs, from charities to international organizations. Almost everyone wants to be placed somewhere on Earth! The recent explosion of location-based social networking like foursquare and gowalla (Google and facebook replied with Latitude and places) give us the taste of what we can see in the near future. Moreover, thanks to mobile devices, interaction is becoming mobile itself. While walking around the city everyone becomes a source of information and, at the same time, an information seeker.

So we come to the next big step. We have been talking until now of human beings and their activities. But what if also inanimate objects would have tags, labels, signals, voices and a digital soul? What if walking around I could receive messages from the world surrounding me? I would be living in the Augmented Reality: a world where interacting with matter is much more developed than today. Where I would be fully communicating with everything around myself.

A vast scenario is still to come and it is closer than it seems to be. My doubts are related to the way we will be able to manage and filter such an amount of information. Search engines, which solved the problem at the beginning of the Web, won’t be enough. We need something more active than passive: an active tool which pre-digest information in order to create a good-size information bulk that we can later manage. I’m still not sure what these tools will be like.

Leave a comment

Who is using mobile phones for development – part 2

As the online Forum on “Mobile Telephony in rural areas” is getting closer, the list of projects using mobile is getting longer and longer. I have to thanks the participants to the KM4Dev list who have been proposing examples of application they were aware of. Let’s see what’s new around the table:


  • Launched in the late 2006, Lifelines is a phone-based service which enables rural population in India to access accurate and up-to-date information on agricultural topics. Farmers can dial the Lifelines number 365 days a year and record their question on an automated voicemail system. This message is then picked up by a dedicated knowledge worker from OneWorld who sources the necessary information from a panel of agricultural and veterinary experts. The answer to the question is then left as a recording on the phone, which the farmers can pick up 24 hours later.
  • The National Farmers Information Service (NAFIS) is a voice-based service, intended to serve farmers’ needs in rural areas of Kenya where internet access is limited. NAFIS covers a wide range of crops and livestock information with a variety of services like: text-to-speech systems, Automatic Speech Recognition systems, multilingual agricultural terminology banks, easily-navigable agricultural content and an expert system to make it user-driven and hence more responsive to farmers’ queries.
  • TradeNet is a privately-operated market information system based in West Africa. It allows users to sign-up for SMS alerts for whatever commodities and areas they are interested in. Users in 15 countries can request prices which are provided in real time on the network from many market enumerators that are active throughout 380 markets spread across the continent. Users can also indicate their areas of business and receive instant SMS alerts for offers to buy or sell as soon as anyone else on the network has submitted an offer via their mobile.
  • Established in 2003, Mobile4good is a social franchise project designed to use mobile phone technology to help alleviate poverty and improve the lives of people in the developing world. The platform can distribute content relevant to individual participants based upon different parameters, such as handset, location, time and business profile. The system include different services and have been used in Kenya mainly for the creation of new employment opportunities and to provide medical information.


  • State government officials in Orissa, India, have instituted the use of SMS to help increase transmission speed of alerts and execute the necessary precautionary measures in the context of a campaign to check the spread of avian flu. The field staff send weekly reports using SMS to their directorate, which compiles the data for a consolidated weekly report for critical analysis and a response of appropriate remedial measures.
  • EpiSurveyor is an open source tool enabling users to easily create a hand held data entry form, collect data on a mobile device, and then transfer the data back to a desktop or laptop for analysis. This technology allow users to create forms offline (using the standard EpiSurveyor program) or online (using the future WebiSurveyor site) and download them to mobile phones. The users can then send data collected on those forms by email or uploading to a server. EpiSurveyor, combining an open-source model with leverage of the burgeoning mobile computing network, contribute to the change the nature of public health practice by putting the tools for efficient public health data collection and analysis completely into the hands of health practitioners. The project is one of the Winners of the Stockholm Challenge Award 2008.
  • Zumbido is a pilot project created to support groups living in urban and rural areas of Mexico. 40 people have been divided into 4 groups and provided with mobile phone that enabled a simultaneous communication between all the ten members of each group. Every participants had unlimited text messages. So doing, people are able to simultaneously communicate using messages to their nine co-members. The participants’ enthusiasm was demonstrated by 5,000 messages sent in the first three days and over 240,000 during the course of the trial. Clearly, there was a deep need to communicate and share experiences about access to health care services, discussing human rights and problems of discrimination and ignorance.
  • The mobile hospital project in Argentina aims to take health and health education where people lives, eliminating the social, economic and cultural barriers that prevent people from having access to a good medical care system. In the long term, the project wish to promote a major equity within the society by integrating the poorest people to the health system.


  • Ushaidi in Kenya is an experiment to exchange and distribute information via cellphones about social and political crisis. The platform allows anyone to gather data via SMS, email or web and visualize it on a map or timeline. The goal is to create the simplest way of aggregating information from the public for use in crisis response. During riots in early 2008, Ushahidi worked as a tool for people who witnessed acts of violence to report incidents they have seen. Once verified by local groups working on the ground, the incidents were placed on a map-based view in a blog (geo-positioning technology to build up a picture of the situation was used) for other citizens to see.


  • SMS and mobile technology have been used also in Nigeria to monitor voting activities during the elections in 2007.  The Network of Mobile Election Monitors (NMEM) used SMS to feedback observations to a central computer hub. The goal was to give every citizen an opportunity to monitor the elections and tell the world via cellphone what was happening in their area during the voting. Voters’ and volunteers’ observations were texted to one cell number and lately cross checked to make sure of their accuracy. NMEM kept track of all of the texts using FrontlineSMS and prepared a final report.


  • MIND (Mobile Technology Initiatives for Non-Formal Distance Education) is an innovative research project that looks into the viability and effectiveness of using SMS as part of a blended learning experience for out-of-school youth and adult learners in the Philippines. The goal is to test the feasibility and acceptability of using SMS for delivering non-formal distance education modules to different socio-economic, cultural and gender groups, and to determine the motivation of users for distance education purposes.
  • With the VAVAN ICT Agricultural Sustainable Project, cellphones and other ICT equipments are used to foster agricultural development, by easing communication between farmers and the consumers’ community. Using SMS, farmers can reshape the “supply chain” for their products, avoiding long trips to distant markets and delivering the products directly at the customers’ houses. This eases transportation and prevention of accidents and theft, as farmers exchange text messages about roads conditions and suspect situations. In the future, a website will advertise all the products of the farmers’ network, offering from vegetables, cocoyam, yams, cassava, plantains, bananas to animals, like chickens, pigs, goats and cows.

Tools and software

  • MXit is a message exchange software for cellphones. It enables sending and receiving text messages to and from mobile phones and PCs via the Internet, using a GPRS or 3G connection, rather than standard SMS technology. People can chat directly from their mobile phone, with other MXit users on their mobiles or on their PC’s, anywhere in the world. The software allows to send a message of up to 2000 characters and connect to MSN messenger, Yahoo, ICQ, AOL messenger or Jabber communities.
  • RapidSMS is an SMS-based tool that allows mobile data collection and bulk sms messaging. Users can collect both quantitative and qualitative data through SMS forms. It also includes support for IVR interaction and voice callback. RapidSMS has been developed by the Youth Section within the Department of Communication of the UNICEF using mobile phones in the field.

Leave a comment

The first competitor for the iPhone

A new challenge for the iPhone was launched yesterday: it is the first mobile phone with Android inside.

Even if not everybody seems to be so enthusiast about the product, more than everything else in the DEV perspective, at least, I see a very interesting trend for prices. The announced price is 120 Eur (at certain conditions) which is fine is compared with many other models and the iPhone itself. So, the tendency of prices to get lower is happening this time as well and we can really start thinking about a wide spread of these tools, also in developing countries.

Linking this news with the possibility of wider access available in two years time, than the scenario could be very much different in the near future.

Are WE going the same direction? Will we be able to provide good services for that time? How much time do we need to design new services for these devices? Are our Human Access Points ready to help us designing them?


Who is using mobile phones for development

Before the summer, I was looking for examples on the use of cellphones for development and I got plenty of them in a moment!

Here is just a short list of the first examples I found:


The first way cellphones were used to sustain development is to deliver news about market prices. It is happening for agriculture and fishery, in Africa and Asia. The mechanism is simple: the users are usually farmers or fishermen interested in selling their products. Via SMS they receive information about prices on different markets in their area. In this way they can easily decide where to go to sell their products to maximize the earnings.

  • ifad-presentationIFAD is running a service of this kind in Tanzania: market spies called “shu shu shu” are scattered around the country to collect information about markets and share them via cellphones with the other members of the same organization.
  • As the mission statement says, the Ugandan Brosdi wants “to empower the civil society through knowledge sharing using ICT as a medium sothat they can improve their livelihoods.” The idea is the following: information and common knowledge is collected during Knowledge Sharing Forums, written, repackaged and sent once a week to the subscribers’ cellphone numbers using both a mobile phone and Gmail services. The farmers record the SMS in a book, saving it for future reference. Other farmers without mobile phones at their will can access this knowledge and further freely disseminate it within the village.
  • Information market can a source of revenues everywhere and Reuters got the point: so, last year the company launched in India a specific mobile information service for farmers in the State of Maharashtra. Reuters Market Light, RML, a short messaging service costing 60 rupees ($1.50) a month, offers Indian farmers up-to-date, local and customized commodity pricing information, news and weather updates. In addition, after an agreement with Maharashtra’s Postal Circle, the service is accessible at the nearest post office for farmers without cellphone.
  • The CGIAR ICT-KM has a pilot project focused on recognizing the value of farmer knowledge, to get farmers to value their own knowledge and ideas and find ways to share this knowledge between farmers. The main activity of the project revolved around the organizing of an International Farmers’ Conference with over 50 farmers attending. The farmers, instead of being passive participants, were asked to present their situations, knowledge, experiences, ideas and skills using storytelling. Their stories were recorded in video, audio and text forms to be disseminated in various ways and will be made available on the web. Additionally, the organizers uploaded small story clips onto mobile phones and showed the farmers how to send these to other farmers via cellphones. This to stimulate knowledge sharing and a farmer-to-farmer extension system to facilitate the spread of useful ideas, techniques and knowledge around agricultural activities.


  • Health is heavily targeted by many initiatives. ZMQ, an Indian software company, is launching a new service for women: once registered with the date of pregnancy, the person will receive weekly tips on what to eat, what vaccines to get, and when to get check-ups.


  • On the other hand, GrameenPhone, in cooperation with Telemedicine Reference Centre Limited, offers an electronic health information and service called Healthline. The service, open to all GrameenPhone subscribers, is an interactive telephone consultation with licensed physicians. Subscribers can also find information on various drugs and pharmacies, on medical facilities and the doctors attached to them, and results from laboratory tests and recommendations, together with the standard form of medical consultation and advice.
  • Cell-life is a South African company providing mobile services to fight HIV-AIDS. Cell-life uses mobile phone technologies in many innovative ways, to provide a free information service via SMS, and to address logistical challenges in developing countries such as booking clinic appointments. When someone is diagnosed HIV-positive, there is an interview for acceptance into an Anti-Retroviral Treatments program. Then the assignment to a therapeutic counselor, who liaise with 15-20 patients, collecting essential information on the basis of which a doctor will make a prescription and a care manager will direct a program of care. The forms were translated onto the cellphone: forms about adherence to treatment, about symptoms, about appointments and these generated SMS messages.


  • GSMAMobiles can also used to connect refugees to vital services. GSMA offers the possibility to connect refugee camps in northern Uganda to mobile networks to support family reunification, education, health care, economic activity and other needs. Refugees are provided with shared access to voice and data services. Under this approach, one of the villagers has the opportunity to establish a small business providing use of mobile phones, or computer terminals with mobile Internet access, to their community.
  • The Bihar region and the recent floods offered a chance to local authorities and rescue teams to collect and distribute information on local condition and rescue interventions, as fixed communication lines have been hardly affected by the floods.



  • Based on the M-Pesa experience, Concern organized with local partners in Kenya a targeted response to the food security problems that affected rural communities as a result of the post election violence in the early months of 2008. More than 500 households, whose livelihoods had been badly compromised by the violence, with the loss of livestock or homesteads, were selected to receive assistance through a community-based targeting process. Concern decided to provide assistance in the form of cash rather than food: using the M-Pesa system, the project aimed to provide each household with cash sufficient to purchase 50% of one month’s minimum calorific requirements through two transfers.


  • Finally, an example of mobile application in the public sector: the eSeva project in Andhra Pradesh State of India is a one-stop-shop for many services government-to-consumer (G2C) and business-to-consumer (B2C) services including payment of utility bills; reservations of train tickets; getting birth and death certificates, vehicle permits, driving licenses; transport department services; sale and receipt of passport applications; telephone connections; collection of small savings; ATM (cash withdrawal and deposits and issue of statement of accounts); mutual funds (collection of applications and transfer of shares); receipt of complaints or requests in connection with citizen services; cell phone bill payments, etc.


Mobile Phones for Social Change in Africa

cellphoneLast thinking before going to vacation: how to use mobile phones to support social change in Africa, moving web activities towards the cellphones and possibly other devices.

In Almada we talked about future applications of KM on mobile phone. Communication Initiative recently dedicated its newsletter to initiatives involving cell phones in Africa.


Two weeks ago, I re-launched this stimulus to the km4dev list and received a long list of activities and projects already going on. Interesting!

I’ll spend the calm weeks of August reading and studying to understand what the needs are and what can work. 😉


Prices are going down. Are we ready to exploit new possibilities?

iPhone 2Last year we discussed about the value of the iPhone and the most common doubts were about the price of the device. Yesterday Mr jobs launched the version 2 of his jewel and ops!!!, now the price is right!! The suggested price is now 199 USD, that is to say around 130 EUR. It was 499 USD last year…

In the meantime, almost half of the population of the world has a mobile phone. The numbers are incredible and the increasing rate is astonishing: 3,3, billion subscribers (this number does not indicate the number of people but the number of lines). The first billion was reached 4 years ago and the second billion, only 2 years ago!

I really think we have to start thinking about the ways to move our applications and competencies to mobile. And I see that other influential people agree on this idea!

We have to re-think communication in terms of mobile devices, instant and everywhere access. The idea is that we will be able to exchange (information in my case) everywhere and in every moment. Are we ready to exploit this possibility? So far, haven’t we been too much conservative due to the lack of connectivity for PCs? have been our applications planned with the possibility to be delivered through mobile phones, as well?

I hope so. I don’t think so. I want to work on this from now on!

p.s. iPhone is the hardware AND Android, the software, is coming out pretty soon. I see so much in front of us!!!