Oct 29 2008

Mobile for Development Innovations in Africa

by at 12:30 pm

The story on using mobile innovations for development in Africa has been unfolding for a while now, but it has become even more prominent since the Surprising Africa special at the Picnic 2008 conference in Amsterdam and the MobileActive 2008 conference in Johannesburg.

Here’s what some of the people who are writing the story on mobile-based social innovation in Africa have to say about it.

Ethan Zuckerman from Golbal Voices

If Africa is surprising, then you’re not paying enough attention.

Jonathan Gosier from AppAfrica (link) —

For social entrepreneurs and investors, the innovation occurring here is a huge sign of progress that could potentially change the continent’s world standing forever. The most exciting aspect for me, however, is the decreased reliance on developmental aid and foreign groups to provide these solutions. The number of African developers who are beginning to create applications that offer solutions for their own communities is increasing and that, more than anything else, will shape the future of Africa.

Eric Hersman from Ushahidi (link/ slides) —

Here’s one more compelling thought. The challenges brought about by bad governance, poverty, low bandwidth (all the negative things you associate with Africa) also provide an incredible opportunity. The developers who are coming up with solutions in the continent, the ones who are writing software or hacking hardware, are creating for some of the harshest environments and use-cases in the world. If it works in Africa, it will work anywhere.

Lowest common denominator design is at the core of MobiChange — it doesn’t work if it doesn’t work for everybody, everywhere — and here is a list of African mobile for development innovations I often turn towards for inspiration —

– Mobile Payments: MPESA (kenya), Wizzit (South Africa), Celpay (Zambia)

– Citizen Journalism: Africa News, Ushahidi (Kenya and South Africa), Sokwanele (Zimbabwe), Afrigator, Mzalendo (Kenya).

– Consumer Activism: mPedigree (Ghana).

– Access: WinAfrique (Kenya), Feedelix (Ethiopia), EthioBlog (Ethiopia), mobile phones on bicycles and wheelchairs, mobile charging stations.

– Agriculture: TradeNet (West Africa), Manobi (Senegal).

– Health: TxtAlert, SocialTxt and Mobilisr by Praekelt Foundation (South Africa)

Also See: Jonathan Gosier (1, 2, 3), Jason Harris (1, 2), Ethan Zuckerman, Amy Smith, Paul Polak, Ben Turner.

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Oct 08 2008

The Promise and Challenges of Leapfrogging 2.0

by at 11:49 am

In a recent post I wrote about the promise and challenges of leapfrogging 2.0

If the value of a “social” network (Reed’s Law) is indeed exponentially higher than the value of a telecommunication (Metcalfe’s Law) or a broadcast network (Sarnoff’s Law), there is significant leapfrogging potential available to BRIC countries. A social network (like MobiChange) that mimics the any-to-any nature of Reed’s network on SMS can create tremendous value in the BRIC countries. However, the more I read about leapfrogging the digital divide, the more convinced I am that leapfrogging is much easier in theory than in practice.

Leapfrogging is the idea that poor countries can skip over stages in technology adoption (especially large-scale, industrial, infrastructure-heavy technologies) and directly adopt newer, better technologies (especially light-weight, distributed, ecologically sustainable digital technologies).

The classic example of leapfrogging is the ubiquitous adoption of mobile phones in the developing world.

However, it seems that mobile phone adoption is the only valid example of leapfrogging and the widespread diffusion of most digital technologies is dependent on the existence of a solid social, economic and industrial infrastructure. Continue Reading »

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Oct 07 2008

The Three Laws of Networked Technologies

by at 11:24 am

While reading through chapter 2 of Howard Rheingold’s ‘Smart Mobs’, I started thinking about how the three laws of networked technologies (Sarnoff’s Law, Metcalfe’s Law and Reed’s Law) relate to social media in BRIC countries —

1. Sarnoff’s Law: The value of a broadcast network is proportional to the number of viewers (n).

2. Metcalfe’s Law: The value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of users of the system (n2).

3. Reed’s Law: The value of a group forming network (or a social network) increases exponentially, proportional to 2 raised to the power the number of users in the network (2n).

In Sarnaff’s network, the only communication possible is one-to-many. In Metcalfe’s network, the only communication possible is one-to-one. In Reed’s network, all types of communication are possible, including one-to-one, many-to-many and some-to-some, so it’s effectively any-to-any. Continue Reading »

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