MobileActive08, a conference about using mobile technology for social action, was held this week in Johannesburg, South Africa. The conference was a 3 day event and covered topics such as: mobile internet usage by low income youth, how mobile advancements are creating new opportunities for news reporting, and ideas around using mobile technology to assist the informal sector and micro enterprises.

In this post I highlight some of the presentations, workshops and outcomes from MobileActive08.

This is a guest post by Ismail Dhorat from ignite^2. He is passionate about the possibility of internet and technology and its ability to institute social change.

Unlocking the potential of mobile

There are over 3.5 billion people currently connected with mobile phones, meaning penetration worldwide is in excess of 50%. In the developing world mobile penetration exceeds even internet penetration. Take South Africa as an example - internet penetration is around the 10% mark, while mobile penetration currently sits at 95%. Many people in the developing world do not have access to computers or the internet, but they do have mobile phones.

Here are some of the most interesting workshops I attended:

Mobile Internet use by Low-Income Youth (Tino Kruetzer)

I found this presentation by Tino Kruetzer, a researcher at the University of Cape Town, extremely interesting. It was based on the interim results of a pilot study on mobile internet usage by low income youth in Cape Town. Some of the key findings were:

  • Mobile internet usage was far higher then computer based internet usage, 83% had used internet on a mobile compared to 20% on a computer for the previous day.
  • Close to 100% had used a mobile phone as often as yesterday, while the next highest item used was an (Ipod/Mp3 player) and computers were 3rd with under 10%.
  • SMS messaging exceeds even voice calls, with 65% having sent at least one message on the previous day.
  • Instant messaging is the most popular application with 47%.
  • 56% of the youth surveyed used their mobile phones on the previous day to take a picture.
  • Mxit was the most popular mobile instant messaging application.
  • On average about 50% of their money was spent on mobile services, R30 (3-4 $) a week.
  • Even though there are cheaper options for voice calls like community (public) phones, there is a social stigma attached to calling each other from public phones. They prefer using their mobiles even with higher prices.
  • They do not think that using applications like IM or Facebook as being on the internet; when asked if they had used the internet, they say no even though they answer yes for having using IM.

How mobile advancements are creating new opportunities for news reporting (Safdar Mustafa)

Safdar Mustafa from Al-Jazeera spoke on how mobile technology is assisting journalists and the news room. Nokia 95's are used with GPS to tag the locations and the video quality is sufficient enough for broadcast. He covered two very interesting trials by Al-Jazeera into the use of mobile technology. The first, a bomb blast in Chad in which the reporter did not have his camera with him. He had gone out to purchase something when the blast occurred. The reporter recorded everything with the N95 in one hand and his press badge in the other. The video reached the newsroom in under 20 minutes and was put on air, faster then any network.

For the second trial, reporters went into the Sahara equipped with n95's capturing images of Tuareg rebels. All the images were Geo tagged, and an interactive map was created on Al-Jazeera Labs of the journey taken of the reporters, with images overlayed. Safdar also discussed some of the custom applications they have built to send data back to the news room. A greenpeace activist questioned if these tools would be made available to other organisations who also have a need for such tools. Safdar also indicated they were investigating citizen media and creative commons licenses.

Innovations in mobile social marketing (Gustav Praekelt, Robin Miller, Jonathan Donner)

This presentation covered a case study from South Africa for promoting a product to lower income groups. It asked the question: How do you reach lower income groups? Choosing the right technology to reach these people is the most important factor. For this particular case they made use of the "Please call me" service, which is offered by South African mobile operators. The service allows a customer to send a free SMS to anyone requesting a call back. Every day 30,000,000 of these messages are sent, mostly by lower income groups or people without prepaid credit. The campaign inserted a short advertisement in each message. Customers had to respond by sending an SMS to a dedicated number with the lure of winning prizes. This resulted in 500,000 messages per a month. Similar campaigns could be run for campaigns like HIV awareness, but the key is to have a wide variety of smaller prizes.

Online Markets and using mobile to assist the informal sector (Ismail Dhorat, Swati Mylavarapu, Juliana Rotich)

This session was hosted by StartupAfrica to brainstorm ideas around using mobile technology to assist the informal sector and micro enterprises. Some of key ways that mobiles can assist micro enterprises are:

  • Information via mobile (SMS/WAP), Examples would be price information, weather, quotes
  • Micro Payments / Accepting of micro payments via mobile
  • Mobile markets to sell products, source raw materials and services
  • Co-ordination between different micro-enterprises
  • Linking of different markets and vertical industries via mobile
  • Some examples: Cell Bazaar, Kazi 560, M-Pesa

Some of the key action points that were borne out of discussions and workshops at Mobile Active

  • The formation of an Open Mobile Consortium (Working name), the aim is to bring together all the companies who have solutions in this space. The aim is to provide a standard, formulate best practices and bring together the fragmented solutions.
  • This first MobileCamp hosted in Africa is being planned.
  • The creation of a mobile researchers network.
  • The creation of a mobile bill of rights.
  • Project Diaspora, Networking the African Diaspora.
  • Using mobiles for Crime Prevention in South Africa.
  • Creating a primer on Citizen Media and the tools that are available out there.
  • Students To Develop Mobile Phone Applications to Empower Business Women in Senegal (Wiki)

This is a guest post by Ismail Dhorat from ignite^2. You can find him blogging about Technology in Africa and also blogging random musings about life. Every so often he also blogs at Techleader. He is also passionate about the possibility of internet and technology and it's ability to institute social change.