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July 29, 2009

Still beating the SMS drum

BOSTON, USA – While it is true that I am no longer the Big Kahuna here at Nokia Conversations, I’ll still be writing (hopefully more) for the next few months as I transition my duties over to the new guy (officially coming on-board 01 Aug). What’s more, James and Mike urged me to get back to my (occasional) round-ups of what’s happening in the industry. Indeed, this is a good idea, since I have just returned from holiday and really have no idea what’s transpired in the past four weeks.

Some of this stuff might be old to you, but I think it worthwhile to point out what has caught our eye and maybe give a comment or two. Many things have happened over July, from buyouts, to spinoffs, to thinking, to worrying. Over the next few days, I’ll do some catch up and show you some things we thought significant.

Interested? Then read on for my first batch of links.

“I’m not dead yet!”
I hope at least one of you remembers my month-long experiment with the Nokia 1209. What I wanted to prove was that a voice and text device can still be a member of the Hypeconnected Age.

I learned a lot during the experiment, particularly about expectations of connectivity and communication, and the amount of preparation required to make up for the constraints posed by the voice and text device.

Nonetheless, my enthusiasm for voice and text devices participating in internet-powered services has remained undiminished.

Of course, our favorite guy carrying this voice-text banner is Ken Banks, the creator of Frontline SMS, and an advocate for mobile tech for developing nations.

He has a great site where he talks about cool things people do around mobile and developing countries. I picked up two articles from the past month that caught my eye.

SMS is the best medicine
The first article was about activists in various African countries mapping the availability of essential medicines and mapping them on an Ushahidi-powered site, called “Stop Stock-outs.” Activists send coded SMSes (to a phone connected to a computer with FrontlineSMS, of course) that get processed and mapped.

This is a clever example of how mobile phones have democratized the distribution of information and increased the transparency of businesses and governments. While not as sophisticated as air monitors connected to phones, this solution provides a low-cost, simple way to gather information from a large number of volunteers.

More mobile phone apps
I was wondering why there weren’t more efforts around getting folks in developing countries to build mobile apps and service (indeed, I am in the middle of a long running discussion with an interesting fellow from Nigeria about this very subject).

So I was happy to see an article from Ken mention the Grameen AppLab. The folks at Grameen have done so much to advance mobile phones in developing countries – from microloans for phone ladies to large grants for technological innovations. This AppLab seems to be a great opportunity to spark a mobile phone cottage industry built upon local understanding of the market.

While it was a Google trade service that got a lot of attention, I find Ken’s mention of the “Health Tips – Clinic Finder” combo to be much more important.

In any case, I hope that Grameen can really boost the creation of locally important apps and services for a region that is predominantly voice and text phones.

And I am sure FrontlineSMS will be involved in all this somehow.

Photo from Ken Banks,