Where technology meets anthropology, conservation and development
Random header image... Refresh for more!

Posts from — June 2010

Leveraging the wisdom of the crowd

Late on Saturday night TV I caught a live performance from Pet Shop Boys, who were headlining one of the stages at Glastonbury. Not only did they go down incredibly well – for the impartial listener, at least – but they ended up trending on Twitter, which must have been a first. Reading the public reaction to their set reminded me of a conversation Laura and I had the other week.

While I was talking about mobile phones, innovation and FrontlineSMS to an audience at National Geographic (who were largely new to the subject), our UK-based team were helping out at a mobile event in London, primarily with a crowd who knew a whole lot more about what it was and what it did.

Pet Shop Boys always put on a great show, but what was striking about Saturday was that this wasn’t their usual crowd. These were people who would unlikely ever go to a Pet Shop Boys concert. It was a smart move – and a brave one – to take their electronic theatrical stage show to a totally new audience at a cult summer festival dominated by rock bands.

Taking the social mobile message outside of our own tight-knit community is something I’ve always been keen on, which is why I enjoyed writing for PC World. For me, this is where the real potential lies – with people who have never considered using mobile, let alone attend a mobile conference. Infinitely more grassroots non-profits have little sense of what the technology can do for them than do.

Most don’t even know they should be looking. And that needs to be fixed.

June 28, 2010   8 Comments

Become a FrontlineSMS icon!

One of the more fun things about sharing our work at conferences, workshops and ICT4D gatherings is witnessing the reaction to our FrontlineSMS “\o/” logo. There’s something of a story behind this, and the badges that we take on the road with us have been enthusiastically gobbled up in their thousands. I will never again doubt the brilliance of the talented people at Wieden+Kennedy.

We’ve also been getting reactions from users in the field, and among our supporters, in the shape of photographs. We’ve got a growing collection, and we’ll soon be updating our Flickr page with the latest additions, and plan to make a short video of the best of them.

Talking of videos, hats off to @chrissiy for spotting this great Mercedes SLS advert which could, with the exception of the final few seconds, be the perfect advertisement for FrontlineSMS.

If you want to join in the fun, send us photos of you, your family or friends doing the \o/ and you could be a star in the first genuine FrontlineSMS video! Just email them to videopics [at] frontlinesms.com and we’ll do the rest. And if you want to take it a little further, how about trying some fun photos with the FrontlineSMS:Medic and FrontlineSMS:Credit logos? \+/ and \$/?

June 24, 2010   27 Comments

Waking up in unexpected places

There’s a school of thought which asserts that our background and family upbringing largely define us, rather than our biology – a theory known more widely as the nature vs. nurture debate. Although elements of this apply to all of us to varying degrees, sometimes I sit back and wonder how on earth I got to where I am today. I don’t just mean geographically, but spiritually, too.

As a child, this is where I spent most of my early years. Twenty-five years of it, to be precise. I often stop and ask myself – how did I get from here…

… to here?

One thing I do know. Whatever happened, and whatever happens next, we should never forget where we came from. Or the person we once were.

June 16, 2010   15 Comments

Rethinking innovation

Last week I had the incredible opportunity to talk about our work with FrontlineSMS at the National Geographic Explorers Symposium in Washington DC. A big part of what we do is to try and take the mobile message to an entirely new audience, and to help people re-think what innovation means in the developing world, using mobile technology as our lead.

It’s great to see such a revival of interest in appropriate technology, something I first became a fan of at University way back in 1997. As a sign of this growing interest, World Watch recently published one of the best and most comprehensive articles to date on “mobile technology as an appropriate technology”. You can read about that here, and it is well worth a look.

There are, of course, increasing examples of innovative applications of technology, particularly in the field of renewable energy and particularly in the developing world. Two recent and favourite examples are the solar-powered light bulb and the energy-harvesting football, both of which I’m a big fan of – not necessarily in the technology itself (although it is pretty neat), but in the approach.

Solar-powered light?

When I first heard about this I wasn’t sure if I’d read it right. A solar-powered light bulb? Well, the Nokero N100 is a solar LED bulb which can be left outside in direct sunlight during the day. This charges up its internal battery which then gives you up to four hours of light at night. It’s a brilliantly simple idea, and one which has huge potential in developing countries. Not only could it solve significant lighting issues for many households, but it also has positive health implications (replacing kerosine lamps) and, of course, potential benefits to the environment. More on the the Nokero N100 here.

Kid-powered football?

This was an instant favourite because of its sheer simplicity and brilliance. It’s not a million miles away from the Play Pumps concept, harvesting the ‘wasted’ energy of childrens’ play to generate electricity. While children kick the ‘soccket’ football around, it harvests the kinetic energy generated by the ball’s movement. A short ten minute kick-around charges an internal battery which can later power an LED bulb for up to four hours. There’s more on Soccket in this New York Times article by good friend Jim Witkin.

I don’t know about you, but I think we could do with these kinds of innovation everywhere.

June 15, 2010   64 Comments

“Living a boys adventure tale”

I was no different to many other children my age, taking every opportunity to get my hands on a National Geographic magazine and flicking through each colourful page in wonder and amazement. I’d get most of mine cheap from jumble sales back then – I can afford to buy them full price these days – but that sense of fascination remains.

Thirty years on and I find myself in Washington DC attending the National Geographic Explorers Symposium. I’ve packed quite a lot in over those thirty years – school building in Zambia, hospital building in Uganda, a degree in Social Anthropology, carrying out biodiversity surveys in Uganda, running a primate sanctuary in Nigeria and various trips and visits to a host of other countries, most on the African continent.

Since 2003 my career took a significant turn when I started working in mobile, and the development of FrontlineSMS takes up the majority of my time these days. It was this work which caught the eye of the panel at National Geographic, culminating in the Award announced last month.

I’ve always been keen to take the mobile story out of the entrepreneurship, social media, activism and technology circles and more into the mainstream. Many of the articles I used to write for PC World were primarily designed to do just that. I’m excited to be able to talk about the role of mobile technology around the world to the Symposium delegates and attendees this week, and am excited to meet at first hand some of the amazing explorers and adventurers I was previously only able to read about (the man who helped discover the wreck of the Titanic among them).

It promises to be a fascinating few days, and I’ll be taking every opportunity available to see how our work – and how mobile more widely – can be applied to some of the work being done by National Geographic and their incredible family of Fellows and Emerging Explorers.

June 6, 2010   9 Comments

#Scale

“There are very few human beings who receive the truth, complete and staggering, by instant illumination. Most of them acquire it fragment by fragment, on a small scale, by successive developments, cellularly, like a laborious mosaic.”

Anais Nin (1903 – 1977)

June 2, 2010   17 Comments