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Posts from — January 2011

Mobile security: Going mainstream?

Spotted in the North Terminal at Gatwick Airport earlier this afternoon on a rolling electronic screen, between a car insurance and perfume advertisement (click for larger image).

“Protect yourself and your family with a robust set of security features, including advanced anti-virus technology, complete parental controls, personal data backup, and much more. Defend your mobile life

This is the first time I’ve seen a mobile security advertisement in such a prominent public space (I don’t recall ever seeing one for PC anti-virus/security software anywhere like this before – just computer shops and magazines). Are they tapping into growing concern and awareness among the general public around the security of their mobile phones?

Perhaps we’re beginning to see mobile security moving away from the domain of activism – which is where I see most of the discussion taking place – and into the mainstream. The way things are going, peace of mind for either could indeed be the new killer app.

January 26, 2011   6 Comments

From Jersey to Riyadh: Tribute to a friend

It’s quite fitting, really, that I find myself sitting in the most unlikely place – the foyer of a five star hotel in Saudi Arabia – randomly reading a tribute to a man who was instrumental in helping get me where I am today.

You won’t find anything online about Frederick Richard Vivian Howard Cooper, not even news of his passing late last year. Freddie was an intensely private man. His phone number was ex-directory, and he never gave anyone his contact details. For the vast majority of the time I knew him it was his social club down the road from the housing estate where I grew up in Jersey that gave me the point of contact I needed. After the “Learning Centre” shut down in 2000, that point of contact was lost, and we only managed to reconnect on a couple of further occasions before his passing.

The last time we spoke I’d just got news of my fellowship at Stanford, and we shared a coffee in St. Helier and reminisced about his club, and the early computer-aided-learning (CAL) programs I’d written for him on the Commodore PET computer he used in his teaching.

I was about fourteen when he first let me loose on it, and it sparked the beginnings of my IT career. Freddie even wrote my first ever reference, in 1982, when I nearly dipped out of school early to pursue that career. Without his help I would never have learnt to code, and would never have gained the early experience which later helped me secure employment running mainframe computers for a number of banks in the Island. He gave me an amazing opportunity, and I took it.

When I think about everything that’s happened to me since, and think about where I am today, Freddie Cooper was the early catalyst. He was an outstanding individual who gave many children on my housing estate guidance, friendship and advice over many years. He helped me gain experience on computers at a time when it was barely being taught in schools, and at a time when very few people could have afforded one of their own. Had it not been for him I would not have been able to code the first prototype version of FrontlineSMS almost twenty-five years later. All of the users of that software today – and the people benefitting from that use – have Freddie to thank, too.

One regret is that I didn’t get that one final chance to meet him and talk about all the exciting things happening today, and to thank him – and joke – one last time. He’d have been particularly proud of the work we’re doing with National Geographic. But taking credit was never Freddie’s style. If he’d wanted it, and wanted to be constantly reminded of what he’d done for the many people he’d helped, then he wouldn’t have kept himself to himself and wouldn’t have made it so difficult to track him down.

My career has been blessed by having met many wonderful people who’ve given me opportunities I could never have dreamed of. I took them all. Freddie Cooper set the ball rolling – and set the tone – over thirty years ago. And it’s because of this that I believe so strongly that we should help everyone along on their own journey whenever and wherever we can.

As Tim Smit reminded me recently:

Thanks, Freddie. For everything. May you rest in peace.

January 23, 2011   4 Comments

Beyond mobile community

Tim Smit, Founder of The Eden Project, recently gave an inspiring talk at the Emerge Conference in Oxford (which I blogged about, in Tweets, here). One of the many takeaways from his talk was this:

This applies just as much to topics and subject matter as it does to people. Some of the highlights for me last year were talks I gave to “mobile-for-development-neutral” audiences. Sometimes we’re so cosy in our “m4d” bubble that we forget that many people don’t realise things like M-PESA exist, or that in the developing world patients can get medicine or appointment reminders, or that farmers can access agricultural advice, all through their mobile phones. We’ve worked for some time at FrontlineSMS to correct this, and this year has witnessed the beginnings of an acceleration of our efforts.

Since writing a travel piece for Vodafone receiver back in June 2008, I’ve been trying to figure out how we can get mobile articles into in-flight magazines. It’s the perfect neutral, captive audience, after all. Late last year, it happened.

As well as helping with the article, we also supplied a selection of photographs from our Mobile Gallery for the Brussels Airlines feature (above). Sadly, the article – “Africa’s hotbed of phone innovation” – is not available online.

We’ve also got a number of conference talks lined up this year which continue to take the “mobile message” away from purely technical or “mobile-for-development” or ICT4D audiences. Later this week I’ll be heading off to speak at the Global Competitiveness Forum in Riyadh:

The Global Competitiveness Forum (GCF), the only event of its kind, is an annual meeting of global business leaders, international political leaders, and selected intellectuals and journalists brought together to create a dialogue with respect to the positive impact organisational and national competitiveness can have on local, regional and global economic and social development

Of course, we also have The Social Mobile Group on Facebook, and our new “Mobile Message” series on National Geographic which has gained considerable traction despite only running for a couple of months. With another dozen-or-so articles still scheduled to run, we’re hoping to keep a regular column and build on their readership’s growing interest in the topic.

And finally, back to magazines, late last year I had a long chat with the Editor of National Geographic Traveller magazine, and our ‘interview’ will be featured in the magazine within the next couple of months.

Talking and writing about our work, and mobiles-for-development more broadly, is always exciting. Taking it to new places is even more so.

January 17, 2011   5 Comments

Social Mobile meets Facebook

Anyone who reads this blog, or who follows our work with FrontlineSMS, will know there are two main themes which run throughout our work.

First, how do we lower the barriers to entry for NGOs looking to deploy mobile technology in their work? And second, how do we help share information about what mobile means in the developing world to the widest possible audience, i.e. one outside traditional development or technology circles?

A good example of the second theme is our recently-launched “Mobile Message” series running on the National Geographic website. We’re also targeting non-mobile-for-development and non-ICT4D conferences, and contributing chapters to books and giving interviews to magazines which take the message to a new audience. The latest was a piece on mobile innovation for an in-flight magazine for travellers on flights to Africa.

One of our early initiatives was the creation of The Social Mobile Group way back in November 2006. It was the first Facebook group of its kind to focus on the social application of mobiles and mobile technology, and it remains the largest group dedicated to the subject on Facebook today.

In a recent blog post I covered some of the challenges of building “mobile community“, and asked Maddie Grant, a Strategist at SocialFish, to help define it:

What makes a community open is when there’s “a lot more outside the login than inside”, so most of a community’s content must be at least viewable and shareable without logging in. To be active, most of a community’s content must be member (user) generated, not owner-generated, and must have some degree of conversation which includes comments, discussions and reviews

The Social Mobile Group always attempted to do this, and one of its first moves was to appoint Group Officers, handing control and ownership of the group to community members. This has worked well. All of the content and discussion comes from the community, everything is open, and thanks to the efforts of members alone it has organically grown to a membership of just under 3,000 today.

If you’d like to join, visit the Group’s Facebook page. If you’d like to get involved – or help us spread the mobile message – invite your friends, or leave a message on our wall. Our Group Officers would love to hear from you.

January 6, 2011   28 Comments

Ten from twenty-ten

It’s been exactly three years since I last put together a compilation of Blog posts, so another seemed well overdue. Last month also marked the eighth anniversary of my time in mobile, and next month it’ll be five years since I started blogging. And I joined Twitter exactly three years ago next week, too.

The Christmas/New Year break is always a good time to reflect, and look back (and forward) on what’s been achieved (and what remains to be achieved). It’s also a good time for renewal. Perhaps that’s why the end of the year/the start of the next brings up so many anniversaries for me.

So, “Ten from twenty-ten” is a look back – through the lens of ten of my favourite blog posts from 2010 – at some of what I see as the bigger challenges and issues in social mobile today.

Click here to download the document (PDF, 3.8 Mb). Feel free to distribute, republish, discuss, disagree or share – should you feel inclined.

Happy reading, and happy new year. Thanks for being here.

January 3, 2011   32 Comments