Lost in translation?

A posting – if that’s the right word – on the recently launched Silverback game, taken from the Gadget Blog:

It turns away that this migrant undertaking, Silverbackers, has universe to transact coupled with gorilla upkeep. Hike to the location to download the project prep added to learn by heart concerning these amazing creatures subsistence newest the forests of Vital Africa – their social order totals binding completed 700. Here’s the provocative tool: these gorillas are unguarded by reason of they keep body and soul toge in vogue a residence moneyed now Coltan, a man-made old en route for the acquire of jug phones. What bigger pathway to move keeping to this enigma than by our can phones?

It certainly looks like English… =D

Global gorillas

Last summer things began to take a turn for the worst for the worlds’ mountain gorilla population. Stuck between warring rebels, government troops and local populations, the deaths of a mother and infant took the 2007 death toll to nine. An estimated 380 mountain gorillas live in the Virunga National Park and surrounding volcanoes region, representing more than half the world’s population.

Of course, it’s not only the wildlife that’s suffering. Since 1998 an estimated five million people have died, with hundreds of thousands more displaced by the troubles. With many living in refugee camps, there’s increasing pressure on the environment, particularly for fuel wood. The Virunga National Park is an obvious – and worrying – target for those who find themselves within reach.

But despite the troubles, the conservation efforts continue. According to Wikipedia:

Land invasions and intense poaching have challenged the park authorities to the limit, but most rangers have remained active. Since 1994 about 120 rangers have been killed in the line of duty protecting the park from illegal poaching and land acquisition. Amongst other military activity, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) have been been using the park as a safe haven when they come under sustained attack, such as Laurent Nkunda’s offensives against them between April and May 2007

Back in 2003, as part of a project called wildlive!, I worked with an international conservation organisation – Fauna & Flora International (FFI) – to help them explore how mobile phones could be used to help raise money and awareness for gorilla conservation and local livelihoods. We ended up with a game called “Silverback”, an eight-level epic taking the player through the life of a mountain gorilla from birth through to adulthood. The game was very well received by the mobile gaming industry, scoring highly in their reviews. Sadly, three years later the service was pulled. The game was dragged down with it and forced into early ‘virtual’ retirement.

After becoming increasingly aware of the escalating conflict last October, it occurred to me that the time was right for “Silverback” to return. Thinking through what would need to be done to bring the game back to life, I realised that I knew enough people to make it happen relatively easily and for little cost. Six months later the game has been updated, re-built to support newer phones and re-launched via a new www.silverbackers.org website.

Back in 2003 there were more barriers to getting a mobile game to market than you could throw a stick, or mobile, at. Sadly, little has changed. To combat this and to keep costs down, avoid administrative headaches and to give us global coverage, we decided to follow Radiohead‘s example and allow people access to the product first for free, and let them decide how much they think it’s worth. They can then choose whether or not they want to donate to the cause, something which we obviously hope they will. In order to leverage the power of social networking, we have also set up a Silverbackers Facebook Group for people to join and show their support.

With no funding this is going to be a purely viral marketing affair. The whole project is highly experimental, too. How we measure success is unclear, but sometimes the best way to find out is to do.

To download “Silverback” on your phone, visit the Silverbackers Download page (and remember to donate!).

Text messaging. Democracy. Coffee

What a week for FrontlineSMS. Activity was already on the rise – we’re preparing for the launch of a new version of the software at Global Messaging 2008 in Cannes next month – but with news breaking this week on its use in Zimbabwe by Kubatana.net has come an additional flurry of press and user activity.

A number of Africa, technology and mobile blogs picked up on the latest report after I wrote about here earlier in the week. The sites quickest to the news included SmartMobs, Global Voices, DigiActive, Black Looks and Kabissa, with numerous other personal blogging sites continuing to link through.

Yesterday, a news item on “The World” also went out across public radio in the United States, where their Technology Correspondent interviewed kiwanja and Kubatana about how the software has been used in Zimbabwe. A three minute audio is available here (MP3, 2Mb).

Interestingly, this increase of interest has lead a number of sites to re-visit the use of FrontlineSMS in providing coffee prices to farmers, a subject I covered a couple of weeks earlier, here. The more notable sites to pick up on this has again been Global Voices, Ode Magazine and none-other than The Independent, who list kiwanja’s blog entry on the subject among its “Pick of the Blogs” for 9th April (“From conception to replication”).

All of this has lead to a flurry of activity from the non-profit community, with enquiries coming from far and wide – the United States, Cameroon, Trinidad and Tobago, Fiji, France and Uganda among many others. FrontlineSMS users around the world are slowly beginning to connect.

With so much already achieved with what is still technically the Beta release of the software, next month is very significant not only for FrontlineSMS, but also for the global NGO community who desperately need these kinds of tools in their work.

Kubatana reaches out with FrontlineSMS in Zimbabwe

The future of Zimbabwe hangs on a knife edge this morning, as it seems to have done for the past week (or the past few years, depending on your perspective). Like many people with an interest in the country, and like many others with friends or relatives living and working there, I’ve been closely following events on TV and online. International news sites such as the BBC have been as good as ever, but I’ve also been spending increasing amounts of time on local sites which, I feel, often give a ‘truer’, more personal sense of what’s going on. One of the best sites for this has been Kubatana.net

Back in the summer of 2006 I was fortunate to spend three weeks in Zimbabwe working with them. A local NGO seeking to promote human rights and good governance, Kubatana were the very first users of FrontlineSMS when it launched back in 2005, starting a trend which has seen the software used for similar activities in a number of other countries around the world. In their own words, FrontlineSMS finally opened up the possibilities for text messaging in their work, and I knew they had plans to use it during the 2008 elections. This is what they’ve been doing.

In addition to their SMS election line (promoted on their home page, above), they have been running a “What would you like a free Zimbabwe to look like?” initiative. Zimbabweans have been incredibly responsive, with many people saying that the question gave them hope in uncertain times. According to Kubatana:

It’s also been a real learning experience for us, reminding us that ordinary Zimbabweans have a wealth of good ideas to contribute, and our political and civic leadership must work on building a more participatory environment

A combination of SMS and email were used in the initiative, with text messages such as “Kubatana! No senate results as at 5.20 pm. What changes do YOU want in a free Zim? Lets inspire each other. Want to know what others say? SMS us your email addr” sent out to their mobile subscriber lists. FrontlineSMS was used to blast the messages out, and then used collect responses which were then distributed via an electronic newsletter and on the Kubatana Community Blog (see below).

According to Kubatana, “Without FrontlineSMS we would not have been able to process the volume of responses we have received, and we would not have been able to establish a two-way SMS communications service in the way that we have”.

In the event of a Presidential run-off, Kubatana plan to produce a broadsheet with the feedback they’ve received from Zimbabweans in order to remind them what each other wanted, and to inspire them to go out and vote (again). After the election, they hope to produce a booklet with a page on some of these ideas and include an editor’s comment, a cartoon or even a set of postcards carrying the most unique, original and practical ideas.

Unlike the Nigerian elections, where FrontlineSMS was used as a monitoring tool, in Zimbabwe it has been effectively used to mobilise and inform civil society during and after the election process. In both cases, the real success story has been the NGOs themselves – NMEM in Nigeria and Kubatana in Zimbabwe – who have both demonstrated the power of mobile technology in civil society initiatives, and what can be done when the right tools make it into the hands that need them the most.