With innovation, less can be more.

If your technology solution turns out to be more complicated than the actual problem you’re trying to solve then you’ve probably fallen into the “over-engineering” trap. The temptation to try to be all things to all people, or to cram in as much functionality as possible, can be the death of many technology-based projects.

In the world of innovation, interesting things happen if you train yourself to “think lean”. In the examples below, less is not only more – it’s the secret to success. Google looked at rivals and stripped back their home page, leaving the one vital component – the search box. Blogger, originally a component of a much larger information management platform called Pyra, was spun out after it proved the most useful feature. And Twitter took one small part of Facebook – the status update – and revolutionised how many of us communicate online.

Search engines

From: Yahoo!’s “all things to all people”

To: Google’s simple search


From: Pyra’s holistic project management platform
(ValleySpeak screenshot indicative only)

To: Blogger’s simple publishing tool

Social media

From: Facebook’s rich timeline

To: Twitter’s simple status update

The lesson? Strip back your idea, get to the essence of what it is you’re trying to do, and drop the clutter. Focus is king.

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.

The Social Mobile Group

Mobile phones are revolutionising communications across the globe, more so in developing countries where landline infrastructure is lacking in many rural (and some urban) areas. Mobile phones represent the only means of communication for hundreds of millions of people.

At the same time, mobiles have opened up huge economic opportunities for their owners. They can now be more easily contacted when work is available, they can use them to advertise their services, receive market prices, job information, and so on. Others now make a living ‘sharing’ their phones and charging non-owners to make calls. Some make a living charging phone batteries, selling top-up vouchers, or covers and chargers.

If you’re interested in how mobile phones, used socially, are changing the face of the planet, in particular in developing countries – and you’re on Facebook – then let’s share news, experiences and knowledge. Visit The Social Mobile Group page for further information and to sign up, or if you’d like to see what other people are saying, check out the blog entry on Black Looks.