Global Mobile

Secretary Clinton Announces "Civil Society 2.0"

Speaking today in Marrakesh, Secretary Hillary Clinton announced a new initiative of the State Department, "Civil Society 2.0." Under this program, State will provide funding and expertise to allow grassroots civil society organizations around the world use technology to grow and work more effectively.  From the press release:

“Civil Society 2.0” includes the following components:

  1. Deploying a team of experienced technologists to work with civil society organizations around the globe to provide training and support to build their digital capacity. The competencies developed in the trainings will include:
    • How to build a website
    • How to blog
    • How to launch a text messaging campaign
    • How to build an online community
    • How to leverage social networks for a cause
  2. Partnering these technologists with local civil society organizations and governments to develop and implement technology-based solutions to local problems.
  3. Publishing interactive “how to” programs and curriculum online to help organizations that do not have access to in-person assistance.
  4. Creating a curated open platform that allows any citizen or company to develop, share or suggest content for the curriculum.
  5. Allocating $5 million in grant funds for pilot programs in the Middle East and North Africa that will bolster the new media and networking capabilities of civil society organizations and promote online learning in the region.

In the past, this kind of capacity building would have been undertaken by Western governments and NGOs. By letting foreign peoples and governments tackle their own problems, it's much more likely that those problems will be addressed and solved in effective, locally-relevant ways. What's more, this spread of technology will help promote American ideas, and make the U.S. a more sympathetic actor in the eyes of those around the world.

This is yet another element of the very savvy "21st Century Statecraft" that Secretary Clinton and her advisor Alec Ross are applying around the globe, and a part of the "Smart Power" approach to global leadership that the Obama Administration has embraced.

How Do You Say "Dot Com" in Urdu?

Sometime next year, for the first time, an internet domain name without any Latin characters will go live.

WangZhanICANN, the organization in charge of domain name and IP address registration, among other tasks, voted on Friday to permit domain names composed of nearly 100,000 different characters, beyond the 37 currently-permitted characters you see on your keyboard. Hindi and Chinese, Greek and Hebrew, Russian and Arabic characters will all be allowed in top-level domains.

The hope is that this change in policy will bring the internet within the reach of yet more people. It will certainly make the internet a more viable tool for children learning to read in languages that don't use the Latin alphabet. It's not an earth-moving event, perhaps, but it's a small step that recognizes the global, boundary-free nature of the internet.

If you're into this kind of thing, here's a hopelessly sappy video from ICANN celebrating the change:

All Mobiles Eve

Happy Halloween from Global Mobile and the rest of the NDN squad! I'll leave you to your pumpkin carving, trick or treating, and general ghouling about with this week's New Yorker cover, featuring parents exploring the power of mobile networks, while out on Halloween night:

New Yorker Halloween Cover

Spooky? A bit. How appropriate.

Food for Iraqi Refugees via Mobile

While the State Department is using SMS to build social networks in Pakistan, the UN World Food Programme is using SMS to distribute food aid to Iraqi refugees in Syria. Beneficiaries will recieve vouchers via text message with codes that can be redeemed at state-run stores.  So far it's just a pilot program, serving just 1,000 of the 130,000 Iraqi refugees recieving food aid in Syria, but the hope is to scale it broadly. If it proves successful, it's win-win-win:

WFP Mobile Food VouchersIt's great for the beneficiaries, who can now spend their voucher on whatever food they like-- including perishables like milk and eggs, which are not included in the typical food aid basket. What's more, beneficiaries can now avoid the trip to the WFP headquarters and the wait on line for food.

It's a boon for local business.  Instead of the WFP importing rice, flour, chickpeas, and whatnot, they'll now be passing the cash to shopkeepers, and circulating money in the Syrian economy.

And it's good for the WFP-- if the program scales well, they'll save a bundle on food distribution costs.

I think before long we'll be seeing something similar in the United States replacing the food stamp program. The benefits aren't quite as significant as in the WFP's situation, and the functionality will be different (we don't, for example, have many government-run groceries in the States), but I imagine this will be one part of an inevitable shift of government service delivery onto web and mobile platforms.

(h/t Dolbee)

State Department Supporting Social Tech in Pakistan

Pakistan Cell PhoneSecretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Islamabad, and yesterday she announced American support for a new mobile-phone based social network in Pakistan.  The network is called "Humari Awaz," which means "our voice," and it is accessible through a free SMS shortcode on all five mobile networks. Pakistanis will be able to use these networks for purely social ends, or to enhance business, media, agricultural, and other purposes. The US government will pay for the first 24 million text messages sent through Humari Awaz.

As in much of the developing world, Pakistan's 95 million mobile subscriptions vastly outnumber landline or internet connections, so it makes a lot of sense to leverage SMS technology to tie people together.  I'd be curious to hear more about who State is partnering with on this-- particularly who will be operating the back-end-- and how the network will function for users.

But on a less tech-y and more geopolitical note, I'm a big fan of the State Department's continued embrace of "21st Century Statecraft," to advance American interests by using modern technology and encouraging its adoption around the world. Pakistan is the "most dangerous place on earth," and also one of the places most central to American security. Leveraging social technology to help build civil society, improve the economy, and empower Pakistani citizens is a smart, focused use of our power, and initiatives like this may do more to promote American security than any direct US action against al Qaeda's strongholds in Waziristan ever could.

Smartphone Wars II

DroidFollowing up on my post yesterday, two new bits:

The Droid dropped today.  It looks pretty slick.  It'll go on sale in a bit more than a week.  Until then, we wait.

Second, the elephant I passed over yesterday was, of course, the Blackberry, which still does dominate the smartphone market.  But I came across this chart (via Digital Daily) that shows the iPhone catching up at an amazing rate.RIM v. Apple

This illustrates a point I started to make at the end of yesterday's post. The iPhone has become the default for personal-use smartphones.  Its customer satisfaction is head and shoulders above competitors.  As far as I can tell, the only thing holding it back from completely dominating the market is its marriage to the AT&T network, which just doesn't have the coverage of Verizon's. 

So that's why I was wondering out loud what could possibly be holding Apple back from signing up with Verizon.  Presumably, it couldn't be anything other than the big check they get from AT&T for exclusivity... but at what price does one cede domination?

Smartphone Wars

The Times reported over the weekend on Android's growing success as the OS of choice for handset manufacturers. When it was first unveiled, the Google software was only running on a few devices, and only on T-Mobile's networks.  Now, it's stealing major market share from Windows Mobile.  Motorola is dropping the Microsoft OS entirely, and others are following suit.  Why? Well, Android is free, it's open-source, and it's cool.  And Windows Mobile is none of these things.  In fact, it's so uncool, even people who use it have never heard of it.

The signature Android device, expected this fall, is called Droid, and is the result of a team-up of Google, Motorola, and Verizon (and will be unveiled tomorrow morning...). But the Droid's big rival isn't anything running Windows Mobile.  Rather, Droid is reputed to be the first legit challenge to the iPhone. And this ad (that is exciting for some people and creepy for the rest of us) looks like a massive cannon pointed at Apple's head:

You'd think this would be an indication that talks to bring the iPhone onto the Verizon network had, to say the least, gone south.  But nay, Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg assured everyone earlier this week that Verizon is still very much interested in the iPhone-- it's Apple's call, he says.  If Apple jumped ship from its exclusive deal with AT&T, it would certainly be bad news for that carrier, which has seen their profits powered largely by the iPhone's success. But it's hard to know exactly what's holding Apple back, aside from a feeling of offense at that ad.

In other Android news, defense contractor Raytheon has developed an Android-based application (the power of open source!) that allows soldiers to track fellow soldiers and unmanned drones-- yes, drones-- in real time.  Providing, that is, that the drones are on their buddy list.

What is Global Mobile?

What is this indeed?  Good question.  Thanks for asking.  So we're two months and 37 posts into Global Mobile.  The last time I did one of these mumbling-out-loud self-evaluations, I explained for you the background of this new project-- how NDN arrived in this space, and what we've done here in years past. Today, I'm going to try to draw a few vague boundaries, and try to describe what the oft-nebulous subject matter of this blog really is.

Clearly, we're not just talking about mobile technology here-- not just cell phones or smart phones or wireless broadband.  I've written a fair bit about fiber-optic internet access, too, and of course about the applications and services that run on all that hardware. It's about all these things, but more broadly, it's about the single, vast, global network that ties most of the world together. To use the technical shorthand, we're talking about ICTs (information and communication technologies).  All this notwithstanding, I'm keeping "global mobile" as my blog's title because, to be frank, I like it when things rhyme.

So, to put it in a slightly cumbersome tagline: this blog is about the ways the global information and communication network is changing societies and improving lives around the world.  Sound good?

And since we're here, I'll keep my promise of a video every Friday: This is Tom Kalil, the Deputy Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, talking earlier this summer at an event we hosted launching the Vodafone Foundation/UN Foundation report "mHealth for Development." Enjoy!

Social Media, Active Technology, and What Have You

Jared Cohen-- the State Department's wunderkind who sent the e-mail that stopped the Twitter from going down during the Iran uprising-- had a piece up on HuffPo earlier this week explaining how social media is spreading freedom and prosperity around the world.  Then he explains why he hates the term "social media." Basically:

The term "social media" as we know it today appeared in July 2004 as a reference to participatory media like blogging, wikis, social networks, and related technologies. This is all well and good if technology was still primarily about connecting people to information, which is really the essence of media. However, this term has become obsolete in a world where technology has become a critical tool for connecting people not only to information and ideas, but also to other individuals, entities (NGOs, companies, governments, etc.), and more recently actual resources be they financial, medical, or judicial.

He frames the essence of the technology as its power to "connect," and suggests "connection technologies-- or ConnecTech" as an alternative.  I think Jared's right that the phrase is a little outmoded, but I'm not sure he's quite hit on the solution-- ConnecTech sounds more like a late-90's hardware startup than a revolutionary force in our society...

It's an interesting conversation to have (especially for a word nerd like me), as it makes you think about the essence of what these new tools are. Commenter LoraineAntrim had the best idea I've seen-- "Active Technology."  I'm still thinking.  Ideas?

Technology Salon: Challenges of Sustainability in ICD4D

Took part an interesting discussion yesterday with a great group of people in ICT for development at the bimonthly Technology Salon, hosted by the UN Foundation/Vodfone Foundation partnership, and chaired by the inimitable Wayan Vota. A good writeup of the conversation is here; one of the most interesting parts of the conversation for me was this bit:

In development, we are often looking at projects with a three-year funding commitment, while in domestic private industry, three years is considered the initial start-up phase, with five years the usual time horizon for profitability. In the developing world, even successful organizations like Kick Start, consider 10 years a more reasonable break even benchmark.

So there is a gap between this pilot/start up phase, and a self-sustaining business model, that isn't bridged by current financing. Donors are reluctant to fund "on-going operating costs", yet venture capitol sees development investments as too risky, and development financing organizations rarely see above microfinance or below multi-million dollar financing.

There certainly is a gap here. Particularly in the mHealth space, the globe is spotted with trial projects, proofs of concept, and other two- to three-year efforts to test out new ideas. While many of these projects have proven successful, or at least shown promise, it has been difficult to get either sustained startup capital or commitments from governments/NGOs to see these projects through to sustainability.

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