Political Technology

Best Of NDN's Mobile Policy Work

This Wednesday, former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt and Suzanne Hall of the State Department will be joining NDN as we release a new paper on the “Mobile Revolution, Revisited.” Tim Chambers authored the first version of this paper back in 2006 and the ensuing five years of election engagement, mobile-enabled revolution, and technology-based international development has proven his work to be prescient and its update incredibly timely.

NDN and New Policy Institute have long been on the cutting edge of mobile policy. We were among the first to not only recognize its game-changing potential for election strategy and community development, but also among the most outspoken advocates of public policies that supported the growth, adoption, and spread of mobile technology. Our Global Mobile Blog has also consistently provided a vital window into the challenges and opportunities these technologies face around the world. In preparation for this Wednesday’s event we have assembled ten of the most influential pieces on mobile that NDN has released. Simon Rosenberg addressed many of these issues in his forward to Crashing The Gate, Marcos Moulitsas' critically acclaimed book, in 2006. Our efforts on this front stretch back nearly a decade and continue to be a priority for us. We hope that you’ll reacquaint yourself with some of NDN’s ground-breaking work on this front and join us on Wednesday, March 7th. As always, we welcome your feedback and thoughts. 

1. Mobile Media in 21st Century Politics - Tim Chambers and Rob Sebastian. September 1, 2006

2. A laptop in Every Backpack - Alec Ross and Simon Rosenberg. May 1, 2007

3. The 50 Year Strategy - Simon Rosenberg and Peter Leyden. December 2007

4. Harnessing the Mobile Revolution - Thomas Kalil. October 8, 2008

5. Obama: No Realist He - Simon Rosenberg. June 16, 2009

6. The Power of Mobile - Alec Ross (Video). June 26, 2009

7. Governance and the Internet Ecosystem - Tom Tauke (Video). March 25, 2010

8. Connection Technologies in U.S. Foreign Policy - Sam DuPont. September 10, 2010

9. The Age of Possibility - Simon Rosenberg (Video). April 29, 2011

10. The Employment Effects of Advances in Internet and Wireless Technology: Evaluating the Transitions from 2G to 3G and from 3G to 4G - Rob Shapiro and Kevin Hassett. January 18, 2012



"Global Mobile" Weekly Roundup- June 24, 2011

President Obama visited Carnegie Mellon University's National Robotics Engineering Center today to speak on technology, innovation, and a renaissance of American manufacturing.  The full text of the speech can be found here.

On mobile technology and health:

A post by Marissa Glauberman on ONE blog details the accomplishments of the partnership between the United Nations Foundation (UNF) and the Vodafone Foundation in their efforts to use mobile technology to improve health care in developing countries.

Below is an interview with Awa Dieng of DataDyne.org, a Kenya-based companythat invented a data compilation and sharing software called EpiSurveyor that is greatly increasing efficiency in developing countries' healthcare providers in responding to health threats:

This post was part of a series within another ONE blog that is definitely worth keeping track of it you're interested in mobile technology's role in development: "Digital Africa"

Another article on mobile technology's uses in global health initiatives (which is very much worth reading for examples of other organizations and other innovations) reported the statistic:

Of the 114 countries surveyed by the World Health Organization, only 19 did not use some form of mobile health technology

On wireless technology and Asia:

According to an article for ZD Net Asia by Liau Yun Qing, Long Term Evolution (LTE) rollouts in the Asia-Pacific region are ongoing and the 4G technology is fast becoming mainstream.  Alan Hadden, president of GSA (Global mobile Suppliers Association) is quoted as saying:

...the Asia region is "consistently in the forefront of mobile communications industry developments and this will continue"

On the rise of "SoLoMo" (Social, Location, Mobile) startups and what more traditional businesses should do in response:

According to Bruce LeSourd writing for iMedia Connection in association with Apple:

A new industry of SoLoMo startups has appeared in the last two years, built from the ground up to exploit the convergence of people, information, services, things, and places on modern mobile platforms.

LeSourd goes on to explain the impact this will have on the way traditional "brick-and mortar" companies do business and then lays out a list of recommendations for remaining competitive, all of which can be found in the full article here.

And finally, on mobile mobile technology:

An article by Jonathan Oosting for mLive.com on mobile technology inside vehicles and why it's a high-risk, high-reward game to be playing.


"Global Mobile" Weekly Roundup- June 17, 2011

Sam duPont, former director of NDN's Global Mobile program wrote an interesting post on the New York Times on interenet freedom. The link to his blog (with the post and all his beautiful pictures of the Phillippines) is here

According to a New York Times article last week, the preeminent position Nokia has enjoyed in emerging marketes is now being threatened by companies like ZTE of China and Micromax of India.  Even small, no-name firms from China are getting a large share of the market.  According to Geoff Blaber, an analyst with CSS Insight (a mobile communications research firm in London):

Three years ago Nokia’s position in emerging markets looked impenetrable, but low-cost chip sets and growing scale has helped a number of Asian manufacturers to price aggressively and seize market share

Yesterday the World Bank, in partnership with mobile handset maker, Nokia, the Finnish Government and iHub Consortium,  opened a new incubation facility for entrepreneurs and innovators in the field of mobile technology in Nairobi, Kenya called m-Lab East Africa.  According to World Bank Director, Johannes Zutt:

"In Kenya, it's clear is a lot of potential in ICT...We are working with Kenya to promote areas where we think it will flourish - tourism and ICT."

Finnish Ambassador, Heli Sirve, agrees, saying:

I hope that m-Lab will succeed in generating new mobile applications and improve people's lives in Kenya and East Africa"

In another article by Ronald Njorge, Zutt adds:

"Other developing countries such as India have developed a world class Information Technology (IT) industry and there is no reason Kenya should not develop if entrepreneurs are provided with the right environment."

CNN is planning to air a fascinating-looking program called "iRevolution: Online Warriors of the Arab Spring," this Sunday at 8pm Eastern Standard Time.  Looks like it might be worth tuning in to.  The CNN article by Gabe LaMonica and Taryn Fixel on the program and on the topic of the role of technology in revolutions in general can be found here.

A story on allafrica.com by Julie Frederikse calls for the assessment of the role mobile teechnology can play in health.  The story is definitely worth checking out and can be found here.

Finally, a nice little blog post by Jonas Landgren on one of the main benefits that the spread of mobile technology across the globe has to offer: improving emergency and disaster responses.


Friday New Tools Feature: Smartphones Go Mainstream

They're no longer just for early adopters; as 2009 winds down, a cornucopia of new smartphones are hitting the market, and they're shaping up to be really good. With the Palm Pre (and future phones running its slick WebOS), all of the new Android phones coming out (2 or 3 new ones coming to Verizon alone very soon), and even a few decent Windows Mobile phones, 2009 looks like it will be the year that ushered in the age of the smartphone.

It has taken a few years for retailers to catch up after the iPhone revolutionized the mobile phone; many have continued to focus on featurephones, essentially regular phones with gimmicky selling points, instead of fully taking advantage of the mobile platform. But that is finally changing in a big way. Particularly tantalizing is the new Motorola Droid (left), Verizon's first real competitor for the iPhone (and the first phone on Verizon in a long time that I actually really want). Though I'm lukewarm on their advertising campaign for it, the Droid does indeed look to be a potential iPhone killer, and might be just the comeback that Motorola needs right now. 

Perhaps iPhone killer is not the right way to put it - there's plenty of space for competition in the exploding smartphone market, and the iPhone is still doing just fine. In fact, this quarter AT&T sold more iPhones than ever - a full 74% of AT&T's new activations this quarter were iPhones, which is a pretty incredible statistic. It points to what I believe is a sea change about to take place in the mobile sphere. Within the next year or two, smartphones will no longer be the exception, but the norm. I've written before about why that's a good thing from the perspective of narrowing the digital divide. But it will also have a profound effect on domestic politics - as mobile devices become the primary entry point to the communications network for more and more people, outreach efforts will have to adapt. However, we should not see this just as a challenge but also as an opportunity; mobility and location-awareness have the potential to revolutionize politics (since, as they say, all politics is local). 

Friday New Tools Feature: Parting Reflections on the American Dream

Today, sadly, is my last day as a full-time employee of NDN, though I will continue to blog from Thailand, and hope to remain very involved with the organization. I've had a really great time working here, and learned a great deal. So I thought that today, I could just quickly reflect on why I think the work NDN does is so important. 

When we talk about our proposals to put a laptop in every backpack, or to provide free computer training to every American, we tend to stress the economic reasons for doing so - helping our workforce stay competitive in a 21st century global economy, etc. But I really believe that it is about much more than that. It is about taking steps, however modest, towards realizing the American ideal of equal opportunity, which for so much of our history has existed only nominally. 

Libertarians like to talk a lot about freedom, but they mean it only in the formal sense - a lack of restriction. Usually, one finds that they really only mean unlimited market freedom, the unfettered right to exploit others for the acquisition of wealth, without any convincing philosophical or reality-based reasoning. They reject any effort by the government to confront the deep structural inequalities in our society which make a farce of the ideas of personal responsibility and equal opportunity, and the occasional exception does not diminish this fact. For every Barack Obama or Sonia Sotomayor, there are tens of thousands who fall through the cracks.  

American philosopher John Dewey understood this - he understood the difference between nominal freedom and effective freedom. Here's a brief quote on the difference between freedom as the libertarians understand it, and what it actually means to be free:

Exemption from restraint and from interference with overt action is only a condition, though an absolutely indispensable one, of effective freedom. The latter requires (1) positive control of the resources necessary to carry purposes into effect, possession of the means to satisfy desires; and (2) mental equipment with the trained powers of initiative and reflection requisite for free preference and for circumspect and far-seeing desires. The freedom of an agent who is merely released from direct external obstructions is formal and empty. If he is without resources of personal skill, without control of the tools of achievement, he must inevitably lend himself to carrying out the directions and ideas of others.

Dewey wrote that a century ago, in 1908, but it's just as true today as it was then, in this new gilded age where the richest 10% own 71% (or more) of our wealth, and the bottom 40% own just 0.2%. Today, as computers and the internet become ever-more integral aspects of our society, access to these tools can make a great deal of difference. Of course, I would argue that this is nowhere close to enough. But it's a good step in the right direction, and we need more of those to actually more forward together toward a more just and equitable America. 

Friday New Tools Feature: Next Steps for Twitter

The creators of Twitter have admitted that they are still learning about how people use their service. It seems that they have learned some important lessons, because they are in the process of adding several important new features to Twitter that should significantly improve the user experience and expand functionality.

The first big addition is the inclusion of lists into both twitter.com and the Twitter API. This is a simple concept, but will help a lot with trying to manage the often-overwhelming flow of information that results when you begin following more than 50-100 people (depending on how compulsively you check for updates). The basic idea is that you'll be able to organize the people you follow into lists, publically visible by default, allowing you to categorize and prioritize your contacts, and helping other users sift through them to find people they may be interested in following. It's also great news that this will be built into the API, because like many Twitter users, I'd much rather interact with the service through a third-party application like TweetDeck, Twhirl, or Tweetie than through twitter.com.

Another key improvement to the API is the addition of geolocation. Of course, there are several Twitter services that already support geolocation, but with the addition of this feature into the Twitter API, it is likely to take off in a much bigger way. I've written before about location-based services, but the main problem with many of them is that not that many people use them. Not all that many of my friends use Twitter, either, but way more than Loopt or Foursquare, for example. And location awareness seems like a natural for Twitter, which is very often used on mobile devices.

Beyond the obvious boons, like the ability to see where your friends are tweeting from at any given moment, this will also open up some other interesting possibilities. For example, see the new app Buzzd, which just hit the app store recently. As TechCrunch explains, Buzzd

will bring up a list of venues close to you that are currently popular based on people talking about them on Twitter and Buzzd. It also uses some location data pulled from Twitter. Right now, that data is pulled from users’s Twitter profiles, so it is imprecise, but with the Geolocation API... that will soon change.

There are endless other possibilities... for example, you could map chatter about political candidates in certain areas. Once location-tagging becomes more widespread, these kinds of applications will become increasingly useful in reality, and not just as fun tech demos.

Friday New Tools Feature: Mobile Internet Narrows the Digital Divide Domestically

My colleague Sam duPont has been doing excellent work writing about how mobile technology is helping to provide information services and access in deveoping countries. As a recent Pew Internet and American Life survey helps to illustrate, the same is true within our own country, where socio-economic conditions have traditionally prevented many from accessing the internet, and thus put the less fortunate at an even more profound disadvantage in today's data-centric world.

Here are some of the most important findings of the study:

  • 48% of Africans Americans have at one time used their mobile device to access the internet for information, emailing, or instant-messaging, half again the national average of 32%.
  • 29% of African Americans use the internet on their handheld on an average day, also about half again the national average of 19%.
  • Compared with 2007, when 12% of African Americans used the internet on their mobile on the average day, use of the mobile internet is up by 141%.

The high level of activity among African Americans on mobile devices helps offset lower levels of access tools that have been traditional onramps to the internet, namely desktop computers, laptops, and home broadband connections.

The study found that, "by a 59% to 45% margin, white Americans are more likely to go online using a computer on a typical day than African Americans." However, "when mobile devices are included in the mix, the gap is cut in half; 61% of whites go online on the average day when mobile access is included while 54% of African Americans do."

Of course, even with high-end mobile devices like the iPhone, there are still very significant differences in functionality between your typical internet-enabled mobile device and a notebook or desktop. And, especially if data is being accessed over carrier networks instead of WiFi, there is a pretty big difference speed. There were several columns this week, including two in the New York Times (1 | 2), about how iPhone users (particularly those in dense cities, where bandwidth issues are the most glaring) are angry about how slow their download speeds are. Indeed, in explaining why they're so far behind schedule in allowing iPhone users to use MMS, AT&T admitted that their network was struggling to keep up with the demand for data:

We're riding the leading edge of smartphone growth that's resulted in an explosion of traffic over the AT&T network. Wireless use on our network has grown an average of 350 percent year-over-year for the past two years, and is projected to continue at a rapid pace in 2009 and beyond. The volume of smartphone data traffic the AT&T network is handling is unmatched in the wireless industry.

It is true that at this point mobile internet alone cannot totally bridge the digital divide (it's still pretty hard to apply for many jobs, or do word processing or website work, without a real computer). However, with the implementation of 4G networks over the next few years, and the exponential increase in smartphone sophistication we're likely to see - in particular, the app ecosystem is still in its infancy, and is likely to explode in utility much as the internet did - this report should still be read as an essentially positive sign.

New Tools Update: Augmented Reality Going Mainstream?

I've written about how I think augmented reality could be the Next Big Thing in the development of the web, and it looks like augmented reality tech is finally starting to really catch people's attention. The front page stories in Wired and ReadWriteWeb over the last few days took in-depth looks at where this technology is going. Both articles are well worth the read. Here's an excerpt from the ReadWriteWeb piece, which looks at some of the hurdles to widespread adoption of AR:

"The internet smeared all over everything." An "enchanted window" that turns contextual information hidden all around us inside out. A platform that will be bigger than the Web. Those are the kinds of phrases being used to describe the future of what's called Augmented Reality (AR), by specialists developing the technology to enable it. Big questions remain unanswered, though, about the viability of what could be a radical next step in humanity's use of computers.

The article raises some good points, but I think that the explosive potential of this research far outweighs some of the challenges, many of which are technology-based. The iPhone will begin supporting early AR apps next month, and given Moore's law and the imminent arrival of 4G data networks, I think the widespread use of augmented reality on a range of mobile devices is, at the most, two or three years off.

Finally, just for kicks, check out this novel use of AR by the District 9 team (and if you haven't seen the movie, do yourself a favor and go check it out - the actual film is almost as good as the marketing for it).  

If you have a webcam and a printer, you can try this out for yourself here.

Friday New Tools Feature: When Your News Feed Becomes Your News

There have been a few big developments in social media space recently, particularly with regards to Facebook, the net's largest social media player. Though Twitter continues to receive a ton of hype and attention, and has been changing the techie world in intriguing ways (being able to read real-time reactions to the speakers at PDF and Netroots Nation has really changed the dynamic of these conferences), Facebook actually grew twice as fast as Twitter last month, and maintains a very substantial lead in total users.

However, not content to rest on its laurels, Facebook acquired FriendFeed last week. FriendFeed is a popular service among the tech-savvy that combines all of your social media presences into one - Facebook, Twitter, Google, Tumblr, etc. (it supports at total of 58 different services). Of particular interest is FriendFeed's ability to integrate with Google Reader's "share" feature, which would be very useful for sharing news stories on Facebook. There are also several other advantages FriendFeed has over Facebook right now. TechCrunch writes of the acquisition,

...it’s clearly a good match. Over the last year or so, Facebook has “borrowed” quite a few features that FriendFeed popularized, including the ‘Like’ feature and an emphasis on real-time news updates.

Obviously Facebook has already built out some of FriendFeed’s functionality so there is some overlap, but there are still numerous ways FriendFeed beats out Facebook’s News Feed setup. One of these is the way stories are ‘floated’ to the top as new users comment on them. And FriendFeed’s system is truly real-time, unlike Facebook’s feed which users have to manually refresh.

I think this was a very smart move on Facebook's part, and could go a long way to improving their service. The second big move they made was to partner with the Huffington Post, the internet's most popular news source, to create a new service called "Huffington Post Social." As Ms. Huffington herself explains, HuffPo Social is

...a collaboration with Facebook that connects HuffPost users to their Facebook friends, the news they are reading, and the stories they are commenting on.

When you sign up for it, HuffPost Social News finds your Facebook friends who are also reading HuffPost and links you together on our site so you can dive deeper into the stories you like best. (But don't worry, you'll still have complete control over what stories and comments are shared with your friends, as well as what goes on your Facebook wall, and into your friends' news feeds.)

I like the idea of integrating comments on the actual story with the social networking experience - reader comments have become an important component of the new news media, so it makes sense to try and highlight this interactivity.

Finally, Facebook just announced today yesterday that Pages will now have the ability to automatically publish to Twitter. As the New York Times said of the move,

Bands, companies, non profit organization and celebrities are likely to benefit from this new feature as their updates will be more widely distributed and Twitter followers are likely to retweet and redirect new audiences to Facebook Pages.

This is a very convenient feature, and it's heartening to see that Facebook may be starting to see their relationship to Twitter as complimentary instead of adversarial. The change is also well-implemented; it's easy to use, and administrators can control what aspects of their Page get pushed to their Twitter feed, and which Twitter account is linked to each Page.

The new media ecosystem has quickly become very complex, so it's good to see confluences and collaborations that will actually make the social networking experience more intuitive and powerful. In the past, I've often felt that Facebook tends to make things worse when it makes changes, but I'm behind these decisions. Can check out HuffPo Social and the Facebook Pages Twitter feed yourself and let me know what you think, and keep an eye out for what they decide to do with FriendFeed. 

And of course, if all of this social networking stuff has you completely bewildered, make sure to check out our NPI Paper, Leverage Social Networks, to get up to speed.

An Interesting Example of How Mobile is Changing Everything

Wired today reports that "despite its minimal camera features, the iPhone has just surpassed Canon’s Digital Rebel XTi as the most popular camera used by members of image-sharing website Flickr." This trend is largely due to the iPhone 3GS's much-improved 3MP camera, the ease of uploading pictures directly from the phone, and just the fact that people have their phones with them a greater percentage of the time than their DSLRs. 

The same article also reports that the iPhone has had a similar effect on YouTube:

A day after the launch of the iPhone 3GS, YouTube video uploads increased 400 percent, according to YouTube officials Dwipal Desai and Mia Quagliarello. They said the growth was likely tied to newer video-enabled phones on the market (including the iPhone), improvement of the upload flow and a new, streamlined process to share videos on social networks.

A 400% increase in video uploads from mobile devices is huge. However, don't expect this trend to stay confined to the iPhone; more and more phones are combining good cameras and video capability with easy uploading, meaning that citizen journalism and web video will continue to become increasingly intertwined with mobile.

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