Tools to Produce Social Change: FrontlineSMS

Another speaker at last night’s Net Tuesday was Ken Banks of He is currently a fellow at Reuters Digital Vision Program at Stanford and has been involved in bringing Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to Africa to improve conversation and development.

The mobile network has grown in Africa and is becoming a powerful tool for dealing with breakdowns. Examples Ken gave included:

  1. tracking animal populations via signal transmitters that can be picked up by cell phones
  2. antibiotic pill containers containing a device which sends a signal to a doctor whenever the cap is opened to ensure that antibiotic treatment is followed all the way through
  3. health text messages on HIV/AIDS sent out to cell phone owners
  4. individual market prices sent out to phones so fisherman and farmers can know which markets have the best prices or which one is full
  5. Mobile for Good, which sends texts about city job notices to those in rural areas so that they have a chance of getting to a job before it fills up
  6. environmental disaster warnings

Ken is developing a program called FrontlineSMS, providing non-profits with text-messaging services to coordinate their programs across large distances. And he is planning to make the program Open Source, pending a grant from a major US foundation.

In Africa, it seems that cell phones are the major networking tool for individuals. And the network that is being built is vast. For example, Ken said that in South Africa, 98% of individuals have are in cell phones coverage areas. The presentation, and once again the potential of networks, impressed us. Now, how can we learn from and enrich this network?

Note: Changes made thanks to Ken Banks checking for accuracy.


Tools to Produce Social Change: Village the Game

Last night, we went to NetSquared’s Net Tuesday in San Francisco and listened to Darian Hickman speak about his multi-player strategy game, Village, where each gamer is an entrepreneur building companies to bring prosperity to the villages of the third world.

We listened to some of Darian’s concerns as:

1. How can we build a game to produce social change – educating and engaging individuals in developing countries problems?
2. How can we best build a tool which imitates the real-world, that entrepreneurs and individuals can use for taking action outside the game?
3. How can we have this game make money and become popular?

The game is currently designed for:

1. Individuals in developed nations who can play the game and then donate money to businesses that are producing valuable innovations and change.
2. Social entrepreneurs who play the game, can network with individuals that are different capacities in the game – like mico-lending or bringing irrigation tools into villages, and eventually notice what works in different villages and countries in the game and apply that to their real world experience in bringing change to those villages.

Darian’s vision is that as the processes are automated, a game, such as his, will be able to have an impact in the real world. For example, with our credit card number or paypal account, and a few pieces of personal information, some day we will be able to search on Google Earth for a piece of land anywhere in the world, click on it, and if its for sale, buy it. So why not create a game that enables a community of people to virtually engage in humanitarian entrepeneurship work in Africa or Central America where they can virtually be in contact with locals and other players with a wide array of expertise. Some day, an individual who sells irrigation equipment in the game can coordinate with some other player who is familiar with microcredit and thus make it possible to have negotions in this virtual game that will have impact in the real world.

The point of the game is to gain “village points” while dealing with financial concerns, Village points are based on declared point values for financial, social, and environmental work. You can take a look, and get involved with the initial declarations here.

To deal with some of the above concerns, Darian is speaking with real-world experts in various countries who, as we understand it, send him “requirements” for the game. The companies that you can bring into a village are businesses which have a track record of producing noticeable differences in countries around the world. He is keeping the game two-dimensional, designed after World of Warcraft II, so that it can be used on a variety of systems throughout the world.

The first edition of the game will be a download which you can sign up for here. It will be a single player game where users can send their comments to Darian. Then a year later, he will release the multi-player game.

At the same time, though, we listened to what Darian said as having the following major problem: Darian is trying to design and build the perfect game for dealing with major challenges. And the potential of this game to harness the “wisdom of the crowds” is missing. When asked how he would grow the game and incorporate new things he said that, at first, he would bring in the companies based on track records. Over time, he said experts and those working in the field could suggest improvements. Also, those with many village points, which he said was a measure of trust, would probably be allowed to make changes. But it sounded like he didn’t want to open up changes in the game to everybody. His concern here, it sounds like, is that he doesn’t want a lot of non-relevant, non-effective businesses and practices to enter the game, making the game less relevant for reality.

The game lacks a mechanism to create social value. He is too focused on a process to measure social value, rather than create it. A good exmaple for him to follow and examine is Ebay’s user-rating, as a method to build identity in the site. If the rules of The Village are designed correctly, and the shared concern made clear, then allowing for a network of user-generated content could improve flexibility – catering to local problems and enriching the distinction of “Village Points” — and how relevant this game is in the world.

Distinctions of Today’s Web Phenomena

An interesting post by Doc Searls where he questions the distinctions that are being used today, like “Social Media” and “Web 2.0”. It opened up the following questions and speculations for me:

First, I listened to Doc Searls as saying that “Web 2.0” and “Social Media” are not about some magical new world which will bring us out of all the “real” problems of what it is to be human. I listen to him saying that these distinctions have that quality. Instead, he calls importance to focusing on the daily practices that he performs, bringing a simple, “real” quality to the his life. That was quite nice.

And this brings up a question of how to look at these distinctions. It is grounding to look at (and make) distinctions by examining the patterns and reality of us as human beings. But distinctions, at the same time, show us possibilities of the future while invoking the past. For example, “social media,” for me, brings forth my story of media (shaped by Yochai Benkler)– a way of human beings to show others events and stories about the world, which has become (in my lifetime) a less responsible domain of our communal space. And the “social” aspect of “social media” brings forth a story of a potential future which could resolve some of the breakdowns in the past by organizing social/communal collaboration in certain ways. So how to resolve these two temporal domains of a distinction: how it shows what we are doing now, and what breakdowns and possibilities it shows us as we direct ourselves to the future?

Doc Searls also said the following, “It’s natural to want to lump technologies and practices together into categories that bear Greater Significance. But for some reason we still drag along the limiting concepts that the new stuff should help us escape, no matter what we call it.” The second sentence triggers the question, “What does he mean by “drag along the limiting concepts…”?

Anyway, very cool post which got me struggling for a good hour. (And I am still not done doing so.)

How Sarah wasn’t there, and I found my blog.

photo-29.jpgWell, hello internet community. This is my very first blog. I expect my bloggin trajectory to be quite long, pretty much emcompassing my entire life from now. As I see it, blogging and other forms of building internet identity will become crusial in our everyday life (even more so than now). I have no idea how, when, why yet, but I’m betting that it will be.

A very good friend of mine, Sarah Cove, shares this gut feeling, this hunch that seems to make so much sense but I can’t explain yet, and we have decided to study up on this phenomenon and try to master some skills that will allow us to articulate a cohesive story about the internet. If she doesnt agree she will respond to my blog, I trust.

I’m embarrased to admit that initially I wanted to start my blog with a pompus schpeel about CODE 2.0, a book that I have partially read and that, notwithstanding its great content, I have not even begun to explore. So you must imagine how unprepared I felt to make my first blog, my first step into what I consider the rest of my cyber life. Confronted with such qualms I called Sarah…. no answer. I opened my blog and had no idea what to write about… I called Sarah again. She wasn’t there.

Noentheless, I decided to embark on this blog. Why do I belive cyberspace is a powerful tool? Because it leads to honest, fruitful conversations about our futures. A place where communitites can be built and enriched, a new America with wild Buffalo and endless forests, great rivers and mountains, and all sorts of riches to be dicovered.

And what better way to start, than to establish a frank conversation. I’m glad I had to tackle this by myself because in the end this is my blog. A world of my curiosity, my qualms, and struggles in attempting to enter this cyber community. I know I’m not the first and wont be the last blogger, but this will certaintly be my blog, my cyber life.

Anyway, so here it is, my first cyber me. I hope to see me grow here.

I added a picture, which I dont know where it will go, but its me and my puppy.