Where Africa and Technology Collide!

Tag: nokia (page 2 of 2)

Location, Mobiles and Social Networks

It’s all beginning to come together, at least on the fringe where all of us technocrats live. Social networks have been humming along quite nicely, many people you know are now part of a service like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Bebo or Mxit. On the edges, some applications have started to pair up location-based services around them, thus the rise of smaller applications like FireEagle, Loopt and Brightkite.

What’s always seemed to be missing is a way for location, mobile phones and social networks to coalesce. A way for you to communicate with people, be it updates, comments or chat – and then apply location to that as you chose. Those social networks that tried to do it all couldn’t do it at this level, because they didn’t have critical mass (such as Brightkite). Those that had reach, like Twitter or Facebook, don’t have a simple way to play with location for everyone.

Enter Google Latitude

Just over a week ago, Google Latitude launched. It’s a location-based service that mashes up Google’s own mapping products with Google’s communication products; Gmail and gTalk (chat). One week later, they announced that a million people were already using the service in the 27 countries that they had released it into.

Google Latitude Screenshot

While people are discussing how great the technology works, and it does seem to be quite impressive if you carry one of the supported smart phones platforms (BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, Symbian and Android), I believe there’s something even bigger going on here. Google has not had much success in the social network space, so they are taking a rather nontraditional approach to getting embedded into people’s lives at a much more foundational level. Gmail has a base of 50 million+ accounts, and each comes with a chat service, which has gained quite a bit of popularity. Not to mention, SMS was enabled within chat just a couple months ago, in December.

What Google appears to be doing, is leveraging its massive user base, tied together through email and chat services, and pairing it together into a larger community that works within it’s mapping infrastructure.

(Putting on my Ushahidi hat, this has some pretty big ramifications for disaster and emergency work in locations where Google use is heavy.)

The competition

It also has the potential to change the game for some other large services. What happens if people start using Google Latitude for their status updates instead of Twitter and Facebook? What service do you use to find out what’s happening on a Friday night?

It will be very interesting to see what types of reactions to this service arise out of the large social networks, especially those with a large international footprint. Getting location, mobile and social networks to play together isn’t easy, yet these organizations will not sit by as Google whittles away at their empire.

Here’s something to think about. If you didn’t realize this before, pay attention: the big international showdown in this space is between Google and Nokia in the coming years. They have been gaming each other for over two years, and as the race to the edges begins, you’ll see them come head-to-head more often.

Nokia Ovi

1.5 years ago Nokia bought mapping service Navteq in a mega-deal at over $8 billion. Last summer they launched Ovi, which allows remote sync capability for photos, contacts and calender, gains access to music and games, and marries up their mapping and sharing capabilities. It’s what Nokia is banking on for their consumer value-added services in the future.

I’m not sure who will win out on usage in the end, but I do think that Google’s Latitude is an incredibly strong and under-the-radar type play that should be watched very closely. One thing is for sure though, the organization that opens up for easy third-party development on their platform will have a better chance.

Nokia and TED: Spreading Worthy Ideas

Afdhel Aziz from Nokia is here to talk to us about what’s been happening at Nokia and why they’re so excited about TED. Their partnership first started with the extraordinary Pangea Day project. Nokia is going to be TED’s Global Communications Partner, sponsoring TED Fellows, TED Translated and future TED conferences.

If TED is about “ideas worth spreading“, then Nokia’s role is “spreading worthy ideas

Nokia gave us all an E71, which really is one of the best phones on the market for doing a lot of work anywhere you go in the world. It’s a smart phone without all the difficult settings and small keyboard of some of the other higher end smart phone. Best of all, the one they gave us is unlocked, which means it’s very easy to travel and use it with local SIM cards (Plus, we’re getting 8Gb memory cards for them and 1000 minutes/month).

Afdhel then showed us the “6 billion people, 6 billion connections” video:

Nokia E71 launch / 6 Billion People, 6 Billion Colours from Universal Everything on Vimeo.

Mobile Phone Reporting in Africa

For the last year there has been quite a bit of talk about mobile phone reporting in Africa. For good reason too, since this lowers the technology barrier to getting stories out of hard-to-reach places. Imagine, all you need to do is find a journalist and equip them with an adequate mobile phone Now you can record interviews in video and audio, take pictures and upload in almost any part of the continent.

Netherland’s based AfricaNews has been a pioneer in this space, starting last year with their “Voices of Africa” section of their site. I’ve been continually impressed with how they find, train and equip their journalists all over Africa. My one problem with what they do is that they don’t allow for the proliferation of their reporters work around the web by hamstringing the ability to share by embedding the reports in other websites.

Colin Daniels is the Publisher for Times Online in South Africa, arguably one of the better newspapers and always on the cutting edge of news sites online globally. A couple weeks ago he posted on his personal blog about a new initiative in where Nokia is testing mobile journalism through local universities using the Nokia/Reuter’s mobile newskit. He says,

“This has all been made possible by constant technological breakthroughs and the portability and immediacy of connected mobile devices; it is becoming increasingly feasible for journalists to replace their pens and dictaphones for converged smart phones with exceptional audio/visual capabilities such as the Nokia N95. Add a keyboard, tripod, and an external microphone and all of a sudden you have a portable newsroom and studio in one…”

A true, and exciting statement that applies to mainstream journalism and blogging. Colin refers to the N95 “Mojo” toolkit (pictured above) that Reuters uses as well. The value here is that as mainstream news sources put more resources towards mobile journalism the tools get better for everyone (amateur and professional).

All of this optimism has to be tempered with some real-world examples of how it’s still a difficult field to work in and how the technology is still not quite there for full-fledged real-time news feeds. David Axe, a war journalist, wrote a fascinating article for Wired on the failures of his mobile phone trials in Chad matching up a Nokia N95 with streaming mobile news service Qik.

It should be noted the problem was not with the phone, but with the web service Qik and the poor mobile data network in Chad. This can be a real problem for anyone using MMS or any other GSM service. Though some parts of Africa have strong networks, many others are home to the worst in the world. Of course, this makes Africa one of the great testing grounds for any new device or service, so there is a silver lining to every cloud.

“…there should be a “store” function, whereby you can shoot a video in some austere location, save it to your phone’s memory, then stream it later once you’ve got a solid network. With that function alone, I could’ve filed scores of fascinating videos about refugee camps, peacekeepers and urban combat.”

A simple solution, utilizing SD card memory could have made his trial a success. David’s quote above serves to underscore one other incredibly important point; web and mobile services need to at least test in Africa, if not have a small development shop there to truly create robust applications. After all, if it can work in Africa, it can work anywhere.

Where 2.0: Data Overload and Some Announcments

Where 2.0 has started. One series of speakers down, and much more to come. I have the distinct impression that I’m going to have some serious information overload by the end of the day…

I thoroughly enjoyed Adrian Holovaty of EveryBlock’s talk. His partner Paul wrote a couple pieces on rolling your own maps recently that I loved. They’re breaking down the reliance on the mega mapping API’s (Google, Yahoo, MS) as the only way to show your geographic data. Adrian also talked about something that I often think of; using more than just points in showing map data. We need more polygons (ex: heatmaps) and lines.

comparing EveryBlock with Google Maps

Nokia’s Michael Halbherr, head of Location Based Services (LBS) did a short talk on Ovi, their platform for seemless mapping integration between mobiles and the web. He made a point of saying that Nokia is mobile/guidance centric, not web/location centric.

Finder! by GeocommonsNext up was Sean Gorman, who is doing some really interesting things with his organization(s) FortiusOne and Geocommons. His biggest thoughts/concerns were over dealing with massive data sets and the emerging semantic web. To that end he announced Finder!, which I have to admit seems pretty slick. His demo was showing how you could mashup private data sets (your company’s local sales data) with open census data, all available for download as KML, CSV or shape files. It’s slick, go sign up for the beta.

Last up was John Hanke of Google Earth, who announced two items:

  • Google Earth’s Geo Search API launching
  • GIS data relationship with ESRI in ArcGIS 9.3

John mentioned that, “maps help us organize, plan, provide context and decide.” I think that’s what has made me love maps since I was a kid, and why I’m so interested in the ability to do dynamic and real-time mapping.

For thoughts and analysis on what is happening here at Where 2.0, I’ll pass you off to some mapping gurus:

Off the Map
All Points Blog
Mapufacture Blog
Google Earth Blog
The AnyGeo Blog
High Earth Orbit
Very Spatial

Nokia and the Developing World

There is a reason that Africans, by and large, love Nokia and there’s a reason that the brand has made such an impact in that part of the world. While most companies around the world are ignoring Africa, Nokia actively develops solutions for the continent.

I’m continually impressed with Nokia. They seem to really care about making money by doing things right. That’s easy enough for any large multinational to say, but much harder to practice. However, a couple new stories popped up recently that prove this out.

First off, you should go read what Jan Chipchase is writing about Nokia’s Open Studios. They’re working in shanty towns from Ghana to India actively listening to their target audience in the developing world. One of the initiatives that they just ran was a competition to design your ideal future phone”. Below is just one of the designs, see the rest in at BusinessWeek.

Nokia Civilian Police design

Nokia Civilian Police: Designed by a 17-year-old living in a Liberian refugee settlement, this phone is designed to help the user record daily life in the camp. This way he can share his experiences with others. It also helps fight crime by including two separate cameras. This also ensures that both he and his brother have access to a camera.

Beyond the ethnographic and discovery stages of what Nokia does are the actual phones. Juliana writes about Nokia’s new mobile phones for emerging markets. This is where all the work by people like Jan and Younghee come to fruition.

Nokia Phones for Emerging Markets

Lastly, everyone should be aware of Nokia’s Beta Labs, which is full of news and information on what they’re doing in markets around the world. It’s their skunkworks and R&D center (the stuff that they share anyway), and it’s just one more touch point to see how Nokia is innovating around the world.

Thoughts from Day 2 at the Global Philanthropy Forum

The only other event that I’ve attended that brings as many high profile and high net worth individuals together besides the GPF is TED. What’s wonderful about both events is how open everyone you meet is to discussing new ideas, no matter if they’re (literally) a rockstar or not.

Unfortunately for me, I woke up to only about 20% voice usability. I could barely talk. After drinking gallons of hot water, with lemon and honey, I was able to croak well enough for my panel session on early warning systems.

Sitting on the panel listening to my fellow panelists was actually one of the best parts. Jan Chipchase of Nokia, who writes the wonderful Future Perfect blog, had some incredibly good thoughts on mobile phones and their real-world usage. In honor of how he takes photos of random things he sees around the world, I’ve added the image below of his Moleskin notebook.

Jan Chipchase Moleskin Notebook

One of the great examples he brought up was the how people were being incentivized to take their medications in some developing nations. They were given a piece of paper that when urinated on would show a specific code that needed to be SMS’d in to the health clinic. If it was right, that person would receive top-up minutes for their phone. Just brilliant.

The other panelist was Mark Smolinski, Director of the Predict and Prevent Initiative at Google.org. Again, another class-act with more experience covering health-related crisis in his pinky finger than I have in my whole body. He covered some thoughts on getting “two steps to the left“, thoughts on how hyper-early warning in epidemics can drastically reduce the impact of a pandemic. Fascinating and an infinitely difficult task to perform.

The Elders

After the panel I was approached to take part in some digital strategy discussions with The Elders – a group of “retired” politicians and high-profile individuals who work to ease human suffering. A prime example of this was when Elders Kofi Annan and Graça Machel went to Kenya for 5 weeks to help resolve the post-election dispute. Needless to say, it was somewhat surreal sitting next to Peter Gabriel while talking with people like Mary Robinson.

Before the night was over, we were treated to a talk about doing something around the HIV/AIDS “genocide” in Africa, and a few songs by Annie Lennox. Her new campaign on AIDS in Africa is called Sing.

We ended the night with a stage discussion with Richard Branson, where he talked about being one of the founders of The Elders and how he uses his business success for global good. He made some polarizing statements about Mbeki and Zuma in South Africa, followed by some thoughts on letting Mugabe walk away in Zimbabwe. In the question and answer session he was called to task by some of the audience.

What I wanted to ask him, but didn’t have the voice for, was his thoughts what he likes to call crisis “war rooms”. He has big ideas on these for both epidemic crisis in Africa and the climate crisis globally. What I wanted to know was why he doesn’t throw a third one in to his collection – a crisis “war room” for human rights and mass atrocities so we’re more prepared for events like Kenya and Zimbabwe.

I’m praying that I get my voice back by tomorrow.

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