My proposed session: What’s the Most You Can Do with Crappy Cell Phones?

Today I’m at MIT for the Future of News and Civic Media conference (at which the 2009 Knight News Challenge winners will be announced 3pm ET today).

Part of this conference will feature unconference-style sessions that the attendees are proposing and will run. Here’s my idea:

What’s the Most You Can Do with Crappy Cell Phones?

It seems to me that mobile media is a huge potential channel for community news, information, context, discussion, coordination, and action. But most people have really crappy low-end cell phones — with a bare-bones (or no) browser, little or no data plan, maybe no e-mail access. SMS may be as advanced as many of these phones get.

The people who use these phones depend on them. They also totally freak out when they don’t have them or if they get turned off for non-payment. That indicates the power of this media channel.

What is the most we can do to engage people interactively through low-end mobile technology? What works, what doesn’t, and what needs to be learned? How can low-end mobile be considered FIRST for the development of community/public service media projects?

What do you think of this topic? What areas should I cover? Let me know! Comment below.

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4 thoughts on My proposed session: What’s the Most You Can Do with Crappy Cell Phones?

  1. In Africa, almost everyone has a crappy cell phone. About 30% of phones in South Africa can access the web online, but that is growing really fast because getting online any other way (landlines, Cyber cafes etc) is really expensive. Since 2008, more South Africans go online on their phone than on their computers (PC or Laptops) by about 2 to 1. Having said that, sms is still by far the most important app, the killer app in Africa, in my view. Even MMS has not taken off. We need to use both. But in many African countries it is super expensive — about 10 US cents per sms!! Instant messaging (via the internet) can be 1/80th the cost, or less, and then there is Twitter, which is why a lot of African are buying web enabled phones, and why in some places IM is replacing sms rapdily. Mxit, an home grown (South African) IM system is growing by 18,000 users a day, mostly under 24. Under this pressure though, sms costs should fall soon. Hopefully I’ll be in your session!

  2. At the risk of seeming uncool, I bought a $25 pay-as-you-go camera phone last Black Friday and stuck my AT&T SIM card in it (yes my new iPhone 3G S is in the mail). One can still tweet with SMS and send photos via multimedia message.

    As far as receiving information, there are always SMS breaking news alerts, emergency call-in lines for disasters (often set up by TV stations for hurricanes) and automated phone calls sent out by schools for events such as snow days.

  3. Hi

    I think as mobile 3/4 Gen streaming gets better, people will use stuff like downloaded games, news content, and other internet apps from their iphone and the next affordable range of mobile phones.

    I think the future of mobiles and its translation for internet is strong and the likes of internet on the TV/ via mobile interface will be crucial. The private financial investment is not there yet but as soon as it take soff, private financing on new tech R&D will start.

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