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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Kindle Text-to-Speech: “Robotic NPR”

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NPR’s next hire? (Image via Wikipedia)

I’ve made a discovery about Amazon’s Kindle e-reader: It’s a pretty good “news radio.” That is, its text-to-speech function does a surprisingly decent job of reading news content aloud.

I currently subscribe to the Wall St. Journal on my Kindle, and I’ve gotten in the habit of letting it read me some interesting articles as I go through my morning routine. I like it. The automated text-to-speech reader is a bit flat for fiction, narrative, and essays that require significant emotional or rhetorical inflection — but it’s great for news. I’ve starting considering it my “robotic NPR.”

(Ducking the reflexive outcry from all my friends at NPR…)

Of course, my point isn’t only about the Kindle. It’s about how any text-to-speech service or tool can interact with text-based news and information content — and why creators of text-based news content should start to take that into consideration. Because you never know exactly how people will experience your content…

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