Interested in learning about Mobile Phones for Public Health? Class starts on June 3! Apply Now.

Mobile devices are quickly becoming much more than just a means to make a voice call. Top of the line devices are now being tested for their ability to be the brains for satellites. But perhaps more important than their capabilities is that they are the most rapidly disseminating technology in human history. Soon only a tiny minority will lack an always on link to the network. What’s more astounding is that this graphic is five years old and currently there are 6 billion mobile phone subscriptions, though duplicates reduce the number of users.

This ubiquity is going to have an unparalleled impact on how just about every facet of social organization operates. The next generation is growing up with an intuitive grasp of making the most of their new technical assistants, and they will incorporate them into new workflows for organizations that are unthinkable at the moment.

The complement to price decreases that are resulting in such tremendous uptake is the exponential increase in capabilities in even the simplest devices. More and more devices are benefiting from applications that enable them to collect data, profit from information services designed to be accessed via SMS or WAP, and increasingly connect directly to the internet over wireless broadband networks. The addition of GPS radios and cameras drastically improves the ability to verify information collected with these devices.

Soon regardless of where in the world you are, you’ll only be a few miles–at the most!–from the nearest node of our globally connected culture.


Next week we’re excited to offer our first course in Social Media and Tech Tools for Academic Research (TC110). While many of our courses have focused on using technology for organizing, response, conflict prevention, and mobiles, but this course will fill a key gap by focusing on using technology to gain insights into relevant ongoing online conversations and the networks through which they travel.

So far we have over 20 people registered from 7 countries from organizations such as World Vision, InSTEDD, and Plan International. This is shaping up to be an excellent group.

Confirmed guest speakers include:

  • Ryan Budish, Berkman Center at Harvard University
  • John Kelly, Morningside Analytics
  • Sami Ith, US State Department
  • Clayton Fink, Johns Hopkins University.

These speakers will provide insight into the work identifying the value created by digital networks. Our experts are using online communication to understand how new ideas are disseminated and how to maximize audience engagement with an organization’s online content.

Source: Morningside Analytics

Our aim with the course provide academics practitioners and those involved in advocacy work with hands-on practice using tools and strategies for using tech to carry out research. We’ll also explore how to manage the big data sets generated by social media to be able to extract meaningful information. The course will also go over best practices for applying research to advocacy.

Some of the topics and tools we plan to feature:

  • Social media tools for crowdsourcing and social science research (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Zotero)
  • Mapping methods and tools for data collection, visualization, and analysis (Ushahidi, MapBox, ArcGIS)
  • Mobile Survey and Data Collection Tools (FormHub, GeoPoll, EpiSurveyor, Open Data Kit)

We plan to keep this course small and intimate but there are still a few spots left. Register today.


TechChange was recently brought to Kenya by the Partnership for Peace , a program run by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, to train local leaders from Kenya’s Nyanza, Rift Valley, and Western provinces in the use of FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi software.  These leaders were drawn from Community Service Organizations (CSOs), which are responsible for supporting everything from local agriculture, public health, election monitoring and conflict resolution efforts.

Our training program focused on the use of FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi as tools for monitoring elections, since the CSOs will play an important role in supporting the next round of national elections in 2012.  Our three-day program started out with some basic discussions of technology, governance, and the role of information communication systems in Kenya.  We also introduced the FrontlineSMS software the first day so that participants could see it in action and use it before the simulation on the second day of the course.  The simulation, an election monitoring game, allowed participants to go through the entire process of publicizing their data gathering project, collating data sent in by text message, and using the FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi software to disseminate data to “voters” who would use the information to make decisions about where to vote.



Mohamed Bouazizi was three years old when Zine El Abidine Ben Ali took power in Tunisia. His self-immolation in protest of harassment by corrupt government officials 23 years later toppled the regime and triggered repressed populations across the region into action. (more…)

Update 13:30 EST 1/31
As the protests continue unabated, the internet remains largely blocked with the exception of Noor ISP which serves roughly 8% of Egyptian traffic. Internet activists have galvanized into a group called WeRebuild which is working to bypass restrictions. Their most interesting strategy so far has been to coordinate with international ISPs to provide international numbers which Egyptians can call with dial-up modems. Also fascinating is the steps ordinary Egyptians are taking to protect themselves, the TOR anonymizing service has seen a quadrupling of users from those lucky enough to be connected through Noor. The most promising possibility is in further development of wireless mesh networking. The Serval Project and the implementation of Wi-Fi direct mean we could only be a few years from a time when activists can set up ad-hoc networking that would be invisible to government detection.

Update 20:24 EST 1/28

I think today’s events have demonstrated that Maria Popov was right to call Malcolm Gladwell #wrong for decrying the use of social media for social change. More information does make a difference. We’ve seen important germination of these revolutions being conducted online before the governments were able to close down information networks. Wired has a fascinating account of the IT department of Tunisia and how Ben Ali was only barely cognizant of the danger of social media in facilitating coverage and organization. While Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak at least turned off the network, he only did it after there was enough online social networking to spark more real life gatherings. Another difference is the rise of Al-Jazeera and other satellite networks which are able to show coverage from different areas of the country. However, I think the biggest driver of these revolutions is demography, the youth bulge from high birth rates and declining mortality is causing bloated corrupt societies to start to show signs of age.


This post was originally going to be about Wikileaks, specifically the Swiss banker recently convicted for leaking the information of hundreds of ludicrously wealthy tax fraudsters. However the live-blogged revolution in Egypt makes for much more pressing discussion. (more…)

Remember to toast the birth of the World Wide Web this Saturday—just don’t buy it a drink. It was only twenty years ago that Tim Berners-Lee loaded the first webpage. Now it’s such an indispensable aid to modern life that researchers are evaluating not if, but how it’s rewiring our brains. That is of course if you are one of the lucky third of the population that has access. The pace of adoption, however, must make one feel optimistic that soon children won’t remember a world where it hasn’t been possible to ‘ask the internet’ from a mobile.


It’s hard for ICT4D evangelists to avoid the perception that they have an irrational belief that technology will immediately fix all the world’s problems. Malcolm Gladwell’s recent critique of technology for social change provides us with a great opportunity to consider what we are realistic to expect. I think most would agree with him that social media, when it works, functions by weak associations of public support—getting the Gap logo back—rather than high cost actions like facing off the Basij.​


Yesterday, the World Bank brought together leading technologists, data gurus and development practitioners for a whirlwind group brainstorming activity about their soon to be open Apps for Development contest. The contest aims to find the best application of the data sets released by the bank as part of their Open Data initiative. Along with group sessions to identify potential uses across a number of sectors, participants had the opportunity to hear from technology “Obi-Wan” Tim O’Reilly, Health and Human Services CTO Todd Park, and World Bank Africa Region Chief Economist Shantayanan Devarajan.​
/>The competition is part of a broader movement at the bank to share the research they collect with policy makers in and out of government as well as social entrepreneurs. Tim O’Reilly took aim at the trend of using data for visualization, calling it “useful for data wonks” but saying the  need was to “build for a real person who is trying to solve a problem.” Visualization works for aggregate level analysis but for the individual user the important issue is accessing “the smallest unit of data” that can help improve their life.


Expanding wireless coverages to the more remote areas of the world is the obvious first step in enabling individuals to benefit from the myriad mobile tools under development by social entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, for a traditional network provider building a base station requires too much capital investment to be cost effective in sparsely populated areas. As is often the case when commercial interests aren’t aligned with what is socially desirable the open source community has stepped up to design a system capable of bringing low-cost connectivity. The foundation has been the development of the OpenBTS system by Harvind Samra and David Burgess.​


To the billion individuals who lack access to electricity, the promise of new technologies for development pales in comparison to the more immediate challenge of keeping their home lit and phone charged. I recently spoke with Roey Rosenblith, Director of Village Energy Uganda, about his work expanding access to safe solar energy in a locally sustainable manner.