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A Website and Weblog about Topics and Issues discussed in the book
Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution by Howard Rheingold

Open Source Creativity++ in A Better World by Design
October 13th, 2009

Within the overarching umbrella of social media lives the trend of allowing the community around a service or product participate in its production, from TCHO allowing its “beta testers” to submit feedback on beta versions of its chocolate, and tweaking the recipe accordingly, to Digg allowing its users to vote on news stories and therefore make them more or less prominent, to perhaps the poster child of community-based design, namely Threadless, which allows its community to both submit and vote on the T-shirt designs it manufactures. Handing decision-making power over to the ‘smart mob’ makes sense, and oftentimes cents: who better to judge the quality of a product or service than those who regularly consume it? My latest discovery in this realm, which I learned about at A Better World by Design, a conference co-hosted by Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design from October 2nd-4th in Providence, RI, is Behance Network. Described by its founder Scott Belsky as “community-curated design,” Behance Network allows designers to upload their portfolios, along with vote and comment on each others’ work. The underlying premise is that designers, especially those who work in the same medium, are necessarily qualified to rate each others’ work, and that in turn, being highly rated in the Behance Network bears significance in the world beyond, e.g. to prospective employers and academic institutions.

On the same panel as Belsky, which was called Open Source Creativity, was Ken Banks, who I’ve actually already written about on this blog, as have other Smart Mobs bloggers. Banks described FrontlineSMS, a free open source group text messaging service that doesn’t require web access – an invaluable tool for non-profits and NGO’s working in developing nations. Says Vivian Distler of Institute for the Future, “Congratulations to SMS texting pioneer Ken Banks — mobile health wouldn’t be the same without him!”

The Better by Design conference is in its 2nd year, and dedicated to deepening “our understanding of the power of design, technology, and enterprise to reshape our communities and sustain our environment.” While at the conference, I couldn’t help but imagine all the other disciplines currently hosting similar gatherings: A Better World by Business, A Better World by Agriculture… It appeared that Better x Design is a microcosm of a more systemic development in academia. I remembered the fact that community service is a requirement in most high schools, and began wondering – considering this systemic development towards social responsibility – whether this is the case in any universities, i.e. whether social responsibility is a requirement, and actually incorporated into course curricula. And out of the Twitterverse came my reply: indeed it is. At Babson College in Massachusetts. And lucky for me, I sat next to Babson’s president a few days later at the Business Innovation Factory’s Collaborative Innovation Summit (← more on that forthcoming).

Text messaging bridges the Digital Divide
August 26th, 2008

Jim Witkin wrote on Triplepundit a very interesting story about social ecology as one of the five pillars of sustainability. Jim refers to work of Walter Stahel — one of the founders of the sustainability movement.

[by way of Christian Kreutz Bookmarks on Delicio.us]

Many of the initiatives addressing the issues of social ecology rely on bringing modern technologies — like cell phones, computers, and Internet access — to populations in need. These initiatives are helping to “bridge the digital divide” and are often referred to as ICT4D (Information and Communication Technologies for Development). ICTs are used either directly by the disadvantaged population in some manner, or can be used to assist aid organizations and NGOs to improve socio-economic conditions. We can’t remember what our lives were like before the use computers and mobile phones; we often take these tools for granted, but for many people in developing regions these communication tools can have a profound impact on improving their lives and communities.

The good news: recognizing the widespread use of mobile phones even in the most remote areas, several non-profits are helping to grow this “Social Mobile” space, providing simple tools and basic training to grassroots NGOs. One of the more prominent non-profits in this space is kiwanja.net, founded by Ken Banks who offers an explanation for his focus on mobile phones, “Clearly, mobile phones are relatively cheap (when compared to personal or laptop computers, anyway). They are small and portable, have good battery life, provide instant voice communications, have SMS functionality at the very least… What’s more, hundreds of millions of some of the poorest members of society either own one or have access to one. No other two-way communications technology comes close.”

Mobile Gaming for Gorilla Conservation
April 14th, 2008

Four years ago, wildlive!, a project run by Fauna & Flora International with funding from Vodafone, developed a mobile phone game dedicated to gorilla conservation. The game was received favorably by the media, and proceeds from sales to mobile owners went to gorilla conservation. But when the wildlive! project ended three years later, so did the game…until today. Silverbacker is back! Within the next few hours, the game will be officially re-introduced by Ken Banks, a former participant in the wildlive! project and founder of kiwanja.net, a non-profit organization dedicated to mobile technologies for development. Banks acknowledges how fighting and rebel activity in the Democratic Republic of Congo are putting pressure on the local environment, including gorillas and the people who protect them. Caught between the crossfire, rangers have had to withdraw from the DRC’s Virunga National Park, leaving little protection for the already-endangered gorillas. In response, Banks decided to resurrect Sliverbacker as a mechanism for raising public awareness about gorilla endangerment and raising funds to help rangers. And he’s distributing the game à la Radiohead, hoping that the admirable cause will inspire gamer-cum-citizens to make a donation.

Silverbacker is a convergence between mobile gaming, games played on mobile phones, and serious games, games for purposes other than gameplay itself. In this case, a mobile game is being used for purposes of educating the public about the predicament of gorillas and generating funds for their conservation. Silverbacker may therefore be considered a proto-instance of what I refer to as “ludo-governance,” the use of play as a medium for governance (for more on that, stay pending for my thesis). Can we play our way to gorilla conservation? According to Banks, it’s worth a try.

kiwanja.net Sets Up Competition to Offer Prizes and SMS Platform to Grassroots NGOs
September 17th, 2007

This Monday sees the launch of Ken Banks‘ latest ‘project’ – a competition which encourages grassroots NGOs in developing countries to submit ideas on ways they could use text messaging in their work.

The best four entries will win laptop computers, Nokia phones, GSM modems and $1,000 in cash, courtesy of a range of sponsors which include Hewlett Packard, Nokia and Wieden+Kennedy.

The competition wants to encourage NGOs to think more about how mobile technology could be applied in their work. If you need inspiration, there are plenty of examples in the kiwanja Mobile Database

NGOs from developing countries are invited to submit a short proposal outlining how text messaging could make their job easier. The ideas don’t need to be rocket science, or even earth-shatteringly original. Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest, easiest and most obvious. We should know – most of ours have been!

What we are looking for is impact – a clear indication that winning an amazing prize, and gaining access to mobile technology, would revolutionise your work and turn mission impossible into mission accomplished.

[Press release]

Previous features

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