Mobile Journalism: Information Flung Far & Wide

The third installment in my series on how mobility and the Internet are up-ending traditional commercial models focuses on journalism. (see earlier posts on Online Education and Mobile Banking) Here, we track affordable mobile telephony that informs citizenry in sparsely populated, under-educated, and under-developed communities worldwide, in lieu of print news; and video-enabled community volunteers who are the voice of education, news, and community outreach. The focus of today’s post is how these shifting models also yield marketing and sales opportunities.

Low-cost mobile phone services inform and connect

A team of community-based citizen reporters with access to low-cost SMS, texting and mobile Web access ensures the success of such emerging news projects as South Africa’s Lindaba Ziyafika (“The News Is Coming”). Here, citizen journalists create content that makes its way into community newspapers… reversing the model of “print-to-pixels” that we’ve all come to expect (i.e., reading your daily paper online, featured content first written for its printed version) What does this mean for news reporters and how their work is digested? That the art of writing in almost haiku-like brevity will be a highly-sought after talent. How about advertisers? The formula for success looks to be in limited-time, QVC-like, text-based specials for businesses within a few blocks of where the news originates (“Now- Bananas 50% off @ Corner Store”). Read more about this intriguing work here and here.

In even the poorest of communities, we see influencers and trend-setters. When equipped with the means to digitally create and share news via mobile telephony or the Internet. these go-getters transmit news that neighbors listen to, and convey the neighborhood’s voices of concern back out to wider-access news outlets. In India, we find a community video unit called Hamari Aawaz (“Our Voice”) that trains young people from poor and marginalized backgrounds to report on their communities and then teach people how to take action.

As reported in an excellent article,0, citizens equipped with basic video film and editing equipment convey messages that inform, educate or influence. Video Volunteers have already found a Channel on YouTube. The structure and reach of a YouTube-enabled news outlet for Video Volunteers and similar organizations allows immediate access to viewers by promoters of goods and services, non-profit social agencies and government offices.

As we’ve observed in the banking and education sectors, free or low-cost access to the basics of modern technology spark incremental growth in literacy and social awareness that counters prejudices and mistrust… and we see our global playing field leveling out even more.

Online Education: Ivory Tower for All

“We are just getting started; this trend is unstoppable.”

Remember when taking a course meant going to class, and tutorials were taught by a graduate student who hovered nearby, grading papers? Times have changed, and this second post in a 3-part series on how mobility and the Internet is re-defining traditional commercial sectors focuses on new for-profit educational models. (see post on Mobile Banking) Two new ways to outsource professional talents signal a shift in modern education: The Outsourced TA, and Khan Academy. Both endeavors remove barriers in education, while prodding marketers of educational services toward thinking globally.

“I Will Accompany You Throughout The Learning.”
The latest professional service providers to be flipped into outsourcing mode are university-level teaching assistants, or TAs. In a posting titled Education: the Virtual TA, we learn of India-based TAs logging on to provide tutorial service and grade papers for students at U.S. universities. The co-founder of one such company claims, “We are just getting started; this trend is unstoppable….” The numbers do make a compelling case for cash-strapped educators — think about a lone professor instructing a course of 350 students, with one TA. In the coming decades, expect growth in exports of professional services from India, Russia and China, and the daily integration of far-off experts in our educational experiences. I find it ironic that we’re handing over a key element of U.S. higher learning to countries who are perceived as overtaking our nation’s educational process.

And then there’s Khan Academy. At YouTube, we log on for laughs, news … and higher learning.  I was surprised and delighted to find that the Khan Academy offers more than 1,100 videos on YouTube, covering everything from basic arithmetic to chemistry, biology, calculus, and economics. “There is no reason why they can’t reach and engage every student on the planet as long as the Internet exists,” says founder Salman Khan. His genuine interest in teaching reminds me of the Carnegie Foundation’s funding of city libraries throughout the US in the last centuries: free, fair access to learning has been a basis for The Great American Success Story. At nonprofit or free access sites such Khan Academy (and the greater YouTube ecosystem),  there is plenty of room for business models to thrive, too: check out the home page for a link to “Mental Bootcamp.”

For all the dross and multimedia sewage that the Internet spews onto our screens every day, there are a stunning number of gems such as these progressive, accessible learning options. But, the education industry is no different than any other… once barriers fall and the rules change, in rush new norms and standards of what defines open and fair learning for all. As we see in the proliferation of for-profit universities in the U.S., admissions standards and graduation requirements fall woefully short, sometimes to the point of conferring degrees upon under-educated, functionally illiterate doctoral candidates.

Meanwhile, we can take comfort in knowing that the rising tide of online education enables students everywhere to finally claim their own piece of the Ivory Tower.

Mobile Banking: Reaching the Next 3 Billion

Street-level innovations in mobile money are sparking advanced, mobile banking business plans… a catalyst for providers of banking and telecommunications to reach the remaining 3-or-so billion humans who don’t own a mobile phone (1 in 2 of us, roughly). The personal, convenient nature of mobile phones – which, according to Jan Chipchase, Nokia’s chief usability researcher, “transcends space and time” can leap the hurdles of illiteracy, poverty and distance.

Today, mobile phone makers such as Nokia and mobile operators are acting as de facto banks, because of their Trusted Brand status. The percentage of citizens in developing countries (e.g., Central and East Africa) who have a financial identity (“banked citizens”) stands at about 2%, whereas about 10% of citizens are mobile-connected. Here’s where the street-level innovation comes into play.

Obopay, which uses text messaging and mobile internet access, charges users a fee to send money or to top up their accounts. Simpler still, though, is the Phone-as-ATM idea: purchase of a pre-paid calling card and subsequent transfer of its credits to be converted into hard cash currency. Chipchase recently profiled examples of this wherein money is sent from one family member, the wage earner living in a city, to another family member living in a “one-phone” village. The guardian of the single phone, banks the rest of the phone time, keeps a small commission, and gives its cash equivalent to the recipient.

International pre-paid calling cards are getting closer to hard cash currency in a simply elegant way, too. We see service providers such as RegaloCard presenting simple, free solutions for money transfer that rely upon pre-payment and secure-access PINs thus providing traceable use of funds sent from one country to another. RegaloCard’s 1-2-3 instructions point out the ease of use and trustworthiness of the service. It’s a boon for immigrants used to pushing large sums of money to their homeland without knowing how the funds are being spent, and paying high fees. A boon, also, for merchants at both ends of the chain: fees are paid to issuing merchants in the country or origin while commissions are earned from sales resulting from the card’s usage in the destination country.

RegaloCard is driving real-time, high-velocity, low-value-but-all-cash-based transmissions… a plum of a business plan for any industry. This vital service will likely up-end such traditional money transfer services such as those offered by Western Union.

Where are the hot spot markets for mobile financial services? Those with the greatest near-term growth are our globe’s emerging markets, the underdeveloped and poor countries — we don’t hear that statistic too often — with of course our developed markets ripening in the longer term.

Read more:
about Jan Chipchase of Nokia Fast Company
about Mobile Money for the Unbanked, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded effort
about mobile banking in Haiti

Cellular, Telecomm, Cable Providers Step Up at CTIA

Da Brick by Motorola: the 80s were good to us!

At last week’s CTIA trade show, a 25th anniversary display included a glam shot of Motorola’s iconic cellular phone, Da Brick, adopted early on by Magnum, P.I. and my realtor sister. That $4,000, one-hour-talk-time wonderment looked like it had been plucked right off the front lines in ‘Nam and spray-painted beige.

Today, a planet of applications developers and systems engineers scramble to fill our insatiable demand for 4G-worthy data flow between machines and each other, via ever-shrinking, mobile devices.

Cisco’s CTO said in her keynote that their challenge is to ensure machines do more of the work, via machine-to-machine protocols; and to figure out how to keep all of us in video-centric, always-on, location-based user mode. As a consumer, my challenge is the continual evaluation of how I retrieve and share data on the job and at play, and from which combo of service providers. Thus, CTIA is a great testing ground for me.

It was remarkable to see cable companies and their ecosystem of suppliers gain such high visibility at CTIA. Indeed, the supply lines are blurring. Races will be won by those who can merge real-life and work-world needs, i.e. health care monitoring in the home, and robust inventory control at work. Cable? Telco? Cellular? Or all three, with “an app for that” thrown in?

A recurring Elephant in the Room theme for me is power consumption. How will battery life hold up with 4G-paced data transfer and jumbo-esque screens on pocket-sized devices? I continue to watch solutions providers for un-corded powering and re-charging solutions, and technologies used by service providers that improve battery life by managing signal transport.

Favorite visual images from my CTIA Experience:

– a lo-o-o-ong line of folks waiting to meet Shaun White (what a brand for the ages that guy is!). Shaun stopped traffic with his big ginger ‘do and top-of-the-world smile.
– event after-parties at tragically hip nightclubs, which open early for private parties, then boot everyone out by 11 to get ready for their 1am opening. Most of the “great-unhip” wouldn’t get past the bouncers during regular club hours!

Part two of my coverage of CTIA will be an in-depth look at an industry sector in transition: mobile money. Look out, Western Union… international smart pre-paid services are here!

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