Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The coming mobile revolution

OK, so in some circles I'm kinda late on this one: At WineCamp a few of us talked about what kinds of technology could actually help people on the ground - in rural parts of the developing world - actually make money. I.e. we were avoiding the altruistic conversation about how technology can help on a broader level of education and access, and jumping straight to the point: can the use of technology lead directly to someone in rural India/Tanzania/Guatemala making money. Becuase if anything is at the base of economic development, it's economics....

Well, this lead to various conjectures on how mobile technology can be used to "do work." What kind of work? Well, take a look at MobileActive. While mostly focusing on how mobile technology is used in the developed world (and parts of the developing world that has a decent infrastrcuture), this website does a great job of documenting how people are using cell-phone technology to do work.

For example, one conjecturial idea from that WineCamp conversation was to follow the Grameen Phone mobile-as-pay-phone model. Another is to use cell phones as a tool for unskilled laboreres to collect time-sensitive field data. Then there's the case study of Ugandan farmers using cell phones ot get accurate prices for their coffee - and finding buyers without having to trek into the city.

A final conjecture of how to use a mobile to "do work" (as opposed to a information tool) is using the innate human ability to distiguish things that computers cannot - based on Amazon's Mechanical Turk program (what the heck is Mechnical Turk?). The popularity of the application is fading, but when you look at the types of work that is being outsourced to the developing world - from IT support to IT application development to legal clerical prep work to actual content revision and generation - you begin to get the idea that someone getting paid to do simple tasks on a cell phone is not that far away.... Both figuratively, and maybe literally.

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