Twitter, SMS and Africa

This recent Twitter announcement is disappointing on a personal level, but also on a more global level as White African discusses:

Twitter represents a change in communication. By acting as a global gateway for updates via SMS (or the web), that then updates all of your followers, Twitter succeeded in breaking ground in one-to-many messaging. There have been a couple times over the past year where Twitter was used in Africa to get news out that wasn’t possible in any other format.

And in the comment thread he explains:

What’s missing for it to work in Africa is not just the sending of updates, but the receiving of your contacts updates. That really is what created the network effect for Twitter, and why it can’t succeed where it’s not available.

In Africa, not having SMS is a deal killer. Though there would undoubtedly be users who access it through the web – as is true throughout the rest of the world, true penetration in Africa can only come through services that can be fully operational using only SMS. Why I think this is particularly disappointing is that those third generation Twitter services that could really serve the needs of both ordinary Africans and humanitarians globally will not be built now.

The really interesting thing to me, so that Twitter doesn’t have to shoulder the load by itself, is the opportunity to build services that are separate and independent, but also equal. I guess the closest analogy I have would be to Jabber in this case – where anyone can run a server and that makes the whole greater than the sum of it’s parts.

A very interesting thread, which I’d like to recommend here.

My observations in Blantyre:

  • Despite the relative high cost, nearly everybody has a cell phone.
  • The top present to get for your girlfriend is a cell phone (!).
  • Most people use prepaid cards. See the current tariff plans at Zain (previously Celtel) and tnm.
  • Cell phones are helping to connect remote places, that never had a telephone connection. Villagers can hear more often and directly from family members that have moved to the cities or emigrated to SA, the USA and other countries. Farmers can compare market prices, receive weather updates. See Cy’s video.
  • Internet services are relatively expensive. Out of reach for personal use. Connecting via fixed line is slow and error prone. The way forward is wifi. Despite these encouraging developments, Internet will remain out of reach for most people for many years to come.

IMG_1890

Web to SMS

for future reference:

I use Twitter’s direct messages to send out an occasional text message. I’m trying to set up a Twitter account for my family in Blantyre. The idea would be to DM them via Twitter. But somehow, the cell phone authentication is *not* working. (Any ideas?)

As an alternative, I found this page listing services that offer free text messages from a web interface, mostly for Switzerland:

http://www.tiptom.ch/gratis/sms.html

A third alternative is to upload a couple of Euro/$/CHF to my Skype account and text directly from my Skype client. I’ve used this in the past for text messages and voice. Works great.