My BlogCamp Switzerland Talk

As announced on Twitter, I presented a talk on mobile technology in Malawi at today’s BlogCamp in Zurich to share what I’m learning from the African blogs and tweets that I follow on a regular basis.

I started my talk with a short intro on Chiperoni (I am a bridge blogger somewhere between Basel and Blantyre) and why I blog. How much I appreciated Alex Antener’s news stream published on a Polytechnic server during the last Malawi general election. Then pointing to White African’s blog post discussing Twitter’s decision to discontinue its SMS service to the rest of the world. I tried to point out the potential a “Twitter to SMS” service could have for Malawi, where most of the population does not have access to the internet or even a plain old fixed telephone line.

Soyapi Mumba's Blog: The Potential of Twitter in Africa

I described the current situation. And how this is changing with mobile technology. I pointed to Mike McKay’s blog post about a rural area in northern Malawi where villagers climb an ant hill to get a better signal.

In Switzerland we take a lot of things such as the excellent infrastructure we have for granted.

I shared some of my observations from my recent holiday in Blantyre, some data on the pricing models and how public wifi is being introduced in urban areas.

tnm || always with you

Zain Malawi - SMS text messages - Prices

I was a little shaky on the stats side of things, telecommunication regulations, as well as who owns the major cell phone service companies, TNM and Zain. I’ll need to do more research here. I might have got some of my facts mixed up.

I did refer to the new airtime tax that is being introduced.

Examples referred to:

This talk was inspired by White African’s and Soyapi Mumba’s tweet streams. Zikomo kwambiri. Keep on tweeting.

Flickr credits: White African, Hackerfriendly, all other photos are my own.

Big zikomo to Persillie and Mlle A. for reviewing my slides!

I enjoyed presenting very much (note to myself).

Oh and I forgot to mention my chat with a Limbe internet cafe manager during the talk…

Limbe Internet Cafe

Mobile Communication for Rural Health Project

I stumbled across this blog by Josh Nesbit discussing the use of FrontlineSMS, a tool to set up a text-based communications network, in a rural health project in Namitete, Malawi.

Here’s a 7 minute long interview with one of the community health worker. At about 3:00 she starts discussing the advantage of having a cell phone:

And here’s an interview with Alexander Ngalande, a nurse at St. Gabriel’s Hospital in Namitete, regarding his experience with FrontlineSMS:

He now uses SMS to communicate with the community health workers to coordinate his medical visits to remote villages. Previously he required a motorbike to send a message when he would be in attendance.

Examples of text messages being sent:

– A man missed his appointment with a TB officer. A CHW was texted, who reported the man had gone to Zambia for a funeral. The hospital will be notified upon his return.

– An HIV support group met, and decided on new member guidelines. Via SMS, the group leader asked the hospital to print copies for the lot.

– A CHW asked about ferrous sulfate dosages, so he could administer the proper amount to an anemic child.

We take this type of communication between medical staff and patient for granted.

See also this BBC article.

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

The Summer of 08

As a gentle drizzle sets in, I’d just like to dump a couple of carefully composed poetry text snippets here at Chiperoni headquarters.

So far this summer of 08 has treated me well. I’m spending every weekend with my latest gadget: Shooting photos with my Canon 40D. There’s a lot to learn. And try out. Especially regarding lenses and post-processing. I’m still very much of a snapshotter.

I have noticed something:

The memory aspect of photos has become important to me. A couple of years ago before I started blogging and flickring, I joked that I’m taking photos with my retina and one day I’ll just download the contents of my brain (bioware, wetware). But as I proceed through life, more and more of my life pictures are moving to the back of my brain. I can still access them if I want, but they are moving further back as I take care of the daily clutter. But I don’t know if the pictures will disappear one day.

I like the way I can document one moment. With one shutter click.

Yesterday I went to see the Fotomuseum in Winterthur. I enjoyed it immensely. The show that I liked the most was the one on Theo Frey.

See this Wikipedia page for more infos on his biography.

The show reminded me of a Hernando de Soto interview I read. Not so long ago, many people lived in abject poverty here in Switzerland. The Frey photos brought this time closer.

Throughout the past weeks I’ve continued my low key fitness and jogging program. I haven’t run any races or lost any weight, but it helps to deal with stress. And the side effects of sitting hunched up in front of a laptop.

The Summer of Ohhh Eight…
Did you realize? This is the second last year of single digits. I didn’t know that 08 is a lucky number in China. But I feel that this summer is special. A time to remember. Dobbiamo profittare.