July 2010

Innovation and Cell Phones: It's not happening at Apple

Or Google. And certaintly not at any of the carriers. The real innovation and hacking is on the streets of Ghana, India, China, Egypt and more, as Jan Chipchase reveals in Icon Magazine: http://www.iconeye.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&catid=443&id...:

"In any cluster of mobile phone shops you find someone who offers repair services. This typically starts out as people fixing displays and speakers, which tend to break first. People then come asking if other things can be fixed, and over time there’s an increased awareness of how to fix different models. Nokia tends to be the dominant player in those markets, so people tend to know how to fix them, right down to soldering bits of the circuit board. It’s from those repair services that a street-hacker culture originates. "

This also sounds curiously similar to early stages of import-replacing industrialization, where with domestic reverse-engineering of imported technologies in support of increasing support, repair, and eventually production and innovation of the technology.

Oh wait, we're already seeing innovation:

"However the demand is there, and we’ve seen street services that offer to take two physical sim cards, and re-engineer the circuitry to fit into one sim card slot – effectively allowing multiple phone numbers on one device. You could argue that the cutting edge of mobile technology and use is happening on the streets of places like Accra, rather than Tokyo or San Francisco. "

Maptivism is my new favorite portmanteau

Through the magic of technology, this post at CrissCrossed.net from January just popped up on my radar, covering examples of using the one-two visual and data-rich impact of maps for activism. His examples cover pollution reporting in China, community mapping in Brazil and others. Add to that the Ushahidi-powered BP Oil Spill Crisis Map and of course the gamechanging effects of incident reporting and crisismapping in immediate the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, and you have a sea-change in the ability to respond to a problem with geographic dimensions quickly, and with data-driven, crowdsource-able maps. This ability is largely thanks to the work of Ushahidi (which now even supports remote reporting via voice calls) and projects like Open Street Map.


Hardware, Easyware, and Flow

Is hardware hacking becoming more accessible in the development context?

A positive psychologist friend once explained the concept of (watch as I butcher the terms and descriptions) "flow" to me. I understood it as working on things which are interesting, difficult, but not so overwhelmingly difficult that you can't make clear progress on. Importantly, also not so easy that you just breeze mindlessly through. Good logic puzzles, programming, and such things are often found on this razor's edge between too difficult and too easy.

Hardware hacking has long been a task which only a small, geeky set of people can really enjoy a flow state while exploring the dark magics of hardware.

Last night I shared some pints with DC-area OLPC fans , Mike Lee showed off an Acer he'd hacked a Pixel Qi screen into. Now, this is not a hack for the faint of heart (yet), but it's pretty amazing in the world of the mostly-sealed, non-user-hackable laptop setups to be able to swap in a new screen, especially not one provided in a kit from the original manufacturer.

Social Change - to go, please

Cross-posted at the FrontlineSMS Blog

The recent Technology Salons have been on local and sectoral implementations of mobile technology in development.

Mobile is hardly "new" anymore, but we're seeing increasing tools for peer-to-peer communications and decentralized development. Instead of SMS reporting for mHealth metrics or election observation (both amazingly powerful), we have Ushahidi and a team of volunteers from colleges and Haitian diaspora communities across the world saving lives in Haiti after the earthquake by synthesizing and translating reports from on the ground into actionable, trustable pieces of information.

Instead of training-and-visit agricultural extension work, we have tools like Patatat which are building group email lists through SMS messaging, enabling farmers (or anyone) to collaborate on their work, market prices, crop diseases, and so on - with increasingly little need for anything at the center. And of course there's twitter, which, while still "centralized" as a website, enables un-mediated communication amongst basically anyone in the world with a cell phone and a good text-messaging plan.