Submitted by Jon on Tue, 04/07/2009 - 12:34
Tonight's ICT4D meetup asks the question, "What's Next?" While it's always risky to predict the future, I think the groundwork for the next decade is largely stable.
Mobile is globally today where the Internet was in the US in the early nineties -- if you wanted access, you could find it. It might be difficult, costly, or shared, but it was available. Think of the changes in the Internet over the past decade and a half -- we've moved from a largely text-only interface with gopher, newsgroups and email being the key players to the web, and now the rich, ajax-y web 2.0.
I think a similar growth could happen (and already is, to some extent) in the global mobile market. As access to mobile networks spread, the possibility to have more and exciting applications filter down to even the cheapest handsets becomes more likely.
Imagine a simple survey app that received, presented, and then encoded, compressed and encrypted questions and answers through SMS automatically, instead of the laborious current manual encoding used in election monitoring. That alone, enabled on the basic cell phone platforms would revolutionize data reporting by reducing training time while also improving accuracy, human rights protections (via encryption), and reducing the opportunities for falsified data to be put into the system.
The "4PC" / netbook market that the OLPC XO helped to create will also continue to bloom and provide benefits beyond people who want to surf Facebook from their couch. I'm not sure this will achieve the vast scale that comprised the original OLPC vision (at least anytime soon, largely because of the overlap with the phone market)
I think the coming decade will see a vast reduction in the technical "digital divide" -- billions of people will have some tenuous connection to the Internet through their mobiles. We will see citizen engagement in reporting fraud, human rights abuses, and simply local football games and citizen journalism through SMS grow. South-South partnerships and knowledge sharing will become infinitely easier and more valuable.
In place of the digital divide, Eszter Hargittai's concept of digital inequality will come to the forefront. Creating open source tools like FrontlineSMS to connect cellphones together and to the Internet where available, as well as promoting and providing resources and training for those tools is going to be where the exciting work happens.
I'm looking forward to it.