2011 Year In Review - The Year of Mobile

Posted by KatrinVerclas on Jan 02, 2012

In 2011, the world population crossed the seven billion mark and the number of mobile subscriptions surpassed six billion. As mobile phones have become part of everyday life around the world, MobileActive.org celebrates the New Year by looking at all the ways mobiles have been used in social change and development work.

MobileActive.org launched two new initiatives this year, The Mobile Media Toolkit and SaferMobile, which both focus on using mobile technology securely and safely. The revolutions in the Middle East showed that 2011 was a year of change. As demonstrations spread through more than a dozen countries, mobile phones were a key source of communication among activists and protesters. The wide-spread use of mobile technology, combined with the use of repressive surveillance tech, brought up more than ever issues of security and privacy for activists, journalists, and citizens who want to use mobile phones to safely capture and share information.

The MobileMediaToolkit: Everything You Ever Needed to Know about Making Media Mobile

In July we launched the Mobile Media Toolkit, a free, multi-language resource that helps make sense of the changing, growing role of mobile technology in media. The Toolkit provides how-to guides, breakdowns of mobile tools, and case studies on how mobile phones can (and are) being used for reporting, news broadcasting, and citizen media participation. The Mobile Media Toolkit has been viewed from over 120 countries and we have just added Russian to the content already available in English, Spanish, and Arabic.

The Mobile Media Toolkit contains detailed information on how to create, share, and deliver engaging mobile content, as well as case studies and blog posts showing how mobile phones are being used for journalism and citizen reporting around the world.

How-To Guides

In addition to how-to guides, the Mobile Media Toolkit also posts regular case studies and blog posts detailing how mobile technology is being used by journalists, citizen reporters, and media organizations in the field:

  • Voices of Africa teaches mobile journalism skills to students across Africa.
  • TRACFM provides a platform for citizens in Uganda to monitor and discuss public services via SMS and radio reports.
  • Bubbly is a call-and-record audio blogging service in India.


The Mobile Media Toolkit staff review the latest and best mobile tools to help mobile journalists and newsrooms find effective and relevant tools for their work. We think it’s key to test mobile media tools among working journalists in the field, so we are developing the Mobile Journalist on an SD Card. We are working with Al Jazeera to test specific tools in the field, around the world, while on assignment. We’ll hear firsthand from them whether the tools helped in their reporting, and we’ll make these lessons available to our community online and via micro SD cards. SD cards can plug directly into most phones, so reporters and MoJo’s can create their own quality mobile content on the go.

SaferMobile: Mobile Safety and Security for Rights Defenders

We are also launching SaferMobile.org, the website for the SaferMobile project. It took us longer than we had thought, so stay tuned for the great unveiling in 2012 - this time in four language (English, Spanish, Arabic, and Farsi). 

SaferMobile helps activists, human rights defenders, and journalists understand the security risks of mobile technology and learn how to use mobile tech more securely in their work. We do this through providing multimedia materials online, hosting in-person trainings, and creating mobile apps that focus on security and privacy.

Until we launch the site (and to tide you over in case you are curious!) check out these how-to guides as well as detailed background materials explaining security issues and mitigating tactics for many mobile and online scenarios.

Background Information

Detailed Safety Guides

  • Safer Facebook and Safer Twitter break down mitigating techniques like secure browsing, anonymizing tactics, and privacy settings to show users how to use social media more safely.
  • Securing Your Mobile Email looks at what users need to do in order to lock down their email when accessing it from a mobile device.
  • Evaluating Security Apps examines the apps that keep your phone secure and what you should do to keep your phone malware and virus free.
  • Using HTTPS for Secure Browsing explains how to add extra security to your mobile browsing habits and why it's important.


  • InTheClear is an Android app that allows users to automate emergency communications and erase personal information from your phone with a single click. Download the beta version here!

MobileActive.org: Mobile Tech for Social Change

Even with the launch of the new initiatives, MobileActive.org hasn’t slowed down covering the latest news in the use of mobile technology for social change and development. Check out some of our top stories, broken down by category, below. 


  • We attended the Mobile Health Summit 2011 in December, and pulled together the key lessons and trends discussed during the conference.
  • Earlier in the year we interviewed m-health practitioners and developers around the world to create a list of best practices and tips for people interested in launching mobile health projects.
  • We also covered many specific m-health projects including:
    •  MoTeCH, which aims to determine how to use mobile phones to increase the quantity and quality of prenatal and neonatal care in rural Ghana, with a goal of improving health outcomes for mothers and their newborns.
    • NETRA, a device that tests for vision errors by allowing users to look through a clip-on lens at a very close range and align the patterns displayed on a mobile phone screen.
    • CoolComply, a cooling device that monitors the temperature of MDR-TB medication and wirelessly transmits data about the temperature of the medication and patient adherence levels to community health workers through SMS.
    • eMocha, an open-source Android application that allows community health workers to collect, store, and transmit data easily.

Democracy, Governance, and Civic Participation

  • What role did mobile phones play in monitoring the 2011 Liberian elections? Ushahidi and the National Democratic Institute were on the ground using mobile technology to record information at polling centers across the country and to map that data online; we spoke to them about the process.
  • Bribespot is a mobile app for Android that allows users to submit reports of corruption and bribes. People can also submit reports on a website and instances are plotted on a map using Google maps API.
  • uReport Uganda is a UNICEF project that sends SMS polls and messages to subscribers in order to gather feedback about communities across Uganda. The information is then used in broadcast and print media to inform citizens about their rights and available services, while also acting as a means of detecting vulnerabilities in communities.
  • How can mobile phones be used for conflict resolution? The organization Dar Al-Salam sets up mediation among rival tribal groups by organizing mobile phone conference calls to discuss conflicts while also teaching conflict mediation tactics to young Yemenis.
  • The Demand Dignity campaign attempts to give a voice to people who are living in poverty or who have had their human rights violated. People can use Twitter, the website, or SMS to comment and add their voice to the platform.
  • Transparency International Georgia is working to make information about Parliament available to more people via SMS messaging. The civil society organization set up a project that sends Twitter-like messages on Parliamentary scheduling information to people who sign up for the service.
  • Fu Chi is a project that utilizes the open source software Ushahidi to raise civic engagement and communication among residents in Philadelphia's Chinatown. Fu Chi allows residents to report issues, events, opinions, and respond to other users’ comments.
  • While mobiles have a lot of potential to reach women in developing countries, the reality is that the potential isn’t always achieved. The “Mobiles for Women” series looks at both the benefits and downsides of mobile technology and gender issues.


  • SharedSolar allows rural electricity consumers make utility payments based on usage by using a scratch card and adding credit via SMS, with each household using a unique prepaid metering system.
  • NextDrop uses mobile technology to monitor water flow in urban India, with residents calling in reports over an IVR system and sending out updates on pump outages via SMS.
  • FLOW is an open-source, Android application that allows field workers to use mobile phones to document how well water pumps and sanitation points in the developing world are functioning, then transmit that data to create an online map of target regions.
  • The news organization WNYC created on-air and online stories by using mobile phones to collect data from viewers about snow removal and government services in New York City.


  • What’s the score with mobile education? As mobile gaming explodes worldwide, the market for “games for good” (either with an educational or social-change focus) is open for growth. This post examines the question: can mobile games be used to teach, inform, and raise awareness?
  • The research at your desk series looked at an educational tool for South African youth called Dr. Math, based on the popular mobile instant messaging service called MXit.
  • A post on m-learning examined the hype around mobile education projects, referencing multiple research reports and white papers that focus on the potential of mobile learning.

Telecoms and Communications

  •  We had an in-office demonstration of the basic workings of GSM networks and OpenBTS, an open-source platform that allows users to set up a cellular network at a fraction of the cost of a GSM network. We learned how to set up a low-power, low-capacity GSM network and posted the results on our site.
  • SMSall is a service in Pakistan that enables mailing-list style interaction over SMS. As Pakistan’s largest SMS social network, it serves over 2.1 million people and an average of 300 million SMS messages are sent every month.
  • What do you need to know to work with mobile operators? This two-part series breaks down everything: business models, benefits of partnerships, learning to work across multiple teams, accepting local expertise, realistically facing technology barriers, and more.
    • Part One: How to Work with Mobile Operators
    • Part Two: Top Ten Tips for Working with Mobile Operators


This year we started a new series of research reviews, posting in-depth looks at some of the case studies in our mDirectory. Some of the highlights:


If you love events, MobileActive has you covered!

  • In June we hosted a Tech Salon called “Our Mobile Data Exhaust” that examined:
    • How do we determine socially beneficial uses for mobile data?
    • How can the safety, security, and privacy of individuals be respected while using mobile data to benefit them?
    • How can our mobile data be effectively aggregated and anonymized?
  • FailFaire is one of MobileActive’s favorite events, bringing together practitioners, developers, researchers, donors, and NGOs to discuss failure in mobile and ICT4D projects in an open and encouraging atmosphere. The goal is to learn from mistakes rather than sweeping them under the rug, creating more open communications so that future projects are stronger. Check out what we learned at the recent FailFaire in New York City here.

Happy New Year!

We are excited for what the new year holds. Keep in contact with MobileActive through Twitter,Facebook, our discuss list, or our newsletters at MobileActive.org and (for all of you reporters and citizen journalists) at the Mobile Media Toolkit.