The Mobile Web for Development: Reality and Potential

Posted by KatrinVerclas on Oct 13, 2008

Reposted from, by Brett Davidson

This afternoon I attended 'The Mobile Web': The potential and reality for developing countries, facilitated by Toni Eliasz.

There was extended discussion of the value of the mobile web to developing countries. Views hinge a lot on how one defines 'mobile web'. Some people had strong reservations about the potential of the mobile web, related to affordability, the need for high-end phones in order to browse the internet, the high cost of data access via cellphone networks, and ongoing problems with connectivity.

But many of these reservations can be removed if one defines the mobile web more broadly than accessing the Internet. One person proposed defining it as access to data and databases in whatever form. So if people are able to access data on the Internet, through tailored SMS services, for example, that qualifies as the mobile web.

Cost is not necessarily always high, some participants argued. One person pointed to MXIT - a South African-developed chat service used widely by teens. The cost of using it is minimal. Another pointed to widespread use of Google and social networking sites like Facebook among the youth, using cellphones.

The discussion also looked at the suitability and accessibility of present content on the web (some felt much current content is not really directed at the needs and capacities of people in the developing world -- eg places with low literacy levels). On the other hand, the development of the mobile web could help people leapfrog into higher levels of computer - and Internet - literacy, and could also allow people in developing nations to develop their own content.

Mobile internet is not 'the internet on the mobile', said one participant. The nature of sites, and the kind of data accessed are different. The same person warned that as with the Internet, the mobile web, will be flooded with commercially-based sites and commercial information. We need to ensure that the important social and educational and developmental content gets attention. NGOs need to ensure that their sites are tailored for mobile use, or else they will lose out.

The session was more about questions than answers: is there a need for specialised applications? How do we scale up projects and initiatives? How do we get people to develop suitable applications? Is SMS the thing to focus on for the near future, or should we be looking at WAP applications?






In 2000 I "wandered" into WAP space. I was & remain amazed at the power of simple apps to help in time of need. I did a simple National (USA) directory of all my colleagues across all 50 states (about 18,000) in a MySQL database accessible as a WAP app. And trust me phone in 2000 were NOT iPhone-like. :) Nonetheless, I could look up colleagues, their org's address, their main phone number, etc. All via WAP. Unbelievably efficient. UGLY as text based data - but useful and leveraging/marrying all the benefits of accessing WAP data on a mobile phone (i.e. links to phone numbers to "press & call") all from row/column data -- oh yeah, on a monochrome screen. There's deep value in WAP -- just not deep interest -- given the iPhone graphics of the world today.

Thanks for all the great team posts on the MobileActive08 events. Living/enjoying vicariously!



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