Mobile Apps for Development: Focus on Content By Users, Not Just For Users

Posted by Ignacio Mas on Mar 28, 2012

(This blog post was co-authored by Rafael Anta, a Technology Specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank, and Ignacio Mas, an independent consultant.)

Most applications for development (m-whatever) are based on giving poor people access to information that the provider of that information thinks people need.  There is little interaction and no user-generation of content in many first. Does it need to be like that?

There are two basic attributes of mobile communication. First, it is immediate. A person with a phone can communicate right here and right now,  the result of the expansive mobile network coverage and our ability to carry a network end-point (a.k.a. a mobile phone) with us wherever we go. Secondly, the communication is interactive - a two-way communications, with equal capacity for sending and receiving. Both these factors – immediacy and interactivity— involve users not just as consumers but as contributors of content. In fact, the most widely-used mobile channels are purely user-generated:  voice and SMS, some picture messaging, more recently Facebook and Twitter. 

These applications implicate us in one more sense: we are also marketers of our content. User-generated content involves a level of audience targeting and content tailoring that no studio executive will ever achieve. Our content fills the airwaves in ever-growing quantities, but any bit of it has scarcity value – at least for the sender and for the intended recipient. Content is king, but our content is supreme.