Twitter / Jaiku / Laconica and so on

I’ve been a bit slow on the uptake on Twitter compared to many people by the looks of things. Neilsen reports Visits to Twitter have increased 1,382 percent since last year - from 475K unique visitors in February 2008 to 7 million in February 2009 . On top of this many of the blogs I follow are written by people with 3000 tweets or more.

But here is the flip side - I did a ‘find other people using the gmail addressbook tool’ (my gmail address book has over 300 people) and only found 5 people using twitter - only 2 of which had more than 3 tweets or a picture. One of those persons only tweets were ‘not getting this‘ and ‘still not getting this‘ - they are on Facebook every day.

So Twitter clearly has major momentum, major publicity and a powerful user base but it still has a way to go to attract the more casual and younger user base.

Here’s a couple of my thoughts on it based upon a couple of weeks of use -

  1. It’s yet another closed source owned social network.
  2. Although it is based upon many short messages (ala SMS) People seem to use english rather than txtspeak (the one’s I am following anyway) which I prefer - showing my age
  3. It is a bit throwaway - Twitter is about NOW and about a sequence of 140 Characters or links - that’s it!
  4. But it is a great way of finding out the latest thoughts and ideas from people who’s opinion you respect in many topic areas with minimal effort.
  5. If you put lots of effort into it - it can be a great way of getting your own messages out to a specific set of people.
  6. It is very easy to switch on and off which means it is really easy to get rid of people who babble on too much.
  7. The API is strong and there are lots of ways to integrate twitter into existing applications

Overall - apart from 1) I like it and it is a good communication channel which is likely to develop well in the future especially in terms of integration with other applications. Notice that Community Mobile Channels allows Twitter imports and can autosend a tweet out whenever a Microsite is published (I was using the API before the site! - scary).

So what of the Open Source alternatives.

Well … Jaiku was a main competitor to Twitter for a while and then google seemed to pull the plug on it. Actually they were just open sourcing it and the Jaiku code base was released under the Apache License 2.0 on March 13th 2009. The code is available as JaikuEngine on Google Code Project Hosting as of now. Anyone can set up and run their own JaikuEngine instance on Google App Engine.

Laconi.ca was the first Free and Open Source microblogging platform which is already used by a large number of sites - the biggest installation being at http://identi.ca/

Both of these are great projects and will ride the Twitter wave - however the problem is that any microblogging platform needs people that other people want to follow - Twitter has presidents, film stars and other celebs as well as thought leaders in a load of subject areas all saying stuff they think is interesting - that’s a big act to follow.

Last 2 Days to Vote for Community Mobile Channels on the NetSquared N2Y4 Mobile Challenge

The Project Plan in Brief

The Project Plan in Brief

Community mobile channels NEEDS YOUR VOTE so please head over to netsquared and register and vote.

Below is the registration link.

http://www.netsquared.org/user/register?destination=node

This is the voting instructions link

http://www.netsquared.org/n2y4/vote

This is the Community Mobile Channels Project Link.

http://www.netsquared.org/projects/community-mobile-channels

Please help highlight this project and build mobile orientated community empowerment in an open source way.

This image  was created by using the Wordle visualisation tool - Fun Free tool, try it out at http://www. wordle.net . I did another wordle (below) of the last few mainstreamingict blog posts - guess what I have been focusing on lately (maybe I need a holiday from mobile): -

mains

Quick Brain Dump of Great Resources for the Mobile Developer

It seems that the M4Change tag on delicious worked. So, following on from EngageJoes comments regarding the Mobile Ideas Factory - I have compiled a quick braindump of information that I have come across that would be of use to a mobile developer / person working with tech in the non-profit sector. There is much that I don’t cover here because the Mobile Ideas Factory already has it - This braindump is just a start at filling in a few of the gaps.

Starting with the Mobile Web (Through a microbrowser) - W3C (The World Wide Web Consortium) have their initiative on the mobile web here - http://www.w3.org/Mobile/ - in particular they have http://validator.w3.org/mobile/ as a checker - http://ready.mobi is also a great checker for mobile web development.

One of W3C mobile web initiatives is Mobile Web for Social Development (MW4D) which is an Interest Group which explores how to use the potential of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) on Mobile phones as a solution to bridge the Digital Divide and provide minimal services (health, education, governance, business,…) to rural communities and under-privileged populations of Developing Countries. The homepage for this is at http://www.w3.org/2008/MW4D/ - There is lots of info there. The other part of W3C worth checking is Planet Mobile at http://www.w3.org/Mobile/planet which is a collection of some of the best blogs for mobile development.

Browser Firm Opera has a very popular Mobile Browser - Opera Mini - It is a J2ME app that is on more than 20 million mobile devices worldwide. The company gives out some great information on the state of the mobile web  http://www.opera.com/smw/ - it is of course based upon upon their own stats which gives a skewed report - however their reports make for excellent reading. They also do plenty of articles on designing for the mobile web - http://dev.opera.com/articles/mobile/

Admob are one of the leading mobile ad networks. They give out a lot of information about the state of the mobile ‘ecosystem’ as they see it - Their reports home page is at http://www.admob.com/s/solutions/metrics

Sooner or later when designing mobile web sites you will come across problems related to mobile device screen sizes and capabilities. The 2 main projects that address this are WURFL (Open Source) and DeviceAtlas (Pay Per Server).

SMS - of course there are FrontlineSMS & RapidSMS which there are huge amounts of info on in development circles. Other worthwhile SMS resources are Clickatel and BulkSMS which are both worldwide Bulk SMS providers with decent APIs - http://www.clickatell.com/http://bulksms.vsms.net/w/solutions_http_to_sms.htm - With clever usage Twitter can be used as a major SMS provider in the countries it still does SMS to - other countries could possibly use the twe2 service - http://www.twe2.com/ - Google India (India only) has SMS Channels which is a  way of broadcasting SMS to a group for free - see http://labs.google.co.in/smschannels/

USSD - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USSD does not appear to be used widely in development (maybe because it seems to require the cooperation of mobile operators). The only case I know of is Cell-Lifes Mobilsr see http://www.cell-life.org/cellphones-4-hiv/mobilisr?1768f84c07a3a208150af5c12451b8b9=7d449c4e5ea2f055cb275d4f0947550f - aside from this http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?set_id=18&click_id=2992 shows a premium USSD service in South Africa. USSD is considered a potential solution for mobile banking - see http://mbanking.blogspot.com/2008/10/is-ussd-for-mobile-banking-cul-de-sac.html & http://www.mihswat.com/2008/10/09/sometimes-old-technologies-are-good-and-%E2%80%9Cnew%E2%80%9D-or-ussd-can-change-everything-for-mobile-banking/

Bluetooth (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bluetooth) is widely used in some countries for file sharing and in shopping centres for advertising. It can be a bit problematic to use for sharing Java J2ME apps (see http://www.google.co.za/search?hl=en&q=sharing+jar+files+over+bluetooth) which is a pity because this is a great free viral method of sharing.  The best potential use of Bluetooth is the viral sharing of educational mobile optimised pictures, audio and video. Most Java phones with Bluetooth capabilites have JSR 82 - the core Bluetooth API and the Object Exchange (OBEX) API as explained http://developers.sun.com/mobility/midp/articles/bluetooth2/

There are examples of Bluetooth file transfer in the Sun Java Wireless Toolkit the http://java.sun.com/products/sjwtoolkit/download.html - If you know some Java this toolkit gives you lots of examples of building cross platform Mobile Java Aps. A good range of Java Aps are available at http://www.getjar.com/

MESH networks - A particular type of networking that is suppose to work well when part of the network is broken. This is the technology that the OLPC project is using. Basic details are here http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Mesh_Network_Details - InSTEEDs Mesh4X (http://instedd.org/mesh4x)  is another development of note.

Voice can combine with many mobile applications. One of the better known voice projects in the development sector is Freedom Fone.
Aside from Skype (http://www.skype.com) - the biggest free VOIP provider, used by a lot of NGOs, here’s a few useful links

Other Technologies/Tools which could be very useful to mobile applications include: -

  • RSS
  • APIs for major web sites or services e.g. Twitter (or Laconica), Facebook, Flickr, Youtube
  • Sim Card, Java Card, Smart Cards
  • Instant messaging - Mxit, Mig33, Jabber
  • FFMPeg for converting files into appropriate types.

I think that is probably a Part 2 and anyway must go - I’ve got a release of Community Mobile Channels to get ready.

Mobile Ideas Factory

Over at Netsquared they have released the mobile ideas factory : a toolbox for developers & innovators alike!.

This currently contains the following sections

  • Platform-Specific Resources (including Android, iPhone, Symbian & Windows Mobile)
  • Information about Developer Networks
  • Net2 Challenge Collection (including announcements, interviews, news and more)
  • Critical Questions to help inform your work
  • Resources, Research and Information

There is some very good stuff here but it is still in early stages. There are a couple of things I would like to see: -

1) A wiki

2) specific categories - rather than platforms e.g.

  • a) sms/mms related (maybe include ussd)
  • b) mobile web browser related
  • c) cross platform aps (J2me, Flash Lite, Brew)
  • d) device/OS specific aps (iPhone, Android, Symbian, Windows Mobile etc…)
  • e) localised coms - bluetooth / wifi / mesh networks - maybe mobile rfid
  • f) voice orientated aps
  • g) sim card / java card uses (maybe include smart cards)

currently there is only d) specifically in the factory

Of course many of these work together - for example J2ME apps often require a combination of mobile web and wap push/sms for delivery. The traditional web and desktop applications also intertwine with mobile apps especially in terms of development and complete solutions.

There are other factors to consider as well - Various different technolgies are more relevant/important in different countries. For example, in the US iPhone applications have a significant user base whereas in much of the rest of the world Symbian S60 (Nokia) is the dominant smartphone. In South Africa, Indonesia, Russia, India and a number of other countries there is a huge market for mobile web browser based internet and J2ME applications. BREW is fairly big in Japan. Countries with limited GPRS phone market penetration need more focus on SMS, voice and device specific applications.

It should be noted that the pricing of different services has a major impact on local uptake. Twitter stopped SMS in most countries due to cost and this is not suprising. SMS is a huge source of profit for operators and extremely costly for users in terms of amount of data. However its ease of use of and the fact that it is on ‘nearly every cellphone’ makes it essential to use as part of nearly any mobile based solution. That said, even SMS may eventually be superceeded due to price considerations - in many countries GPRS (byJ2ME app or mobile browser) is now used for messaging/chat by a lot of young people because it is so much cheaper than SMS.

Here a a few good sites (mainly regarding mobile internet) that could be useful links for the factory -

One thing for netsquared to note is that despite this major recent focus on mobile tech, they still do not have a mobile website. Maybe they should consider using Community Mobile Channels especially with the forthcoming RSS Channels.

Some excellent recent commentary on ICT4D

There have been some excellent posts recently from some well known bloggers on ICT and development. Below are four articles of note:-

Ken Banks - the developer of Frontline SMS has a though provoking article regarding the way that ICT4D happens. He is an advocate of bottom up community orientated approaches which is certainly appropriate in many cases.
http://www.kiwanja.net/blog/2009/03/time-to-eat-our-own-dog-food/

Over at Mobileactive there is “Mobile Operators, Price Gouging, Innovation, and Txteagle — A Critique by Steve Song”. This article explains the txteagle idea regarding paid crowdsourcing of cognition related tasks (e.g. translation) in Kenya and beyond. This idea is not unique (see “the extrodinaries” or mob4hire.com) but it certainly has potential. The article then discloses some interesting and problematic new developments in the mobile sector. For example a mobile operator giving free water pumps to a community but then only pumping water when people send it money through the operators sim cards. http://mobileactive.org/mobile-operators-innovation-and-txteagle-critique-steve-song

White African (Erik Hersman) has an excellent update on Ushahidi - The awarding winning crisis mapping tool. It is great that they are looking at ways to tie this in with Sahana and the swift river project looks like a step in the right direction. If you look at the team they have managed to get together you will see that this is a project going places - I am looking forward to the Beta.
http://whiteafrican.com/2009/03/23/ushahidi-tech-meeting/

Jon Thompson (Aid Worker Daily) discusses the use of twitter like services for aid agencies - “Is Laconica the best microblogging platform for aid agencies?” - Laconica is a Free and Open Source alternative to Twitter which you can host on your own server and this could be a valuable new communication tool for people working in this sector. One comment highlights that if Laconica could tie in 2 way SMS it would have a major direct beneit on humanitarian work.
http://aidworkerdaily.com/2009/03/26/is-laconica-the-best-microblogging-platform-for-aid-agencies/

Voting on Netsquared

Just in case any one hasn’t voted yet or is finding the process a bit odd - please vote and show your support for the great projects entered in mobile challenge. Visit netsquared.org and you will see this

If you are not registered go to http://www.netsquared.org/user/register to register. Then logon and go to the HRC project gallery and look at some projects.

If you like the look of a project cast your vote as shown below:-

Select 3, 4 or 5 projects you like the look of and then click on the ballot icon

Review your ballot and cast your vote as below: -

Then you must confirm your your vote and after that you will get this message: -

And that’s it - good luck to all  participants

Kubatana - Freedom fone

On Saturday I had the good fortune to meet up with Brenda Burrell, Bev Clark and Amanda Atwood from Kubatana Trust of Zimbabwe. They do a lot to strengthen the use of tech by NGOs in Zimbabwe (not an easy task) and have a very impressive project called “Freedom Fone” which uses innovative phone technology as a way of getting information out to people.

The Freedom Fone Idea

1) Store Audio files in a content management system
2) Use an open source Voice platform like Asterix and have an interactive voice response (IVR) menu that callers can navigate to get information
3) Allow people to leave questions, content and feedback via the IVR menu
4) Allow people to use a toll free number or have a phone me back option on the IVR menu
5) Allow people to SMS a code and get a call back
6) Allow it to be tied in with Voice over Internet (VOIP)

This idea has wide ranging implications if rolled out on any scale. It could provide a great additional service  to community radio or allow people a way of setting up their own community mobile phone-casting service. There are also add-ons that could be of use such as ‘reminder calls’ and it could be tied in with SMS and internet services. For many NGOs a system like freedom fone, if the costs are kept low enough, could be a valuable addition to their communication strategy. We even discussed the idea that Freedom fone could be tied in somehow with CiviCRM or Frontline SMS which could be extremely powerful.

There are possible commericial angle to this idea as well because it could be used for premium rate services via a premium rate line or premium rate SMS. Advertising could also play a part.

The Kubantana team are very keen to share their work and the public beta will probably be released later this year. Then I hope that many more NGOs will find good uses for this technology. More about Freedom Fone here

Please note that Community Mobile Channels and Freedom Fone and are both entered in the UC Berkeley Human Rights Center Mobile Challenge which is being hosted at http://www.netsquared.org/hrc-ucb

Community voting started today (23rd March) and I believe that both these projects are excellent tools that could be used in a number of ways by people working in the field of Human Rights so please head over to Netsquared and register and vote.

Food for thought - the rise of the Mobile Internet

From http://www.internetnews.com/stats/article.php/3810911/Daily+Mobile+Internet+Use+Doubles.htm

“The number of people using mobile devices to access news and information on the Internet more than doubled in the past year, according to figures released by market firm ComScore this week.

Young males are the most avid users of mobile news and information, according to Comscor (NASDAQ: SCOR), with half of 18-to 34-year-old males engaging in the activity. The mobile Internet is also quite popular among females in the 18 to 24-year-old demographic. The report covered January 2008 to January 2009.”

http://www.admob.com/s/solutions/metrics shows the number of ad requests from Asia quadrupling over the year from dec 2007 to dec 2008 and the number of requests from Africa more than tripling.

From http://www.emasiamag.com/article-5219-computextaipeitowelcomenewmobileinternetage-Asia.html

“With the surge in worldwide subscribers for mobile Internet it is projected that the number of mobile internet subscribers will soon surpass 550 million and account for 39 percent of overall Internet users. And the number is expected to reach 1.5 billion by 2012, at which time it will account for 79 percent of overall Internet users.”

Mobile surpasses traditional web in South Africa : http://www.matthewbuckland.com/?p=573 - actually shows that mobile internet connections are double traditional in South Africa.

Community Mobile Channels Update IV

Since the first alpha release last week there has been activity on the project. The latest alpha release (version 0.1.2) provides a few bug fixes, format changes and the following additional functionality:

  • Simplified method of adding internal and external links. External links are also sent to mowser transcoder to allow for mobile reading of non-mobile optimised sites.
  • Automated site tweet sent to Twitter whenever an m-site is published - see http://twitter.com/comocha for the demo site twitter account
  • Full audit trail of M-sites and undo facility for M-site owner and admin (essential for unlocked ‘wiki style’ M-sites)
  • M-site activity report for admin
  • Uploads activity report for admin

The demo is still at /cmc and it now has a demo user so you do not have to register. The demo login phone number is 1234512345 and the password is adapt. There is an unlocked site called the sandbox which you are allowed to edit - alternatively you can create your own M-site.

The latest download is available at sourceforge - http://sourceforge.net/projects/communitymobile/

Community Mobile Channels is entered in 2 of the current net squared challenges - please read the project entry at http://www.netsquared.org/projects/community-mobile-channels

All feedback, comments and bug reports very welcome.

Mobile Data Charges around the World

Although it is clear that the Internet will be increasingly mobile over the next few years, it is also the case that no standard pricing structure has emerged globally for providing mobile Internet. There are huge differences in how much people pay from country to country, provider to provider and data plan to data plan.It is also very clear that you do not want to do foriegn data roaming unless you are waiting for that million dollar email.

Fortunately people know their own countries operators charges, special deals and so on very well, however there does not appear to be a central database of the costs/charges locally in each individual country. The list below is based upon articles I have seen (I cannot verify their accuracy) but it is hopefully interesting reading.

  • India airtel - unlimited gprs $10 - also reports of another indian provider offering $0.10 per mb
  • vodacom/mtn South Africa - $0.20 per mb out of bundle
  • orange UK - Anytime 30 megabyte bundle for $12 per month ($0.25 per mb) or Unlimited daily usage for $1.50 per day as long as you select the unlimied bundle - otherwise they charge you a lot.
  • Sprint (US) - $30 per mb outside of data plan (but capped at $75?) === get a data plan on sprint
  • Verizon Wireless (US) - $2 per mb outside of data plan - unlimited US data plans seems to be $40 a month or so!
  • China Mobile - $0.73 for 30mb ($0.03 per mb) or $0.0015 per kb ? (weird pricing?)
  • Vodaphone Holland - $0.60 per mb out of bundle.

So overall it seems like operators like bundles and dislike pay as you go - but of course pay as you go is a lot easier for people. It also seems that mobile data needs to be managed well - downloading large numbers of music files etc.. is clearly going to be expensive, however if people use mobile optimised web sites they can surf very cheaply.

The community mobile channels homepage (and other ommunity mobile channels pages) averages about 10kb (0.01mb) - this means that you could view 50 community mobile channels pages for R1 ($0.10) in South Africa (compare that to 2 sms’s for R1).

Mobile optimisation becomes more important when you consider that the standard desktop facebook and yahoo homepages are both over 200kb (0.2mb).

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