Design for UNICEF –

Posted in from on May 9th, 2009 by admin – Be the first to comment

cross-posted at is now live!

Recognizing that Textonic was a larger project than I was going to be able to finish in my free time over the summer (or that my group was going to be able to finish in our collective free time), I decided that the project would benefit from a more formal web presence than a handful of blog posts and a GitHub page. I registered a domain, set up WordPress, presented what we had accomplished, laid out what there is to be done, and tried to create a place where people could express their interest in getting involved.

The Conversation page on the new site is of particular interest. I’m using a Twitter search for the term ‘textonic’ as a sort of guestbook or message board. People who find the site and are interested can look to see who else has been there as well as when they expressed interest. Twitter itself can serve as a way for them to get in touch. The intransient* and public (since all of a user’s followers will also see the tweets) nature of these expressions of interest will help to catalyze the formation of a community around the project.

Credit for this idea goes to @n8han (who writes the blog Coderspiel) – I first saw it on his site for Databinder Dispatch. In addition, recent ITP graduate @joshbg2k created something similar for his √úberbaster project.

*Note that Twitter’s search API only exposes that last ~3 months of tweets, so at some point I’ll need to archive the messages so that the entire conversation history is displayed.

Mobile Tech for Social Change Barcamp

Posted in from on February 25th, 2009 by admin – Be the first to comment

cross-posted at

Last Saturday I attended the Mobile Tech for Social Change barcamp. From their website –

Mobile Tech 4 Social Change Barcamps are local events for people passionate about using mobile technology for social impact and to make the world a better place. Each event includes interactive discussions, hands-on-demos, and collaborations about ways to use, deploy, develop and promote mobile technology in health, advocacy, economic development, environment, human rights, citizen media, to name a few areas. Participants for Mobile Tech 4 Social Change barcamps include nonprofits, mobile app developers, researchers, donors, intermediary organizations, and mobile operators.

The event began with a talk (via Skype!) from Ethan Zuckerman, who I had seen speak previously in my Applications class last semester. He’s been involved in various service projects in Africa and is a co-founder of Global Voices Online, a community brought together by ‘bridgebloggers’ that translate posts between languages and cultures. His most salient and useful point was that mobile technology was most powerful when it was paired with another medium, such as FM radio.

I went to three breakout sessions. The first was given by a few people from the Innovations Team at UNICEF and a couple of students from Columbia working on the aforementioned Malawi project. I had seen some of what they presented before, but got to play with the RapidAndroid version of the RapidSMS software (which runs on a G1 mobile phone), and I saw some sample database inputs and SMS form instructions. In addition, I learned that while initial SMS error rates have been high in the pilot studies, the system will respond asking the user to resend the message, and this feedback loop is effective at teaching users to send correctly formatted SMS messages. My group in the Design for UNICEF class will continue with our Mechanical Turk project – there will still be unparseable messages or messages that don’t get resent – but it will be good to keep this in mind as we develop.

In between sessions I saw a demo from an MIT PhD student named Nadav Ahrony at the Viral Communications group at the Media Lab. He was working on a not-yet-released general platform for development of wifi/bluetooth peer-to-peer mobile applications. He had built a demo application that would let people associate their phones with a particular group of phones, and then automatically sync content on these phones over an ad-hoc network. The most interesting use case he suggested: if a protester takes a photo with the device, and there is risk that the device might be confiscated, it will automatically be downloaded by the others in the group immediately after being taken, so even if the original device is lost the data is not.

The second breakout session was lead by Josh Nesbit, a current undergrad at Stanford graduating this year. He presented an SMS-based project he did in Malawi for hospitals and the surrounding villages that used FrontlineSMS, an alternative SMS platform (that isn’t necessarily comparable in aim to RapidSMS). More information on that project is available here.

The last breakout session was for mobile developers, and we had an interesting conversation about developing for Android. Overall I enjoyed the day and found it useful, and I’m looking forward to going to the next m4change barcamp.

Photos are from Meredith Whitefield on Flickr, thanks!