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Mobile Web Africa – October 13-14, 2009, Johannesburg, South Africa

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Next week I will be attending and discussing mobile social media and social networks at the Mobile Web Africa conference in Johannesburg, South Africa. It is my first time to Africa and I am excited to both visit and to discuss how mobile networked devices can change social organizations.  Mobile devices are in many ways more important in emerging and developing regions where the availability of these tools enable the first voice and data services that have ever been affordable and reliable, let alone mobile.  There are vast opportunities in this space, a topic well reviewed in the recent issue of the Economist:

2009 - Spetmebr - Economist - Mobile Marvels Cover Small

The Mobile Web Africa event will focus on these key questions:

  1. How will the industry evolve to a point where the vast majority of people have access to the mobile web and the content they want to view?
  2. How will the industry fully exploit existing and future opportunities?
  3. How can PC or mobile based developers and start-ups monetise their innovation and creativity to grow in to companies that will drive the expansion of the ecosystem?
  4. How can Operators, Original Equipment Manufacturers, global associations and other mobile powerhouses assist their smaller partners?
  5. How can societal and economic problems be tackled by the development of the capabilities of the mobile device?
  6. What handsets, standards, networks and designs will allow consumers to successfully access the content and consume it?
  7. How will the consumer be able to discover that content – through an Application, Browser, Search Engine, Advert, Social Network?

I will focus my discussion on the idea of the “Electrification of the Interaction Order” and topics related to the growing use of sensors on mobile devices and the sharing of the resulting data.  A service like SenseNetworks is a  good example of a mobile data collection, analysis, and presentation service.  Other sites, like Quantified Self, CureTogether, and FitBit, are examples of the social movements, web applications, and devices that are emerging in the self-monitoring medical tracking space.  These communities overlap with the trail based exercise communities of runners, bikers, skaters, hikers, and skiers, some with artistic inclinations.  I see a new wave of devices that are extensively quantify your “self” and “others”, perhaps when people swap sensor data with one another.  The recent work of Nathan Eagle and his co-authors illustrate the possibilities of using many devices with (already existing and widely used) sensors can generate remarkable maps of human behavior.  Much of this data will take the form of social networks as people are linked by “hyperties” – forms of association and connection that are authored by machines from the records of association and behavior.  People will be linked who have never met, in the same way that web book store customers who have never met can be linked by common browse and purchase patterns.  Hyperties will be formed by shared use of location, even if at different times, or patterns created by passing through different spaces at different times but in common patterns (Starbucks, then gas?  Or subway then tea shop?).  The notion of “Tribes” used by the SenseNetworks company is a good example of this approach.    The Economist is all over this topic, with another article “Mobile phones Sensors and sensitivity” that captures the topic.  Jonathan Donner’s work is also a good resource for insights on the role of mobile technology in many parts of the world.  The ability to enable a form of banking service is a particular benefit for the many people who do not have access to banking services.

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