CAMBRIDGE, MASS. — A catalog of pioneering mobile phone projects for news and information was the centerpiece of an informal discussion on the topic at the Future of News and Civic Media Conference at MIT on June 17. And while successful approaches appear to remain relatively few, with most overseas, the two dozen participants at the barcamp gathering left with an array of models to explore.
Among the U.S.-based examples cited by participants was VoteReport, which used Twitter and eight volunteers to gather some 17,000 user accounts of conditions at U.S. polling places on Election Day 2008, and Mobile Voices, a project to allow day laborers to blog via their phones using a customized Drupal system and multimedia messaging service, or MMS (for more on Mobile Voices, read our two-part post from January).
Other efforts cited were mostly overseas and included revenue generators such as a text-based headline service that’s bringing in some $60,000 a month for a Guatemalan newspaper, another similar effort in Malaysia, and Bubble Motion‘s Bubbly service in India, which rapidly drew subscribers earlier this year for its service allowing users to send voice messages to multiple followers. Some participants in the discussion noted that some of the biggest successes using mobile were large-scale national health projects, such as those providing educational information on HIV or counseling for drug abuse.
The discussion turned for a time to specific tools for mobile phone projects, including Mobify.me, which can convert any web site to mobile, and Frontline SMS, which allows text messaging to large groups of followers. The barcamp participants also heard about a VoIP Drupal toolkit described in detail by MIT researcher Leo Burd, who also touted the project in a demo following the barcamp. The toolkit would allow users to record, send and receive audio messages, create and manage audio groups and add audio events to a shared calendar, as well as organize phone-based polls.
Other mobile resources mentioned during the discussion were a mobile benchmark study that provides metrics for nonprofits to gauge text messaging success, and the MobileActive blog maintained by one of the barcamp organizers.