Author Archives: rbain1

A Lesson in Marketing for ICTs

Technology platforms are now easier than ever to create. That means fewer obstacles and less concerns regarding acquiring the right technology to implement them. However, developers instead face new challenges, like attracting participants to join an alternative social network, especially when it is competing with top dogs like Facebook and Google+. One of the biggest challenges facing these developers and their emerging platforms is competition with the popularity of the already main stream platforms that are of the same type and the marketing techniques that brand a company and are, hence, essential to wide-spread notoriety that determines overall success. This is a huge hurdle that students (from left to right on the picture below) Raphael Sofaer, Ilya Zhitomirskiy, Dan Grippi, and Max Salzberg from NYU faced when launching their new social network platform called Diaspora.

The four creators of the social network generated the platform as a result of an accumulated frustration from the master of all social networks, Facebook. Fed up with the ads, the lack of privacy, and the overall decentralization of the program, they set out to create their own that would ensure the privacy of its users and the limitation of third party interventions. Raising money for the initiative was easier than the three of them had anticipated. In a NYT article Dan Grippi recounts “We were shocked…For some strange reason, everyone just agreed with this whole privacy thing.” But they experienced an abrupt delay in 2010 when the platform was released and membership was less than impressive. Regardless of how improved and additionally protected the program was or the added efficiency it offered to the user, they didn’t have the brand name, professionals, or face to make membership sore like (Google+) did when it was released only a few months later.

Marketing techniques are playing an increasingly large role in the success of new technologies, especially when it comes to social networks whose purpose revolves around the participation of members and the convenience of program in which groups of members belong to the same one. Simply, you want to be where all your friends are and will therefore join or stick with the one you see advertised most often or attributed to the biggest names in the sector (like the brand Google that already has a huge member base and positive feedback from members, or Mark Zuckerberg, who had an entire movie made after him and was the first to develop any like social network in the field).  People who use networks like Diaspora are thus most likely to stay where there friends are, only enticed to switch when whole networks of their friends and family transfer at the same time, which is routinely uncommon. Thus, the lack in fame, title, and/or brand put Diaspora at a disadvantage from the beginning.

The same NYT article from above tried to tag them as the “Four Nerds” from NYU but this title was neither impressive nor catchy. Had they established some kind of promotion pitch before releasing the network, maybe it would have had more of an initial impact. But for now, and until they can amp up a compelling marketing strategy, the network will have to rely on its development investors and its 100,000 members, according to a business article of The Daily Beast (compared to FB’s 750 million members, just to put the number into perspective) to spread the word one user at a time.


Easy Ways to Protect Your Computer from the Invisible Tracker

As technology progresses so does access to personal information from third parties on your personal computer. As a result, keen “cookie” surveillance is becoming an unexpected, inherent necessity to protecting your information and keeping your computer healthy. No, I’m not referring to the kind of cookies you eat, but rather the small tracking files dispersed from major websites and browsers that are used to disperse adds and other inconvenient obstacles that affect your daily browsing. And who better to control the access than YOU, the user.

In her article, “How to Avoid the Prying Eyes,” Jennifer Valentino-Devries relays valuable information on how to stop the invisible eyes of these trackers from “watching” you. These “simple steps” include:

  • Upgrading to the most relevant version of your internet browser
  • Frequently deleting the “cookies” collected from daily web browsing
  • Limiting the installation of “new cookies” from third parties by adjusting browsing settings

The article even provides links to the major browsers you should look out for, and more advanced ways to protect your information if the need be!

With the ever-expanding facets of the Internet, privacy is a growing concern that should be taken seriously and approached with the right precaution. I’m glad someone’s finally made it easy for me. I found this article extremely useful because now I can take the steps myself to prevent the problem ahead of time rather than having to borrow a friend’s car to drive to the Macstore or leave my computer with Technology Services for a week to get it fixed by someone else (if you haven’t guessed, I haven’t always had the best of luck when it comes to computers). It’s a frequent problem most computer owners and users don’t even realize they have, but, like I said, can cause more problems than it’s worth. So be smart, and protect yourself now.


Response to Kony2012 Campaign

As seen in the video itself and on the numerous videos posted on the Invisible Children website, the Koby2012 campaign has successfully gained tremendous recognition both nationally and internationally. But, like most other development campaigns and projects, there was sufficient criticism dampening the recent headways of the organization and its initiatives.

The various blogs posted as the assigned readings for this week surprised me. Although there was positive feedback on the campaign, the majority of blogs and articles posted after the release were highly critical. I realized soon after, however, that the negative feedback shouldn’t have surprised me. Realistically, there is always two sides+ to a story and varying ways to express the myriad of ideas. Therefore, there will always be straying opinions and abundant criticisms, especially regarding controversial issues and outside programs’ initiatives to aid in resolving them. But now with the keypad of a computer and the worldwide web readily available at the tip of people’s fingers the effort to condemn a project is nearly effortless and therefore more quickly and vastly spread. Many of the articles, like those of Boyd and Zuckerman, criticized the initiative for its lack of information and networking within groups with which it already had connections. But more telling were the criticisms from Sozi with whom we got the pleasure to videoconference with in class on Wednesday.

As a native of the region he saw the effort differently than anyone who could try to understand from an outside perspective. I found his criticism fair and very insightful. The ones I found most compelling were:

  1. The video didn’t focus on trying to empower the people in the country to take control and combat on their. In this way, the campaign was insulting
  2. Invisible Children has done a lot of great things to help the cause BUT there are various other local organizations and programs that have made significant contribution that were not recognized or promoted.
  3. The stereotypes that the video created, which unintentionally hide the truth from those who don’t know about the problem from the inside or have the self-motivation or drive to find out on their own. They take what is relayed to them as one “truth” of the story that isn’t necessarily true.
  4. This reflects on the information being outdated.
  5. Not the best strategy. Sozi said he would change the strategy that they used and, again, use a video to empower not just to spread information especially since it doesn’t recognize that the worst of the war has ended and that so much has change since; there are other focuses.

Though I do agree that there are flaws in the video Jason sent out, I have to admire his enthusiasm, energy, knowledge, and will to DO something. He was inspired and did what he needed to do in order to gain international notoriety for a cause in which he believed and to an extent that has not been possible thus far using a means that spread the word in the fastest time ever before recorded. Similarly, the initiative successfully gained the attention of the government, a body that has more power than any one individual to facilitate the difference that the people want made on his or her own. It’s hard to incorporate all the details because often it is at the expense of the reader or listener’s attention. He was very strategic in what he did. He used the resources available and ideas he had that others haven’t used, don’t have or haven’t thought to use yet, even if it did mean targeting certain groups that were already established. Either way, he successfully demonstrated the impact of social media in the modern day. More so, he did not just show the power of technology but of people to assemble through the medium of technology, using it as a way to reach out, connect, and have a strong, unified voice in a matter. If you think about it, at least in this regard, it is truly amazing what the video has indicated beyond the Kony rebellion.

Keep in mind, no project is ever perfect but his video was straight to the point, kept my attention the whole time, and drove me to want to get involved immediately. In this way, it was a strong and powerful campaign with a real impact, even if you argue for only to those he was targeting. Realistically, there will always be glitches in campaigns, especially when it is an “outsider” trying to portray a perspective from within, but he accomplished his goal to spread the word and draw attention to the subject internationally. Beyond that, he gave hope to SOME even within the country who didn’t believe the initiative was possible before, he mobilized internal motivation which is more holistically more sustainable to their cause, and unintentionally brought extraordinary amounts of attention to the subject, even if it was criticism, that shed light on the problem that would have been recognized on such a large scale otherwise. Even if indirectly, like the last example, I believe he’s done a truly wonderful job giving the region a voice and utilizing social media to promote and inform of a problem and cause in which to take notice and get involved.


Plan International Recognized for Work with Impoverished Children

Just last year, Plan International was honored by being voted one of the Top 40 Innovators by Devex, a social enterprise committed to reducing operational inefficiencies in the international development field. Devex found extensive interest in Plan’s new headway regarding poverty elimination for children and the use of ICTs to accomplish it and other development goals, especially relating to its outlook on program customization to best benefit the populations with which they are working (something that many development programs, if not most, struggle with and often with which find their biggest obstacles). In the post “Plan: ‘Customized, Long-Term Solutions to End the Cycle of Poverty for Children’” by Pauline Zalkin Plan condensing its own contribution as a development program and describes its initiative perfectly:

We develop sustainable solutions community by community with a level of engagement and a long-term outlook that is unique among international development organizations, in order to ensure a better future for the world’s most vulnerable children. Our solutions are designed to be owned by the community…

This statement in itself would be enough for any organization to recognize the progress and potential of Plan. No wonder Deverex found such interest! With such a strong self-image and powerful articulation it’s not hard to. Even as a reader with limited knowledge of the program and its objectives, I would immediately take interest as a stakeholder, an important component to the financial sustainability of development programs and probably a key reason why Plan has exhibited not only so much success but continuous potential.

Devex also recognized Plan’s acknowledgement of the bigger picture surrounding the issues it was trying to tackle, like the cycle of poverty for children and not just the most visual barriers on the surface of the deep-rooted problem. When asked to list examples of innovative strides the program has accomplished, Plan had no problem citing four main projects of which it is most proud. ICT4D was first on its list, paralleling most of the important trends we’ve discussed in class. The section reads:

ICT4D: In keeping with our community approach, our commitment to integrating ICTs is also implemented from the bottom up, ensuring thatICT use is linked to real development needs and priorities and appropriate for those who are participating in an initiative or a project. A recently published report drawing on Plan’s experiences with ICT4D includes a checklist focusing on 10 key areas to think about when planning ICT-enabled development efforts – such as context analysis, defining needs, choosing a strategy, undertaking a participatory communications assessment, and building and using capacity – as well as places the checklist into a four-stage process for ICT integration.

I’ll leave the rest for you to read per your own interest. The article really is extraordinarily insightful and is beautiful in how it flatters the effort and success of the Plan over the past 73 years.

In case you want more information on Devex, I am attaching the overview on their main site HERE. They are an impressive entity that has earned great notoriety for their success, building from the bottom up. If possible, I think this would be a great enterprise to discuss and further explore in the ICT4D course next year.


Song, Connections, and the New Age of Cable Technologies

This week I decided to research the ICT developer to whom I was briefly introduced in the Raftree article and upon further discussion in class, Steve Song. From his bio it was apparent that he’s very active in the ICT world, like the rest of the developers we talked about. But I was curious to know exactly how, and considering his negative perspective of ICT development in Africa-the risks of depending on mobile phone usage and one producer that is working at the time, halting competition and thus new developments, cheaper price options, and newer companies-I was fascinated to read more about the projects in which he does believe and what he has to say about them in posts (of course he has a blog and a twitter), especially regarding Africa where he currently resides.

His latest post, written on March 5 and entitled Race for the South Atlantic: Which cable will be first to connect Africa with Brazil?, revealed interesting strides in the world of communication technologies with the introduction of three cable projects that I had never heard of before but are making a significant impact in the ICT world. The first of the three projects is called Express (SAEx) “which proposes to join Melkbosstrand, South Africa to Fortaleza, Brazil” with the use of an “undersea cable” subsidized by “Oi, the largest telecom company in Brazil” (Song).

The second is WASACE.  According to the blog, “WASACE is a massive project to connect the Americas with Africa and Europe…proposed to connect Melkbosstrand with Fortaleza but via Luanda and Lagos” (Song).

The last, Telebras, a Brazilian state-owned monopoly telco that was broken up in 1998, “has recently been resuscitated by the Brazilian government as the chief implementer of their National Broadband Plan” announcing the “signing of an with Angola Cables, a joint venture between the Angolan government through Angola Telecoms and a number of private operators” competing with the other two cable programs for the opportunity. (Song)

Each have their pros and cons, but what’s important to recognize is how far international development has come in that sense that instead of working in one country for development, with the use of ICTs, developers have been able to shift their focus to connect 2+ countries and continents and providing opportunities in this way. And Song has done an excellent job bringing not only the technology but these ideas to light.

Access to this post can be found here! Along with many previous posts.


InnovaLatino and the Survey of Mobile Phones in Latin America

Mobile phones are becoming the new computer. The continued revelations of all the applicable uses of these small devices are creating a hype leading to new innovation ideas in the developing world. Originally, especially in terms of education, disaster relief, and even health information dissemination, computers were always the first solution to the problem, both providing and using them in developing countries and communities. But what many communities in developing countries have actually latched on to, for financial and convenience purposes, is instead the cell phone. By recognizing the mobile-use patterns, developers have been able to refocus their research and programming to incorporate the overwhelmingly popular device for solving problems in the developing world, like the research initiative InnovaLatino.

An INSEAD article by Robert Goldsmith evaluates the growing mobile market in the region and states how, like many other developing regions, “Mobile telephony in particular is substituted for the absence of good landline telephony, and at times even substituted for good transport or financial infrastructure.” Ironically is how the statistics showed that “the countries most likely to witness explosive growth of mobile telephony are those with the ‘worst’ indicators of infrastructure.”  So what does this mean for development priorities? Are there costs in ICTs advancing before these physical sectors of society have advanced? Does the region have the capacity to support the extent of leapfrogging that it is experiencing? Can the trend continue before reaching a plateau? And what will the costs be?

The initiative took on an immense responsibility by choosing to focus on the overall region, especially because there is so much diversity within the 20+ countries. It was started almost three years ago in 2009 when evidence of the technology explosion was just surfacing. After it’s original boost in 2009, like many other programs started with the initiative to survey certain areas for developmental capacity, the program has experienced a slow start but has successfully launched in 8 major countries thus far, holding two of the newest launches last May 2011 and November 2011. Its progress will be interesting to follow.


A Combination of Perspectives on Mobile Usage in Africa and the Developing Worlds

There are varying opinions about the rapid popularization of mobile usage in developing countries, especially in Africa. Depending on the area in which people research and the population on which they choose to focus, conclusions demonstrate different outlooks on the situation as well as different values of the technology and how to effectively implement them into society.

A participant of Harvard University’s World Teach program, Vincent Porfirio, shared a skeptical attitude of technological innovation in South Africa during a presentation last Wednesday. His research revealed a large emphasis on the importance of social status in cell phone ownership and usage rather than ownership for practical purposes. In an area severely plagued by HIV/AIDs he was astonished to see the ratio of cell phones to people in the area. He also found a noticeable gender gap established by the use of mobile devices. Though the abundant use created a viable headway into more successful communication and great long-term potential for awareness through a social network called “MXit“, Porfirio expressed great concern for the money spent on implementing technologies rather than working with the resources already available and the drive of the industries implementing the usage, many of which are working closely with the government rather than in the favor of the people,  to pursue the industry as a business for profit instead of development.

However, there are many, like Dr. Laura Murphy, who have only good things to say about the progress innovators have made in the world of development technologies. The opportunity cost of time spent communicating with face time interaction is much less than the opportunities even the most basic of technologies have provided to rural families in Kenya and other village parts of Africa. These include communication to the immediate families wives had to leave behind when moving in with their husband or communication with their husbands with distant jobs who only return home twice a year.

My opinion is a combination of the two. The article Mobile Phones Will Not Save the Poorest of the Poor does a great job at highlighting my mixed feelings and major concerns. For though cellphone usage is extraordinarily useful for many things such aspositive trends in economic and human development indicators” and “mobile-phone-based payment and money transfer system” that are quick and efficient, cell phone companies are taking advantage and not providing to the poorest of the poor or making these options affordable to them, arguably creating an even bigger digital divide not only international but between countries of the same continent and of similar socio-economic standings. Most of the payment plans for cell phones in Africa are lump-sum costs, which most families don’t have readily accessible to them, that also include transaction fees that charge in addition to the cost of the phone and payment plan. As a result, money-driven businesses are causing “a stunning level of resource extraction from poor communities” that is overwhelming disappointing and far from the plan many developers had for the use of technology in these areas.

There is huge potential for cell phones in ICT4D and I do believe that many of the efforts will yield positive progression in the field, but only if profit can rate second to the needs of poverty-stricken communities and what they’re looking for in a product.