Saturday, September 11, 2010

Power to the People

wading at Acadia Natl Park
Back from Acadia in Maine, where earth meets sky meets sea, and where I was without my usual digital trappings. Instead I took a Boost pay as you go Android phone on which I could read emails, respond if necessary, but not do any other useful work.

This got me thinking about information: accessing it, contributing it, and managing it. The end of last century saw the rapid rise and spread of personal computers and the internet throughout the developed world. Behind the scenes, the amount of digital information available online exploded. Adding to this, Web 2.0 interaction lead to a tidal wave of data being collected from users.

Fast forward to the 21st century. Two innovations have brought the information age to all. Mobile and the costless cloud (the what?). Who knew that the drive to provide newer, smaller, wireless devices to an insatiable digital society would produce something almost everyone in the world could afford - the mobile phone and WAP browser.

At first sight, the wap browser does not appear that functional, if you have the luxury of a PC or smart phone browser. The important thing, though, is that it allows you to be connected, and if that is all you've got, it's a great thing. Three examples of what you can do with mobile to bring information to the masses are EpiSurveyor, the Global Fire Management System, and Kiva. And, in yet another self-serving reference, the UshLo mobile site allows users to query the Ushahidi crisis crowdsourcing database for reports by date, category, and/or location. It is designed to work from most internet enabled devices, including pc's, smart phones, and phones with wap browser capability.

The next post to this blog will explain what I mean by the "costless cloud". In general, it means that developers don't have to maintain a complete server infrastructure to manage and publish digital data online.