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   February, 2010

NYT Says Revolution Is Mobile

The New York Times editorial board ran a spot-on piece about the Revolution, the mobile revolution that is. It’s a must read for anyone who communicates with the public to influence public policy.

The Revolution Has Gone Mobile

New York Times Editorial, Sat., Feb. 20, 2010

By mid-2010, there will be 6.8 billion humans on this planet. According to United Nations estimates, there also will be five billion cellphone subscriptions. These are astonishing numbers. What is still more astonishing, and hopeful, is the breadth of change this number reflects.

The United Nations says that right now 80 percent of the world’s population has available cell coverage. The fastest adoption of cellphone use is occurring in some of the world’s poorest places.

Cellphones are cheap, their batteries can be easily recharged with solar power and they are creating nothing short of a revolution: knitting rural communities together, sowing information, and altering the most basic assumptions about health care and finance. Anyone who has traveled to Africa recently can vouch for these changes.

In nearly every sizable town or city, there are dozens of tiny kiosks where phones can be rented or repaired and subscriptions can be purchased. In regions where communications used to be nearly impossible, cellphones are essential to social innovation. This means everything from microfinance and electronic credit, via SMS, to better networking among health care workers and their patients.

Another revolution is following close on the heels of the cellphone revolution. This year, the number of mobile broadband subscribers — people who access the Internet via laptops or mobile phones — is forecast to pass one billion, up from 600 million at the end of 2009. That number will almost surely skyrocket, too — and the developed world should be doing everything it can to encourage it.

That means increasing the reach and lowering the cost of broadband and pressing for political and commercial openness across the Internet. Mobile communication and access to digital information are powerful development tools and aids to self-sufficiency. And we, in turn, have a lot to learn from the innovative way those tools are being used around the world.


Social networks and smartphones fuel “mobile charity”

Note: Originally posted by Doug Busk of Revolution Messaging at Venture Beat.

By the time you read this, over $24 million in donations will have been collected via premium text messaging for the Red Cross’ relief efforts to aid those impacted by the horrific tragedy of the earthquakes in Haiti. To be sure, this is a credit to the generosity of the American people and to the need, which remains great. It also marks a watershed moment for mobile giving. There were milestones, however, along the way. Crises drive inspiration, invention, and adoption.

In December 2004, back when I was working for Verizon Wireless, a team of which I was a member determined donation via text messaging was an ideal way to aid those impacted by the tsunamis in southeast Asia. A messaging aggregator and service provider, mQube (since acquired by Verisign and then Mobile Messenger), stepped up to provide the platform to donate $5 per text message to the efforts of relief organization CARE in the region. Eventually, several carriers joined and it represented the first such cross-carrier mobile giving effort.

Most importantly, the concept was made concrete: When devastation strikes, news spreads fast, and at that moment of psychic impact, all of us want to help. And the device that’s most frequently with us to do so is a cell phone.

In August of 2005, fate visited a destructive blow to New Orleans and the surrounding areas with Hurricane Katrina. The team of carriers was reengaged and widened, mQube stood ready, and the Red Cross was designated the beneficiary. Texting “GIVE” to “2HELP” would result in a $5 donation. Participating carriers agreed to forward every dollar donated, rather than take the share they might for a typical premium transaction like a ringtone.

Carrier and Red Cross press activities gained some attention, but it was the viral impact of word-of-mouth that generated the most attention. The code was mentioned in morning talk shows, appeared on jumbotrons at NFL football games, was forwarded via email, mentioned in places of worship, and scrolled in the tickers of the 24/7 broadcast news coverage.

But at the time, text messaging wasn’t yet the de facto communication method it is today, and social networks, particularly Twitter, remained nascent and were generally limited to smaller groups of like-minded users. The catalyst that’s made the Haiti relief effort so powerful has been the combination of smart devices like the iPhone, the non-stop funnel of social network and news data, and text messaging.

In 2007, management of the 2HELP code was transferred to the CTIA’s Wireless Foundation, which continued to support it on behalf of the Red Cross. Organizations including the Mobile Giving Foundation and mGive sprung up to support mobile giving, creating a cottage industry.

With 2008 came the landmark mobile activism event of the Obama campaign, which leveraged passion and urgency of a different sort to help secure the White House for a previously little-known freshman Senator from Illinois. There, too, the pressure, in this case the need to fuel youth voters viewed as undecided or under-activated, drove innovation. And all the elements (adoption, viral, catalyst) were rising forces.

Now in 2010, we see the culmination of these themes. The State Department smartly tweets instructions for mobile giving, a healthy virus spreads, and instant action for good takes hold. It is our collective need to help, and to innovate in order to do so quickly, that has powered mobile giving to achieve this landmark moment.

Sidenote: While apparently most popular, mGive’s “Haiti” to 90999 for the Red Cross is but one of multiple mobile giving options. You can find a full list from Mobile Giving Foundation here. And you can find mGive’s full list of supported partners here.