Mobile everything: 3 new dimensions of citizen engagement
Blogs have started a little revolution -- nowadays everyone with Internet access can publish content on the web. Citizens can articulate their perspective and exchange it within a network of blogs. The mobile phone, with its improved access to the web, gives new means for citizen engagement because one can connect from everywhere and engage and broadcast from anywhere. These are the three most influential factors:
There is a slow shift when the web loses its physical limitation. Although the web is all around the world, in most of the cases you have to go somewhere to be connected. The mobile phone, because it is easier to connect to the web, changes that -- you are always online. The web is a constant follower that might be frightening to some. But a "blackberry for activism" lets activists get involved instantly. On a peer to peer basis, people are connected = protected. A recent case underlines the potential: "Twitter Saves Man From Egyptian Justice." Jan Chipchase wrote in a recent New York Times article, "the cellphone is becoming the one fixed piece of our identity."
Interacting from everywhere
Some years ago I read Howard Rheingold's "Smart Mobs" and I could not really see these mobile peer-to-peer networks happening on a massive scale, but, nowadays, a connection to the web allows people to be part of social networks. There are many worldwide experiences for sms campaigns for political change. The New York Times recently wrote, "50 million people, or about 2.3 percent of all mobile users, already use the cellphone for social networking." This is particularly important in developing countries, where mobile phones are the communication tool. The real benefit is not in the northern hemisphere, where through the recent years most mobile business models have been failing. It is in Africa or Asia where the mobile phone is the main communication technology. If this is connected through the web, it then allows interaction, coordination and organization on a peer to peer basis. The cvberactivism in the aftermath of political violence in Kenya is one example and another is the mobile social blogging network vipera.com.
Broadcast from everywhere
In re-publica.de I watched a fascinating session on video citizen journalism. Brian Conley presented a project in which people from Iraq broadcast from Baghdad over the web (Alive in Baghdad), and there is no media team around. This presentation reminded me of a recent new development: live video broadcasting. Two new services are very interesting: Qik and Mogulus. Yes, more new tools, but these ones represent a shift -- with Qik you can broadcast alive from your mobile phone wherever you are. I first got introduced to it when David Wilcox interviewed me through his mobile phone at the Social Innovation Camp. And the other tool, Mogulus.com, can be set up easily in your own television station to be online, letting you broadcast on daily basis from it. Eduardo Avila writes a fascinating story from Ecuador: My Mobile Voice and Citizen Journalism.
Citizen video broadcasting has two interesting facets: First, videos often have a stronger impact compared to texts. Second, citizen journalists, such as mobile reporters in Africa, go themselves to demonstrations and make interviews or film directly from areas where no media outlet goes.