Punting on the Limpopo

June 17, 2009

I am led to believe that this may not be that wise an activity for all sorts of reasons!

Yesterday I sat in the sunshine drinking coffee with Ken Banks of Kiwanja (spelt correctly this time!) overlooking the river Cam and watching groups of “punters” enjoying the afternoon.  I was talking to Ken about the Betavine Social Exchange concept and how it could work in Africa amongst other places … Ken’s experience and insights helped me to understand that we still have a lot of work to do!  We really need to do our research with our end users and not just presume that we can transplant our thinking across continents … hence the strange title of this post.

Will local NGOs and community groups understand what we are trying to do?  i.e. bringing people with “challenges” together with people with “solutions” – but specifically in the mobile space.  There are already a number of excellent websites doing this type of matching activity e.g. Nabuur but not specifically focussed on mobile.  Maybe people just describe their “challenges” and not care if the solution has a mobile component? Maybe we could link to and support some of these existing problem solving communities?

Another issue we discussed was the way in which people would describe their problem or “challenge” … free text discussion forum was thought to be the easiest starting point before any more formal problem description.

What about privacy?  If an individual has a good idea they may wish to keep it to themselves and seek to start a small business to exploit it.  How does privacy sit within an “open” community?

I am hope to get answers to some of these questions by talking to more NGOs and people who understand how to work in the developing world.

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What’s in a name?

June 9, 2009

The team are busy putting the concept of the Betavine Social Exchange (BSX) together … but we keep coming across the issue of naming.

We have now gone through the requirements, user journeys and wireframes … even got some copy guidelines and early use cases ready for implementation but we are still discussing names.

I may have mentioned kiva before,  well, they have a concept of a local partner – someone on the ground who is known and who can vouch for the person seeking a loan.  In the Betavine Social Exchange we call this a “local community partner” and we are going to start off by allowing anyone to sign up as a local community partner.  We believe that it will be the local community partner who will take the time to enter the problem description into the BSX and thereby kick off a community project.  However, to be as open as possible we will allow any user to enter a problem description.

Once a solution has been found or developed we want to encourage local entrepreneurs to pick up the solution, that already has a customer, and deploy it – usually on a commercial basis.  The people who offer support for this e.g. funding or equipment we call “support partners”.  Does this work?

We are planning a round of user testing but it is proving difficult to get time with local NGOs.

This week I had the pleasure of attending at least part of the Mobile Web 2.0 Summit in London – which was sponsored by Vodafone and Betavine.

The winners of the Betavine Widget Competition were announced on the Wednesday evening.   Winners announcement pictures can be found on Flickr.

An added bonus for me was being able to meet up with Ken Banks from Kiwanja.net and Stephane Boyera from W3C Foundation because we were able to have a quick chat about the Betavine Social Exchange.

One of the topics that is a key focus of Kiwanja is how to get mobile technology and their associated services into the hands of the poorest people in the developing world.   Ken has made some great progress with FrontlineSMS – a service to enable text messaging between groups of people anywhere that there is mobile coverage. 

Ken challenged me to think about how to make the Betavine Social Exchange accessible to the widest possible audience and in particular to the poorest communities that do not have access to PCs and broadband.  This is going to be a big challenge for us but we will consider this as the project progresses and seek input from NGOs, like Kiwanja, to help point us in the right direction.

How can we make the “problem definition” part of the Betavine Social Exchange accessible to people who only have access to low end mobile phones?  Clearly, text messaging is an option but we will have to think about how complex problems can be described in 160 characters!  Another idea is low cost mobile internet capable handsets.  Maybe we can use widget technology?

One of the key things we can learn from Kiva is the importance of a local partner so there may be ways of linking people to the BSX via the local partner network.

As usual, I would love to hear your views and comments on this.