Tag Archives: Digital Content

Talking about Movirtu’s MXShare

On Friday, 23 May Mr. Guy Collender  published through the Guardian, Society an opinion piece considering how mobile technology is benefiting some of the world’s poorest. Left at that, this is not a rare piece of writing to come by these days. But what made the story “Talking about a revolution” conspicuous for me was the fact that it featured Movirtu‘s MXShare — a fascinating technology I came across recently at the Africa Gathering in London.

Katine farmer Dan Ekongu with his mobile phone, which he uses to communicate about agriculture via Talking about a revolution. Photograph: Dan Chung.

I completely agree with Mr. Collender that, “At first glance it is a peculiar and nonsensical idea: owning a mobile phone number, but not a mobile phone.” And even though the immediate benefits of the idea are that it could enable the bottom billion (i.e. the 1 billion people living on less than $2 a day) “to enjoy the benefits associated with a mobile phone number, such as receiving messages and remittances,” I think it could have much wider and far-reaching consequences.

The MXShare concept, installed in the core of a mobile network, enables individuals to share a mobile phone while maintaining separate identities, including a phone number, list of contacts, etc. MXShare makes this possible by creating a virtual mobile system, embedded within an operator’s switching centre.

MXShare’s obvious caveat is that it is not operator agnostic. Many people working in development would consider this an insurmountable drawback, particularly because mobile phone information systems tend to be implemented on a fairly small scale, by NGOs and development organisation, who find it a challenge to get the interest and collaboration of large (read popular) GSM operators.

Although I can see MXShare’s operator dependance as a hindrance to its adoption, I personally am much more intrigued by the possibilities and challenges which the technology concept opens up.

The possibilities stem from the prospect of attaching a fixed identity to mobile phone users. Identifying people is still a challenge in the online world of the Internet but increasingly users of various online services are identified only by their email address and a password. Movitu’s MXShare opens the door to similar solutions to the identification problem in the world of mobiles, a world which is currently hyping about mobile-Web integrated services. Besides allowing people who live on less than $2 a day to receive remittances, the technology can be used as a gateway for the introduction of mobile-Web enabled devices in the developing world. And needless to say, alongside the better devices will come the better services — better m-health, better m-learning, and last but not least, better m-commerce.

For mobile market information services, particularly ones relying on user-generated content, the possibilities offered by identification are considerable. The ability to trace back to its author content of the “classified ad” style, submitted to user-generated content services will increase their appeal. Moreover, it could lead to improvements in the legal framework which would give legitimacy to agreements reached via mobile phone.

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Cultural Exchange and Export of Digital Content

The increased availability of ICTs in Africa provides opportuities for their adoption in the process of art creation and in the marketing of unique handcrafted products to large audiences. The increased opportunities for cultural exchange and for export of digital content raise questions regarding the licensing of art products and their copyright.

At the Africa Gathering which took place in London on April, 25th 2009, Martin Konzett from ICT4D.at (Austria) presented the trailer for the upcoming film release “Hello Africa”. The movie is a documentary which sets out to illustrate the ongoing phenomenon of constantly increasing mobile phone use in Africa in general, and Zanzibar in particular. The film documents how the mobile boom is changing traditional attitudes, cultural values and social patterns.

The documentary captures contemporary, everyday life in Africa. It presents the lifestyles of African people, the concepts used in their popular culture, their habits, opinions and activities in the context of mobile technology use. “Hello Africa” portraits individuals from various social groups: students, rappers, teachers, athletes, vendors, watchmen and many more. The forthcoming release date for the documentary is May, 8th 2009. The interest in “Hello Africa” even prior to its release is an example of the opportunities offered by ICTs for cultural exchange between Africa and the rest of the world. The film will be licensed under a Creative Commons license BY-SA. This means that all of the raw material as well as the final edit of the film will be available for anyone to copy, share, remix and sample under the license condition.

itc-tech-paper-trade-in-soundsThe increased opportunities for cultural exchange and for export of digital content prompted the International Trade Centre (ITC) to published in February 2009 the technical report “Trade in Sounds”. The report considers the potential of digital content, particularly music, to generate export revenues for developing countries and to encourage the online distribution of music from developing countries. The report uses the OECD definition of digital content as the “digital delivery of content, specifically, scientific publishing, music, on-line computer games, mobile content, user-created content and public sector information and content”.

“Trade in Sounds” presents ITC’s findings on the topic of international trade in digital music. The subject matter is introduced by a chapter on market trends and challenges. The report continues by overviewing methods and techniques which can be used successfully for the distribution of digital content via the electronic channel. Because of its commercial character and its impact on music trade, traditional copyright, rather than Creative Commons licensing, is enphasised in the report. “Trade in Sounds” includes detailed case studies of the existing opportunities for export of digital music content by the music industries in Brazil, India, Kyrgyzstan, Mali, Senegal, Serbia and Tajikistan.

kachile481Another recent initiative aimed at an increase in the exchange of visual art products between West Africa and the rest of the world is the project Kachile led by Ulf Richter in the Ivory Coast. Kachile seeks to create digital opportunities for artists in West Africa by enabling them to sell products in the following categories: accessoires, african art, ceramics, fashion, furniture, jewlery, music, textiles, toys, etc. The categories in the Kachile marketplace are still in the process of being populated. Nonetheless, the project carries the promise of creating an electronic marketplace for African products of visual art and music.