I've just spent the weekend in Paris. Lovely you might think - and you'd be right - but not because of the sightseeing or famous French cuisine (although we did get a taste of the latter). A few of us got together to share ideas and thoughts on Freedom Fone, a Knight News Challenge-winning project building a media distribution platform providing news and public-interest information via land, mobile or Internet phones. Since the "social mobile" space isn't a particularly big one, sharing project-level ideas and experiences over an intensive weekend workshop made a lot of sense. There was particular interest in the decisions and processes which lead to the redevelopment of FrontlineSMS, something I'm always happy to share, particularly with good friends and colleagues (old and new).
Today, activities such as this sit in stark contrast to the early kiwanja days, where I'd be largely asked to comment on what other people were doing. The last couple of years has seen a gradual shift, so much so that I'm now at the point where I rarely get invited to speak at a conference if the topic isn't FrontlineSMS, social mobile or grassroots mobile activity (see "Staying Connected. And Relevant"). With a number of new projects in the pipeline it's looking like this trend is set to continue.
Getting a social mobile product to 'market' can be a challenging and time-consuming business. The FrontlineSMS concept is well over three years old, but only now do we have something significant to offer grassroots NGOs (the earlier version was more a proof-of-concept). The challenge has now shifted from concept design, fundraising, project management and launch, to one dominated by outreach and promotion. Fortunately, people seem to want to hear what we have to say.
The next ten weeks are busy and exciting in equal measure, with a flurry of conference and workshop activity starting with a Telecommunications Industry Partners Strategy Meeting at the World Economic Forum in New York this week. Shortly after comes Open Source in Mobile (OSiM) in Berlin, where we'll be sharing our experiences developing mobile applications in the social mobile space. It's a new topic for the conference, and great that the organisers, Informa Telecoms, are beginning to take more of an interest in the subject.
Later this month sees a return to New York for the Clinton Global Initiative (CGi) annual meeting where we'll be announcing the new "FrontlineSMS Ambassadors" initiative. An invitation to sit on the technology panel at Social Capital Markets 2008 in San Francisco on 15th October is followed by an appearance in Maine for Pop!Tech. October comes to a close in London where I'll be talking at a Chatham House event - “Technology: a platform for development?” - about my take on non-profits and mobile technology.
Finally, November kicks off with the fascinating A Better World By Design gathering in Rhode Island, where twenty-five speakers have been invited from all fields to discuss a wide range of world challenges and issues. Then, after an invitation to sit on the panel of a public meeting at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, we finish off with something completely different with a presentation of our Silverback mobile phone game at Net Impact in Philadelphia. A nice way to end, for sure.
These are still early days (if you forget the last three years!). The new FrontlineSMS is beginning to make considerable inroads in the NGO world, and with increasing numbers of non-profits planning FrontlineSMS implementations, this is certainly not the time to take our foot off the gas.