Recently, we’ve been seeing a lot of to-be-expected buzz and activity around the mobile web or ‘mobweb’ as I’ve been randomly calling it for the past couple of years, complete with the requisite Northern California conferences on “The Future of…” etc What struck me as slightly dissonant – perhaps because our head is usually in the more global BoP space rather than the hyperwired Bay Area – is that as usual all of these are naturally taking the technology driven approach to innovation or development whereas the real value, volume and scope for effecting positive change with a mobile web is at the other end of the spectrum on a more human scale.
Jeffrey Sachs has just written on the influence of the mobile phone on poverty, here’s a snippet,
Extreme poverty is almost synonymous with extreme isolation, especially rural isolation. But mobile phones and wireless Internet end isolation, and will therefore prove to be the most transformative technology of economic development of our time.
The digital divide is ending not through a burst of civic responsibility, but mainly through market forces. Mobile phone technology is so powerful, and costs so little per unit of data transmission, that it has proved possible to sell mobile phone access to the poor. There are now more than 3.3bn subscribers in the world, roughly one for every two people on the planet.
As we’ve noticed in the posts of the past few days, everyone from the GSM Association to CK Prahalad and now Sachs himself, are pointing out the fact that the mobile has indeed become the post industrial platform for social and economic development at the bottom of the pyramid. (oh good, now i can die happy ;p) So then we have here the next 3 or 4 billion people, all of whom need access to relevant tools, applications and services in order to connect, conduct commerce and communicate. That is, have access to the information that would make a difference to their income and have access to the rest of humanity in order to end their isolation.
But these people are not the tech savvy geeks who grew up with PC’s and playstations, nor are they the digital babies who are coming of age in Myspace. Their contextual knowledge of ICT or even ATMs can be generalized to be virtually nil. They are the human face of the ‘man machine interface’ with the challenges of inexperience, ignorance, illiteracy, innumeracy et al in a wide range of varying degrees. If anything designed to serve their needs is to be effective, successful and sustainable it needs to resonate with them, their values, their needs and most of all their ability and comfort level.
The new web, the one on the mobile, must be human centered from the start. This is one revolution – the Information Revolution – that cannot be driven by technology, but must be guided by the human beings who need it the most.