Led by Prabhas Pokharel, MobileActive.org
Notes by Onnik Krikorian
Given the subject matter about the use of mobile phones, reporting on the breakout session was undertaken via Twitter. The discussion started off with a comment from Rising Voices' David Sasaki who wondered if SMS had a place in the world of mobile Internet and the use of Twitter to disseminate links. However, it was pointed out, that not everyone uses the micro-blogging site to spread only links and for many without mobile Internet connections, traditional SMS texting can still be an important tool.
Mobile Active's Prabhas Pokharel backed up such an argument, stating that SMS' were ‘universally accessible.' Others wondered about their use, along with other mobile reporting services, in the rural regions of developing countries. Nevertheless, drawbacks still remain such as the lack of GPS data for SMS as well as the lack of short local numbers or any at all for tweeting via SMS in many countries. The lack of GPS data, for example, was noted during the recent Chile earthquake when people SMS-ed for help, but without mentioning their location.
Because of this, it was mentioned that organizations such as UNICEF have their own short codes for locations to include in SMS.'
Yet, despite some initial doubts about the use of SMS when many phones can connect direct to the Internet, others noted that SMS alerts are also useful for spreading breaking news. They are also especially useful for fund raising during disasters such as Haiti when tens of millions of dollars were raised in just a few days. It was eventually agreed that SMS was particularly useful for those without access to the Internet. In fact, it was agreed, a holistic approach to mobile reporting is necessary, including SMS, MMS, Twitter, and Video live streaming.
Although some doubts were raised about the quality of images and video from mobile phones, it was stressed that many top-of-the-range models have above average specifications in this area. Mobile Active will also be releasing a special kit of software tools for phones some time in the next six weeks. Perhaps the one concern regarding the use of mobile phones by activists is in terms of security for those using them in sensitive situations. Some tools to conceal identities from phones do exist, but they're far from perfect.
The discussion could have lasted a lot longer than the time allocated, but to end the general consensus was that regardless of the conversation about traditional text messages, the global trend is towards more mobile Internet access. This is especially true for low-income countries where access to personal computers is limited. For more information on mobile phone reporting and their use by civil society or for activism see http://www.mobileactive.org.