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[liberationtech] Mobile community: The holy grail of m4d?

Yosem Companys companys at
Sun May 6 08:47:58 PDT 2012

Mobile community: The holy grail of m4d?

*by* kiwanja

Last week I wrote a post on the difficulties of running a “mobile for
development” – or m4d – project. I tried to make it challenging, and was
hoping to stir up some discussion around the merits of mobile-initiated
development projects versus development-initiated mobile projects. You can
read that post here<>

Unless you’re one of the bigger technology blogs –
,TechCrunch <>, Scobleizer <> and
so on – it’s hit-and-miss whether or not a post will get the traction
you’re looking for. Apart from a couple of dozen tweets and a dozen or so
comments, the post didn’t generate as much debate as I’d have liked. But it
did get me thinking – if these kinds of discussion weren’t taking place
here, then where were they taking place?


I’m regularly asked at conferences for hints on the best sites for people
to post questions and stimulate debate around mobile technology, and I
always struggle to give an answer. It seems crazy that, for a discipline
which began to fully emerge probably about seven or eight years ago, there
still isn’t a genuinely *active*,*engaging*, *open* online community for
people to join and interact with each other.

In order to get a sense of which communities exist, I recently sent out a
message to a number of ICT4D and mobile email lists I subscribe to, and
posted the odd message on Twitter. Very few people could suggest anything.
A few people mentioned email lists which dealt specifically with sectoral
issues, such as health, but not specifically with mobile (although mobile
was a regular thread in many discussions). Only
MobileActive<> suggested
MobileActive, which was a surprise considering its positioning as a global,
mobile community with over 16,000 ‘active’ members.

Finding nothing was only part of it – many people clearly had different
ideas of what made up community, too (I’d put this down to a challenge of
definition). When I pushed out my call for sites, I specifically asked for
those which were* “open, active, collaborative and engaging”*, things that
I thought would be pre-requisites for anything worth being a member of.

According to Maddie Grant, a Strategist at
a consulting firm that helps associations build community on the social web:

What makes a community *open* is when there’s “a lot more outside the login
than inside”, so most of a community’s content must be at least viewable
and shareable without logging in. To be*active*, most of a community’s
content must be member (user) generated, not owner-generated, and must have
some degree of conversation which includes comments, discussions and reviews

Going by these criteria I don’t believe we yet have a truly active,
engaging, open mobile community. This seems a little strange when you
consider the attention the technology has been getting over the past few

On the flip side though, it might not be so strange after all. AsJonathan
Donner <> put it to me in a recent email, “Why
should m4d have it’s own groups and community sites? Can’t we – or should
we – just mainstream ourselves into

This discussion clearly has a long way to go. I just wonder where that
discussion will take place.
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