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let the mobile games begin

I have become vaguely obsessed with the Olympic Games and since we do not have DSTV in our digs, getting my daily fix has become somewhat of a challenge. I went through that stage of inviting myself around to digs’ that do have DSTV, I have been slightly satisfied with the coverage on SABC 2, and have even eaten up my bandwidth watching online. Now since I do blog about mobile media, you would have thought that the solution would have dawned on me a little sooner, but alack this is not the case! It has taken me a grand total of 11 days to solve my predicament. In which time I have missed the men’s freestyle relay, the scandalous Chinese “women’s” gymnastics victory and a number of track events!

So for all those other Olympic enthusiasts who have a limited access to live coverage, don’t stress, where there’s a will there’s a way! And the way happens to be Google’s new mobile search tool so that any sport that you search will come up immediately, rather than all the other stuff that would normally have appeared. For example if you had simply typed in ‘swimming,’ instead of getting Wikipedia entries and books about swimming, what comes up immediately is the Olympic coverage, including medal counts, event schedules and recent results.

Google has also set up a mobile web site specifically so followers of the games can look up results and events whenever they want. The Google Mobile Olympic Site is specifically designed for use on a mobile phone and allows you to browse through results and event’s with ease. It is also available in 36 different languages and in 60 different counties.

So now I can easily access results and event scheduling off my mobile phone, but while researching this blog post I discovered something rather strange. Yes I can keep up to date with the Olympics via my cell phone, but what about competing in an event WITH you cell phone, or specifically with a Sony Ericsson T310 handset?!?

If you happened to have been in London at the start of the Olympics, you may have seen people hurling their cell phones across Clapham’s Common. This was the one part of the inaugural Mobile Phone Olympics. The Mobile Phone Olympics is a part of the Sprite Urban Games which is an annual street event that is held in London.

Mobile phone Olympians will be tested in four different areas, which will assess their overall ability. These areas are:

1. Text messaging: an 80 character message must be sent as quickly as possible

2. Multimedia messaging: again a test of speed, but a photograph must accompany the message too

3. Mobile gaming: competitors must try and rack up as many points as possible in a two minute game of  Pro Skater 4

4. Mobile throwing: the competitors handset must be chucked as far as possible from a standing start

Mobile phone throwing may seem like an obscure thing, but it has been practised in Eastern Europe for a number of years, with the current record being 57 metres. Last year the cell phone throwing world championship took place in Finland in the city of Savonlinna. In the championships it is not just the distance of the throw that counts but also the different techniques.

The sponsors of the event are mobile phone retailer Phones 4u and Sony Ericsson. Jenna Jensen, of Phones 4u, said: “The mobile phone athletes will need lighting fast fingers, supreme powers of concentration, a strong arm, textual expertise and quick reactions.”

So not only can mobile phones keep you updated on the Olympics, but with your mobile phone you can even compete in the Mobile Phone Olympics!


the smart mob

I have just been sitting in the Student HIV/AIDS Resistance Campaign (SHARC) committee meeting, and this got me thinking about some issues surrounding mobile media, and how it really can make a difference to our society. At every SHARC march, or at every event, there are the same people that go to every activism event. There needs to be a new way to reach a broader audience, to inspire people and to get them to act.

Mobile media has a bad name, in terms of being seen to simply circulate junk and useless information, or information that can simply be found on the Internet or in a newspaper. But what about the potential that lies within mobile media to change the way that mass action or protesting is organised? Let’s have a look at the smart mob, a term coined by Howard Rheingold.

The smart mob or the mobile ad hoc social network, describes the:

new social form made possible by the combination of computation, communication, reputation and location awareness (Rheingold 2000).

Smart mobs are behaving intellectually, something which is not generally associated with the ‘mob mentality,’ and are using new technologies and social networking, to further their cause. One of the ways in which smart mobs organise themselves is through mobile devices, and thus we are approaching a new era, one of mobile activism.

Mobile activism refers to the use of mobile devices by different organisations (often non-profit) to organise, mobilise, motivate and inspire people to act accordingly.

One of the first reported use of cell phones in a mass demonstration took place during the World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle in 1999. Cell phones were used to co-ordinate and mobilise activists, making the process quicker and less controllable by officials.

One example that Rheingold (2001) uses in his book “Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution” is the fall of President Joseph Estrada of the Philippines. In 2001 President Joseph Estrada was the first head of state to lose power to a smart mob. More than 1 million residents gathered over the four day protest in a response to a message sent out that simply said: “Go 2EDSA. Wear blck.”

This was not the first incident of mobile activism and the smart mob, and it will not be the last. Mobile activism and smart mobs have influenced a range of protests and mass organisations, ranging from various NGO causes, environmental issues, to politics and rising petrol prices.

Using cell phones to organise mass action bypasses the mass media as a source of information, thus making it less controllable by officials. The process of communication is also made quicker, and faster, as activists can communicate while on the move. Evidence of the protesting can also be told to others, through footage caught on a cell phone, like video, photographs or audio.

The implications for social change are incredible. Organising mass action becomes something easy, something quick, something that guarantees that the message gets out and that the action occurs. Mobile activism can bring about a new type of social change, something that can hopefully change the apathetic nature of the younger generations in South Africa.


Anything you can do, my phone can do better!

Mobile media’s potential power is becoming more and more apparent as time goes on. So much so that big name companies who usually use traditional means to get their product recognised, are using different mobile technologies.

Imagine you are walking down the street, past a billboard advertising the newest Nike shoes. You don’t really notice it that much, and you don’t intend on visiting a Nike shop. But then your phone starts behaving like a crazed animal in your bag, beeping and vibrating until you pick it up and give it the attention that it wants.

It’s a message, from Nike, sent to your phone using Bluetooth technology. Bluetooth allows electronic devices to communicate wirelessly, but only from a short range. It tells you that if you run to the nearest Nike store you could win a brand new pair of Nike Zoom shoes, which were advertised on the billboard you passed by.

Then you arrive at the bus stop, and you get another message on your phone, sent via Bluetooth. It says:

I’m watching u. Ur at the bus stop.”

Now you’re a bit creeped out but then a few seconds later you get another message, this time saying:

Big Brother is back. 7pm weeknights on Ten.

This is a message from the producers of Big Brother in Australia. Their new season is starting and they want as many people to tune in as possible.

Now despite the obvious annoying, spam-like quality of these types of messages (but remember that one can only receive Bluetooth messages of your Bluetooth is turned on), it happens to be an ingenious advertising technique that is utilising mobile technology. And one that confirms for me that we can so many things off our cellphones, and these can be done simply and cheaply.  

Users can use search tools like Google, you can check Facebook, you can chat to friends really cheaply through a number of different devices such as Mxit and Meep, you can internet bank, you can blog, you can shop online, you can find out breaking news using news websites or social media sites like Twitter, you can even take a guided tour of South Africa’s historical sites using your cell phone!

So with all this new mobile technology and the obvious convenience of it all, what is there that we can’t do on our cell phones?


hyped up

There’s hype, there’s pomp and ceremony, there’s excitement and there’s anticipation. So much is happening around mobile media and so many people are talking about it that often we tend to lose sight of why exactly mobile media is so popular. There are advantages about mobile media that immediately catapult it to the forefront of media innovation.


Mobile media has leapfrogged traditional media forms at an alarming rate. To date there are 3.25 billion mobile users globally which is more than television, computer and cinema screens combined. While this is an impressive stat what is even more impressive is that it took 20 years to get the first 1 billion mobile users, 40 months to get to 2 billion users and only 12 months to reach 3 billion users. A phenomenal feat, but the question is why?


It comes down to the fact that mobile media is personal. You carry your cell phone on you at all times, I even sleep with my phone under my pillow! You do not share your phone with anyone so you can create, produce, and consume content at any time that is convenient for you. You no longer have to walk down the street to pick up the daily newspaper and then only read the sports page. You can subscribe to the sports feed and get regular updates. It’s news on the move, which caters to whatever you are interested in. Mobile media is all about the niche markets. Mobile has the ability to fragment the masses into smaller groups. But at the same time is able to network that mass.  


Mobile media also offers a very easy interactive platform. You can Facebook, twitter and blog off your mobile phone. There is immediate contact with others, which is available to you whenever you want to interact.


One of the most alluring characteristics about mobile media is that there is a built in payment mechanism. You do not have to worry about having cash on you or electronically transferring anything. If you want a particular ringtone, you go to an appropriate website and then you download it. Payment happens immediately, as the money is deducted from your pre-paid account or your contract.


Mobile media looks like it is going to be a force to be reckoned with in the future, but instead of simply adopting a mass medium strategy, what is unique, and popular, about mobile media is that it is personal and it caters specifically to your tastes, something which traditional mass media does not do.


Want to check out more about this? Look at Inspector Gadget’s post ‘A whiff of the modern cellphone‘  



It’s the way forward!

Mobile media is a term that we all think we understand, well I certainly did. That was until I sat down to try and write this. So my first stop was to find a basic definition of mobile media, so I turned to Wikipedia, a site which allows any individual to collaborate in writing about a certain topic. According to Wikipedia:

The mobility and portability of media or as “the media-in-motion business” has been a process in the works ever since the “first time someone thought to write on a tablet that could be lifted and hauled – rather than on a cave wall, a cliff face, a monument that usually was stuck in place, more or less forever”. Today, mobile media devices such as mobile phones and PDA’s are the primary source of portable media from which we can obtain information and communicate with one another.

This touches on the importance of portability. Anyone who has a cell phone can use mobile media. Some popular mobile media applications are SMS text, website access, ringtones, wallpapers and interactive chat sites like Mxit. According to a report on Reuters last year world wide cell phone subscriptions reached 3.3 billion users (or about half of the world’s population). When comparing this to television usage (which is about 1.5 billion users) is not hard to see why mobile media is on the verge of being the mass medium of the future.

Mobile Media is ideal for South Africa where few locals have access to the Internet by cable or landline, mainly because of various monetary factors. Only 10.3 % of South Africa’s population have access to the Internet, whereas in countries like America, 71.1 % of the population has access to the web.

Mobile Media has the potential to reach more users than traditional media ever has. When looking for statistics of mobile media users from South Africa it can be seen that we are already starting to have a major impact in this area. Last year the BBC reported that 19% of its international WAP users came from South Africa.

Mobile media has great potential in this country and I shall explore some of the areas where mobile media can work, and some of its downfalls in this blog series. A few of the issues that I consider are: the popularity of mobile media, why large companies are incorporating mobile media into their strategies and products and how mobile media is used by the youth. I will adopt a critical perspective while commenting on these issues. It’s going to be a journey of discovery for me and will hopefully be beneficial to those reading this!