Mobile Web for Social Development – MW4D

Having cried wolf a few times over the last few years (WAP anyone?) mobile browsing is now packing a serious punch and nowhere more so than in developing countries.

An Indian holy man gets connected - photo curtesy of Der Spiegel

Prohibitive costs for hardware and software, lack of infrastructure, phone lines and support for internet access has meant that surfing the web from desktops in poorer regions has not developed at the pace of the web elsewhere. While there may be initiatives such as One Laptop per Child and other low cost laptops to help address this even these can’t fix the problem felt by many in Africa, Asia and South America. The bottom line is getting a mobile is so much easier than getting a land line. Throw into the mix the fact that many countries, for example China, have a large floating population and therefore no access to a land lines and you start to see why mobiles can go where no technology has really been able to go before.

There are 3.3 billion mobile phone users worldwide. To give you a bit of context this is almost double the number of people who own a TV which is 1.5 billion. The number of PC owners is 0.9 billion. Mobile ownership really does come out on top.

A recent study of the London Business School demonstrated the impact of mobile phones and associated services on productivity and social development, showing that 10 more mobile phones per 100 people increase the GDP of a developing country by 0.6 percent. You can really believe that when you hear anecdotal stories of farmers in Africa negotiating sales of their cattle via mobiles as well as the local guy in the village who rents out his mobile to anyone who needs it.

Last week the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) launched the Mobile Web for Social Development interest group.

The MW4D Interest Group explores how to use the potential of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) on Mobile phones as a solution to bridge the Digital Divide and provide minimal services (health, education, governance, business,…) to rural communities and under-privileged populations of Developing Countries.

It’s open for anyone to join. You can participate in the face-to-face meetings and regular conference calls or simply sign up to the mailing list. MW4D is also building up a wiki which will no doubt be really useful.

I think this is a great idea and not before time. It’s easy to look at developing countries and think there is a lack of entrepreneurship but this simply isn’t the case. A lack of access to internet has held many people back. It’s so important for us to support the mobile web in developing countries and try and understand it’s impact not just in poorer regions but also further afield.