SMS as a tool for observing social networks

I have been fascinated with the proliferation of SMS as a tool for communication. Just the other day, someone in my peer group suggested that SMS was a teenage thing. I sometimes forget that I traverse a different world than most, so I was a little taken aback by that response. How many people have the same opinion about text messaging? How many people know anything about smartphones?
More on this later.. The premise of this post, is the idea that SMS can be used as means to observe social behavior of disparate networks. Studies would suggest that you can actually link these disparate groups via the common activities of their SMS traffic.

Researchers have begun to study this behavior on the continent of Africa. What I find most interesting is the idea that assumptions and analogies can be drawn from traffic shaping. The by-product of these assumptions can be quite surprising.

As I have stated previously, the mobile device is often the first computing device used by people in developing nations. So it is not hard to imagine GSM cell phones being available at little or no cost. If you can divorce yourself from the US wireless carrier billing model, and the current wireless carrier silo (vendor lock-in) model. It would not be difficult to imagine that a SIM card is often free in other countries. Here in the US there is a cost to use the SIM card (regardless if the device is locked or unlocked). I do not believe that we have a pre-paid SIM model. If I am wrong someone please correct me.

The EPROM project is an example of the ongoing research in the mobile phone space. I'm not surprised that Africa was chosen for this research, as it seems that everyone has always wanted to study Africa. To his credit, EPROM head, Nathan Eagle used Harvard undergrad students as guinea pigs before taking the research to the continent of Africa.

Perhaps what is most interesting is the entrepreneurship component of the EPROM project. The model would allow local Nairobi villagers to participate in a SMS bootcamp, which would instruct participants on how to build out SMS services. I would imagine that teaching students how to fabricate SIM cards will be part of that class. That is a skill that I could use today ;) Keeping the money and the knowledge in the community is of extreme high value in Africa and also many depressed cities in the US. I wonder if Nathan has considered the benefits of such a program in Brooklyn, Detroit or NOLA?

There are other programs that focus on the entrepreneurship methodology. Frontline SMS is focusing on creating a sustainable business model for communities seeking to deploy mobile phones and leverage SMS exchange. In a word empowerment through technology.
This is what engineering is intended to be. Such a beautiful thing ;)

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    This page contains a single entry by AG published on August 20, 2007 2:29 AM.

    Product features lost in the translation.. was the previous entry in this blog.

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