Will microblogging be useful for the developing world?

April 30th, 2007

Yesterday saw another New York Times article on mobile-phone based social networking systems, Social Networking Leaves Confines of the Computer.

“The social networking phenomenon is leaving the confines of the personal computer. Powerful new mobile devices are allowing people to send round-the-clock updates about their vacations, their moods or their latest haircut. New online services, with names like Twitter, Radar and Jaiku, hope people will use their ever-present gadget to share (or, inevitably, to overshare) the details of their lives in the same way they have become accustomed to doing on Web sites like MySpace.”

Also mentioned was Kyte, a service that lets you “produce your own shows and broadcast them to your personal website, blog, MySpace profile or to any of our supported phones”.

Many in the developed countries are skeptical about these microblogging services that are (largely) desgined for mobile phones. Why should I put up with their limitations when I’ve virtually never separated from a good computer with a broadband connection to the internet? These serviced might play an important role in the developing world.

mobile phone use in Africa

In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, internet access is still very limited but mobile phone penetration is very high. A recent Economist article, for example, said

“Mobile-phone use in sub-Saharan Africa is soaring (see chart). Whereas only 10% of the population had network coverage in 1999, today more than 60% have it, a figure expected to exceed 85% in 2010, according to the GSM Association, an industry trade group.

Maybe the real benefit for microblogging systems designed to work with mobile phones (e.g., Twitter) has yet to be revealed.