Tag Archives: mobile

Simple private mobile communities with Glassboard

gbGlassboard is a neat cross platform (iOS, Android, Web) app that helps people to communicate within teams while on the move.

You download the app – or use the web version – and create a ‘board’ which is where you post messages and files. Then you invite people to join that board, and only they and you have access to what is posted there.

Even better, you can choose to have people join by using an invite code rather than receiving a specific invite. This means that, for example, you could create a board for all the members of an email newsletter to join to be able to chat. Just include the invite code in the email, and all those who you want to have access can do so.

It works really nicely on smartphones – the web interface is a bit clunky, but then, it’s made for mobile I think. It also is a nice, more lightweight alternative to a Yammer network, which can sometimes feel like taking a sledgehammer to a nut, I find, when all you want to do is have a quick chat now and again with a group.

Glassboard is free for 3 boards. For unlimited boards and a few other features, you can go premium for a very reasonable $5 per month.

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Drag and drop app development from Mozilla

zteopenOne of the things we get asked about all the time, whether from artists, community groups or bigger organisations is how to develop apps for mobile.

Usually the answer has to be ‘pay someone to do it’ – even though this can be an expensive process.

There are some do it yourself options – the App Inventor for Android from MIT springs to mind – but it’s fair I think to say that they still aren’t terribly easy to use, and of course in the case of App Inventor, your projects will only work on the Android platform.

Mozilla – the cool folks behind the Firefox web browser amongst other great projects – might just have another option in the works. It’s part of their development of FireFox OS, a competitor to Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows Phone. In other words, a smartphone operating system.

The unique thing about FireFox OS is it’s use of web apps rather than native apps. What this means is that instead of having apps that are written specifically for one platform, whether that be iOS or Android or whatever, these apps work through the web, and so can be accessed on any device.

This also means that no one company can control what apps you decide to put on your phone or tablet – as they are all accessed via the web, the user is completely in control.

Mozilla is also aiming this work at emerging markets – in other words, they aren’t necessarily out to steal Apple’s crown. Instead they want to bring the power of mobile computing to those areas of the world where tradition feature phones dominate.

One early example of this endeavour is the ZTE Open, a phone running FireFox OS. You can buy one, completely unlocked, here on ebay for just £60. I have one, and it’s fair to say it won’t be impacting on sales of the iPhone 5s any time soon. It’s closer to the low range Android phones, such as the Samsung Galaxy Ace range. However, as a cheap, effective and open entry point to smartphones, it’s an interesting device and it will be fascinating to watch how other manufacturers decide to use Firefox OS.

So, how to make apps for this environment? Mozilla is working on that too, with Appmaker. This is at a very early stage in its development, but you can have a play with it. It gives you a drag and drop style interface to build web apps, and seems really easy to use, and could put the power of app development into the hands of pretty much anyone.

Of course, tools like this make developing apps easy, but I suspect developing great apps is still just as hard!

Here’s a video explaining more.

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Dumb Store

Apparently, not everyone has a smartphone! News to me.

Anyway, the Dumb Store is potentially very exciting, I think. Apps for ‘dumb’ phones – ie those that have limited ability to access the internet and the web.

They can be interacted with by sending SMS messages or making voice calls.

The SMS option is most interesting as it turns your message into a command line of sorts. So, for the Google Maps directions app, you text something like:

dir High Street, Peterborough to Letsbe Avenue, Dundee

and you then get a text back with the directions. Neato!

Apps are written in Ruby, apparently. Still, a potential step forward for making web services more accessible to folk without the latest mobile kit!

What might mobile democracy look like?

I’ve often said that the problem with participation in local democracy is that it just isn’t convenient enough. Meetings? Pah! I’m too busy trying to earn a living, quite frankly.

So mobile offers a really interesting opportunity. After all, the smartphones that sit in the pockets of an ever-growing number of people have a level of ubiquity that could make it work. You could also bring in some other recent developments (don’t say buzzwords) like gamification to further boost engagement levels.

Here’s an idea on how something could work.

It’s based on a pretty old e-democracy principle – e-panels! Rather than have a citizen panel of say 50 people, you develop an online group of hundreds or even thousands. Then you give them things to do, which are suitable to a mobile device.

The key to this is making the activities short, simple and reasonably interesting. If you look at the really popular games on smartphones, things like Angry Birds, Temple Run, World of Goo and so on, they are all games that can be picked up and played for a couple of minutes. They don’t tend to be long, drawn out strategic affairs.

So, some of the things that the mobile democracy app (or mobile friendly website…) could do might be to choose between several options. Perhaps something really blunt like “Libraries or lolly pop ladies?”; or between two images, one with a housing development in it and one without. Maybe ask people to take and submit a photo along a theme.

These aren’t referendums or anything like that, of course. But by regularly asking large numbers of people to respond, an organisation can build up a picture of what people think, which ways they lean on various issues.

By having a big group to work from, it wouldn’t matter if not everyone responds every time, and again, it’s about developing that database of people and their views.

Gamification might provide another way of increasing levels of participation – I’m always nervous about rewards – but perhaps leaderboards with badges would encourage people getting stuck in. There’s a danger that doing such things reduces the quality of responses – people would just respond with anything rather than thinking about it, just to get that top spot – but hopefully having large enough groups of people involved would minimise the impact.

I’d be interested in other people’s thoughts on this as always. Seen anything out there in terms of using mobile to promote and encourage democratic participation? Or perhaps you think I’m barking up the wrong tree?

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