I’ve written previously about the importance of the mobile web and the role of mobiles in social change. Now the United Nations Foundation (with Vodafone) has released a report on the use of mobiles by relief, advocacy, and development organisations (via Read/Write Web, Report: ‘Mobile Activism’ on the Rise).

One of the most interesting case studies look at the use of mobile devices is collecting and using health data [PDF]. Forms were created that health workers can use on a PDA to collect and update health statistics. The system is much more time-efficient and reliable than paper-based methods used previously.

Mobile Learning

Other mobile web initiatives include mobile learning. Dr Steve Yuen describes a project he is developing at Cell Phone Learning Support System (CPLSS) (Tech Learning blog) -

“My current (CPLSS) project is attempted to deliver instructional content and learning materials in way that fits into students’ cell phones – their digital lives. The CPLSS is designed to work with many cell phones, smartphones, or PDA phones and will have four major modules: Java book, Web book, audio book, and video book.”

While the concepts themselves aren’t new, as we’ve had previous learning systems developed for online learning, and mp3 players, what I like about this idea is simply the idea of shifting technology to new platforms.

Designing for all

Something we have to keep in mind as we create and modify information for new devices is the breadth of people who will use them. A post that linked to my earlier post about the mobile web asks if we are taking into account the needs of older mobile users. In Mobility issues or digital natives as seniors? from C3 Library -

“…this IS the main communication link up for so many but what will it morph into for the aging digital native? Not something we have to solve but an interesting issue given that the current devices aren’t really usable by the majority of the senior population. As we size everything down to be lighter and portable we also exclude and narrow the user group.”

I agree that it is essential to design for all. Not just those who are of a certain socioeconomic group or age, but also those with disabilities. If your site is built to mobile and web-accessibility standards, that takes care of the content, but what about the devices that you use the content on? There are some mobile screen reader programs available, such as Mobile Speak and Magnifier and TALKS&ZOOMS which magnify, highlight and read text much like PC software does now. Some phones can also use voice commands instead of the buttons. But on the whole, it is true that everything is getting smaller, with only a few exceptions of phones designed for older users that seem to appeal based on their being basic and excluding most features – like web browsing and email.

Learn More – on your phone!

If you want to learn more about the Mobile Web, the W3C is running a free online training course (keep your eye on the next one, registration for May 2008 just closed), An Introduction to W3C’s Mobile Web Best Practices.

More information about the work covered in the UN Foundation report can be found at Mobile Active, billed as “A resource for activists using mobile technology worldwide”.

Originally published on the semanticlibrary.net blog