Twitter in Developing Countries

Twitter saves a cow. Sounds funny in a Western world context doesn’t it? But in rural Kenya, that cow is a critical part of staying alive. An Al Jazeera story ¬†shows an immediate and direct impact of the microblogging tool Twitter in Kenya. It is a direct statement of the role these technologies are starting to play in developing nations. In this case, it is a local policeman who is bringing the education of how to use this tool in meaningful ways. Access to Twitter is via a much cheaper SMS or texting gateway. Although Twitter recently announced a low-bandwidth version, SmartPhones can still be too expensive in many developing countries and SMS integration will remain a key use for sometime.

Increasingly, we are seeing how mobile apps and social media services are being accessed by mobile phones through SMS gateways. When you add in geolocation capabilities of mobile carriers, we start to see how these phones, not even advanced ones like the iPhone or Blackberry, can play an increasingly vital role in public diplomacy, digital diplomacy, aid relief, monitoring & evaluation and crisis reporting (as is done already by valuable systems like Ushahidi.)

As citizens in these countries begin to see the direct impact value of these tools, it can help governments reach out and connect more with citizens. On the downside, less amenable governments may also use the tools in more nefarious ways such as listening in or seeking opponents. Sadly, there is always good with the bad, but one can hope the good will outweigh the bad in these instances.