Friday, 10 February 2012

How Can We Use Twitter To Help Disconnected Areas Of A Country?

I was having a discussion with a friend regarding how many regions, villages and areas within a country are often left out of any immediate media coverage, and no one often really knows their situation, needs, and conditions. In fact, some don't even know their existence to begin with. So, this idea popped up. Remember, I am not a development expert, so go easy on me if this idea or something like it has already been used widely out there and I had no idea.

1- A number of simple feature phones which have the capacity to SMS and tweet are prepared (2000, for example).
2- These phones would be sent out to different regions around the country where there aren't really Twitter users there. One or two people are trained on how to SMS and Tweet, and assigned the usage and responsibility over the phones. If the entire population of this region is illiterate, those one or two people responsible could also be taught how to read and write.

3- A singular twitter account is created (example: @YemenTweets). That account follows all the 2000 accounts for each of the 2000 phones. There would also be a Twitter List following the same 2000 phones.

4- Then, the user of any of the 2000 phones writes a tweet. That tweet would then be retweeted by the main account (@YemenTweets). This way, we would see the tweets either by following @YemenTweets or by following the Twitter List that follows them all. Once more: two ways of getting that tweet without following all 2000 accounts.

5- In India, users can send an SMS to a specific number which turns them into a tweet from a specific account. That service could also be used to help those who can't go online, those who still have problems just using twitter, or those who need to get a message across urgently but aren't one of the main 2000 lines and don't know how/can't tweet.

6- In fact, some might even suggest a Twitter volunteer network. These volunteers would receive such SMS messages and turn them into a tweet from that same account. Elaboration: the user in the rural area would send an SMS to a specific number whose volunteers take these messages and turn them into tweets from/to the main account (e.g @YemenTweets). This is of course a last resort, assuming all of the above couldn't work.

7- These phones are bought either by the State or by a local or an international aid program. Mobile Network providers would cover the cost of tweeting or sending SMS messages up to a certain reasonable limit, and would not tolerate any "personal" and non-useful usage of these services. This way, the end user doesn't pay anything.

8- This service would allow us to know immediately about any threats, urgent and general humanitarian needs, important news and general conditions facing such remote and rarely featured areas of the country, using the unfiltered words of those people themselves. It would allow us to know and respond more quickly, whether as individuals or as organisations. Remember: the most important role these phones would play is to help such areas have quick and urgent national attention when they immediately need it, as well as general year-long awareness of their conditions and needs.

This is just a rough draft of an idea. I am writing it not as a proposal, but rather as seed for a discussion that could develop a better and perhaps even more usable idea, regardless of what it is. What do you think?

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