Thursday, June 6, 2013

Android ecosystems, digital habitats, and local innovation

An interesting blog post from Harsha Liyanage who is Managing Director of the Sarvodaya Fusion project in Sri Lanka.  He writes about the emerging impact of smart devices in under-developed communities and the growing Android ecosystem and local innovation that these devices are encouraging.  He also notes some of the challenges to widespread adoption and use: eNovation4D: Smart Devices to poor communities! Too early?

One important take-away for me is a reminder that communities of practice create and operate within what Wenger, et al.,  call a 'digital habitat' comprised of a variety of platforms.  Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Skype, online discussions, custom apps, and the like are part of the mix of platforms in the habitat these communities inhabit.  Each has a role and purpose and it is important to understand how the mix contributes to the life of the community.  

Many of these apps are circumscribed in the sense that the user has little to do (or limited possibilities) in terms of configuring or customizing the platform.  That will serve the community well in many cases.  In other cases, they may want or need a platform that can be customized quickly to serve an emerging need or opportunity.  For example, the ability to quickly create and deploy a crowdmap or SMS alert service to address an agriculture disease outbreak or pest infestation could be served by a platform like Ushahidi or FrontlineSMS.

Aside from the commercial social media platforms and pre-configured apps for download, there is a niche in the digital habitat for the kind of open source apps that provide a more basic, less pre-defined set of functions that user communities can adopt and customize to suit their particular needs at a given time. 

It's all well and good to use Facebook for some purposes but it is tied to commercial user agreements and terms of service, and access to the data for the purpose of research and other knowledge mobilization tasks might be limited as compared with some of the FOSS platforms we have identified for our project.

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