The Internet, SMS, and Participatory Health

mstem | Global Voices | July 3, 2012

Serina Kalande (@serina_k) is a volunteer with Rising Voices, where she has lead the Blogging Positively project. The project began almost as soon as Global Voices itself. It’s a collection of HIV-positive bloggers and those blogging about HIV AIDS. You can view a map of this network here.

Laura Walker Hudson (@laurawhudson) of FrontLineSMS is based here in Nairobi, with 6 developers, as well as teams in DC and London. They make open source software that lets you send and receive SMSes on your computer without an internet connection. Their software’s been downloaded close to 27,000 times in their six years, and recently launched Frontline SMS v2.0.

Laura’s main point is that participation online is primarily about access. Your choice of technical platform becomes political if you choose a platform that isn’t accessible, because you’re deciding who will and won’t be engaged. The UN says that 90% of us have access to a mobile phone, even if we don’t have one ourselves. SMS can be a conduit to get information into places where travel is difficult, internet access is poor, and even radio signals have trouble reaching.

Technical platforms have end users as well as administrators running the project. Administrators need to be able to afford and master the platform. FrontlineSMS has focused on designing and using technology that can be easily used by each type of user...