Thousands of article headlines perused. Hundreds of articles briefly scanned. A hundred plus saved and poured over more intently. Twenty articles shortlisted. Ten article of particular relevance and import to mobile ministry to share with you here:
1) If we are going to ensure that the Gospel gets to the unreached we need to get our head around the idea that you have to go where the unreached are and, in the realm of mobile ministry, this means A) Making sure our outreach can reach them using the capabilities their phones have and B) Making sure that it reaches them in a way they can afford and access! In education they talk about "No Child Left Behind". In mobile ministry we need to think about "No mobile left behind"! Hats off to Distant Shores Media for their visual presentation of Worldwide Mobile Phone Capabilities in 2010 and analysis of those capabilities as related to mobile ministry.
2) Voice is the most obvious, and yet least pursued capability in mobile ministry. Every single mobile phone has voice capability of course. Web Inventor Tim Berners-Lee Seeks Voice Enabled Internet in Africa is a great article that helped me to appreciate, once more, the amazing potential the combination of voice calling with internet-based infrastructure (not reliant on the phone’s hardware but, rather, provided by an external source) could provide. Another article showing how commercial services are creatively cashing in on the voice function of basic mobile phones is How News Corp Plans To Profit From Mobile Audio Subscriptions In India. If you are interested in pursuing voice based mobile outreach you can get more information about VOICES here and you might want to check out Planning and Implementing a Mobile Interactive Voice System.
3) Short Message Service (SMS) texting is the one other capability that 100% of all mobile phones are capable of- you won't leave any phones behind if you go for an SMS based outreach. If you want to see some innovative ways SMS texting can be put to use by NGOs check out Components of SMS Based Data Collection and Service Delivery.
Doing internet outreach via mobile phone optimized websites is one of the approaches that will give you the biggest bang for your buck, with 97% of all mobile phones having at least a basic (WAP) internet browser, and the next two entries show you why you should be going there and how to do a good job at mobile website design.
5) If you want your mobile web outreach to succeed you've got to do more than just shrink down your computer optimized website to fit a mobile screen. Besides the just dealing with the legibility issues that ensue you need to account for the fact that users are accessing your website from completely different contexts than desktop users (walking, getting interrupted, etc.). Mobile users are accessing your website while mobile for different reasons than desktop users are (perhaps a sudden inspiration, question, need for information). Mobile users need to access what they have come looking for a lot more quickly and easily than those sitting behind a desk. Mobile UX Principles are key and a really great presentation was given this last week (slides, notes) that gives you the info and tools you need to make sure your mobile web outreach fulfills its potential.
6) Utilizing mobile phones as media players is another approach to mobile ministry that accounts for the capabilities found in 62% of all mobile phones currently in use. The Forum of Bible Agencies International's Scripture Engagement website has put together a comparative review of various audio players which can be used for outreach including a relatively side mention of the mobile phone. You might want to particularly consider the questions asked at the bottom of page three/top of page four as you consider your own media outreach strategy but don’t forget to ask, as well, how you want to see your media “reproduce” and spread- that is where the mobile beats out each and every other player listed hands down!
When I start talking mobile ministry with people one of the first things that comes to their mind seems to be apps for the iPhone or Google Android phones. Unfortunately, as beautiful as one of these apps may be they are only going to work on some sub-fraction of the 17% of all mobile phones that are smart phones- the majority of which will be found in the developed, “reached” world. On the other hand, 61% of all mobile phones can support a JAVA or BREW based app so the following couple articles might help you think through that option a bit further:
7) The Potential of Mobile Apps is a tremendous article dealing with the realities of apps use among the peoples of southern and eastern Africa. This is the best analysis of the realities of apps use in the developing world that I have come across to-date!
8) One of the items making a big splash in the mobile space this last week was Facebook releasing an app for feature phones (link). As it turns out, this link was developed in conjunction with a group called Snaptu (link). The BBC has a nice video introduction to Snaptu you can watch here. Is Snaptu the way forward for mobile ministry apps for the 61% of mobile phones that support JAVA or BREW based apps? I don't know, but it certainly is a way!
9) I’ve often heard that ministry is no place for “Lone Rangers” and mobile ministry is certainly no place for us to try and go it on our own too. I’m really impressed with the amount of thought, time and money that has been put into “Information and Communications Technologies for Development” (ICT4D). Their outcome targets are limited to health and development whereas ours also deal with evangelism and church planting but, otherwise, we are faced with reaching the same populations and dealing with the same resource constrained “environmental” challenges. For any of you who would like to learn from the best and the brightest in the field you have the chance this semester. Columbia University (NY) is offering a course entitle New Media for Development and Social Change and they are posting all their class information (including lecture notes and syllabus with readings- many available online with links provided) here. This course is being run by two top mobile experts who were mentioned in last week’s Weekly Web Watch (Matthew Berg and Patricia Mechael). Additionally, you can track the course on Twitter by searching for #u6211. If you are interested in learning what other courses are offered (anywhere) related to ICT4D check out this spreadsheet.
10) As stated in the previous entry, although their outcomes don’t include evangelism and church planting, ICT4D practitioners still deal with many of the same challenges that we do in trying to develop and implement successful initiatives among many of the same people groups. This entry Pulse Camp and Beyond… shows, in detail, how one of the U.N.’s innovation initiatives went through a program planning process and it may provide you with some ideas (especially if you click on the links within it and follow-through on to the correct links) on how you can add some creativity and insight into your outreach planning.
11) So as not to totally alienate my smartphone using readership out there you might appreciate the following articles- Our Biggest Android Annoyances and How to Fix Them and Our Biggest iOS Annoyances and How to Fix Them