Lessons in moblogging
When the Southern African NGO Network (SANGONeT) invited us to liveblog MobileActive's third international conference using Nokia cellphones, it was an offer we couldn’t refuse. MobileActive is a rapidly expanding network of experts, NGOs, software and hardware companies that use or develop cellular technology for social impact.
Said, New Media Lab coordinator, Jude Mathurine: “The project kills two birds with one stone. First, it allows 'intensive students' to use mobiles for different kinds of reportage. And second, it exposes students to the application of a technology that is leapfrogging the wired Internet for citizen journalism, and all manner of activism and development in developing contexts.”
An 'intensive' is a rigorous six week programme which offers students an opportunity to learn a form of journalism that they may not have encountered in their third and fourth year specialisations.
Six scholars drove twelve hours from sleepy Grahamstown to Johannesburg for the conference organised by MobileActive and local host, the Southern African NGO Network (SANGONeT). Having only learnt the basics of visual storytelling and online writing, the learners had a steep learning curve to overcome the limitations of using mobile phones for video-, photo- and microblogging a live event.
“The equipment was a huge problem,” admits new media intensive student, Tara Lang, “If something could go wrong... it did! Batteries dying, losing internet connections, applications freezing were issues all thrown at us.”
Students were assigned tasks and stories on a rotational basis. At the beginning of each day, scholars would disperse armed with a Nokia N82, notepad and pen. The conference’s wifi zone allowed always-on Internet that allowed students to access and transmit data without paying for data charges or MMS fees. Students took notes throughout the sessions; photographed, selected, captioned, tagged and posted photos to social media site Flickr via Shozu; microblogged conference sessions demonstrations and discussions in 140 character short text messages; and filmed selected sources about their work and presentations. Student feeds were aggregated on the Mobileactive08 website.
“The challenge of live mobile journalism was an incredible experience,” Mathurine muses. “As a team it forced us to to quickly evolve new methodologies and workarounds to overcome some of the limitations and problems of of mobile journalism. These lessons will be fed into future writing and course development."
MobileActive awarded PGDip student Khaya Thonjeni a Nokia e71 phone in recognition of his efforts during the conference.