I built a thing: text your US postal address to (520) 200-2223 and get a text back with your state & federal legislative rep phone numbers.— John Emerson (@backspace) November 20, 2016
I built an SMS bot! Here’s the story: I’ve been looking at bots for advocacy and have been keeping a short list of inspiring SMS projects including TXTMob, Crises Text Line, mRelief, Planned Parenthood’s Teen Q&A line, and others. I’ve poked around the Twilio API. And then came this message on the Progressive Exchange email list:
Subject: ISO "find your elected officials" by text
I have to think this exists -- is there a simple "text KEYWORD to THIS NUMBER" that will return the names and phone numbers of your elected officials? Congress and state?
Turns out it does not exist — so I wired it up and announced it on the list. The response has been super positive.
Augmented reality is the fusion of real and virtual reality, usually projecting computer graphics over live video footage in real time. The excellent Osocio blog recently posted two advocacy projects that use augmented reality for outreach.
The first is a cellphone game that shows an animated, virtual bear colliding, falling and otherwise bumbling around the physical environment as viewed through the phone’s camera. The application is part of a campaign on biodiversity by the World Wildlife Foundation in China. The message: forests are fast disappearing, see how wildlife struggles to cope outside its habitat, the fate of wildlife is in your hand.
The other campaign creates a virtual minefield at a shopping mall in Norway to dramatize the importance of mine clearance. Pedestrians pass by a mannequin in UN de-mining gear warning that they are entering a mined area. A computer linked up to an infrared camera detects pedestrian traffic and when a special spot is crossed, speakers hit the pedestrian with the sound of an explosion. Text is then projected onto the floor in front of the pedestrian describing the impact of landmines and soliciting a donation via SMS.
However, the spots on the floor are not entirely random. Via a web site, users are put in the role of the de-mining team. Web users can see the spots of the “mines” projected onto a video of the mall. Users must click the mines to remove them before pedestrians encounter them. If they fail, web users also hear the explosion and watch the pedestrians react.
Together they raise an interesting, larger point: just how much of a visualization project non-profit advocacy and outreach itself really is. I’ve written previously about the importance of the vision thing, but I focused more on individual projects instead of the idea of advocacy generally. In many cases, it boils down to this: advocacy means making visible to an audience some aspect of reality that is off their radar or articulating some hidden reason why things are the way they are... then following up with a proposed solution. That is, projecting an augmented reality followed by a vision a different world — an alternate reality colliding with the existing one. The trick is to make these visions clear, compelling, and actionable.
Is it still news that grassroots protest movements are using electronic media to facillitate political change? Here are two stories from the same week.
Ecuadoreans rebelled by radio, e-mail and text, Reuters, April, 23, 2005:
“Fed up with politicians, Ecuadoreans turned to local radio, text messages and the Internet to whip up a street rebellion this week that helped push their president Lucio Gutierrez out of office.
Gutierrez, a former army officer elected in late 2002, was waiting in Quito’s Brazilian embassy residence on Saturday for safe conduct to asylum in Brazil, three days after intense protests played their part in forcing him from office.
Buoyant protesters, including businessmen, housewives and students, described the demonstrations as a popular rebellion that grew through word of mouth, cellular telephone text messages and broadcasts on La Luna, a local radio station.
Many said the week-long rallies were a spontaneous reaction to frustration with what they saw as the government’s abuse of power and disappointment with leaders of all political colours....
Quito protesters took their name — the Forajidos, or the outlaws in Spanish — from criticism Gutierrez fired at them when demonstrators rallied outside his family home.
Car windshield stickers and T-shirts carrying the logo soon appeared on Quito’s streets.
When momentum started to build last week, La Luna began broadcasts calling for peaceful pan-banging demonstrations, protests with balloons and even demonstrations by lobbing rolls of paper towels.
One distributed e-mail showed an animated image of pots banging on the screen.
La Luna, a small independent Quito FM radio station that has a history of questioning the government, was key in mobilizing the rallies.
‘People came here to denounce things. When it started to get big the politicians turned up, but the people just shouted at them to get out,’ Tobar said.
As protests grew the Gutierrez government blocked La Luna’s signal, Tobar said, a charge the former government dismissed. Demonstrators began sending text messages with details of rallies when La Luna went briefly off the air.
Outside the Brazilian embassy residence, protesters have rallied for three days to demand their new government stop Gutierrez leaving the country. Many want to see him jailed.
La Luna blasted this week from the radio of a car parked outside the residence, keeping protesters up to date on new developments.
Gutierrez, who was jailed before for leading a coup, came to office with the popular support of the poor and Indian groups after promising populist reforms. But many said they felt betrayed by his tough economic policies.
The former government blamed Radio La Luna for fomenting violent protests on the streets and threatened legal action. But the radio station insists on its independence though manager Tobar acknowledged its open opposition to Gutierrez.”
Note the emphasis on a strong brand here, too.
Chinese cellphones fuel protest, NY Times, April 24, 2005:
“The thousands of people who poured onto the streets of China this month for the anti-Japanese protests that shook Asia were bound by nationalist anger but also by a more mundane fact: they are China’s cellphone and computer generation.
For several weeks as the protests grew larger and more unruly, China banned almost all coverage in the state media. It hardly mattered. An underground conversation was raging via e-mail, text message and instant online messaging that inflamed public opinion and served as an organizing tool for protesters.
The underground noise grew so loud that last Friday the Chinese government moved to silence it by banning the use of text messages or e-mail to organize protests. It was part of a broader curb on the anti-Japanese movement but it also seemed the Communist Party had self-interest in mind....
‘Chain letter’ e-mail and text messages urged people to boycott Japanese products or sign online petitions opposing Japanese ascension to the United Nations Security Council. Information about protests, including marching routes, was posted online or forwarded by e-mail. Banned video footage of protest violence in Shanghai could be downloaded off the Internet.
‘Text messages, instant messaging and Internet bulletin boards have been the main channels for discussing this issue,’ said Fang Xingdong, chairman of blogchina.com, a Web site for China’s growing community of bloggers. ‘Ten years ago, this would have been unthinkable.’
In Shanghai, the local police even sent out a mass text message to cellphone users the day before that city’s raucous protest. ‘We ask people to express your patriotic passion through the right channel, following the laws and maintaining order,’ the message said. Some marchers saw the message as a signal to proceed, while others took it as a warning.
In early 2003, text messaging and the Internet played a major role in helping people pass reliable information - and also unfounded rumors - about the outbreak of SARS at a time when the government was covering up the disease.
In the anti-Japan protests, people have sent old-fashioned chain letters to friends via e-mail or text message. Typical is a 23-year-old professional in Shanghai who asked to be identified for this article by her English name, Violet. She uses an instant messaging service on her work computer to communicate with 50 people on her ‘contact list.’...
About 27 percent of China’s 1.3 billion people own a cellphone, a rate that is far higher in big cities, particularly among the young. Indeed, for upwardly mobile young urbanites, cellphones and the Internet are the primary means of communication.
‘If people can mobilize in cyberspace in such a short time on this subject," said Wenran Jiang, a scholar with a specialty in China-Japan relations, "what prevents them from being mobilized on another topic, any topic, in the near future?’”
The protests eventually wrung an apology from the Prime Minister of Japan.
Oddly, while the China story made the NY Times. The Ecuador story was hardly picked up at all — and has disappeared from the swissinfo site where I first caught it. Is independent radio in Latin America not as “sexy” as cellphones in China?
From The Guardian, Thursday July 11, 2002:
“While the internet has affected most of us somehow, it has transformed the lives of deaf people, especially the young, by overcoming two barriers that make many deaf people feel isolated. One is the geographic barrier separating deaf people from each other: there are about 673,000 severely or profoundly deaf adults in the UK, spread all over the country. They can’t just pick up the phone and talk (although the introduction of textphones has made communication easier.)
...Technologies such as email, instant messaging and chat rooms mean that deaf people can contact old friends and make new ones anywhere in the world. There are plenty of resources on the web specifically targeted at deaf people, such as www.deafclub.co.uk and www.deaf-uk.co.uk - a set of Yahoo-based discussion groups where lively debates take place.
Another language barrier, that which divides speakers of British sign language and American sign language, also melts away. The internet touches almost every aspect of life. It’s much easier to shop online if you’re deaf than to make a shop assistant understand what you want. Similarly, the educational opportunities of deaf people, few of whom go on to higher education, could be transformed by distance learning. Even more significant is the chance to work. ‘Email has the potential to revolutionise the employment prospects,’ says Nathan Charlton, a consultant at the Royal National Institute for Deaf People. Email gives deaf people, who have twice the unemployment rates of hearing people, the ability not only to communicate with hearing colleagues easily, but to share in news they might otherwise be excluded from.”
While TDD, Telecommunications Device for the Deaf, and TTY, Text Telephone or TeleType, have been around since the 60’s, compatibility issues and competing standards have slowed widespread adoption. No doubt the expense of an additional technology to service a minority population has been a factor as well.
Electronic text messaging, however, is already integrated into most cellphones. The deaf, hard-of-hearing and speech are widely using Short Messaging Service (SMS) text messaging. Reuters reports that a survey carried out with the Birmingham Institute of the Deaf showed that 98 percent of hearing-impaired people in the UK use SMS text messaging. Following the survey, a British police department adopted SMS to let hearing- and speech-impaired people report emergencies. This article tells of Chieko Takayama, an employee of Japanese cellphone company J-Phone, and her work at a store in Tokyo that specifically markets to hearing-impaired customers.
Guardian article found via plep.