The Emerging Ecosystem of Goodness
The Emerging Ecosystem of Goodness
Cigdem A Binal, Independent Technology Marketing Strategist
(Guest Author to BtheChange.)
In a world increasingly run by software, ecosystems have become a powerful and valuable asset in order to stay on top of the rapidly evolving marketplace. With the growth of open source models, and the advancement of applications enriched through APIs, ecosystems are taking on an even greater role and are ascending beyond the original “telecom ecosystem” model which used to rely on the interoperability of hardware and software.
In the very beginning, the telecom ecosystem was as much about relationships as it was about technology. The landscape was made up of large government providers who slowly gave way to more competitive models. The race started with PTT incumbents followed by new mobile players as fixed line services started to decline. There were clear categories of vendors – equipment – software – devices. The expansion of the Internet led to innovations like VoIP, which drove new services up and international long distance prices down. The industry was morphing in real time, and the change in the ecosystem was a factor as well as a result of this transformation.
Over the last ten years in particular, challengers came onto the field traditionally dominated by what we used to call “carriers” and now call “service providers” – Google, Facebook, Amazon – creating cloud solutions, spawning thousands of entrepreneurial driven applications as well as mobile application developing start-ups. This in turn began broadening our definition of Value Added Services and “connectivity” to include social networking, gaming, music sharing, streaming entertainment, and more. In the meantime, the land of hardware also went through a vast change. As stated by Moore’s Law the number of transistors on a circuit doubles every 18 months – in other words computers get smaller and more powerful resulting in the rapid advancement mini super computers also known as high-end mobile devices. The broadened definition of connectivity with the rise of mobile devices added fuel to the transformation and today the “telecom ecosystem” looks more like a hyper competitive marketplace.
The quest for interoperability continues, and has driven the rapid launch of extremely creative applications that talk to each other through APIs. Applications using Platform-as-a-Service models still rely on standards including WebRTC, a Google-lead initiative that has the potential to completely change how human beings connect with each other – without having to download an app, or use a phone number.
Are We Building a New Ecosystem of Goodness?
We are starting to see more and more businesses cooperating to leverage their open and connected capabilities to build applications that can improve and save lives. In some measure, this may be due to the fact that it is simply easier than ever to “compile” or “orchestrate” features into applications using APIs. Leaders in the communications and digital industries are combining forces with social entrepreneurs, philanthropists, NGOs and non-profits, to build and rapidly roll out low cost, highly scalable humanitarian solutions.
Take, for example, Mark Zuckerburg and his wife Priscilla Chan, a pediatrician, who announced on Facebook a grant of $25 million to the Centers for Disease Control Foundation in support of fighting Ebola. On the page, Mr. Zuckerburg wrote: “The Ebola epidemic is at a critical turning point. It has infected 8,400 people so far, but it is spreading very quickly and projections suggest it could infect 1 million people or more over the next several months if not addressed. We need to get Ebola under control in the near term so that it doesn’t spread further and become a long term global health crisis that we end up fighting for decades at large scale, like HIV or polio.”
Since this grant was given, there have been dozens of stories surfacing about digital solutions enabled by mobile technologies that help track and address Ebola outbreaks.
Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) epidemiologist Caroline Buckee and her team are using cell phone data to track travel patterns across West Africa to help fight the Ebola epidemic. Such data—including carrier provided cell phone location-based services retrieved through unique “pings” from cell phone towers—can show where people have gone after leaving a geographic area of disease, enabling tracking and predicting of where the disease might next appear.
The use of mobile devices and access to mobile broadband continue to create social good. This past September, UNICEF launched RapidPro, “an open platform of applications for governments, non-profits and companies to deploy essential information and connect whole communities to life-saving knowledge”. Dr. Sharad Sapra, Director of UNICEF’s global Innovation Center explains this “app store for good” as the work of smart innovation and partnerships. One of the apps, U-Report, where anyone in a country can become a citizen reporter and ask or answer questions by text message has already shown really impressive results. In Zambia, the U-Report app has connected more than 50,000 people to counseling services, and voluntary AIDS testing of U-Reporters increased by 40 percent. In Uganda there are 270,000 people using U-Report and in Nigeria over 70,000.
We have had human ecosystems for thousands of years in the form of “villages”. There have been health ecosystems, educational ecosystems, food ecosystems, and much more.
What is different and exciting now – is the intersection of human ecosystems and technology ecosystems – which are increasingly aligning to leverage software to scale service. In future articles, I’ll share success stories coming out of this emerging “Ecosystem of Goodness.” Not only will we recognize the social entrepreneurs combining their companies’ capabilities with others to create more than just material wealth, but we hope to inspire others to get innovative and start contributing more ideas and solutions in an open software world where “interoperability” has taken on new meaning and potential.