Current Affairs

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August 03, 2015

Can Supportive Text Messages Act as Pain Relievers?

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An apple a day keeps the doctor away, right? But can a text message do the same thing? Can the use of mobile technology actually reduce perceptions of pain and suffering? That’s exactly what Jamie Guillory, a scientist at the research institute RTI International, set out to discover. 

Guillory and her team designed a study to determine if the use of text messaging throughout the day could impact patient’s chronic pain levels. During a four-week period, participants from various pain clinics were divided into two groups. One group received its regular pain treatment in addition to encouraging messages sent throughout the day for a total of three weeks. The other group received regular pain treatment but did not receive uplifting text messages. The first week was the study’s control—during this time, neither group received text messages.

In addition to receiving texts, the first group was asked to download an app that allowed members to record their pain management, and relate their feelings to images. 

 

What the Study Said 

The results were fascinating. The group that received regular encouraging text messages recorded a clear reduction in pain during the three-week period following the control week compared to participants who did not receive text messages.  

This study offers valuable insight into the effects of mobile devices on patients’ mindsets. In addition to the positive impact this may have on those who suffer from chronic pain, it’s a useful tool for doctors to learn more about their patients’ behaviors and feelings throughout the process of treatment.  

While this is amazing news for people with chronic pain, the study also considers other factors that may have contributed to a reduction of pain during the three-week period. For example, patients who were married or in a relationship saw more significant pain reduction than patients who were single. The tangible support system maintained by married patients was notably more developed than that of single participants. It was suggested by Guillory that the encouraging text messages only worked well in collaboration with a tangible support system already in place. 

Text messages can only contribute to reducing chronic pain so much. Few things can replace or imitate the genuine love and compassion we feel for those in our family or close circle of friends. People who experience chronic pain are more susceptible to perceiving this pain when their immediate support system is weak, something no amount of mobile interaction can change—yet. 

But the study does highlight hope for a future in which mobile texting and app recording can have a positive role in patient pain management. 

 

July 30, 2015

Indiana's Text 911 Program Puts the Rest of the US to Shame

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If you’re choking or otherwise incapable of speaking into a phone, the ability to send a text to a 911 service is a great thing. Indiana was the first US state to institute a 911 texting program, which is now available in 88 of its 92 counties. It’s highly doubtful it will be the only state to do so on such a massive scale.  

“When it comes to 911, we’ve been able to lead the country for several years with 911 services,” said Barry Ritter, executive director of the Indiana Statewide 911 Board. Fort Wayne-based INdigital telecom is the company behind the designing, building, and operating of the IN911 network for the board. Ritter also said the state features the largest deployment of the service in the country.  

Most US states offer 911 text services in a few of their counties. Illinois, for example, offers the texting service in about five areas within three counties. Verizon Wireless was the first carrier to allow customers to send text messages to 911 emergency responders in counties all over Indiana, with T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint following suit. The Indiana Statewide 911 Board notified carriers in May of 2013 that it was ready to accept inbound texts. 

 

Texting Versus Calling

Calling 911 is still considered the best and most efficient way to reach a dispatcher, and texting should be used only when calling is not a possibility. This is because calling offers an instant response compared to texting. The time required to enter a text, send it over a network and then wait for the dispatcher to write and send a response means emergency services might take longer to reach the afflicted party. Providing location information as well as the type of emergency in the first text is therefore essential. It’s also important not to use abbreviations or slang to keep the emergency message as straightforward and clear as possible.  

Statistics obtained since May of 2014 show that eight 911 dispatchers in Indiana have received more than 50 emergency text messages, while 30 dispatch centers received fewer than 50 emergency texts. These numbers indicate that residents are using the service but are not flooding dispatch centers with text messages. It also shows that people are using the service when appropriate. 

If you reside in Indiana or another state where using 911 text messaging is an option, it’s important to keep a few basic guidelines in mind. Texting should be used only when calling is not possible, i.e. if the victim is deaf, speech-impaired, choking or in a situation when speaking is unsafe, such as during a home invasion or abduction. For example, earlier this month an Indianapolis woman texted that she was being abducted, which resulted in her rescue by police on Interstate 70 in Vigo County. The abduction helped raise awareness about 911 texting as a viable solution in emergency situations.  

Additionally, in order to send a successful emergency text, the victim must have a text messaging program on his or her phone and send the message to a 911 call center or Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) that accepts emergency text messages. 

 

July 24, 2015

The Great Fake Traffic Swindle

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$7.5 billion. That’s the size of the black hole into which hundreds of companies have inadvertently thrown their digital advertising budgets in the past few years, according to a Moz.com article. Most of these companies never realized their marketing dollars weren’t being spent wisely.

 

What Happened?

How did companies manage to lose $7.5 billion on Internet marketing traffic that never existed?  Investigators point to three key facts:

 

  • At least half of the paid online display advertisements companies have purchased over the past few years have never been seen by a real human.
     
  • Nevertheless, ad networks and agencies were often driven to sell these ads by the presence of “volume discount” kickbacks, which made them profitable for the sellers in the short term – even if the ads did not operate as promised.

  • Instead of real people viewing the ads, bot traffic was used to artificially inflate the number of “people” who were supposedly viewing the ads.  These bot-traffic numbers both impressed the companies who purchased the ads and, in a cost-per-click agreement, cost them money.

 

The Rise of Non-Human Traffic

Bot traffic is also known as “non-human traffic,” because it results in increased impressions without the intervention of real people.  Instead, traffic comes from bot programs that mimic human behavior online.  Often, these bot programs are installed on hacked devices that are operated by real people.  As potential customers browse the Web, an army of bots works quietly behind the scenes to artificially inflate ad traffic, without the human at the keyboard ever knowing – or seeing any of the ads the bots are pretending to view.

Not all bots are bad.  Google and other search engines use bot programs to find web pages to include in search engine results.  But bot traffic that’s used to drive up search engine results offers zero return on investment for companies.  

 

From Bots to Buyers: How to Place Your Content in Front of Real People 

No company wants to spend money with no hope of ROI.  Fortunately, companies can take steps to place their digital marketing materials in front of real human audiences that are genuinely interested in what they have to offer.  Here’s how:

 

  • Ask questions.  Before signing off on digital marketing, ask how the company defines “human traffic” and whether traffic results will be verified by a third party.  Doing this demonstrates that you’re aware of potential fraud and that you won’t settle for bots.

  • Go mobile.  According to a recent Mobile Marketing Magazine article, the rate of bot traffic fraud is much lower on mobile platforms than on desktop platforms.  In-app ads may also provide an added layer of protection.

  • Leverage the power of SMS.  SMS and MMS advertising send your content directly to customer and client cell phones and tablets, ensuring there’s a real person on the other end of the line to get your message.

July 15, 2015

Swedish Blood Donors Receive Thank You Text Messages for Successful Transfusions

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Around the world, blood donation rates are at an all-time low. Britain has 40% fewer donors today than 10 years ago (according to the NHS). In the United States, only three out of every one-hundred people donate blood. The latest statistics from Executive Healthcare (EHM) shows that about 60% of the American populace is eligible to give blood, but only 5% of the people elect to give. This is a difficult problem because, despite the necessity to maintain a healthy blood supply, the Red Cross needs to find clever ways to convince donors to give.

In recent news, the Stockholm blood service may have come upon an excellent way to increase donations. If you donate blood in Sweden, you are sent an SMS text message each time your donated blood is used to save a life. The SMS texts go on to report on the impact of their donations, which can help to motivate donors as well. These “thank you” texts have created not only a way to make donors feel good about their altruism, it also is a subtle way to remind donors to come back for another donation at a later date. 

The program has been lauded as a success. Swedish citizens who participate have reported that they feel more appreciated once receiving the SMS text messages. Furthermore, donors often share the news with their peers via social media.

The outreach of the Stockholm blood service doesn’t stop there, though. Other text messages are sent to people who’ve donated before to remind them when they are eligible to donate again. In addition, the blood service has been using Facebook and email reminders to reach their potential donors as well. And it doesn’t hurt when they add light-hearted messages like “We won’t give up until you bleed.” Donors have shared that they appreciate these texts as well, since people often forget to donate amid their busy schedules.

Finally, on Stockholm blood service’s website, they have a chart giving a running total of how much blood of each type is left in stock. The idea is that if people know that the blood service is in need, then the people will be more likely to give.

There’s scientific proof that these techniques work. In a study by Johns Hopkins, researchers examined a Facebook initiative that allowed friends to share their organ donations in their status updates – the study observed a 21-fold increase of organ donor registrations in a single day! 

While this program currently only exists in Stockholm, it is likely that similar programs will be rolled-out throughout Sweden. Other countries, like Britain and the United States, are searching for similar techniques to get people to donate. The NHS Blood and Transplant service in the UK is looking to create some viral advertisements to increase donor turnout. Only time will tell how much these programs actually do to increase donor turnout but, in the meantime, we can all agree that SMS text messages and social media have proven to be excellent means to motivate the general public.

July 11, 2015

EU Scraps Roaming Charges

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After two years of negotiations, the European commission, members of parliament and national ministers have reached an agreement to drop roaming charges in an effort to pave an internet fast lane for the future. Despite obvious resistance from the mobile industry, telecoms received some assurances with a side deal aimed at service providers and faster connection fees—the broader issue of net neutrality has also come into focus. 

On average, EU travelers spend £61 more than usual during a holiday. By mid-2017, roaming charges are scheduled to drop completely after an interim period beginning April of next year. This year, mobile service providers can still charge travelers to EU states as much as 19 cents a minute for outgoing calls, 5 cents for incoming calls and 6 cents per text message.  

By allowing telecom firms to charge service providers like Google, Facebook, and Netflix increased fees for faster connections, some fear smaller competitors will be forced out completely. While campaigners celebrated the dropped roaming charges, others worried the new laws were ambiguous and blurry, leaving much open for profitable interpretation.  

According to the new rules, companies can pay to use the internet fast lane only if the improved connection is determined “necessary” for the service. Whether or not “necessary” protects nonprofits, startups and public service websites has yet to be realized. However, it is clear the draft laws are making an effort to identify public interest exceptions including network security, eliminating child pornography, and improving connections for sensitive health or safety services.   

The telecom industry has condemned the legislation from the start, emphasizing its restrictive nature and potential threat to innovation and competition. For now, the votes are pro-free internet and a likely catalyst for more discussions on net neutrality. 

Compared to the EU, the United States hasn’t been as progressive on net neutrality. The EU’s new rules outlining more equal access to the internet might not be perfect, but it confirms their stance on the wider issues at hand.

The issues are of course about equal access regardless of platform, application or user. Net neutrality aims to ensure that information is not made financially inaccessible because of strict regulations placed on service providers or limited by fees and faster broadband. 

It’s likely that this particular case in the EU will spur discussions in the United States and perhaps influence the outcome of subsequent laws in the EU. Time will ultimately tell if the internet fast lane is a safe place to surf the web.   

July 02, 2015

Cuba Tackles Web Connectivity Deficit

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Last week, Cuban daily Juventud Rebelde announced government plans to expand the country’s underperforming web infrastructure by adding Wi-Fi capacity to dozens of internet centers and cutting the cost of access.

A spokesman for Cuba’s state communications company said that, as of next month, 35 government computer centers would have Wi-Fi at a cost of around $2 per hour - still unaffordable for many Cubans, but a significant step in the right direction (where Wi-Fi was available previously, it cost around $4.50 per hour to access).  

Until now, the only Wi-Fi availability in the country has been at tourist hotels. While critics say the lack of connectivity is down to fear of social unrest, the Cuban government insists the problem is a result of the U.S. embargo, and has publicly stated an intention to expand internet access across the island.  

The recent move is indicative of the government at least beginning to make good on its promise.   Another positive indicator of a shift towards the open internet access enjoyed by other countries was the government-approved Wi-Fi spot provided by Cuban artist Kcho. Established at Kcho’s Havana arts center, the spot has attracted praise from open internet advocates in Cuba and around the world who hope it is the thin end of the wedge for fairer web access in one of the world’s least-connected countries.

Cubans - and especially young people living in the capital - are as au fait with computer technology as their contemporaries in other, better-connected countries. Visitors might be surprised to see iPhones and Androids in use all over Havana; hundreds of mobile-phone stores number among Cuba’s private businesses, all of them offering ways to install offline apps, as well as providing the usual repairs. 

Things look less developed outside the capital, where there are far fewer cellphones per head, and smartphones are extremely thin on the ground. But at least, with the recent slashing of prices (by more than half) for web access, Cuba is moving slowly towards the inevitable future of a fully connected citizenry.

June 18, 2015

Adblockers are Costing Google Billions

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According to a recent report from anti-adblock tech firm PageFair, Google lost $6.6 billion in global revenue to ad blockers in 2014. The rise of ad blocking is becoming quite problematic for digital media companies, with Google so far taking the brunt of it.  

The $6.6 billion accounts for 10 percent of Google’s total revenue for last year. PageFair used Google's own revenue numbers as well as market data from research companies eMarketer and comScore to predict Google's total potential ad revenues from YouTube, search, AdSense, and DoubleClick. AdSense and DoubleClick are Google’s display advertising properties.  

"This is a relatively small sum for a global corporation with revenues of nearly $60 billion, while being a huge cash injection for a fast-growing adblocking startup in Cologne,” PageFair wrote in a blog post. “It is not credible that these funds are simply being spent on the administration of the acceptable ads program. Instead, they are presumably being reinvested in the future development of adblocking ... Although paying Adblock Plus may recover some short-term search engine revenue, it also tightens the adblocking stranglehold on the remainder of Google’s revenue." 

Adblock Plus is one of the most popular ad blockers of the moment, and the company PageFair referred to regarding its $6.6 billion figure for Google. The adblocker provides internet companies with the chance for their ads to be whitelisted should they meet an "acceptable ads" policy. Acceptable ads include what ad blockers consider non-intrusive, such as sponsored search links. Yet according to The Financial Times, bigger digital advertising companies such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Taboola must pay Adblock Plus substantial fees — up to 30 percent of additional ad revenues if their ads weren’t blocked. 

Google’s lost revenue would have been much higher if not for the digital juggernaut’s whitelisting deal with Adblock Plus, which excluded search ads from the ad blocker’s filter. Google reportedly paid Adblock Plus $25 million to exclude search ads, but subsequently “saved” $3.5 billion in 2014.

Doubleclick and AdSense got “the worst of it,” and together lost Google $2.1 billion globally in 2014. YouTube, in comparison, lost $675 million in 2014 due to pre-roll ad blocking.

“The actual global adblocking rate is probably about five per cent, while the percentage of adblocked dollars is much higher,” Pagefair CEO and co-founder Sean Blanchfield told Mobile Marketing. “There is very low adblocking among many non-western countries, where access is primarily mobile, but where the ad spend is lower.”

Neither Google nor Adblock Plus have commented on the PageFair report at this time.

May 15, 2015

The World's First SMS Referendum Took Place Last Month... in Mongolia

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For all the rapid advances in digital technology over the past decade, the business of democracy remains firmly analogue. Ever since mutterings ranging from ‘foul play’ to ‘system error’ cast a pall over the 2000 Presidential elections, electronic voting in the U.S. has been in decline, with states abandoning machines in favor of traditional pencil-and-paper voting. Voting watchdogs and analysts have major reservations about the security of a digital system if faced with committed, politically motivated hackers. Strange as it seems, electronic voting may have had it’s day.

If e-voting - which is at least supervised by election officials in a centralized venue - is on the wane, it seems unlikely that mobile voting will fare any better. For those fearful of tampering and corruption, the remoteness of casting votes via a mobile device will do nothing to reassure. 

Well, it doesn’t get any more remote than Mongolia, which last month became the world’s first country to stage a referendum in which citizens can engage with the democratic process via their mobile devices.  

Prime Minister Saikhanbileg Chimed asked three million Mongolians to air their views on the country’s dwindling economy, which, according to Bloomberg, has slowed down from a record 17.5 per cent in 2011 to around 7 per cent in 2013. The mining industry, a bedrock of the economy, is beset with legal wrangles. Foreign investment has collapsed, causing the Tugrik to fall 42% against the U.S. dollar. The government is involved in a tax dispute with Rio Tinto Group, who were slated to finance one of Mongolia’s biggest assets, the $6.6 billion Oyo Tolgoi mine. Public and political opposition to the open-cast mining industry has only fanned the flames of economic unrest.

With negotiations at a stalemate, Saikhanbileg has shrewdly recognized the only credible way out of the mess is via a public mandate. In January, just two months into his office, Saikhanbileg took to national television to offer Mongolians a stark choice to save the economy: press on with multi-billion dollar mining projects or cut spending and scale back investment in the industry. The Prime Minister invited citizens to state their preferred strategy via text message.

Four days later, the votes were in. Austerity measures received a resounding ‘no’ from the people, giving the government the go-ahead to - hopefully - revitalize the mining industry and resume negotiations with multinationals like Rio Tinto.

For the wider world, the implications of the result are perhaps less significant than the implications of the voting method. Democracy by text message had never been tried before. It seems to have worked, but only time will tell whether the Mongolian experiment is destined to be an anomaly or a historic precedent.

April 03, 2015

What Do the Israeli Elections Tell Us About the Future of Mobile Political Campaigning?

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To note that mobile and social media carry great weight in today’s world is pretty obvious. Particular events, however, offer even greater insight into the impact of mobile, such as presidential elections. Let’s take a look into how mobile affected the recent Israeli elections, as well as the influence it will likely have on the 2016 U.S. presidential race. 

 

High-Quality Targeting

Mobile media offers the possibility of high-quality targeting, as it provides advertisers with the opportunity to target very specific audiences. Political parties’ media budgets are larger than ever before, and most candidates hire dedicated agencies to run their media campaigns. New advertising platforms continue to crop up, while Facebook’s mobile-only user base recently reached the half billion mark, making it easy to reach voters during every phase of a campaign. Location-based targeting also helps considerably, as parties can look at users from specific states and determine if they should increase their advertising efforts, and if so to which audiences. 

 

Political “Gamification”

Any on-point campaign manager knows it’s important to play to voters’ increasingly-short attention spans, and are subsequently utilizing gamification techniques to harness and hold this attention. Gamification techniques have been used with success in the Israeli elections, as ads focused less on direct message transmission and instead honed in on creating an experience that featured a more subtle approach.

Entertaining mobile games that sent strong political messages were also used. For example, one Israeli election game had users engage in a “temple run” game featuring their favorite candidates. Other games were used to align opposing parties, but again in a discreet way. Gamification has made politics a more fun and engaging experience for young voters, and allows candidates to reach an audience they would otherwise have a hard time engaging. 

 

Mobile User Power 

Video content was frequently used during the Israeli elections, as videos were widely shared across social media platforms by all parties, even orthodox religious parties. U.S. mobile video ad spending has doubled over the past year, so the idea that video content will likely play a large role in the 2016 elections is imminent. Often more entertaining and less formal than the political ads traditionally seen on television, videos are dissolving the boundaries between independent political activists and official messages. Content isn’t just user-focused--it’s also user-generated. 

 

Wrap-Up

Mobile has become the favorite device of all age groups, meaning campaign managers have to scramble to create a mobile-based approach to elections if they haven’t already. Rich media, text marketing, video content, and the plethora of other mobile focused campaigns must be implemented for any candidate developing massive public outreach.

March 10, 2015

SMS Helping Sierra Leonean Become 'Citizen Reporters'

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Advances in text messaging have extended to social causes, including those fighting disease and providing assistance to third-world communities. 

International development charity Christian Aid launched “SMS Voices” in January of last year, working in partnership with ENCISS, a Sierra Leone-based governance program funded by U.K. Aid and the European Union. The program is designed to help elected officials and citizens maintain an open dialogue, and was created by Radar, a U.K. communications nongovernmental organization.

SMS Voices trained 45 volunteers from Sierra Leone’s Bo and Koinadugu districts, including farmers, traders, students, and teachers, to become “citizen reporters.” Throughout 2014 they used text messaging to report issues of concern to their local councilors via anonymous micro-reports. Issues raised included the lack of teaching materials in schools, conflict among local groups, unsafe roads and bridges, clean water access, female genital mutilation, teen pregnancy, inefficient waste management, and violence against women and children.

Messages were received by nine participating elected officials, who were instructed to respond to micro-reports through text messaging and explain to reporters their plans to rectify these issues in their respective communities. Some said they would investigate, while others claimed they would bring the issues up at council meetings or alert the relevant police officer or mayor. Whatever the decision and outcome of the reports, an effective dialogue was indeed created between officials and citizens. 

Over 300 reports were sent during the 12-month period, and towards the end of the year some two-thirds concerned the Ebola crisis. Volunteers discussed how households were affected by quarantine regulations, reported regulation breaches, and shared concerns about infection.

“During the rebel war there were no mobile phones; now with Ebola, communication is possible,” remarked Martin M B Goba, deputy chairman of the Bo District Council. “During my time in quarantine, I was able to communicate with my ward development committee with an immediate response.” Goba lost several family members to the disease.

“It’s been challenging, but it’s helping me to improve on my job and to know the problems in my community, so that I can find solutions to them,” he added. “It has improved my interaction with civil society and shown me how to act immediately and promptly to community concerns.” 

The project has demonstrated the possibility of running low-cost, innovative programs in low-resource environments, such as within Sierra Leone, where less than 10 percent of the population have access to electricity, and a mere 2 percent use the Internet. 

“I have seen change,” remarks volunteer Evelyn Turay. “I have now seen council officials in the community raising awareness on issues around teenage pregnancy and early sexual activities [of young people] which I have been reporting on.” 

As the program progresses, it’s increasingly obvious that text messaging provides a powerful tool for helping third-world communities stay engaged and empowered.