It is estimated that there were approximately 4.5 billion mobile phone subscriptions in the world at the end of 2009. This number is equivalent to over 60% of the world’s population.
Increasingly people are accessing the internet through broadband mobile platforms rather than only fixed lines. Smart phones, such as Apple’s iPhone, with its wide range of features, are becoming increasingly available not only in developed but also developing countries.
As a result, applications for mobile phones and other devices are taking off. Apple’s has now over 140,000 applications or iPhone “apps” available from its online store. Other manufacturers are racing to develop their own versions of this business model, some like Google using more open source approaches.
Increasingly national governments, NGO’s, international organisations along with the UN itself are starting to develop applications which can be used on mobile platforms. A number of governments have been running competitions to encourage people to develop “apps” for government using in many cases newly released government data.
What existing mobile applications may be useful for diplomats?
Let’s start with the UN. There are already a number of good UN websites and online databases etc. Most of these websites are accessible using the smart phones’ browser or through RSS feeds into such things as Google’s mobile (Reader) application. It is however, much easier to access this information directly in new apps such as UN News– this iPhone application includes over 16 feeds from all the major UN agencies. It includes very recent and breaking UN news.
Other iPhone apps that may be of interest to diplomats include Diplomacy. This one includes copies of international treaties, Geneva conventions, UN Charter, Emissions Reduction Commitments, and a range of other useful information. Another useful app may well be Current World Leaders This is a comprehensive listing of head of states and government ministers throughout the world based on the 2010 World Factbook. In a similar vein is the app World Leaders ver 1.0 – this one is based on the CIA World Book and includes over 5000 government leaders and ministers from 196 countries.
If you are looking for quick access to economic data the OECD’s FactbookiPhone app may be of interest. It presents over a 100 economic indicators (for OECD countries) in a format specially designed for the iPhone.
Finally, two interesting examples – this time at national level. Firstly, the US’s Whitehouse.goviPhone app and the UK’s Number 10. Both contain the latest news, interviews, video, photos, blogs, and live streaming of breaking events. These applications are examples of new public diplomacy, (mobile) social media approaches. In the UK’s Number 10 case, a petitions section has been included – it often carries critical material of the government’s polices submitted by users of the application.
So, not only are we likely to see more examples of apps which will help diplomats better access relevant information to do their jobs more effectively while “on the move” but we may well see more examples of more two way conversations, like the UK petitions section being enabled between governments and the public. Given the spread of mobile platforms and phones mentioned at the start of this blog this could well have a significant affect ton how governments relate to their various “publics” and how public diplomacy is practised.