Create & share content using mobile phones

There are now many possibilities for creating and sharing multimedia content from your mobile phone to communicate and share information with people. This content can be shared phone-to-phone or via the internet

Using only a mobile phone you can:

A mobile phone can also be used to connect to the internet to:

With data transfer costs falling in some countries, mobile phones are now also increasingly used as a means to access the internet while on the move. Some mobile phone providers offer fixed monthly packages for internet use while others sell 'bundles' of internet time.

In certain countries with wireless compatible phones, it is also possible to access internet on your phone through free wireless 'hotspots'. Non Government Organisations (NGOs) can take advantage of this by creating specially adapted mobile versions of their websites. There are online services such as Wapple.net and MobiSiteGalore available to help you to create mobile-friendly websites.

See mobile case studies (Read more) for a variety of innovative ways that mobile phones have been used by rights advocates and NGOs.

Challenges

Further Information

More detailed information for campaigners looking to use mobile technology in their work can be found on Tactical Tech's Mobiles in-a-box website.
English: http://mobiles.tacticaltech.org
French: http://fr.mobiles.tacticaltech.org
Email: mobiles{at}tacticaltech.org

Mobile multimedia

Many modern mobile phones have built in still/video cameras and audio recorders which enable you to collect information in various ways.

When considering buying a mobile phone for you or your organisation, think about what you want to do with the mobile phone (other than making calls/sending texts) and spend some time looking at the features available on different phones to ensure that you select one that meets your needs. There are many online databases which can help you to research and compare the features of different mobile phones before you choose one to buy. The list below outlines key features of mobile phones.

Storage Capacity

Taking pictures using your phone can use up your phone's memory so it's advisable to look at either buying a mobile phone with a good amount of memory or one that can take an external memory card (which is also helpful when it comes to transferring the files to your computer).

Linking to your Computer

One very important phone feature is the ability to easily connect to your computer. Some mobile phones come with a data cable but others don't and data cables specific to each phone can be a bit difficult to find. If you are using an external memory card in your mobile, this can be removed and placed in a memory card reader (some computers have in-built ones or you can buy an external USB one) to transfer the files.

Otherwise it is best if your computer can support data transfer via bluetooth or infrared Consider your existing operating system and version (eg Mac/Windows/Linux) to ensure that your mobile will be compatible with your computer.

Below is a brief guide to using your mobile's camera, video and sound recording functions.

Stills camera

My organisation wants to buy a mobile phone, should we get one with a camera and what should we look for?

A mobile phone camera can be a very effective tool for rights advocates, especially for documenting when you are in difficult situation and a larger, 'proper' camera might draw unwanted attention.

If all you require is small images for use in emails or on a blog or website, then the camera function on most standard mobile phones should be adequate. But if you want to print your pictures, you need to think about the number of megapixels the mobile phone camera has.
The quantity of megapixels is what determines the quality of the picture the mobile phone can produce.

A 2 megapixel camera will allow you to take an image which will print out a fair to good image quality (150 pixels per inch), for a picture size of 8'' by 10''. A 3 or 4 megapixel camera on your phone will produce a much sharper image and when printing, a larger and higher quality picture.

If you are unsure about the capabilities of your phone's camera, it's worth testing it a few times, transferring a few trial images into the format you hope to use them in (email/print/web etc), before trying to use the camera for anything important.

Top Tip: Taking pictures using your phone can quickly use up your phone's memory. If you want to use your phone for taking photos it is a good idea to look for phones that have more memory or phones that can take in external memory cards. The cost of memory cards are also getting much cheaper.

Sound recording

I've recorded an interview but there is some background noise I want to cut this out and I need to edit two recordings together. How do I do this?

Sound recordings are usually saved in a file format called .AMR which is specific to mobile phones. If you want to edit a sound recording, you will first need to transfer it from your phone to a computer – this can be done using either a Bluetooth connection, memory card reader or a data cable (See section Getting media off phones below). Once its on your computer you need to convert the file type using a freeware tool such as Mobile Media Converter.

In its new format, the recording can be edited with a sound editing tool, such as the free and open source software application Audacity (link to software info on site) featured in this toolkit. Audacity includes many filters that can add effects to your sound recording or get rid of background noises.

The process can work in the opposite direction as well: you can create recordings on your computer and transfer them to your mobile phone.

Top Tip: You can even turn a sound recording into a ringtone and distribute it to raise awareness or protest around a particular issue. In the Philippines, part of an alleged conversation between the Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo became a hugely popular ringtone on mobile phones. For more ideas, see this helpful wiki tutorial or learn how to make ringtones

Video recording

I've got some good video footage of a rally but now I want to add some text and a soundtrack and make it into a short film for a particular campaign. How do I do this?

Video filmed using your mobile phone will also need to be converted if you hope to edit it. Most mobile phones save video recordings in file formats called 3GPP or 3GPP2. In order to create short films from the footage you have shot, the saved files should be converted using a freeware video converter into .AVI files.

These can then be edited using easy-to-use video editing software which may already be included in your Windows (Windows Movie Maker) or Mac (iMovie) operating system. There are also open source software packages available for converting files: Mediacoder for Windows, ffmpegx for Mac and Gtranscode for Linux. One free and open source software for editing your video is Avidemux.

Top Tip: mobile phone video quality is sufficient for creating short videos to upload on social media websites (such as YouTube, Daily Motion and Facebook) but only a few very high end phones are capable of producing anything approaching broadcast quality video which is 30 frames per second, 640 x 480 resolution. Of course, these phones are also very expensive.

Further Information

More detailed information for campaigners looking to use mobile technology in their work can be found on Tactical Tech's Mobiles in-a-box website.
English: http://mobiles.tacticaltech.org
French: http://fr.mobiles.tacticaltech.org
Email: mobiles{at}tacticaltech.org

Mobile Security and Privacy

There are obvious security concerns for individuals using mobile phones to capture video and photographic images during sensitive or conflict situations. If a phone is confiscated or found with footage that incriminates others, the owner could be put at risk. So great caution should be exercised at all times.

Special care needs to be taken if and when this content is transmitted over the mobile network as governments and authorities can pressure mobile phone service providers to hand over records of activity on particular phones and this could mean they need to hand over images you send across networks. In Zimbabwe, for example, a Telecommunications Interception Bill (passed in August 2007) allows the government to monitor activity across mobile networks and the internet. If a user's mobile number is registered with the mobile network then the ‘owner’ of the content can be easily traced.

Networks also automatically track the location of each and every active mobile phone (this is done for the purposes of routing calls and messages). This means that members of the public can be pinpointed to a specific location at a specific time. If this happens to be within a rights demonstration deemed illegal by the authorities, or it puts a user within range where they may have witnessed government brutality at a gathering, they could again be put in danger.

Mobiles with cameras also routinely store the location where an image was taken, along with details of date, time and the type of camera or phone used – called ‘metadata’ this is all part of the JPEG standard, the file format most commonly used for digital images. This information could be useful in some cases by proving that you were in a particular place at a particular time to witness an event but could also be undesirable, depending on the situation. Tools are available which enable this ‘hidden’ information to be viewed and, in most cases, removed before the image is forwarded to others. You can download a freeware tool called a JPEG Stripper which will remove metadata information from your images.

Mobile Security Checklist

For more information, visit the Security section of Mobiles in-a-box or see Security for Activists.

Further Information

More detailed information for campaigners looking to use mobile technology in their work can be found on Tactical Tech's Mobiles in-a-box website.
English: http://mobiles.tacticaltech.org
French: http://fr.mobiles.tacticaltech.org
Email: mobiles{at}tacticaltech.org

Transferring media from mobile phones

So now I have all these great photos and videos on my phone but they're no use to me there, I want people to see them. What next?

In most instances, you are going to need to transfer your pictures, videos or sound recordings from your phone to a computer so that you can either edit them, post them to your blog via the internet or use them in your communications. 

There are various ways to get images, sounds and videos from your phone to your computer, but the the most common ways are by using an external memory card and memory card reader, using a data cable,  Wifi, or Bluetooth. 

Some mobile phones come with data cables which allow data to be transferred directly to a computer. Many new high end phones include Wifi connectivity which makes it very easy to transfer data directly to your computer using the internet. 

If you neither of these options are a possibility for you, consider Bluetooth. Bluetooth is a technology which allows two handsets or a handset and a computer within close proximity of each other to transfer information between each other.

Top Tips:

 

I have my mobile phone, my computer and Bluetooth connectivity, but how do they work together? 

The computer and mobile phone should be within a 10m range of each other.

 

I have taken photos at an event and want to upload them on the web immediately for others to see  – I don't want to wait until I get back to my office computer?

This is made possible by using the free internet service, ShoZu. Using ShoZu can tag and add comments to the photos on the phone before sending them. It also allows you to add personal email addresses as destinations and send out your photos/videos via email.

For more information on how Shozu works, see our Mobiles in-a-box toolkit.

 

Sending Multimedia messages

Multimedia messages allow users with MMS-capable phones to send text, photos and video to one another across a mobile network. MMS can be used to send images/videos to people, as part of a campaign, or to news sites to report on or publicise an event.

Unlike with Bluetooth, MMS does not require the two phones transferring images to be close to each other they can even be in separate countries. Different phones compile MMS messages in different ways, but it essentially involves a similar process to email, where pictures, video and sound files can be sent as attachments.

Although the potential of MMS is great, you should bear in mind that the cost of sending and receiving these files varies greatly between mobile phone service providers and countries. Before you start using MMS as a way of exchanging images or video, it is worth finding out about the costs that will be involved. Also bear in mind, that the MMS function normally has to be set up by the service provider you can find out about this by calling your provider's customers service centre.

Top Tip:  If your intended recipient is unable to receive the MMS for some reason (perhaps the mobile phone is not MMS-enabled, or it is an older handset), then the user will receive a standard text message pointing them to a website where they can view the message and attachments online.

Further Information

More detailed information for campaigners looking to use mobile technology in their work can be found on Tactical Tech's Mobiles in-a-box website.
English: http://mobiles.tacticaltech.org
French: http://fr.mobiles.tacticaltech.org
Email: mobiles{at}tacticaltech.org

Using mobiles to update blogs and websites

Sometimes I just want to make a quick news update to my organisation's website but I may not be near a computer, can I do it with my mobile phone?

There is enormous potential in using mobile phones to update blogs and websites; unfortunately it is still fairly challenging to do, although this is likely to change in coming years. 

If you use content management software, Drupal (Read more) you can use the Drupal Mobile Media Blog service to post images and videos to your site via the email or MMS function on your mobile phone. 

Some internet-based blogging systems such as Blogger, Orkut and Livejournal have specially designed mobile-friendly versions which will allow you to update your blog via your mobile phone. These are probably the best and most user-friendly avenues for keeping your blog up-to-date via a mobile phone.

If you already have a Wordpress blog there are currently two Mobile phone applications for accessing and updating your blog from your mobile phone. These are currently only two versions available for: Blackberrys and Apple Iphones.  For Typepad blogs, you can download the Typepad Mobile application. This unfortunately is also only available for a limited number of high-end mobile phone models (typically smartphones as explained below).

Top Tip: Although almost any phone with GPRS or 3G (mobile internet access technology) connectivity is able to connect directly to websites like Blogger or Orkut, there are only a limited number of mobile phones that actually enable you upload pictures. If this is an important consideration for your organisation, then getting a smart phone with full internet capabilities is probably your best option.

Micro-blogging

Flickr, Facebook, Youtube and Myspace all have mobile-friendly versions of their websites so you can upload your videos and images straight from your mobile phone onto your profile/group for others to see.

But my organisation has numerous web profiles and pages, it's very time-consuming to update them all individually?

To do this you need to use an internet service which creates a mashup between all your sites and allows you to update them all together, all at once.

Try out Ping.fm. Registration is completely free and it allows you to identify your different social networking accounts (eg Facebook, Twitter and a Wordpress blog) and then update all of them simultaneously from your mobile phone. For example when you update your Facebook status, the same update instantly goes to your Twitter profile and your blog. Ping.fm does all the hard work for you.

This service currently supports 40 different social networking sites (although it is adding more all the time) and it allows you to send text, images and will soon allow videos too.

You do not pay for this service, you just pay your usual mobile internet rates.

A similar mashup service is Fring also free to download and use. Fring allows you to merge all your contacts from social networks such as Skype, Google Talk, Facebook, Twitter (and more) in one complete profile for yourself. What this means is that before if you wanted to make a skype call or send an instant chat message via Google Chat to someone, you would have to open both those applications independently. Fring allows you to chat, phone and interact with all your contacts from one site and again, straight from your mobile phone.

It is currently supported in over 200 countries, only for a limited number of handsets but this is due to change shortly. The application is available to download via SMS from the Fring website.

Top Tip: Both these services are particularly useful when trying to spread information rapidly to a great number of people.

Twitter

A very popular service for individuals and organisations is Twitter which can be used via a computer or mobile phone. It allows users to send 'updates' (text-based posts called tweets) up to 140 characters long via SMS (text message), instant messaging, e-mail, the Twitter website or any application that can connect to these services. This is a very effective tool to communicate with a number of people at once who will probably have mobile phones but may not have access to a computer and internet.

Twitter has been used for a range of advocacy purposes – for example, Egyptian human rights activists have used it to let people know whether they are safe or have been arrested (http://bit.ly/EIRA0) and Iranians used it to draw attention to and publicise protest events after the 2009 election (http://bit.ly/indBH).

'#hash tags' provide a way for people using Twitter to search for updates that have a common topic. If you are at an event, you can tell people to use a specific #hash tag so that all of their updates will be aggregated. This may also happen more organically, as it did when people began using the tag #iranelection after the 2009 elections in Iran, or #hiroshima to mark the anniversary of the day an atomic bomb was dropped on Japan by the US. 

Twitter's great disadvantage at the moment is that using it via your mobile phone will incur the cost of an international text message unless you are in the US, the UK, Canada or India. There is some concern about privacy and authentication methods on Twitter. You are advised to be cautious about putting sensitive information out over Twitter. For further information see this blog.SpyWare.Guide resource.

Further Information

More detailed information for campaigners looking to use mobile technology in their work can be found on Tactical Tech's Mobiles in-a-box website.
English: http://mobiles.tacticaltech.org
French: http://fr.mobiles.tacticaltech.org
Email: mobiles{at}tacticaltech.org