Ulwazi project founder Elizabeth Greyling and digital manager Niall McNulty have recently had an article published in the international journal Knowledge Management for Development. The article – The number in my pocket: the power of mobile technology for the exchange of indigenous knowledge – explores ways in which mobile technology could be used to collect and disseminate indigenous knowledge and local history. An online version can be accessed from Taylor & Francis.
The last decade has seen the development of online databases becoming an established norm throughout the world for the preservation of indigenous knowledge. However, in the absence of desktop computers and ubiquitous Internet access, Africa is limping behind in this quest for global information, with the digital divide ever widening and the wealth of indigenous knowledge fast disappearing for the people of this continent. In a bid to address these seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Africa is recognizing the potential of the mobile phone to enable the continent to catch up with the global information society. Since 2000 some 316 million new mobile phone subscriptions have emerged on the African continent. For them the cell phone has become an information hub, the primary interface through which to connect to Africa and to the rest of the world. A recent, promising development has been the introduction of browsers on mobile phones. This, combined with the 3G network all cellular providers have migrated to, means that ordinary Africans are accessing the Internet from their phones in ever-increasing numbers. The success of a number of Internet-based mobile applications means that the average cell phone user now associates his phone with more than just the calls he makes or text messages he sends. He can also play music, show video, find out where he is via GPS and access local and global information. This paper describes a concept for the development of user-generated content compiled in an online indigenous knowledge database, making use of current mobile and web technologies. Informed by empirical practice based on a South African case-study, the different tools are discussed, highlighting the interaction between the library, the community and the technologies. The participating role of local communities leading to enrichment of the database is juxtaposed against the library’s anchor role as custodian of the knowledge resource. The preservation of context-related local knowledge creates a digital library of relevance to local communities. Technical functionality enables the social interaction that results from knowledge sharing. Short and long-term benefits that the community stands to gain are discussed and the limitations of the model pointed out.