Wednesday, 29 October 2008

New platforms for telephony and mobile phone services

As many of you know from our questionnaires and newsletters, we have been actively exploring how we can use mobile phones to extend access to AIDSPortal tools and services.

The reason for this?

Well, as of June 2008 only 5.3% of Africans have Internet access. Meanwhile 280.7 million Africans now have mobile phones - that's 30.4% of the population. The situation is better in other regions that we work (like Latin America), but still an issue among vulnerable groups. As a result we see mobile phones (or cell phones) as an important channel to enable people to access and share information.

There are an increasing number of tools available to help NGOs use mobile phones. See MobileActive's website for a useful directory of tools and providers. However, we have found that many of these tools are either commercial (requiring a license) or are local applications (and must be run from a PC hooked directly up to a mobile phone).

Since AIDSPortal works with both regional and national partners, including in Eastern and Southern Africa and Latin America, we are ideally looking for tools that can be run from a server, rather than a local PC. This makes it easier for information shared by someone in one country (using a mobile phone) to be accessed by someone in another country.


One such server based platform is currently under development. MobiLED is an open source telephony platform developed by the Meraka Institute of the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

MobiLED currently includes the following tools:

Audio Wiki

The audio-wiki application allows the users to use the standard text messaging capability of the mobile phone (SMS) to request an article from the MobilED platform.


HaDeHa enables a teacher to type in a list of spelling words through a web browser (which may be Opera mini on a cell phone). The web application creates wav files for each word. It then generates a complete stand along Java midlet which pupils can down load onto their phones. The pupils can then practice their spelling words with the midlet playing the wav file and then testing the input from the pupil.


IGLOO aims to supply educators with a mobile application that can be used to facilitate and support pedagogic practices in formal and informal learning scenarios as well as provide practitioners with a tool they would be able to use for data gathering using mobile technology.


M-Tutor is a technology platform that was developed to allow tutors to handle high volumes of participants asking questions. This was a client/server solution using the MXit commercial platform.

While originally focused on the educational sector, we are now working with Meraka to explore how this platform could be adapted to the HIV and health sector.


Another platform under development is Mobilisr. Launched at the recent Mobile Active 2008 conference, Mobilisr has been developed by the Praekelt Foundation, Cell Life, UPFRONT Systems and Hello Computer.

Mobilisr offers the following modules:

  • Bulk Messaging
  • Interactive SMS
  • USSD or Unstructured Supplementary Data Service to enable you to deliver WAP-like content
  • Campaign Building to support large campaigns with many different actions, each with its own timing and reporting requirements
  • Database and list management
  • Reporting
  • Data Capture
  • And many more. See here for a full list of features.
We've started talking with the Praekelt Foundation to learn more about this platform and understand how AIDSPortal partners might use it. This is a fast moving area with some interesting initiatives underway. We hope to be able to work with the different partners behind these initiatives to identify tools that can support our network of partners.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Social Networking: What we learned from Facebook.

The world over we hear about MySpace, Facebook , Orkut and Hyves. These sites have become the leaders in social networking within our electronic worlds, providing opportunities to connect with friends and share stories and photos. With networks drawing together as many as 90 million active users (such as with Facebook), what potential is there for marketing social products and services?

If 4,370,615 monthly active members use the ‘SuperPoke’ application on Facebook to throw a sheep at a long lost friend, how many would use an application to spread the word on an issue like HIV and AIDS?

To satisfy my curiosity concerning the success of these networks I volunteered my services to the AIDSPortal team to help AIDSPortal market itself on Facebook.

When I joined the team, there were already a number of Facebook applications (HIV Events, HIV Jobs, HIV News) as well as an AIDSPortal Page to offer updates on activities. (On the top left corner of this posting is an example of the format of the HIV Jobs application.) These applications are updated by RSS Feeds (see this blog page for more on RSS and how to use it) which ensures that all new information posted on the AIDSPortal website (relevant to the applications) is updated regularly on Facebook. As a result, my focus was to promote the applications within the Facebook community.

I began my journey into Facebook marketing by reading all the data provided by Facebook on viral marketing. Facebook offers the following suggestions:

• Create a human element to your organisation and personalize your business.
• Update the information on your page frequently.
• Strategically act, so to ensure that your data is published on Newsfeeds.

From April until June 2008, I sent out updates to fans and updated the AIDSPortal application page frequently. Additionally, during the first couple of weeks, I joined 191 HIV and AIDS related Facebook groups and personally invited their members to ‘become a fan’ of the AIDSPortal applications. These groups vary in memberships, where the largest, AIDS / HIV Research group, has 25 827 members and the smallest Project Positive have only 8.

I was surprised by the low response. Facebook seemed to be a ready-made vehicle for viral marketing. Are people really more interested in throwing a sheep than in contributing to a social cause?

In analysing the experience, I feel a number of factors may have contributed to the low response:

Placement: The ‘Become a Fan’ link could only be found on the Applications’ About Page and not on the Application page itself. A small but critical error which could have impacted the small growth of our ‘fan base’.

Reaction Time: Postings on Group sites have a delayed reaction time and therefore possible members will only join at a later stage.

Notifications: Facebook members no longer receive notifications of new postings on group sites (possibly due to the growing numbers of complaints of misuse), therefore they will only see the posting if they visit the specific site.

Saturation of applications and groups: Almost daily the numbers of applications and groups increase and this makes it increasingly difficult to choose one from the other. Instead of attracting members saturation, within this platform, discourages membership.

Newsfeeds: Information about AIDSPortal was not shared in Newsfeeds. To be advertised in Newsfeeds, discussion forums on AIDSPortal should be listed as events to which Facebook members are invited.

While my initial foray into Facebook marketing was disappointing, I do recognise that the Applications are still in their early stages and Facebook still has potential to be of use to AIDSPortal as a social networking tool. We are continuing to run and update applications and will keenly investigate our Facebook user numbers every month. We are eager to see where Facebook will lead us on this new and innovative process of social networking – maybe we can even add a Red Ribbon to the Super Poke application.

(To find out more about social networks, please view the following video)

Monday, 21 July 2008

What I learned about knowledge management and development in Portugal

As i get deeper into the world of knowledge management i have realised there is a global network on just that - knowledge management for development. KM for Development (KM4Dev) is a community of international development practitioners who are interested in knowledge management and knowledge sharing issues and approaches.

In June I participated in their (our : ) annual KM4DEV conference. This year it was held in beautiful Almada, Portugal (next year in South Africa). This was my first KM4Dev and I didn’t quite know what to expect, by the end of it I found my self inspired, energized and full of new ideas to apply and share what I learned in an AIDSPortal context. Over 80 KM4Dev practitioners from around the world attended, many of them have just recently joined the network. There were both people from large NGOs and agencies, research organisations, as well as number of indepenent consultants. See full list at

Meeting objectives were to link together individual networks, overcoming shared challenges and to strengthen the current network through face2face meetings and discuss future directions and development of the KM4Dev for development.

The main event was entirely open space, ie. Participants determined the agenda, the timing and content of each workshop. My first open space. Topics were varied and diverse. They included:

  • How to create a sense of community online
  • Social networking
  • Using mobile phone technology in KM
  • Cultural and language barriers of KM
  • KM in low connectivity countries

All notes from open space session are available on the KM4Dev wiki. Click here to access.

To explore the various odds and sods that I took on board please go to the following sites:

KM4dev on flickr

KM4Dev on youtube

KM4Dev 2008 blog

To find out more about KM4Dev go to

To sign up to the mailing list just send a blank email to:

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Knowledge is power: Kenyans enthuse over AIDSPortal tools

Anne Babcock, AIDSPortal Facilitator ran an AIDSPortal training day along with KANCO colleagues, Lenard Odini and Kennedy Cheruiyot. The conference room at KANCO offices was filled to the brim with 25 participants from NGOs all over Nairobi. It was a lively day complete with much discussion and questions.

The focus of the training was how AIDSPortal can…

· Strengthen networking

· Coordinate activities

· Improve consultation

· Improve information sharing

The feedback at the end of the day was overwhelmingly positive. Everyone had an opportunity to discuss respective activities and learn how to connect online with each other and other professionals across the region.

One participant responded, “The training was a good eye opener for all of us. I have experience I’ve wanted so much to share but had no idea how until now.”

Anne and the KANCO team hope to run follow up training sessions throughout Kenya during the year.

Thanks to everyone who participated!

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Private Sector Mobilisation and Civil Society Linkages

I recently attended the Pan African Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS (PABC) conference, held in Johannesburg May 20 – 22, 2008.

The PABC aims ‘to be the engine of private sector mobilisation in the fight against HIV and AIDS across the African continent.’ Ultimately, the PABC supports in-country coalitions to take effective action on HIV and AIDS. Participants in the conference identified common issues facing business coalitions (such as funding, information sharing and membership) as well as regional issues. For example, while business coalitions in East and Southern Africa are relatively well established, there are challenges to setting up and sustaining coalitions in Central and West Africa.

In terms of the AIDSPortal initiative, we are interested in exploring how AIDSPortal information services can both support information flows within business coalitions as well as between business coalitions and civil society groups.

Since AIDSPortal began, the initiative has aimed to promote information flows and networking between civil society, government and the private sector. While both civil society and the private sector are proactive about making linkages with government, the link between civil society and private sector is often the weakest. While each group lists the other as a key stakeholder, they are more often seen as competition in the race for funding rather than a partner. I found it telling that, while government and international agency stakeholders were well represented at the PABC conference, civil society groups were markedly absent.

There are two questions that come to mind when thinking about how to build linkages between the private sector and civil society:

How can the private sector identify community based organisations that can help them provide services to the communities around them?

How can the private sector meaningfully consult with the communities in which they work?

These are the questions that will guide the ongoing development of AIDSPortal services and I look forward to working with partners, such as the PABC, to explore answers that bring added value to both the private sector and civil society.

To learn more about the PABC:

Saturday, 24 May 2008

What is an RSS feed and how can I use it?

Many of our partners are interested in RSS feeds and have questions about what they are and how they can use them. In this post we'll try and give you some background and explain how you can make use of RSS feeds.

Really Simple Syndication?

Wikipedia defines Really Simple Syndication or RSS as 'a family of Web feed formats used to publish frequently updated content such as blog entries, news headlines, and podcasts in a standardized format'. You may have come across this icon: It is now commonly used to show when an RSS feed is available. You may also have heard of 'subscribing' to an RSS feed. RSS feeds offer a way for websites to make their content available beyond people visiting it using a browser like Internet Explorer or Firefox. Using an RSS feed a website can enable 'subscriptions' to it's content via email, a news reader or even another website.

So in short RSS is an easy way to:

1. Keep track of new information on many websites via email or a newsreader
2. Automatically display information from one website on another

Have a look at the following video from Common Craft for a simple explanation of how RSS helps you do the former.

How can I use RSS to keep track of different websites?

As the video shows, RSS makes it easy to see what is new on a number of different websites. Instead of having to go to each site in turn you can view a list of new information that has recently been added. To make use of RSS feeds you first need to choose how you want to view them. There are many different options, so we will focus here on two of the simplest.

1. Using Google Reader

For those of you already using gmail or that have some kind of Google account, this is very easy. Simply go to to get started. As in the video above, you can easily add any number of feeds to Google Reader. They all appear in the bar on the left and you can quickly sift through them.

2. Using Live Bookmarks

If you regularly use the same computer and your lucky enough to have a recent version of Firefox or Internet explorer as your browser, then you could also use something called Live Bookmarks. This is possibly even easier than using Google Reader, as you can do it all from within your browser. Any feeds that you subscribe to appear in your bookmarks (or favourites) bar, exactly as they do when you bookmark a website. Except in this case, if you click on the bookmark they open up to show you a list of new things added to that site. See below for an example.
How can I use RSS to add information to my website?

So RSS can help save time and also money for those with limited access to the Internet. It makes it easy to quickly check and see what is new. However, for those that have their own websites, it also offers a great way to automatically add interesting new content to your site.

As you can see on this blog, we have a list of news stories from AIDSPortal. We've done this using an RSS feed. It's a little more complicated than using Live Bookmarks or Google Reader, but luckily several websites are around that make it easy for us. Widgetbox is one example.

When you arrive at the site it gives you the option to create a 'widget' from an RSS feed.
Having entered the RSS feed that you want to display on your website, you are presented with a variety of options to choose how you want the feed to display. The end result is some short code (javascript or flash) that you can cut and paste into the html on your website. You can see the widget we created here, which looks like this:

Click on the link at the bottom of the widget if you would like the code to add this to your website.

How can I make my own RSS feed?

So, you know how to subscribe to feeds and maybe you've even added some feeds to your website. However, what if your own site or the site you want to keep track of doesn't have it's own feed?

There are several ways to make an RSS feed available for a website, most of which require some technical know-how and ability to make changes to the website itself. However, there are now some very easy ways to create an RSS feed with no technical knowledge. Dapper (or data mapper) is one option that we have found works very well. Dapper's aim is 'to make it easy and possible for anyone to extract and reuse content from any website'.

The 'Dapp Factory' really is very easy to use. You can watch a video here that explains how to do it. We've used Dapper to create a number of different feeds. This one takes information from the AIDSPortal events page and makes it available as an RSS feed that shows a list of HIV related events from around the world.

We hope these ideas and techniques are useful to people. If you have experiences of using WidgetBox, Dapper or other applications then do let us know by leaving a comment below.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

PortalSIDA - Spanish and Portugeuse information on HIV and AIDS

The International HIV/AIDS Alliance and AIDSPortal have formed a partnership to develop PortalSIDA, a Spanish language knowledge sharing and networking website for the HIV community in Latin America.

PortalSIDA is the virtual component of a Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) Knowledge Management Centre. It offers Latin American and the Caribbean organisations a place to access and share information about their work on HIV and AIDS and network with each other.

Through PortalSIDA you can:

* Electronically share, organise and access Spanish language information, including policy, best practice, programme experiences, events, and jobs

* Connect people and organisations involved in national responses to HIV and AIDS across Latin America and the spanish speaking caribbean

* Consult and provide feedback on key policy or programmatic topics

PortalSIDA is linked to the AIDSPortal, a global initiative that aims to facilitate greater knowledge sharing and networking among organisations involved in the response to HIV and AIDS. The AIDSPortal initiative develops or adapts simple tools that can support country-led networking and knowledge sharing. This includes the English language tools on AIDSPortal ( and the Spanish language tools ones in PortalSIDA (

The AIDSPortal initiative also links PortalSIDA with other regional initiatives (currently in Southern and Eastern Africa) in order to promote global knowledge sharing, facilitate south-south linkages and enable HIV professionals to identify emerging trends across regions. PortalSIDA will be launched at the International AIDS Conference in Mexico in August 2008.

If your organisation has information in Spanish you wish to share through the PortalSIDA, please send it to or login and upload it after the launch.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

What AIDSPortal users are looking for: results from our survey

In March 2008, AIDSPortal users from 26 countries completed a basic survey on how AIDSPortal can better meet users’ knowledge management needs. 19% respondents were from the UK, 19% from Kenya, 10% from South Africa and 6% from India.

Overall, AIDSPortal users are looking to AIDSPortal for the following key services:

  • Knowing ‘who is doing what’ at a country level
  • Training and professional development opportunities, particularly around online information sharing
  • Opportunities to exchange information, especially content that can be used in the community

With this focus, it makes sense that users are looking for ways to make AIDSPortal easy to use and easily adaptable to their particular needs. This includes being able to personalise AIDSPortal, receive alerts and being able to add information from AIDSPortal to other websites.

While some users would find it useful to receive information by cell phone or fixed phone (25%), 75% of users find receiving an email with downloadable information very important or essential to their work.

Most users feel that services on AIDSPortal should be free (90%) but the services that users would pay for include skills training and being able to place advertisements. The majority of users felt that advertising and sponsored links to useful sites could appear on AIDSPortal (80%) and that AIDSPortal can run surveys and polls in order to fund itself (92%).

AIDSPortal will use these results to guide the technical development of the ‘Next Generation AIDSPortal.’ AIDSPortal is committed to exploring and combining innovative technologies to support people-driven knowledge exchange and strengthened responses to HIV and AIDS around the world.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

New networking features

AIDSPortal is always trying to make it easier for people to use the Internet to more effectively connect with people and resources. A popular feature of the website is the global contacts directory, however anyone who has worked on a contact directory knows how hard it is to keep up to date.

As a member driven site, AIDSPortal has introduced a number of new features that let members not only update their own profiles, but also use other online applications to help others learn about their work.

Login to AIDSPortal and click on 'edit profile' in your toolkit to:

- Edit your contact information (including your user name)
- Change your password
- Write a bit about what you are currently working on or interested in
- Request a new password (if you've forgotten yours)

We've also added some new features to your profile that improve integration with some other popular services:

Skype - Add your skype name to your profile to let people see when you are online and easily call you. One click on the button opens up skype and places the call.

- If you use flickr to publish your photos, you can now add a flickr feed to your AIDSPortal profile. Just go to your photos on flickr and look for the option to 'subscribe to your photos' as in the image below. Click on 'latest' and then cut and paste the url into the flickr box on your AIDSPortal profile.You should now see some thumbnails of your latest photos displayed on your profile. They link back to your flickr page and offer a great way to let people know what you've been up to.

RSS feeds - Do you produce an RSS feed from your own website? Want to share it with other AIDSPortal members? Read on, now is your chance.

If you have no idea what an RSS feed is don't worry. We plan another posting soon to explain more about RSS, what it stands for and most importantly how you can create RSS feeds and use those created by others.

It's now easy to add an RSS feed to your AIDSPortal profile. Just edit your profile and drop in the URL for the feed. You will then see the feed displayed like this. - Do you use this popular social bookmarking website? If you've saved some useful bookmarks on you can now share them with other AIDSPortal members. Simply enter your username on your profile and your 'tag cloud' will be displayed for others to see. This is a great way to share useful websites with other AIDSPortal members. We will feature some of the best bookmark collections in the future and also look at ways to group together people's bookmarks to see which websites are most popular.

Organisation profiles

Finally, a brief word on organisational profiles. As a member, you can now also become an organisation moderator. This allows you to directly edit and add to your organisation’s profile on AIDSPortal. You can update contact information, add a summary of your organisation’s work and your logo – helping you get the word out about who you are and what you are doing.

Contact us if you'd like to request this.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Changing the world one Facebook group at a time

Who has eagerly joined a ‘group’ on facebook devoted to whatever worthy cause only for it to remain completely inactive? It appears merely as a line on your list of other inactive facebook groups. Even though it’s “only Facebook”, it leaves me disillusioned about the influence of the web on building community and promoting social change. Nevertheless there is an increasingly strong case to be made for the potential centrality of the internet in connecting and mobilising individuals around common concerns, interests and goals.

In mid-March I attended a conference aimed at exploring new forms of social organisation, practices that lead to change and ideas about the use of online tools to influence and democratise society. The Web 2.0 ethos framed the two days; that is changing order of information around the centrality of the user. Caroline Basset from the University of Sussex described the Web 2.0 phenonmenon well, “the fuller realization of the web platform” implying more than use but “active participation, agency and/or active networks”. Caroline challenged participants at the outset by asking, What is agency? What do we mean by participation? Does the 2.0 model imply social responsibility? And Is it naturally ethical?

I will leave these questions open-ended and unanswered; however, presentations throughout the 2 day event acted as case studies demonstrating how the internet can be used to increase individual agency and influence and mobilize social networks. Presentation highlights included an online global awareness and citizenship community for children called Panwapa and a proposal for a “collaborative aid marketplace” which sought to transform the architecture of humanitarian aid. This concept proposed to change the power dynamic of aid so civil society and the private sector work together transparently through an online collaborative network of shareholders on a virtual stockmarket.

My humblest apologies to presenters for reducing their contributions to two sentences, but they have reaffirmed how web tools have the potential to reach a broad spectrum of individuals around a common purpose. It is heartening to know AIDSPortal is part of a broader movement where participation and change are at the core. The conference gave me hope about building community focused on social change, be it not necessarily on facebook. It left me with questions for AIDSPortal. How far do we see AIDSPortal’s reach? And how can we ensure it is a community driven by active participation of its users?

For more on this PRADsa conference go to

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Help AIDSPortal to better meet your needs - survey

AIDSPortal would like to invite you to participate in a short survey that will help us to better meet your knowledge management needs related to HIV and AIDS. The survey is open until March 28th 2008 and should take no more than 10 minutes of your time. Click here to take the survey now.

Why are you asking me for feedback on AIDSPortal?

AIDSPortal is a global initiative that aims to facilitate greater knowledge sharing and networking among organisations involved in the response to HIV and AIDS. It focuses on developing or adapting simple tools that can support country led networking and knowledge sharing. AIDSPortal primarily works in partnership with networks and seeks to strengthen their ability to support the response to the AIDS epidemic.

The tools that make up the AIDSPortal knowledge management platform are focused on three key areas:
  • Electronically share and organise information, including policy, best practice, programme experiences, events, and jobs
  • Connect people and organisations involved in a national response to HIV and AIDS
  • Consult and provide feedback on key policy or programmatic topics
These tools are currently internet based (see but we are exploring how we could also use other technologies, such as cell phone and fax, in order to expand access to HIV and AIDS knowledge. This survey is the first part of a process to improve these tools, taking advantage of new needs and technical developments.

How can I learn about the survey results?

Survey results will be available on this blog as well as highlighted in the AIDSPortal monthly newsletters.

What will the results be used for?

We will use the results from the survey to better understand your needs and inform our future plans. We will make an anonymous version of the findings available to anyone interested. This will not include any comments that you make or your name, should you choose to provide it.

Thank you in advance for your participation.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Supporting country-led knowledge management in South Africa

On February 18th AIDSPortal, in partnership with HEARD and SAfAIDS, held a day long information sharing workshop in Johannesburg, South Africa. The workshop aimed to promote discussion about how a South African AIDSPortal project could support the national response to HIV & AIDS and create a space for government, civil society and the private sector to share experiences and lessons learnt relating to the four priority areas of the NSP.

We have been engaging with South African organisations since February 2006 and are continually reminded of the unique HIV and AIDS as well as knowledge management environment in South Africa. Unlike many other countries, where internet usage is limited and most HIV and AIDS resources are housed in physical resource centres, South Africa has a diverse range of strong information management initiatives focused on HIV and AIDS and based on new information and communication technology. This includes websites, portals and cell phone initiatives. In general, these have been designed to meet the needs of specific target groups, in line with urgent needs, and use effective and creative channels to disseminate information and meet these needs.

What we have found is that, in this rich information management environment, the gap lies in knowing who is doing what between sectors, particularly around shared priority areas.

As we form partnerships in South Africa and take the project forward, we hope that AIDSPortal can provide two areas of added value to the HIV and AIDS response in South Africa:

  1. Simple ways to identify, connect and share information across sectors
  2. A platform to link South African expertise and experience across sectors with cross-country learning and regional collaboration

Crucial in this process is listening carefully to the expertise of ‘infomediaries’ in South Africa, and ensuring that new knowledge management initiatives in South Africa support, connect and extend existing work.

If you would like to learn more about the workshop, the report is available here:

Friday, 29 February 2008

Welcome to the AIDSPortal blog

Hello everyone,

Welcome to the first post of the new AIDSPortal blog. We've been thinking about doing this for a while and are excited to finally get started.

Many of you are no doubt already familiar with the AIDSPortal and perhaps also receive our monthly email newsletters. While we will continue to provide these, we wanted a way to update you on ongoing developments with the AIDSPortal and to share some of the things we have learned from the work that we do.

Over the coming months we will use this blog to describe our plans for the AIDSPortal over these coming months. There are a lot of new developments in the pipeline and we would appreciate your feedback on them. Please do post any comments you have after this post.

The AIDSPortal team