Live From Pop!Tech 2007: Saving the World Via SMS

PopSci editor Nicole Dyer is currently blogging from the Pop!Tech 2007 conference, an annual powwow of "remarkable people, extraordinary conferences, powerful ideas and innovative projects that are changing the world" currently taking place in Camden, Maine.

On my first day here at Pop!Tech, I attended a session on cool new ways to use cell phones to enact social change, which is perfect for armchair activists like myself. My favorite is a simple service called FishPhone. Want to know whether the fish you're about to order is endangered or toxic? Send a text message to 30644 with the word FISH and the name of the fish in question and The Blue Ocean Institute will text you back for free with the fish's environmental status. The verdict on tuna? Bad: "(RED) significant env problems, HEALTH ADVISORY: high mercury." Salmon is a little better: "Poll or troll (GREEN) few environmental concerns." Check out more at fishphone.org.

Another cool mobile app is called the SMS Blood Bank, which enables nurses in Kenya's local hospitals to simply send a text message to the nation's central blood repository to automatically schedule a fresh delivery when blood supplies are running low. Real-time blood levels for each local hospital are displayed on a web-based interface designed for administrators to monitor in real time.

While sending a text may not seem like the most logical way to go about solving the problem of blood shortages, consider this: There are more than 5.6 million cell phone subscribers in Kenya, despite the fact that only about 200,000 Kenyan households have electricity. Local hospitals are often entirely off-the-grid, making communications difficult.

SMS Blood Bank is the brainchild of Nathan Eagle of the MIT Media Lab—the same folks that brought us the One Laptop Per Child project. Nathan hit upon the idea of the SMS Blood Bank when he found himself donating blood two or three times a week in his hometown of Nairobi. Check out more on Nathan's work at eprom.mit.edu/bloodbank —Nicole Dyer