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On Beeping & Being

Accra: carpets in all the right places

Research from Microsoft Research India’s Jonathan Donner that explores the practice of beeping – making intentional missed calls. The paper draws on field research from Rwanda in 2004, categorising three different types of beeping: call back beeps; pre-negotiated instrumental beeps; and relational beeps, and discusses the rules that define the what, why and how. Related publications here.

Reacting to prevelance of this informal practice carrier’s such as MTN have introduced the Call Me service – where the user can send one of four pre-defined text message for free Please Call me, Can’t talk now. Please text me, I’ve missed you. Please call me! and It’s important. Please call me!. Given the myriad of ways that a beep can be interpreted which is a better, for whom and in what contexts?

Its probably more efficient for the carrier to send a pre-defined text message (small bits of asynchronous data) than to tie up an exchange trying to connect a call in real time (a synchronous connection), so this new service could be a win/win.

Our own research has come across forms of beeping from Helsinki teens to Indian housewives – typically, initially driven by a desire to save money. And neither is the practice restricted to telecommunications – one Chinese interviewee remembered when the default Chinese postal system was pay-on-delivery and the sender could include a short messages written on the outside of the letter. The receiver could read the message but reject the letter.

Thought for today: for every communication channel – what can be communicated for free? And on open hardware platforms whether this communication can be automatically translated into something more meaningful to the receiver? And how this affects the business model.