Cellphedia Melds Facts with Mobile Smart Mobs

When you need a quick fact at the office, you can always lift your head above “the cubes” and broadcast your request to your fellow workers — or you can reach for your cell phone and send a message to Cellphedia.

Inspired by Wikipedia, the all-volunteer, online community encyclopedia, and Dodgeball, a cell phone-based social networking service, Cellphedia allows its members to broadcast questions to its community and receive answers, all through a mobile phone.

Registration for the service is free at the Cellphedia Web site. After registering, members choose areas that they’re interested in — art, architecture, food, music, etc. A member can ask a question in any area, but the questions go to people who have chosen the area as one that interests them.

Inspired by Dodgeball

Questions and answers are sent and received using SMS text messaging on a cell phone. A compilation of questions and answers sent through the service is maintained at the Cellphedia Web site.

Cellphedia is the cerebral offspring of Limor Garcia. She created the site as part of her graduate thesis at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program. So far, money isn’t in the picture, but Garcia said she might have to look for funding sources if the service scales up. “The more I work on this, the more I realize that as it grows, it might be close to impossible for me to do this without some funding because it’s going to take up a lot of my time,” she said.

Garcia said that she has been interested in reference works since she was a child. “My dad was a book salesperson and all we had at home were encyclopedia, dictionaries and reference-type books,” she toldthe E-Commerce Times.

However, it was while she was taking a class taught by Dennis Crowley, creator of Dodgeball, that the idea for Cellphedia emerged. “I was inspired by that and the success of Wikipedia,” she said. “I wanted to bring everything together and I wanted the convenience.”

Editing Issue

Unlike Wikipedia, answers to questions via Cellphedia aren’t subjected to community review to assess their accuracy. And while multiple members might answer a question, only the first answer received by the system is forwarded to an inquirer.

Garcia noted that group editing of answers is her next priority for the service. “I’m going to open it up for people to correct answers as well,”she said.

She admitted that she does do some editing of the traffic on the system. “One of the questions was, ‘What’s the best hosting company,'” she recalled. “That’s more of an opinion so I took it offline.”

“I don’t know, at this point, if I want it to be opinions,” she said. “Maybe I will open it for opinions later on, but now it’s facts that I’m keeping on.”

Mobile Trivia

Although inspired by Wikipedia, which is geared toward creating a database of online knowledge, Cellphedia has a different orientation, Garcia explained. “The social context is very strong here,” she said. “It’s all about interaction between the people, not a database.”

According to Ross Mayfield. CEO of SocialText in Palo Alto, Calif., a developer of Wiki systems for enterprises, Cellphedia, at this point in its development, is a mobile trivia game. “Within mobile use, you have an interest in trivia,” he told the E-Commerce Times, “but there may be affordances in the tools it uses that we can’t necessarily predict.”

“People could start to use it a little bit differently than the designer predicted,” he continued. “That’s usually the case with a lot of social software.”

“Right now, it’s just a tool for mobile group forming,” he added.

Carpe Diem Data

Howard Rheingold, author of the landmark book Smart Mobs, told the E-Commerce Times that Cellphedia is an example of the trend toward the convergence of the mobile phone, computer and Internet as technologies.

“The phone gives you instant communication wherever you are,” he explained. “And the Internet enables you to connect with people who share an interest. Combining that gives you the ability to create something like Wikipedia with a social network.”

“It remains a question about whether she’s going to get a sufficient critical mass,” he noted. “Wikipedia works because there’s a sufficient number of people working on it.”

“This isn’t some kind of collective knowledge gathering for an encyclopedia,” he said. “It’s collective knowledge gathering for the need of the moment.”

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