Alternatives to Skype/Facebook for networks w limited connectivity

Hey Tech team,

@Elsie_Joseph, in Papua New Guinea, is exploring ways to build or increase community connectivity among communities in PNG where internet is limited and expensive. She says:

Everyone have phones and alot of people in our village use the internet but mostly on Facebook as that is the only medium they have knowledge of. Here in PNG we have both Digicel and the Government network - Telikom. Digicel though expensive have a variety of phones that people can access and have the service to back it up. Whereas Telikom whilst cheaper does not have a large variety of phones and the outlet services to back it up. That is why I thought a cheaper application of our own, similar to Skype, might be ok but then with Skype you have to purchase the credit overseas.

She’s curious about other platforms that might be appropriate for primarily mobile users who don’t want to use a lot of data and with limited wifi access. Have any of you come across interesting tools, platforms, or approaches from other places?

This is a conversation that I’d suggest putting out in public - we may get some good input from the community.

Many Europeans I know are very into WhatsApp:

WhatsApp Messenger is a cross-platform mobile messaging app which allows you to exchange messages without having to pay for SMS. WhatsApp Messenger is available for iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Windows Phone and Nokia and yes, those phones can all message each other! Because WhatsApp Messenger uses the same internet data plan that you use for email and web browsing, there is no cost to message and stay in touch with your friends.

In addition to basic messaging WhatsApp users can create groups, send each other unlimited images, video and audio media messages.

Generally, the nice thing about newer applications (including gmail, facebook and even discourse, open source software that powers our discussions here) is that they require fewer “page loads” and let you know when there is something new for you to look at. This means you don’t download so much data and also don’t need to check the Internet frequently.

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Super excited by this, but am skeptical of WhatsApp in particular. I am keen to stay away from being part of this:

I asked Nathan Freitas, a hacker friend who is very involved in SMS and use of mobile for advocacy and human rights work around the world. He recommended TextSecure (on Android) and Signal (on iOS). They can talk to each other. Here’s a great summary and installation instructions from Tactical Tech about TextSecure:

According to Nathan these two apps provide basically the same functionality as WhatsApp but with end-to-end encryption and privacy. Messages can be sent via data, for free and securely, but also via SMS when data is not available, still encrypted but exposing the recipients. Most importantly, it doesn’t include all the WhatsApp cruft from Facebook. I only access Facebook on a web browser myself and on a limited basis. I do not have any social apps installed on my devices.

I think it would be great to give TextSecure and Signal a try and if this works reasonably well we can introduce it throughout Namati as an alternative, more immediate way to keep in touch with each other beyond gmail, gchat/hangouts and discourse.

I just installed TextSecure on my android phone and it was a seamless experience. Simply replaces my SMS messaging app.

Feel free to try either of these apps and add my number (+1-206-375-7984) to your contacts, and drop me a text. :slight_smile:

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Quick update - I also installed Signal on my wife’s iPhone and we are able to communicate seamlessly. These seem to be very straightforward apps. I am also very impressed by “Whisper Systems” which developed both of these apps. It’s endorsed by Edward Snowden and run as an open source project funded by grants.

I’d welcome help with testing this out from colleagues in Sierra Leone and Myanmar and other countries around the world. @sonkitaconteh and @lauragoodwin want to give it a spin?

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