Friday, December 19, 2008

Necessity and Invention

While we learn the phrase "necessity is the mother of invention" as children, its not until much later that we appreciate what it is all about. The phrase came to mind while reading this article on the use of unused cellphone airtime as a form of digital currency in Africa. If only roll-over minutes could be traded for goods and services in America.

Back in India domestic help resort to
missed calls to communicate with their employers. It could be to notify them of a delayed arrival or absence. To know more details, the employer would need to call back at no cost to the domestic help - incoming calls on cell phones are free in India.

In other situations, the number of missed calls, or the number of rings before hanging up could be a pre-defined code between the caller and the callee - no one ends up paying anything and yet a message is fully communicated. This is another example of necessity spurring creativity if not outright invention.

As for the cell phone operators, they will just need some out-of-the-box thinking marketing geniuses to come with a way to monetize the huge missed call opportunity just like unused airtime has been turned to currency.

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