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04TH February 2011

A Line In the Sand - Culture - Entrepreneur - Geopolitical - Mobile - Timely

Pyramid Scheme: how mobile proliferation will rock our world beyond Cairo

Keops (aka Khufu) was built in the 4th Dynasty for the Pharaoh du jour. Messages carved in stone unanimously glorified the ruler and were hard to read.

Oh what a difference 4,500 years can make.

Tomorrow’s Egypt  is emerging 140 characters at a time, as cartouches have been traded for mobile phones and information is no longer the sole ward of the state. On my trip down the Nile awhile back, I was amazed to learn that controlled messaging dates back to Ramses III. They literally chiselled off hieroglyphs when power changed… and the new ruler appropriated the legends of his predecessors. No one dared challenge what was written in stone, as long as the Big Man had the muscle to enforce the message —  and the masons who chiseled them. Whispers of discontent certainly existed, but never reached very far beyond those stones.

Today the whispers travel in a different way: posted in Facebook and Twitter, they come with damning video.  They ricochet across oceans in milliseconds. And they gain momentum, swaying the mob, quickly. Raw and short, they gain credibility if accurate, and if not, are quickly debunked. The crowd usually polices itself and it’s messages. And those crowds form and disperse, online and in the real world, through the networks they have built. (Moment of  irony to prove the point: Cellufun’s Call of the Pharoah has 250,000 uniques per month, and it’s only a mobile game with virtual coins at stake.) Take those networks away, as Mubarak did in his version of “The Night the Lights went out in Georgia”, and the locals only get more upset, while abroad, the human rights activists rally.

And while it may all seem a fickle virtual world, I think it’s just the speed of information that is making things look volatile.  Nothing happened fast when reported by chisel, but things DID evolve once the word got around. So the world grinds on, but the pace keeps quickening. And while these numbers sound awesome, fast and large, I think the ways that we use mobile is still in its infancy. Cisco seems to agree in this week’s white paper, expecting 25x growth for mobile data over the next 5 years. The graph simply goes up and to the right, like the pyramids. (More on who pays for all this, in another post).

And so, whoever leads Egypt, will have to drop the chisel and respect the smartphone. Word gets around, the pace only gets faster from here and dark shadows are getting harder to find.

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