Using Smartphones and Portable WiFi Hotspots to Tell Your Story

More than any other time of the year it's a great time to tell your compelling library story. To quote a somewhat recent YouTube blog piece, "If a picture is worth a thousand words, then is a video worth a million?" May well be. TechSoup has some tools that may come in handy.

Storytelling with Mobile Video

Here's an idea for using smartphones with good cameras and video capability like the Dell Venue Pro touch screen phones for digital story telling:

Send someone out to video compelling work that your nonprofit or library is doing out in the field for your holiday message. It's reasonably easy to upload videos to Facebook or YouTube even without the phone being on a data plan.

The donated Dell smartphones normally use AT&T or T-Mobile pay-as-you-go or contract plans, but they can function without it because they are WiFi-capable. You can essentially use them as a $31 (admin fee) HD mobile recording device.

TechSoup's Ale Bezdikian went out and conducted a video interview last spring using one of the donated Dell phones. Her Moments In Mobile piece describes the experience.

It's important to note that not all smartphones are WiFi-capable. Some smartphones like iPhones and Dell Venue Pro phones can connect to the Internet via WiFi and even do Skype calls.

Having WiFi on a cell phone means it can connect to any wireless network just like a laptop computer.


Having WiFi makes a phone function a bit like the new "phablets," touch screen devices that combine some phone and tablet computer functionality. The Samsung Galaxy Note series of phones are the best known phablets as yet.

I think one of the most interesting phablet-type features of the Dell Venue Pro smartphones is their Windows 7 Microsoft Office Mobile app that comes preloaded on the device and allows users to view and edit Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel documents and use Outlook for email.

The Office Mobile apps are of course compatible with their desktop counterparts. One special note, the Dell Venue Pro smartphones use the Windows 7 OS and do not upgrade to Windows 8. 

Making Your Own WiFi Hotspot

So, you're heading out armed with your handy WiFi-enabled phone to do some recording. What if you have trouble finding a wireless network exactly where you need one? No problem. You can actually make your own with another TechSoup product donation, Mobile Beacon.

Mobile Beacon offers handy mobile hotspot hardware devices that provide you with 4G mobile broadband Internet service. The Mobile Beacon 4G coverage area is in major US cities in 35 states and also Washington DC.

Eligible nonprofits and libraries can apply to get the Mobile Beacon Clear Spot G4 Voyager device for a $15 admin fee, and the mobile broadband data plan is a $10 per month admin fee (with a one year contract). The Mobile Beacon device, by-the-way, works well with the donated Dell phones.

People's Emergency Center WiFi Hotspots

People's Emergency Center (PEC) in Philadelphia has been using Mobile Beacon quite a bit under a government-funded project that's part of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program. They're a homeless services and neighborhood revitalization nonprofit that serves West Philly.

Tan Vu, PEC's Director of Digital Inclusion, told me that they're using them to provide broadband to families in their transitional and permanent housing programs. 

PEC is also running 20 computer training labs as well, called Keyspots, where kids can earn a free refurbished desktop. Adults also go there to get training, netbooks, and the Mobile Beacon hotspot devices, which they set up at home. PEC has delivered 80,000 hours of training to 50,000 people since 2010 in these labs.

Tan Vu said that families often elect to take the computers and Mobile Beacon devices with them when they leave, once they find out how useful broadband and computers are for their children.

He also described how PEC is using Mobile Beacon devices to set up ad hoc computer training labs in the city. He says they can set up a lab in less than a half hour. They recently put up a lab with 30 PCs in a community center to provide voting information to low-income people.

CEO and President of People's Emergency Center, Farah Jimenez, is grateful for tools like these that further multiple digital inclusion programs. She is also grateful for renewed funding in this area, and says "BTOP opens new doors for homeless families. It puts them on the path to opportunity."

Learn more about BTOP-funded projects like this and digital inclusion from our TechSoup for Libraries blog.

Tell Your Story

There are a ton of great nonprofit and library stories out there well worth a video or a million words. If you're interested in using your phone for digital storytelling, check out TechSoup's App it Up! Project for lots of great resources for nonprofit and library apps. You can check out the Windows Phone Marketplace to see the array of Windows 7 apps (many of which are free) to use with donated Dell smartphones.

Also find out much more about how nonprofits and libraries are using mobile devices for digital story telling via our TechSoup Digital Storytelling Challenge (TSDigs). Watch for more details to come for the 2013 TSDigs soon.