When tech becomes the best friend of the elephant -- and the rhinoceros. The World Wildlife Fund is working on electronic systems in its worldwide fight against poachers.
"We're trying to set up a kind of umbrella of technology in Africa and Asia," says Crawford Allan, an animal trafficking expert with the Fund, "to help people like anti-poaching ranger patrols on the ground."
Part of the effort is trying to cut the price of electronic tagging of animals by 15 fold using cell phone technology. And then there are pilotless, hand-launched reconnaissance aircraft. Just don't call them drones, which some feel has a deadly connotation.
"We're going to use aerial surveillance systems," says Allan, "and maybe even ground radar to try and detect them using different types of sensors-thermal imaging, night vision-so we can relay that information back in real time to the poaching patrols on the ground so they know where they need to be."
Interestingly enough, the $5 million grant to fund this comes from one the philanthropic arm of a huge tech company.
"We've seen that the poachers have an asymmetric advantage," says Jacquelline Fuller of Google Giving. "But what WWF is doing is using technologies-really breakthrough technologies-to help even the odds."
To put this stuff in perspective, consider the growing appetite for the spoils of poaching: 620 rhinos are expected to be killed in South Africa this year, compared to 10 or 20 a year before 2008...all to make bogus cancer and sexual dysfunction remedies out of their horns.
An e-book was sold on Twitter this week. Not Amazon...Twitter!
Author David Wolman sent out a tweet that said: "Buy my book 'The End of Money." Reply with the word "buy" to purchase for $5.99." Then what happens?
"If you want to buy the book, you just hit reply, type in 'buy' and send," says Marketplace's Silicon Valley reporter Queena Kim. "Presto, an electronic version of the book downloads to your tablet, smartphone or whatever device you're on. You can buy stuff off of twitter using this service called "chirpify." I actually wanted to read the book so the other night I tried it at home. Turns out its not so easy."
To buy stuff, Queena had to set-up a PayPal Account. Then she got onto Twitter and found Wolman's tweet and hit reply. Nothing happened, turned out she had replied to the wrong tweet.
"I think it's a steep learning curve," says Wolman, "and for better or worse I've put myself out there as a guinea pig."
Wolman says we're just getting a little glimpse of the promise of "Social Commerce" - that is, using social networks to sell you stuff. He says while Chirpify might not be perfect, consumers should expect to see social networks experiment more with selling you stuff directly.
"So commerce is definitely an opportunity for Twitter," says Nova Spivak, CEO of Bottlenose, a company that watches trends on social media. "We're already seeing a number of companies experiment with that. There are companies doing local deals on Twitter and certainly a lot of companies marketing their products on Twitter and now with Chirpify enabling products to be sold directly on Twitter."
Facebook's also been trying to find its footing in commerce. It recently rolled out Facebook Gifts, where you can buy friends and family presents for their birthdays or special occasions.
As for Queena, the ebook saga continues. After tweeting with Chirpify a few times, she found the right Tweet but now has to go back and link it to her Twitter account. We'll check back with her in a few weeks and see if she's successfully spending cash in her Twitter feed.