Page last updated at 12:44 GMT, Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Mobile novels switch on S Africa

By Dave Lee
BBC World Service

A girl using her mobile phone
The story comes in 21 400-word chapters

It may not be enough room for Shakespearean verse, or Harry Potter's magic, but one bitesize novel is reaching a new audience.

Teenagers in South Africa have been downloading an m-novel - a specially-created story written just for mobile phones.

For 21 consecutive days, one 400-word chapter is posted on a mobile website every day. Fans can read and leave comments about each twist, as well as interact with characters online.

The Shuttleworth Foundation, based in Cape Town, hope the initiative will encourage more young people to engage with books and literature.

Incentives to read

The unique format is what it takes to get teenagers reading, said Steve Vosloo, communication and analytical skills fellow at the foundation.

Every day we ask readers to leave a comment, and the best comment wins air time.
Steve Vosloo, Shuttleworth Foundation

"It's really hard to get teenagers' attention," he said. "There are so many companies vying for their time that you have to incentivise their involvement.

Each day the company offers teenagers teh chance to win 100 rand (£8) of credit for their mobile phone.

"Every day we ask readers to leave a comment, and the best comment wins the air time."

The story is about 'Kontax', a group of four friends whose passion is graffiti.

Each chapter is accompanied polls and debate - and even online incarnations of the characters.

"When you register on the site you get a profile - like Facebook - you get a wall, you get a status message and you get four friends immediately.

"Those four friends are the main characters in the story. As the story develops, the status messages of the four characters reflect what happens in the story."

Improving vocabulary

The format has proved a hit with more than 43,000 visits since it began, said Mr Vosloo.

"I love how the story ends," said Sugar, a fan of Kontax. "We really do learn from the stories to improve our vocabulary."

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However, Sugar says the m-novel didn't tempt her to go out and buy a real book.

The plot was developed after holding a series of workshops with local teenagers.

"In the story we've set a couple of dilemma moments where we knew that teenagers have got strong opinions about these things and that they would comment on the site," said Mr Vosloo.

"For example, one of the teenagers finds out that her mother has HIV. And so she wants to drop out of school to go and work to support her.

"Another moment is where they find the cell phone of a missing girl. And to find her, do they go through her contacts and her deleted messages? Is it ok to do that?"

Bernard Kedge is the manager of Galloway and Porter, a Cambridge bookshop which sold its first book in 1902.

"This is sometimes how education works," he said. "Anything that actually encourages people to read more is a really excellent idea."

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