Tumblelog by Soup.io
Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

December 17 2010

16:50

A Guide to Delivering Audio Content to Mobile Audiences

Prabhas Pokharel contributed research and writing to this article.



For this post, we'd like to detail the different ways people and organizations are delivering audio content to mobile phones. Distributing audio content in this manner can help you reach new and increasingly mobile audiences. It can also be a great way to reach illiterate populations or others for whom written content is not suitable. 



There are many eays to deliver audio content to mobiles: Calling listeners, providing numbers for them to call, having mobile web- or app-accessible radio, or leveraging the radios that are included in many mobiles. This post will focus primarily on projects and tools that use phone calls, or the "voice channel," to share content.



Projects

There are quite a few projects that disseminate audio content using the voice channel:

  • Freedom Fone, a Knight News Challenge winner, was deployed at two farm radio stations in Africa.
  • Gaon ki Awaaz provides listeners in rural India with audio content twice a day in their native language.
  • Avaaj Otalo lets farmers call in and listen to archived radio broadcasts in rural India.
  • Geocell and Radio Greenwave in the country of Georgia make short broadcasts available to listeners if they dial a specified number.
  • Listeners can call in to hear podcasts in the United States.
  • In India, Bubbly allows content providers to upload messages that can be broadcast to a list of followers. Listeners can follow audio content from Bollywood celebrities.

mobileaudio.jpg

How It's Being Done

Here's a basic overview of how voice-based technology is used to deliver audio content to a mobile audience. There are many other ways to share audio via data channels such as podcasts, audioblogging, mobile web radio, and apps. We'll revisit data channels in a later post.

There are many voice channel options available, including standard phone calls, call-in podcasts, IVR systems, self-hosted systems, and voice-based content management systems.

Humans answering phone calls
The simplest voice-based services can be provided by a team of operators who answer phone calls and provide information to callers. There is no need for users to go through complicated menus, or for automated voice processing. This makes these systems easy to use and install. Question Box is one example.

Call-in Podcasts
Podcasts are a very simple way to upload audio, and some services let listeners call in to listen to podcasts in select countries. The service Podlinez provides publishers a U.S. phone number that listeners can call. Bubbly is another example of a call-in podcast.

Simple IVR systems
Interactive Voice Response systems are commonly used to access audio information. Callers are prompted with menus, which they can navigate by pressing buttons on their phone keypad or by uttering short commands. Simple IVR menus can be built fairly easily:

  • VoiceXML is a specification that is widely used to develop IVR menus. VoiceXML is a simple specification language like HTML or XML. In the same way HTML code is interpreted by a web browser to produce a webpage, a "VoiceXML browser" can interpret VoiceXML code to produce an interactive voice response system.
  • In the U.S., hosted solutions like Bevocal cafe offer ways to get started with VoiceXML.
  • VoxPilot VoxBuilder offers local numbers in many other countries. More providers are available at Developer.com.
  • For diving into VoiceXML development, a great resource is World of VoiceXML.

Self-hosted systems
Another way of delivering voice-based audio content to a mobile audience is a self-hosted telephony system. There are a number of open-source platforms that provide code for many self-hosted telephony systems: Asterisk, Trixbox, and FreeSwitch. There are also many resources available for working with these tools:

  • Asterisk has a dedicated documentation project. There are also sites that offer video tutorials, and many books have been written on the topic. There are also third party companies that will provide you with support services.
  • Freeswitch has an extensive wiki for documentation. There are forums outside the main site and third-party support services are also available.
  • Trixbox documentation is listed on the Trixbox wiki. Trixbox has a professional version that comes with support services.

Voice-based Content Management Systems
Finally, there are some voice-based content management systems in development, which aim to make voice-based telephony as easy to install as standard content management systems. One example is the aforementioned Freedom Fone.

What other resources would you add to this guide? Share them in the comments and we will update this post.

More Reading

How to Capture High Quality Video on Your Mobile Phone

Image by Andrew Michaels via Flickr

November 08 2010

19:19

Balancing Positive and Negative of New Media for Political Activism

In my previous post for Idea Lab, I began examining how new media has and hasn't proven effective in helping push political change in countries around the world. That was in advance of the "New Media: Alternative Politics" conference at the University of Cambridge. This post follows after my participation in the conference.

What qualifies as new media?

After all, what's new today is old by tomorrow. And, as Firoze Manji, founder of Pambuzuka News, said at the New Media: Alternative Politics conference held recently at Cambridge, is it really new or is just old wine repackaged in new bottles?

For me, the definition that seems most appropriate for new media -- and that seems to set it apart -- is to call them connective, interactive technologies that are bidirectional, dialectic and conversational, such as web 2.0 applications and new mobile technologies. In comparison, traditional "older" forms of media primarily use linear and one-way communication.

The difference between new and old media has led to a lot of optimism for new media as a new, golden solution for activists. As evidenced by presentations at the conference, this requires a more sober assessment. The link between online and offline action is not always apparent and there are other challenges, including issues around authenticity and validity. On the other side of the coin, the benefits of new media for activism include virtual public platforms for alternative or on-the-ground voices and an enhanced ability to connect, organize and ideally implement collective action.

Redefining Citizenship

However, we need to separate the technologies from the content and information being communicated. Technologies are merely the medium for delivery. It's the people behind the new media tools who drive change -- their passion, commitment, intent and purpose. They create the message and how effectively the technologies are used to convey this information. A tool is just a tool, whether a pencil, newspaper or mobile phone. It can be used to amplify both positive and negative messages, both successfully and unsuccessfully.

For good or bad, perhaps one of the greatest impacts of new media is the re-defining of citizenship. There is a move towards citizens having dual citizenship in the virtual and the real world. In this new media space, leaders are selected rather than elected and citizens feel empowered to create change, particularly in subversive environments.

It's no coincidence that web use is so important in countries with repressive political regimes, such as China, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. As Manji said, "war has many terrains." The ammunition for new media users is information. Historically, power and information have always been closely aligned. As researcher and conference presenter Paolo d'Urbano explained, Victorian England controlled India through information domination.

In today's new media battle ground, state and non-state players battle it out. Controversial websites are under cyber-attack, hackers and spies spread misinformation or fake videos, airwaves and signals are jammed, government or advertisers place pressure on service providers to control content, services are banned, and/or licenses are required as a means of state control.

Middle East

This is particularly notable in the Middle East. Researcher Adi Kuntsman has traced the digital warfare between the Palestinian state and Israel. It has included heavy state and individual investment in new media by both sides. These tools are used to document events as they unfold, provide a critique of the war and offer a powerful alternative to both mirror and intensify the war on the ground. Fanar Haddad, who researched how the Iraq war was documented on YouTube, argued that, despite the challenges of contextualizing and authenticating the data, the combination of mobile phone camera and YouTube has provided a podium for minorities to offer "counter-narratives" from "everyday events in conflict stricken areas."

Alexander Dunn researched the April 6th Youth Movement Group on Facebook. He found that the online group members created momentum, coordinated responses and satellite activities after the general strike in Egypt in 2008. For the 0.5 percent who were active members, the group was a means to communicate and get involved. Even though 99.5 percent of the members formed an inactive audience, just joining the group was an act of solidarity. Some would criticize this type of activism as "slacktivism," as all that was required of the members was to click join. But change politics has never been about 100 percent participation. Despite the group being heavily skewed in terms of levels of participation, political action was successfully mobilized through new media.

Martin Gladwell in his recent article Small Change - Why the revolution will not be tweeted, argued that "if you're taking on a powerful and organized establishment you have to be a hierarchy." But despite this group's loose ties and flat network-based structure, leadership naturally and successfully shifted when certain active members were involved with on the ground activity. Other previously non-active members stepped up to fill the leadership vacuum and the group continued "acting in concert with the intent of reforming the repressive offline political sphere in Egypt," Dunnsaid. That helps explain why the Egyptian government seems threatened by new media. Recent legislation in the country requires licenses for organizations that send bulk text messages, and there is speculation that Facebook may be shut down temporarily during the upcoming parliamentary elections scheduled for this month.

Africa

In Africa, the power of new media is limited by access. Ten percent of Africans have access to the Internet, but when you remove countries like South Africa, Egypt and Algeria, the average Internet penetration rate is only two to three percent. The penetration rate of mobile technology is rapidly increasing, however. But penetration rates are very different to usage rates, as owning a mobile phone is very different from being able to afford to use it.

Despite these challenges, there are definitely some new media success stories in Africa. Mxit in South Africa has managed to overcome cost barriers by providing a free instant messaging service, and the results have included more messages sent per day on Mxit than there are global tweets.

In Nigeria, there are over two million people on Facebook, mainly via their mobile phones. Civilians report street stories to Sahara Reporters in an attempt to fight political corruption. Our project in Zimbabwe, Freedom Fone, is a mobile tool that bridges the digital divide. It has been developed to enable two-way audio information to be shared through mobile phone networks for people that do not have access to the Internet.

New media tools are not perfect. Tools are just tools, and when it comes down to it, motivated activists will use whatever they can get their hands on. But when citizens have access to these empowering new media tools, they are using them strategically, effectively and with discipline and success for the purpose of political change.

August 25 2010

16:29

New Media Tools Play Pivotal Role in Kenya's Constitution-Making

Kenya is moving towards greater democracy and more transparent governance thanks to the recent constitutional referendum that received 70 percent "yes" votes.

The new constitution, which is scheduled to be signed into law on Friday, replaces the one drafted during Kenya's colonial era. It includes a Bill of Rights, which states that all Kenyans should have access to clean water, decent housing, basic sanitation and quality food. The new constitution aims to decentralize political power, increase government accountability, create more robust checks and balances against corruption, and foster a move towards fairer distribution of wealth.

President Mwai Kibaki said, "The historic journey that we began over 20 years ago is now coming to a happy end." In reality, forming a new constitution is only the beginning of another long road which the country will need to travel.

However, at least Kenya is moving in the right direction. Here in Zimbabwe, our constitutional reform process is lagging behind. But I think there is a lot we can learn from the role that media played in the Kenyan process.

Lessons from Kenya

Zimbabwe's constitutional reform process should be an opportunity for meaningful public participation. Unfortunately, the process remains marred by intimidation and violence, including the alleged re-establishment of torture bases in farming communities where there are a high number of war veterans and youth militia.

I could not help but compare coverage of the Kenyan referendum to the Zimbabwean constitution-making process and reflect on what we can learn from Kenya. Although the countries' circumstances are not totally comparable, we certainly can't afford to let the Zimbabwean constitution-making process drag on for 20 years, as it did in Kenya!

The first factor that looms large is the fundamental role that a vigilant civil society plays in provoking public participation and debate, promoting state transparency and accountability, maintaining pressure and ultimately achieving change. A recent blog post on Pambazuka discusses the pivotal contributions that organizations such as the Association of Professional Societies in East Africa, Kenya Land Alliance, Kikuyus for Change and Kenyan Asian Forum made during the Kenyan constitution-making process.

The post, by Cottrell Ghai and Pal Ghai, also discusses the likelihood that civil organizations will continue to offer invaluable assistance, particularly "at a time when the capacity within the government is limited." This is further amplified because trade unions -- which uphold the constitution through their political and economic work -- are non-existent in Kenya.

The second factor is the role that a vibrant media has in driving reform. According to an opinion piece in the Washington Times, both civil society and the media have played a part in the constitution-making process in Kenya and will continue to do so.

"Kenya is blessed with free and vibrant media and a vigilant civil society that relentlessly shines light into all corners of government activity," it read. "This will heighten scrutiny in the use of public finances and resources by the executive and legislature."

Although it is unlikely that the Kenyan media are fully objective or free from political influence (which country's media is?), the Economist and the BBC have said that Kenya is more liberalized than most African countries. Various analysts have also stated that since independence the Kenyan media has been an important check on government power.

New Media Tools

New media tools were also used during the constitution-making process in Kenya. A customized version of Ushahidi, a Knight grantee, was developed for use in Kenya. Called Uchaguzi, which means decision in Kiswahili, the collaborative deployment was supported by the Constitution & Reform Education Consortium (CRECO), Social Development Network (SODNET), Uraia, HIVOS and Twaweza. During the referendum, the shortcode 3018 received over 1,400 SMS messages from around the country that reported incidents of electoral irregularities, violence and peace activities.

Similarly, The Uwiano Peace Platform was established to prevent violence during the Kenyan referendum. The system took advantage of mobile technology to get up-to-date information "on tensions, hate speech, incitement, threats and violence" from citizens nationwide. The system allowed for free SMSes from the public to be sent to the Uwiano secretariat. Analysts then verified, mapped and relayed the data on to rapid response mechanisms for quick intervention. The public knew how to report incidents because the platform was advertised in the electronic media, print media and Electoral Commission materials.

It would have been interesting if a new media tool like Freedom Fone, our project, had been added to the mix to capture citizen reports in an audio format.

A vigilant civil society, vibrant media and new media tools have played a pivotal role in Kenya's constitution-making process. We must not underestimate the value of these organizations and tools during our process in Zimbabwe as we continue to strive towards the formation of a new constitution and a more democratic nation.

16:29

New Media Tools Play Pivotal Role in Kenya's Constitution-Making

Kenya is moving towards greater democracy and more transparent governance thanks to the recent constitutional referendum that received 70 percent "yes" votes.

The new constitution, which is scheduled to be signed into law on Friday, replaces the one drafted during Kenya's colonial era. It includes a Bill of Rights, which states that all Kenyans should have access to clean water, decent housing, basic sanitation and quality food. The new constitution aims to decentralize political power, increase government accountability, create more robust checks and balances against corruption, and foster a move towards fairer distribution of wealth.

President Mwai Kibaki said, "The historic journey that we began over 20 years ago is now coming to a happy end." In reality, forming a new constitution is only the beginning of another long road which the country will need to travel.

However, at least Kenya is moving in the right direction. Here in Zimbabwe, our constitutional reform process is lagging behind. But I think there is a lot we can learn from the role that media played in the Kenyan process.

Lessons from Kenya

Zimbabwe's constitutional reform process should be an opportunity for meaningful public participation. Unfortunately, the process remains marred by intimidation and violence, including the alleged re-establishment of torture bases in farming communities where there are a high number of war veterans and youth militia.

I could not help but compare coverage of the Kenyan referendum to the Zimbabwean constitution-making process and reflect on what we can learn from Kenya. Although the countries' circumstances are not totally comparable, we certainly can't afford to let the Zimbabwean constitution-making process drag on for 20 years, as it did in Kenya!

The first factor that looms large is the fundamental role that a vigilant civil society plays in provoking public participation and debate, promoting state transparency and accountability, maintaining pressure and ultimately achieving change. A recent blog post on Pambazuka discusses the pivotal contributions that organizations such as the Association of Professional Societies in East Africa, Kenya Land Alliance, Kikuyus for Change and Kenyan Asian Forum made during the Kenyan constitution-making process.

The post, by Cottrell Ghai and Pal Ghai, also discusses the likelihood that civil organizations will continue to offer invaluable assistance, particularly "at a time when the capacity within the government is limited." This is further amplified because trade unions -- which uphold the constitution through their political and economic work -- are non-existent in Kenya.

The second factor is the role that a vibrant media has in driving reform. According to an opinion piece in the Washington Times, both civil society and the media have played a part in the constitution-making process in Kenya and will continue to do so.

"Kenya is blessed with free and vibrant media and a vigilant civil society that relentlessly shines light into all corners of government activity," it read. "This will heighten scrutiny in the use of public finances and resources by the executive and legislature."

Although it is unlikely that the Kenyan media are fully objective or free from political influence (which country's media is?), the Economist and the BBC have said that Kenya is more liberalized than most African countries. Various analysts have also stated that since independence the Kenyan media has been an important check on government power.

New Media Tools

New media tools were also used during the constitution-making process in Kenya. A customized version of Ushahidi, a Knight grantee, was developed for use in Kenya. Called Uchaguzi, which means decision in Kiswahili, the collaborative deployment was supported by the Constitution & Reform Education Consortium (CRECO), Social Development Network (SODNET), Uraia, HIVOS and Twaweza. During the referendum, the shortcode 3018 received over 1,400 SMS messages from around the country that reported incidents of electoral irregularities, violence and peace activities.

Similarly, The Uwiano Peace Platform was established to prevent violence during the Kenyan referendum. The system took advantage of mobile technology to get up-to-date information "on tensions, hate speech, incitement, threats and violence" from citizens nationwide. The system allowed for free SMSes from the public to be sent to the Uwiano secretariat. Analysts then verified, mapped and relayed the data on to rapid response mechanisms for quick intervention. The public knew how to report incidents because the platform was advertised in the electronic media, print media and Electoral Commission materials.

It would have been interesting if a new media tool like Freedom Fone, our project, had been added to the mix to capture citizen reports in an audio format.

A vigilant civil society, vibrant media and new media tools have played a pivotal role in Kenya's constitution-making process. We must not underestimate the value of these organizations and tools during our process in Zimbabwe as we continue to strive towards the formation of a new constitution and a more democratic nation.

August 10 2010

13:38

How Freedom Fone Helped Create Participatory Radio in Africa

Two years ago, Bev Clark, the co-founder of Kubatana.net, was awarded a large grant in the Knight News Challenge for Freedom Fone, an open-source software platform for distributing news and information through interactive voice response (IVR) technology. Freedom Fone was officially launched (version 1.5) in late February of this year and has since been downloaded about 200 times, according Amy Saunderson-Meyer of Freedom Fone. (She blogs for Idea Lab and her most recent post, about Freedom Fone version 1.6, is here.)

Freedom Fone leverages audio as a mobile function using IVR, a technology that allows a system to detect voice and keyboard input. IVR allows a user to call, enter or say specific numbers, and listen to or contribute audio content. (Many people are already familiar with IVR -- you've likely encountered it when you call a customer service number and are prompted with instructions to press numbers for different issues or service departments.)

Since launch, Freedom Fone has provided support to specific organizations, including Equal Access in Cambodia, Small World News TV, TechnoServe, One Economy Corporation, and Africa Youth Trust. Saunderson-Meyer said they have also received about 100 inquiries from individuals and organizations interested in a broad spectrum of potential uses of Freedom Fone outside of news and information distribution.

Freedom Fone in Tanzania and Ghana

Recently, Freedom Fone was adopted by two farm radio stations through the African Radio Research Initiative, a 42-month project supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and implemented by Farm Radio International in partnership with the World University Services of Canada. The aim of the AFRRI project was to assess the effectiveness and impact of farm radio in many parts of Africa.

We at MobileActive.org thought it was high time to learn how Freedom Fone was being used, including any challenges these users encountered. We ourselves had considered implementing Freedom Fone in Zimbabwe with an organization we were working with, but at the time (early this year) the software was still lacking critical features we needed.

Bartholomew Sullivan, a regional ICT officer for AFRRI, was on site to set up Freedom Fone at Radio Maria in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. It was the first time Freedom Fone partnered with a group outside of its own projects.

AFRRI works with 25 radio stations in five countries in Africa. Stations include private, public, national, and community radio stations with established listeners in varied agricultural zones. Freedom Fone was introduced at two of these radio stations: Radio Maria (a faith-based station that also broadcasts health and agricultural information across the country) in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Volta Star radio (the national broadcaster) in the Volta region of Ghana. Before the project, neither station had an existing IVR system in place and the primary feedback loop with listeners was through written letters.

Sullivan and Farm Radio International had been in touch with Kubatana, the parent organization of Freedom Fone, in Zimbabwe and thought IVR technology could be used to improve programming at the stations by making the experience and content more interactive.

"We're looking for something that can enhance radio," Sullivan said. "Because at this point for us, radio has been very effective in reaching people, but it's not always the most effective for getting a feedback loop or making it interactive."

Why Radio Maria and Volta Star?

There are several reasons why Radio Maria and Volta Star were chosen from among 25 possible radio stations to incorporate Freedom Fone.

First, reliable, accessible, on-site support was an important qualifier, especially for more complex projects. Radio Maria was a candidate for Freedom Fone in part because of Sullivan's proximity to the station. Because of the learning curve involved with using the software, he wanted to be able to be on site on a daily basis.

Another factor was language. Most Radio Maria listeners understand and speak Kiswahili, and using a single language simplifies the language interface for the IVR system. Interestingly, Volta Star radio in Ghana was chosen because multiple languages (Akan and Ewe) were spoken and could be integrated with Freedom Fone, making it a good experiment for AFRRI.

Radio Maria was also chosen because it had an existing support system and infrastructure, including far-reaching coverage and existing funding which allowed for electricity, back-up systems, Internet, and technicians. In addition, Freedom Fone funded half of the project at Radio Maria, while AFRRI funded the Volta Star project in Ghana.

"We figured if were going to start a pilot project, let's give it the best possible chance of succeeding," Sullivan said.

Capturing Voices from the Field in Tanzania

One of the first steps in Dar es Salaam was getting supplies. Sullivan shared a list of things needed to get Freedom Fone up and running at Radio Maria. (Since they were working in a radio environment, the group already had access to a great deal of audio equipment and office supplies. The Freedom Fone site also lists other general-use items that may be needed.) Here's the list, along with the cost of each item in U.S. dollars:

  • A dedicated computer to use as a server (minimum specs 1GB RAM, processor: 1.6GHz). About $700.
  • One or more SIM cards (depending on how many lines you want). Price varies locally.
  • A Mobigater SIP to GSM gateway. About $160 for each SIM card/line.
  • A USB microphone or other way of recording audio to the computer for creating IVR menus. About $50.
  • Internet connection to download the latest Freedom Fone DVD software (approximately 800 MB).
  • Any electricity or utility costs associated with keeping the Freedom Fone server running for 24 hours. Price varies locally.
  • UPS backup power. About $120.
  • A mobile phone to call in and test the IVR. About $35.
  • Any airtime costs needed to use the above phone. Price varies locally.

    For the SIP to GSM gateway, the group bought a 2N VoiceBlue Lite that holds four SIM cards for four different lines in to Freedom Fone. The VoiceBlue Lite allows a user to call in on a mobile phone and interact with the server, built on Ubuntu 8.1. Where Internet access is slow and downloading difficult, Freedom Fone has sent the file on CD in the mail (version 1.6 is an ISO file, 935MB in size). Sullivan also bought a local, second-hand computer to run the Freedom Fone software.

    As part of the Farm Radio International participatory radio campaign, the group worked with community members to identify an agricultural improvement that would make a difference for listeners if they had more information or encouragement. At Radio Maria, the group chose to focus on a weekly program called Heka Heka Vijijini, which means "busy busy in the village" in Kiswahili.

They decided to add a weekly, four-month segment to the program on how to improve local chicken management via housing, diet, and vaccinations. Unofficially, Sullivan said, they referred to the program as the "Kuku Hotline" ("kuku" means "chicken" in Kiswahili). Each of the 25 radio stations that were part of the project came up with a different program topic based on local needs.

Thumbnail image for chickens2.JPG

At Radio Maria, Sullivan and the group used the IVR "very simply," almost as a "glorified voicemail service." During the Heka Heka Vijijini program, broadcasters announced an upcoming competition which asked for "the best story of how you're using the knowledge you've gained from this radio program in your life." Listeners could call in to the radio station and leave a message on the IVR system.

The station received "wonderful stories from the field," lasting anywhere from 10 seconds to three minutes. They received a total of 2,499 calls to the hotline, with 1,448 unique callers during the month and a half that it was available.

They also received a total of 297 SMS messages, which were usually requests for information or greetings. Many of the audio responses were later rebroadcast on the program.

"People love to hear their voices on the radio," Sullivan said. "And what we've learned from the farmers was that radio programs that have the voices of farmers are far more entertaining and interesting than not."

Making radio more accessible in Ghana

Where Radio Maria collected and re-broadcasted incoming voice content, Volta Star in Ghana focused on improving access to radio segments by posting outgoing content. The Volta Star program topic was organic fertilizer and included information for farmers such as market prices. Each one-hour segment was reduced to about five minutes, and this audio summary was made available every week on the IVR system.

When listeners called, they were able to choose their language. Sullivan said this dual language ability increased the complexity of the Freedom Fone interface quite a bit.

The listener could then choose a specific summary to listen to. They received a total of 4,503 calls to the "farmers fone" and 2,041 of these calls proceeded past the welcome message (meaning that the user accessed the information or left a voicemail).

At Volta Star, a lot of people called, but a smaller percentage called on a regular basis, Sullivan said. One question Farm Radio International is currently looking into is what made these repeat users call again and again and really use the IVR. Sullivan suspects that it was because some people didn't really know how to use the system; whereas an IVR system might be intuitive to some, many Radio Maria and Volta Star listeners are not as accustomed to the technology or the process.

What worked well (and why)

One benefit to integrating Freedom Fone at an established radio station is the ability to promote the IVR service. At Radio Maria, the broadcasters relied on the large number of existing listeners to promote and explain the service including the specific local numbers to call. The group created a special jingle and message to promote the competition. Listen to the jingle here.

In the above clip, Radio Maria presenter Lilian Manyuka announces the final segment of the four-month radio campaign. She invites listeners to join the competition and share their stories. Manyuka gives an example of a submission, shares the four numbers that callers can use to access the Kuku Hotline and provides information on how to leave a message (wait for the beep, say your name, and leave your message).

lilian-with listener and his maize.JPG

Another thing that Sullivan said worked well was the ability to set up multiple call-in numbers for each of the main local mobile providers in the region: Vodacom, Zain, and Tigo. This allowed listeners to call from their respective networks, making it cheaper. The group used similar sounding numbers for each of the networks.

The participatory radio campaign approach was to enhance existing systems, not add new content or processes to the farm radio stations. So, Sullivan and others were able to incorporate and adapt Freedom Fone to best match the needs and uses of the listeners.

At the end of the day, it's an open-source IVR platform that you can adapt to what your needs are, Sullivan said. "It's very basic. You can nest menus. You can have a voicemail service."

Challenges and issues

The projects at Radio Maria and Volta Star (and specifically in regards to Freedom Fone) were not without challenges and issues, including reliable hardware, cost, human error, power, and training.

One challenge is obtaining high-quality or dedicated hardware. In Tanzania, Sullivan bought a second-hand computer locally to host the Freedom Fone software. But he wouldn't do this again. At the most crucial moment, Sullivan said, the hard drive didn't work and the group lost several days of uptime because of the crash. Cost can also be an issue with some hardware, but often there are less expensive alternatives.

Human error is a challenge inherent with Freedom Fone, which ironically stems from the high adaptability of the platform and the ability for control many parameters of the IVR process. When adjusting the settings on the modem at the Radio Maria station, for example, Sullivan said he had turned up the amp to the highest level. This resulted in significant audio distortion because the responses were so loud. Because of this, the IVR system was not recognizing user input. People called and were prompted to input a number. But no matter what was pressed the system would do nothing, until it would eventually hang up on the caller.

Power is an issue, especially in areas with unreliable power because, "when the computer is off, then Freedom Fone is down," Sullivan said. Similarly, infrastructure is really important, including having backup power supplies for power outages.

Another issue to incorporating Freedom Fone at established organizations is training. At Radio Maria, for example, there were three parties involved: Farm Radio International, Freedom Fone, and the local station employees. Most people involved with the training were able to speak English, but language translation could be an issue for multi-party projects in other areas. It's important to be able to train local employees to continue to use the IVR technology after the project concludes, Sullivan said.

freedom-fone building IVR menus.jpg

"Working with their staff -- their technical team -- so that they really feel like they own the technology, is a challenge but it is definitely worth doing," Sullivan said. "Because it means when something comes up they can handle it on their own."

Finally, another challenge with Freedom Fone was the ability to deal with user error or confusion. At Radio Maria, the group also used the IVR system to establish an SMS poll, asking listeners what they wanted to hear more about on the program. The radio station would broadcast the poll and the number and explain the process, such as "press one for maize," "press two for chickens," and "push three for other garden crops," and so on.

But, many users had never completed an SMS poll before and were confused on how to submit a vote. First, there was a lot of information being conveyed over the radio (the number to text, the specific code for a poll, and the value of each numerical vote).

"It's a lot for people to remember over the radio if you've never done it," Sullivan said, so some people would spell maize instead of pushing "1" for maize, or spell out the word "one" rather then sending the number 1, or mix up the order of things. These responses would not register in the Freedom Fone system as a vote and instead "would just sit there as an SMS."

Despite user and technical challenges, "people really like it," Sullivan said. The station received well over 100 votes when the polls fist opened up, and the responses helped to shape future broadcasts.

Of Freedom Fone, Sullivan said, "they've got a really great idea but I think if it's going to work with rural people, especially in a radio context, who don't have a lot of experience with voting or using their SMS that way, it's going to need some foolproof methods."

What's ahead for Freedom Fone

Farm Radio International is currently analyzing results of the initiative and plans to publish a report this fall on the findings. The Volta Star IVR content is still accessible to listeners and the mobile competition at Radio Maria has since closed, but they are starting another deployment based on what they learned at Radio Maria and Volta Star. The project will be at Rite FM, a radio station outside the greater Accra region in Ghana.

Sullivan said he is interested in exploring different revenue models for Freedom Fone including a subscription model. Currently, the caller incurs the costs in a typical IVR system, which usually amounts to the same prepaid deduction of making a phone call or sending an SMS. Early on, Sullivan said, many didn't think this was a good model, and that somehow people, especially rural farmers, wouldn't spend money to interact with an IVR system.

"But, turns out, they do," Sullivan said. "People are willing to spend money on information that is important to them."

A potential future subscription model, for example, could allow a user to purchase prepaid airtime for unlimited monthly access. A subscriber's number could then be added to a list, which IVR technology would identify as a "to call" list whenever there is pertinent information. Saunderson-Meyer said Freedom Fone version 2.5, which is due out this December, will include this call-back functionality.

For now, simplicity is the goal for projects like Radio Maria that involve news and information distribution to rural populations. Simplicity is also important for other projects that do not involve long-term, on-site support from Freedom Fone or Farm Radio International.

"We believe that voice is still the richest medium for getting information to rural people, and that's why we chose the IVR. But the challenge is to also not cut out those people who are not super savvy," Sullivan said. "You've got to try and keep it as simple as possible."

For more information about IVR systems, you can read MobileActive.org's "other articles about this topic"http://www.mobileactive.org/search-ma?keyword=ivr&op=Search&form_id=search_block_form.

August 04 2010

17:04

Freedom Fone Succeeds with Call-in Soap Opera; Plans Activism

Freedom Fone version 1.6 is now available for download. This version builds on existing core features and adds some useful new functionality, and we hope it will inspire new deployments. Freedom Fone provides a voice database where users can access news and public-interest information via landline, mobile or Internet phones. Users can call in and then dial specific numbers to find the information they need.

Deployments of 1.5

Since the public launch of version 1.5 six months ago, there have been over 230 downloads of the software from the website, hundreds of email enquiries and thousands of visits to the demo site from over 3,000 different locations worldwide.

The diverse spectrum of individuals and organizations who have downloaded the software cover a wide spectrum of potential usage scenarios: Reaching out to ethnic refugees; sending reminders to pregnant mothers; communicating with indigenous arts communities; providing information services for remote musicians; helping victims of xenophobic violence; interacting with parents and school children from disadvantaged communities; providing support to sexual health workers; preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS; and audio journalism from the field. "Let us know":":http://www.freedomfone.org/contact how you could foresee using Freedom Fone.

Tariro Cartoon3.png

Tariro on Top continues to be one of the Kubatana Trust's most successful deployments of Freedom Fone to date. The call-in audio soap opera deals with sexual harassment in the workplace in an entertaining yet informative manner.

In just over a month there have been 1,752 calls from 1,102 unique numbers, with an average of 46 calls per day. Seventy percent of these calls were made from mobile phones and the remainder from landlines. Tariro on Top, the first program in an edutainment series, is comprised of five two-minute episodes. The average call length into the service has been over two minutes, with most callers listening to at least the first full episode. This is a significant achievement for a cost-to-caller service of this kind in Zimbabwe, where mobile calls cost U.S. $0.25 a minute and where unemployment hovers around 94 percent.

In terms of marketing, the SMS campaigns advertising the service created dramatic spikes in call volumes. Interestingly, the distribution of free, postage-paid postcards seemed to attract more determined callers who appeared to navigate through the voice menus more thoroughly. If you are in Zimbabwe, try out Tariro while it's still live by calling 0913 444 321 up to 8. For international callers dial +263-913-444321 up to 8. Alternatively, you can listen to the audio files online.

Development of 1.6

Here's a quick overview of some of the new functionality in Version 1.6 of Freedom Fone.

A language switcher now makes it easy to translate the user interface into English, Swahili or Spanish. In September, when we have our localization interface in place, we will invite volunteers to translate the GUI into additional languages.

It is now really simple to export audio files, including voice messages received through the leave-a-message component. Another valuable simplification addresses the need for callers to be able to leave a voice message by simply ending their call. The original functionality, which required callers to explicitly save their voice messages by pressing a designated number, is still available for organizations that wish to use it. System reporting has also been improved thanks to the inclusion of a report that details the duration of each call to the service.

This version is being ported to Ubuntu 10.04 and will be released as Version 1.6.5 LTS in September. This will be the stable long-term support version for the current feature set. Additional functionality will be incorporated into Version 2.0 due in October 2010. There's lots more to come, but you should definitely get going with Version 1.6 now!

Digital Activism

At the same time we're working to increase use of Freedom Fone, a recent interview with Gaurav Mishra, the CEO of 2020 Social, has caused us to consider the nature of digital activism. Speaking with the Guardian, Mishara said there are two main paradigms of digital activism: Empowering people with information and engaging with inspiration.

He listed Freedom Fone as a good example of a simple-to-use technology that empowers disadvantaged communities (mainly in Africa and Asia) by providing access to basic information and a voice to tell their stories firsthand. Mishra said that the second paradigm, engaging with inspiration, works with privileged online communities, based mainly in affluent North America and Europe. For these groups, it is not a lack of information access but rather a "crisis of caring" -- and the goal of this paradigm is to inspire action. In the end, he said, we are limited at looking at the world through either lens, and the world can benefit from a cross-pollination of these paradigms.

Mishra said that "researchers have found support for the 1:9:90 rule in many different contexts. The 1:9:90 rule says that 90% of all users are consumers, 9% of all users are curators and only 1% of the users are creators" of content.

We have encountered similar trends with Freedom Fone. For instance, for one of the current services, only 1 percent of the callers have taken advantage of the leave-a-message service to contribute feedback and participate in a two-way dialogue, despite the high call volumes into the service. This indicates one of the difficulties of shifting between paradigms and not only informing, but also inspiring action.

Freedom Fone could better engage with the inspiration paradigm by encouraging compelling content that promotes meaningful conversation, collaboration and participation. This may lead to increased co-creation and collective action of the open source software and user communities. Organizations like ours could benefit from improving collective intelligence by aggregating collective actions effectively and building stronger recommendation systems -- such as case studies and best usage scenarios -- just as Google does by ranking pages.

What do you think organizations like Freedom Fone could do to support both paradigms?

June 07 2010

17:09

Freedom Fone Adopted by Bulawayo's Pioneering Voices

I had visions of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe being a sleepy little hollow, and perhaps in some ways it is. But last week, after arriving at Radio Dialogue offices in Pioneer House in Bulawayo's central business district, I was very pleasantly surprised. We were in the City of Skies to run a practical two-day workshop with six local organizations on using Freedom Fone. Pioneer House seemed to me to be pioneering the way!

workshop_participants_100527.jpgRadio Dialogue is a community radio station that opened nine years ago and resides on the ninth floor of Pioneer House. Like all community radio stations in Zimbabwe, it has yet to gain a government license to broadcast. Despite this challenge, it manages to successfully give communities in and around Bulawayo a voice on local issues.

The Radio Dialogue office was bustling! The reception area felt like grand central station, with inspired communicators heading off in all directions. One young journalist stopped me outside the elevator to ask for an audio vox pop: "Now that winter is coming, what home remedies do you personally use to ward off flu?" After describing my potent garlic ginger juice concoction, my colleague and I continued on to one of the well-equipped computer labs to prepare for the Freedom Fone workshop the following day.

We were greeted by excited youths between 13 and 19 years old. They were working together in groups to write and read poetry about Mother Africa. This is one of the many regular activities organized by the Youth Press Bureau, headed by the youth coordinator, Rosie Chauke. She was one of the participants in our Freedom Fone workshop.

truth telling_exhibition_100527.jpgChauke later told me about an art exhibition and competition organized by Radio Dialogue, which we later visited at The Bulawayo Club. It was titled TRUTH telling: The TRUTH will set you free and is about the importance of speaking out against the violent atrocities in Zimbabwe, particularly around the Matabeleland massacres, locally known as Gukurahundi, which took place during the 1980s.

Bulawayo Agenda

In the same building as Radio Dialogue and the Youth Press Bureau, is Bulawayo Agenda. It provides a platform for community views through a free printed news bulletin called Weekly Agenda. Bulawayo Agenda recently organized a Transitional Justice Interface meeting to find resolutions to ensure national healing in Zimbabwe, such as including information on Gukurahundi in the education syllabus and identifying the causes of political violence.

Workshop participants from other pioneering organizations included Habakkuk, Zimbabwe Development Democracy Trust and KG6: King George VI School for the Disabled, where the Oscar winning documentary Music by Prudence was set.

freedomfone_workshop_100527.jpgOverall the workshop was not without its technical frustrations, but I left Bulawayo feeling inspired by the dynamism of the participants. Their thoughtfulness during the brainstorming sessions, their determination and resilience during the technical sessions, and their overall eagerness made me hopeful that Freedom Fone would be taken up as a valuable information tool to assist many of these organizations in reaching their noteworthy communication and community-oriented goals.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

May 04 2010

18:42

Freedom Fone Answers Questions on Zimbabwe Constitution

Two weeks ago the latest version of Freedom Fone, affectionately known to his handlers as "Fred," was set loose.

freedomfone.jpgInspired by the cockney rhyming slang "dog and bone" (meaning phone), the Freedom Fone dog logo and quirky character of Fred was born a few years ago. Fred is still young, but after a few years of software development (and dog training!), and thanks to Knight News Challenge funds, he's now ready to go out into the world on his own.

This is a report on his recent adventures since the launch of Freedom Fone version 1.5. To learn more about how it works, try our online demo. But in a nutshell, Freedom Fone is an information and communication tool, which marries the mobile phone with Interactive Voice Response (IVR), for the benefit of citizens. It provides information activists, service organizations and NGOs with widely usable telephony applications, so they can deliver vital information to communities who need it most. Freedom Fone makes it easy to build voice menus, run SMS polls, receive SMS messages and manage voice messages.

Testing Out Fred

Various individuals scattered across the globe have been downloading, installing and testing Fred's performance and his repertoire of tricks to see whether he's a useful addition to their existing communication strategies. For example, one NGO has been exploring the possibility of using Freedom Fone to support original music by indigenous musicians from the Northern Territory of Australia. Another is using it to communicate with multicultural communities involved in community arts. A British organization is considering using Fred to provide information and support for school kids and parents from disadvantaged communities.

Meanwhile, an individual in the States has been investigating whether Freedom Fone can be used for social networking with his friends. The prospect of using Freedom Fone as a "voicebook" platform to offer up some voxpop audio ear candy is a cool one!

We hope that all users of our free open source software have a good experience. If you give Fred a try, we ask that you please let us know how well he fetches the stick that you throw him!
lilian_manyuka_fri_2010.jpg

Although Fred has new admirers, he also remains loyal to his long-standing friends. In particular, he's formed a very close bond with the Farm Radio International (FRI) crew, who have been consistently good to him.

FRI has been using Freedom Fone for over a year at Radio Maria in Tanzania and for other projects in Ghana. In Tanzania they are running the Kuku Hotline, which provides rural farmers with information about chicken production. The above image of DJ Lilian Manyuka shows her interviewing a rural extension officer about his role in providing local farmers with information.

Fred Helps with Zimbabwe's Constitution

Another loyal companion of Fred is the Kubatana Trust of Zimbabwe. Not only did Kubatana have a hand in breeding and raising Fred, they've also been there to take Fred for lots of walks around the block. So far they are very happy with the way version 1.5 behaves, barks, wags and runs.

Eric MatinengaZimbabwe is currently drafting a new constitution, and Kubatana is using Freedom Fone to offer a constitutional question-and-answer service in English, Shona and Ndebele. To do this, it has been collaborating with Constitutional Affairs Minister Eric T. Matinenga (pictured above).

Kubatana's mobile lines have being receiving questions from the public about the constitution; Matinenga's responses will be recorded and the audio clips will be shared using Freedom Fone. In this use case, Fred is proving to be a powerful tool for citizens to question, debate and understand the constitution.

Kubatana also recently used Freedom Fone for lighter fare during the Harare International Festival of the Arts, held between April 27 and May 2, 2010. The Fred-powered hotline featured renowned HIFA master of ceremonies, Gavin Peters, giving the public the inside scoop on what was hot and happening during the festival's week-long activities.

Those are the updates for now, but stay tuned for more on Fred's new bag of tricks!

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

March 29 2010

18:12

Competition in Internet, Mobile Services Boosts Democracy

Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) such as the Internet and mobile phones are often recognized for their role in helping connect people and communities, and spread knowledge and information. People may be unaware, however, that they're also a powerful force for international development -- provided that they are not suffocated by regulation and censorship.

The ICT Development and Initiative Dossier from June 2002 [PDF file] stated that, "since the beginning of the 1980s almost all national telecom and information technology markets worldwide have been transformed by technological innovation, product diversification (especially the introduction of mobile/cellular telephony and Internet) and market restructuring (particularly privatization, liberalization and the introduction of independent regulators)."

This holds true in some countries more than others. In some instances, the levels of liberalization and regulation in the ICT sector seem to directly correlate with the health of the country's democracy.

Civil and Economic Benefits

Market liberalization and the adjustment of regulation levels for ICT industries results in a growing shift from state-owned monopolies to a more open market which allows for competition from various dynamic and privately driven entities. Some governments and national operators are threatened by the prospect of increased competition and decreased state control, but for civil society and the economy as a whole, there's an array of benefits.

Economic analyst Vlade Milićević argues that, by adjusting the legislative and regulatory mobile telephony frameworks, increased competition leads to improved customer choice, enhanced quality, more efficient services, reduced prices, faster product innovation and growing economic development for both the market and the relevant country. These positive impacts are notable in various case studies on Central Eastern European countries, where the sector has recently been liberalized.

Similar cost benefits patterns have occurred in various ICT sectors. Between 1998 and 2002, retail prices of the fixed telecommunications industry in the EU decreased by 8.2 percent due to liberalizing the regulatory framework. Likewise, the liberalization of Internet telephony, which includes the legalization of voice over IP (VoIP) services in various countries, resulted in a dramatic decrease in phone charges. For example, in the U.S. a few years ago, calls to India were 50 cents per minute -- now they are less than 5 cents per minute from fixed lines.

Other than decreasing costs, information and telecommunication technology liberalization has other benefits. The use of VoIP enabled the advent of outsourced call centers because it offers the possibility of routing a local number offshore. In the U.S. today, 80 percent of companies have call centers located offshore. This cuts costs for the American companies and generates employment and income for the offshore country. These employment and revenue benefits are significant for countries such as India, Malaysia, Singapore, Kenya and South Africa.

Other examples of the benefits of this form of liberalization include community initiatives like Village Telco, "an easy-to-use, scalable, standards-based, wireless, local, do-it-yourself, telephone company toolkit." It uses open source software, VoIP and other technology to offer free local calls, cheap long distance, Internet access and other information services to previously disadvantaged communities in South Africa and other developing countries.

Lack of Liberalization

However, in some countries such as Zimbabwe, VoIP remains in a legal grey zone. According to a report commissioned by the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organization, "African regulators have been reluctant to legalize VoIP, based on a largely misguided attempt to protect the revenue base of the incumbent fixed-line, and in some cases, mobile telcos." Unprogressive regulators can retard growth in the sector, stunt the country's revenue, create lost opportunities, constrict the adoption of new technologies, and leave communities isolated in information vacuums.

The World Bank recently stated that there is positive and direct correlation between growth in gross domestic product and ICT development. Despite this, two factors seem to be preventing some governments from liberalizing ICT markets: The threat of a decrease in revenues for state controlled monopolies, and the decrease in control of the content that is available to the public. ICTs -- and particularly the use of the Internet and mobile phones -- are making it difficult for undemocratic governments to control information and in this age of communication, information is power.

"Freedom of information is...the touchstone of all the freedoms," according to the 1948 UN Freedom of Information Conference. Similarly, the principles from the World Summit on Information Society of 2003 declared that: "We reaffirm, as an essential foundation of the Information Society, and as outlined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; that this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. Communication is a fundamental social process, a basic human need and the foundation of all social organization. It is central to the Information Society. Everyone, everywhere should have the opportunity to participate and no one should be excluded from the benefits the Information Society offers."

This sentiment was again reiterated in a recent poll by the BBC, which found that 80 percent of the 27,000 people surveyed around the world believe that access to the Internet is a fundamental human right. However, only about 25 percent of the world's population has access to the Internet, and various countries moderately to severely censor the information available.

Along with many other economic and technological benefits, a global shift to a more liberalized ICT market would honor fundamental human rights, and help create a more equitable and informed world.

November 26 2009

10:27

It's 7:05pm in Dar es Salaam

Amanda and I have just returned from Dar es Salaam. We were on the road with Freedom Fone.

Last Tuesday it was 9 degrees at 9am in orderly Johannesburg and 28 degrees with sweat inducing humidity at 7pm in chaotic Dar. After negotiating the jam-packed arrivals hall we smiled in relief when we discovered John holding up a torn piece of cardboard with Freedom Fone scribbled on it. We couldn't speak Swahili and he couldn't speak English but we made our greetings and jumped into his car for the ride of our life to a lodge off the Old Bagamoyo Road in Michokeni B.

Dar was thrillingly alive, jumping with activity of all kinds. Flashing past us . . .

Two guys on a bicycle. One of them had a goat draped over his knees. A beggar with buckled legs dragged himself through an intersection, craning his neck to ask for money from people in cars. He wore slip slops on his hands. The storm water drains on the sides of the roads were full of water breeding malaria and other diseases. Little boys' trawled homemade fishing lines through the muddy ditch water hoping for a catch. We saw a young man fill a water bottle from the litter-strewn canal, and we hoped that he wasn't going to drink it.

The next day we met up with Bart, Margaret and Lilian the Farm Radio International (FRI) crew who we'd come to train to use the Freedom Fone software.

FRI is a Canadian-based, not-for-profit organization working with about 300 radio broadcasters in 39 African countries to fight poverty and food insecurity. FRI has partnered with Freedom Fone to engage our software in the support of small scale farmers in Tanzania. FRI have established 5 listening communities attached to 5 community radio stations in varied locations in Tanzania. These community radio stations broadcast programmes that assist farmers in achieving better yields as well as helping answer questions related to the various agricultural challenges they might be experiencing. FRI is currently exploring the use of information communication technologies to complement and extend the usefulness of radio broadcast programmes.

They selected Radio Maria, a Christian radio station based in Dar es Salaam, to deploy Freedom Fone. Three main reasons influenced their decision to do this:

- Radio Maria is a well-resourced radio station both in terms of human resources with high technical skills and experience, and equipment/infrastructure.
- Radio Maria broadcasts some of FRI's agricultural programmes.
- Radio Maria has very wide coverage in Tanzania.

FRI's listening groups with Radio Maria have expressed a particular desire for information about raising chickens. Local chickens are an excellent income source for small-scale farmers, as they have low input costs and high demand and a ready market. However, many farmers experience high chicken loss due to poor management: not keeping the chickens safely, feeding them properly or looking after their hygiene sufficiently. Better information helps farmers lose fewer chickens, and thus make more money out of them. FRI's Freedom Fone deployment will draw on this desire for more information about chicken management, and their broadcast programme called, Heka Heka Vijijini (Busy Busy in the Village), will be adapted into short segment audio programmes using Freedom Fone software.

FRI also intends to use Freedom Fone in Ghana . . . stay tuned!

lilian_presenter_091120.jpg

Lilian, the presenter of Heka Heka Vijijini (Busy Busy in the Village)

Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
Could not load more posts
Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
Just a second, loading more posts...
You've reached the end.

Don't be the product, buy the product!

Schweinderl