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Voice-Browsing: Reaching a Milestone

Aman Grewal · November 11, 2011

Today we reach an important milestone in the Voice-Browsing Acceptance & Trust Project. In partnership with OneWorld South Asia, Dr Etienne Barnard and his team at NWU we have successfully deployed the VBAT application along with LifeLines Project serving smallholder farmers across central India.

We announced this project in January, 2011, and shared our vision of investigating the potential of automated voice applications to deliver Web-based information to people living in rural, under-privileged communities in low-income countries. The objective of the pilot was to investigate if people with little experience with information technology could learn to communicate with the Web via their phone, and what level of confidence will people have in the information delivered through this channel.

By end of March, 2011 we had identified a test bed for the project in LifeLines India. A farmer helpline service that leverages a mix of internet and telephone technologies to provide essential and demand-based information, advice and guidance to remote and rural small-holder communities through the medium of voice, in the local language and within 24 hours.

As mentioned by Stephane is his blog post (April, 2011) a critical success factor of this project relied on the test-bed environment, and in that aspect LifeLines stood out. LifeLines has matured to a database of more than 400,000 Q&A which allows them to answer more than 80% of the small-holders requests, the other 20% being answered by experts (simultaneously enriching the database over the time).

Working with OWSA and NWU we were ready to conduct a focus group experiment with farmers by August, 2011. Stéphane and Etienne spent considerable part of their time developing the IVR application. The primary objective of the focus group was to investigate how farmers respond to FAQ-enabled call-flow and the same information when presented by a Text to Speech (TTS) engine. This exercise provided the right set of information for us to come up with our final recommendation(s) for the IVR application.

From next week farmers in Kakori, Malihabad and Gosaiganj will be able to access agriculture information using the VBAT application alongside LifeLines. A set of field workers trained by OWSA will gather their feedback and allow us to come up with a rich set of key takeaways that we will be sharing with you by January, 2012.


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