Today, we are pleased to announce a new project. The Web Foundation, in partnership with VU University (Amsterdam) and Sahel Eco (Mali), is starting a new initiative on voice technology-based citizen journalism. We call it Foroba Blon. Together the two words signify a space where everyone has the right to speak and the truth can be told; but only if you do it respectfully. In early February 2011, the International Press Institute, a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists dedicated to the furtherance and safeguarding of press freedom, initiated a call for proposals under the IPI News Innovation Contest. The contest aimed at advancing the future of news by funding new ways to digitally inform communities in Europe, Middle East and Africa. The Web Foundation and its consortium partners were chosen as one of the three winners of the contest.
Community radio stations are a vital source of information for people living in remote rural areas in Africa. Radios serve as hubs of information, news and knowledge sharing in many communities. However, owing to the challenges associated with limited and poor infrastructure, the interaction between radio stations and their listeners, as well as with journalists in the field is very difficult, resulting in delays in the delivery of timely information. Yet, the recent increase of mobile phones in rural areas is offering new opportunities to involve members of the community with their local radio, and increase the quality of the service and thus the usefulness of the radio station. The aim of this project is to exploit this new potential, and enable all members of the community, including those from the diaspora, to listen and contribute to news and information on the community radio. The project is based on new and innovative voice technologies that enable people with simplest phones to access information on the Web, independently of their reading skills, language or literacy level. It also enables community radio stations to access and broadcast live content stored on the Web, without requiring computers or Internet connectivity. Further details about the initiative can be found on the project page.
We aim to achieve two major outcomes at the end of the project:
- A mobile-accessible voice and Web service platform for news. The platform’s design will be published for anybody to use, and its software will be open-sourced.
- A voice news service operating in Mali to validate the platform and show how it can be replicated in any region of the world.
Globally this initiative will reinforce the vision set out in our VOICES project, by focusing on the R&D part of voice technologies, and extending their application to different use-cases, which have been identified as highly important by local stakeholders. Mary Allen from Sahel Eco describes the importance of inclusion in this video.
As always we will keep you informed about our progress through our blogs.