[Asis-l] Question Box > CellPhone Reference / Extension Service For The Developing World

gerrymck gerry.mckiernan at gmail.com
Tue Sep 29 16:20:04 EDT 2009


With the ongoing reorganization / revamping /reconfiguration of state
extension services, I am interested in past / present  / planned
mobile extension/information services in the US.

I am also interested in mobile extension / information  services in
other regions of the world as well

BTW: I've done a preliminary search of Agricola / CAB Abstracts /
Agris on the topic(s) ...


New York Times . September 28, 2009
Dialing for Answers Where Web Can’t Reach / RON NIXON
KAMPALA, Uganda — The caller was frustrated. A new pest was eating
away at his just-planted coffee crop, and he wanted to know what to
do. Tyssa Muhima jotted down notes as the caller spoke, and promised
to call back in 10 minutes with an answer.

Each day, Ms. Muhima and two other young women at this small call
center on the outskirts of Uganda’s capital city answer about 40 such
calls. They are operators for Question Box, a free, nonprofit
telephone hot line that is meant to get information to people in
remote areas who lack access to computers.

The premise behind Question Box is that many barriers keep most of the
developing world from taking advantage of the wealth of knowledge
available through Web search engines, said Rose Shuman, the service’s
creator. That could be a drag on economic development.


Instead of searching for information themselves, people in two rural
agricultural communities in Uganda can turn to 40 Question Box workers
who have cellphones.

The workers dial into the call center and ask questions on behalf of
the locals, or they put the call on speakerphone so the locals can ask
for themselves. The operators then look up the requested information
in a database and convey it to the workers, who pass it along to the
villagers. The workers are compensated with cellphone airtime.

The service is a joint effort of Open Mind, a nonprofit group founded
by Ms. Shuman, and the Grameen Foundation, which is best known for
promoting small loans for the poor. It has received financial backing
from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.


Where rural villages were once cut off and isolated from urban
centers, cellphones now offer a lifeline, providing access to banking,
news and business opportunities.

That is a big technological advance, but for most Africans, Internet
access is still too costly and slow. Question Box was conceived as a
way of overcoming both the expense and the scarcity of Internet
connections. Eventually, Question Box will allow farmers and others to
use the hot line with their own cellphones or through text messages.
In June, Google introduced a similar effort in Uganda, also involving
the Grameen Foundation, that allows people to find information on
topics like health and agriculture via text messaging.


In Uganda, though, that model proved unworkable because Internet
connections are so slow. So the operators at Question Box search a
locally stored database created by Appfrica Labs, a Ugandan company
that hosts the call center. The database contains answers to past
questions as well as a repository of documents, government statistics
and research papers.

“A lot of this information isn’t even available on the Internet,” said
Jon Gosier, chief technology officer of Question Box and founder of
Appfrica Labs. “The real value in this database is that it contains a
wealth of data that only pertains to the local areas.”

Links To Full Story And Related NYTimes Magazine Article ["Can the
Cellphone Help End Global Poverty?"] Available At

[ http://tinyurl.com/yd77x7t ]

!!! Thanks To Bernie Sloan For The HeadsUp !!!



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Gerry McKiernan
Associate Professor
Science and Technology Librarian
Iowa State University Library
Ames IA 50011

 gerrymck at iastate.edu

 There Are No Answers, Only Solutions / Olde Irish Saying

The Future Is Already Here, It's Just Not Evenly Distributed
Attributed To William Gibson, SciFi Author / Coined 'Cyberspace

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