The Web of Voices - latest documentary of W4RA
ICT services, especially mobile ones, have the potential to play a major role in furthering social and rural development in developing economies. Market penetration and rural community adoption of basic mobile telephony and services have been extremely rapid in recent years. This is opening up lots of new opportunities, but in order to realize the full potential of mobile ICT services, still, important challenges and obstacles must be overcome. This is what W4RA, the Web Alliance for Regreening in Africa set out to do. Watch our 5 minute documentary.
Naomi Dembelé and Zakary Diarra are honey producing farmers from the Tominian region, in Mali. The past two years Zakary and Naomi have experienced an increase in the sales of honey due to RadioMarché, this innovative voice-based trading system that was specifically developed for smallholder farmers from rural communities. RadioMarché provides a simple way of broadcasting offerings on the local village radio. Once RadioMarché started, the honey was sold out in a short time. In an interview, on April 22nd, Noami and Zakary explained how this service can be useful to more farmers in the region.
The W4RA team of Web Foundation, VUA and Sahel Eco will soon meet again to visit the local stakeholders from rural communities in Mali: radio journalists and farmers will evaluate the outcomes of the services that were developed. During 2011 and 2012 three voice-based services have been developed to support regreening in Mali and citizen journalism. A user-centred approach has been applied, in which the end-users were involved in all stages of the development process, to ensure the best possible outcome. We are now excited to hear what the conclusions are form the end-users. Are they really happy with the systems? Will they take them into production?
Winning proposal at Web Science Summer School 2012, presented by Nana Gyan
On the above picture PhD student Nana Gyan presents a proposal for studying the spoken web, in the benefit of people with low reading skills, e.g. people living in rural communities in Africa. This project proposal, prepared by a consortium of VU Amsterdam and University of Gothenburg was selected out of five proposals as the winner. The contest was one of the activities of the Web Science Summer School, organized by the Network Institute, which took place from 9 to 13 July, at the Lorentz Center in Leiden. An international and diverse group of researchers from a variety of disciplines, interested in different aspects of Web Science, participated in this event. VU professors Frank van Harmelen and Guus Schreiber (also on the picture) were in the organizing committee and also members of the jury.
The Web Science Summer School was an exciting event, with presentations by world famous Web Science researchers Wendy Hall, Chris Welty, Dan Brickley, Noshir Contractor and highly interesting talks by Guus Schreiber, Lora Aroyo, Franco Papeschi and others, and many interesting plenary discussions about social, technological aspects and the dynamic nature of the World Wide Web.
W4RA presented at the VU University Amsterdam Multicultural Event 2012.
June 6, 2012: The W4RA team took the opportunity to present W4RA to the VU audience. Different multicultural projects are presented during this seminar.The Rector Magnificus of VU, Lex Bouter opened the seminar. We outlined different aspects of this extensive project: Voice Technologies, Linked Market Data for farmers in the Sahel, Semantic XO, Web of African Radios, Downscaling the Semantic Web, Living Labs. We showed one of the video clips. Hans Akkermans chaired the meeting. Our South-African partner in the VOICES project, Etienne Barnard presented "Speech Technologies for Under-Resourced Languages", in which he explained how resourcing of a language is done. He highlighted which approach was chosen for resourcing languages such as Bambara and other small African languages in our African projects. We are currently collecting as much written text in Bambara as we can find on the web. For languages like Bomu, that don't even have a written tradition, resourcing will be the greatest challenge. In the afternoon Hans Akkermans presented the project with Nana Gyan, Victor de Boer, Christophe Guéret, Stefan Schlobach, Anna Bon, and Chris van Aart.
Downscale 2012 - First International Workshop on Downscaling the Semantic Web
First International Workshop on Downscaling the Semantic Web - Crete, May 28th, in the pre-conference of ESWC 2012. Organized by Christophe Guéret and Stefan Schlobach from VUA and Florent Pigout, from OLPC.
The workshop brought together a group of computer scientists, experts in Semantic Web technologies. Although the general trend is upscaling, here, the notion is of downscaling, decentralizing, even reducing the Web of Data, for a special reason. The need for data sharing in the developing world is an important topic, especially the case of rural areas in Africa, and of schools in developing countries. Another area is disaster management, also presented here. In disaster, the amount of data is especially the issue, when rescue teams have to take fast decisions in situations that concern life and death. Here, downscaling is especially necessary to reduce the amount of data, and keep only what is relevant…
For developing countries, three topics were presented, where Linked Data can be applied: (i) Linked Market Data from rural communities in the Sahel, (ii) SemanticXO, linked data to share accross children's computers that don't have access to the internet, but still want to share data, and (iii) the Web of Radios, currently only a dream, but one that can become reality, positioning community radio an important future content provider in Africa.
It is nice to share ideas on problems and solutions. Today, the key-note speaker Abraham Bernstein, argued in his opening speech that we should throw the Semantic Web into the garbage. The audience was surprised, especially when he argued that the garbage is the best place to be. The garbage is the place where problems and solutions meet, and also the place where theory and practice meet, according to Bernstein. To stay in his metaphor, the Downscale workshop was actually a place where theory and practice met. It is a challenge to make two extremely different worlds meet. Can we make theory and practice meet in the sense that the intellectual Semantic Web community, absorbed in theory, meets the harsh reality of the rural practice in Mali concerned with real life problems and characterized a high level of illiteracy? And can this meeting be reciprocal? I mean, it possible to bridge these two worlds using Linked Data as well as social networking and make the two worlds benefit from this meeting? It is probably not these extreme opposites the keynote speaker and conference participants had in mind, but we can give it a try…
W4RA poster "Bringing the Web of Data to Developing Countries: Linked Market Data in the Sahel" by Victor de Boer, Nana Baah Gyan, Pieter De Leenheer, Anna Bon, Chris van Aart, Christophe Guéret, Wendelien Tuyp, Stephane Boyera, Mary Allen and Hans Akkermans wins prize for best poster at the Extended Semantic Web Conference 2012, Crete. The poster was selected by votes from 300 conference participants. Download the poster here.
Foroba Blon - Citizen Journalism in Rural Areas in Mali, a short documentary
W4RA at VU Amsterdam Multicultural Event
At VU University Amsterdam the annual Multi Cultural event will take place on June 6th 2012, with interesting talks, expositions, and even music and dance. The Web Alliance for Regreening in Africa will be well represented during this event.
In the morning, after the welcome by the Rector Magnificus Lex Bouter, Hans Akkermans will chair the first part of the International workshop on Cultural Diversity, and the guest speaker is our South-African partner, Etienne Barnard, from the Multilingual Speech Technology Research Group, North-West University. Etienne will present: "
Speaking Different Languages: Can Speech Technology Make the World a Better Place?"
In the afternoon Hans Akkermans and Stefan Schlobach will present:
“ICT4D: Developing Countries and the Globalization of the World Wide Web”
Organization of this event is done by the VU Centre for International Cooperation, the Network Institute and the Institute for Environmental Studies.
For more information or registration, please visit http://www.vu-multicultural.nl/
New students' community for Re-greening in Africa
The first W4RA Student mini-symposium was held at the Intertainlab of VU Amsterdam, on 20th April 2012. It was organized by Victor de Boer, to promote exchange of ideas amongst the students that are currently working on ICTD related topics. The Web 4 Regreening in Africa has really been inspiring, and has brought a variety of topics for further research. Wendelien Tuyp from the VU Centre for International Cooperation, and Pieter De Leenheer, who is supervising these students together with Victor, were also present at the symposium.
The students presented the following topics:
Henk Kroon is creating a client application that uses the Linked Data based on the voice-based market information system RadioMarché.
Rokhsareh Nakhaei is working on extensive models to design a serious game for gathering voice fragments in different languages.
Albert Chifura is working on sustainable business models for deployment of voice-services in Mali
Binyam Tesfa is developing a crowdsourcing application for digitizing pluvial data from the Sahel. He targets a specific niche (the African ‘diaspora’) to do this.
Deepak Chetri is doing literature research into the design of Voice-based interfaces for low-literate users in developing countries.
Gavarni Winter is the newest addition to the W4RA family, he is still contemplating the specific research questions.
Foroba Blon project on full speed
The newest project by W4RA, nicknamed Foroba Blon is now fully on speed.The W4RA team met again in Mali, 12-16 February, and selected the most suitable use case, together with the partners from Radio Ségou and Radio Moutian. The Foroba Blon system will now be developed. The first cycle is due in May 2012. The project is funded through a grant from the International Press Institute (IPI). The proposal by W4RA was one of the three winning projects amongst 376 submissions to the 2011 IPI News Innovation Contest. Read more on our news page.
In November 2011 the W4RA-VOICES team travelled to Mali, to show the Malian partners the first version of the Radio Marché voice system. Radio Marché will be used by local NGO Sahel Eco and by two community radio stations: Radio ORTM Segou and Radio Moutian. Radio Marché supports the work and trade of farmers in the Tominian area.
Radio Marché is based on mobile voice and web technologies. It has been designed to automatically generate voice communiqués of market information, that can be broadcasted on the radio. Farmers in the Tominian area produce sheanuts, sheabutter, honey and other products. Radio advertisements increase their number of customers.
On a weekly basis Sahel Eco aggregates market information from the farmers. By using Radio Marché, it becomes very easy for them to have the offerings broadcasted on the radio.
The Radio Marché system facilitates the work of Sahel Eco and of the two participating radio stations. Formerly the market information was entered into a spreadsheet by Mr Tangara from Sahel Eco. The speadsheet was printed on paper and brought to the radio by bicycle. Now, Mr. Tangara enters the market information into a webform on his computer, and then he notifies the radio. The radio journalist simply dials a phone number and hears the voice communiqué. He can broadcast the communiqué directly on the radio, even several times if he likes. It saves him time and ensures that the offerings are broadcasted accurately.
To create the automatic voice messages, we recorded and processed the personal voices of the radio journalists Mr. Dakovo from radio Moutian and Mr. Fousseyni from ORTM Segou. Although the voice communiqué is a computer genetared message, it sounds very natural, using this typical malian french accent. In 2012 the Radio Marché system will be extended so that it can automatically generate voice communiqués in Bambara and possibly also in Bomu, two African languages, spoken in Mali.
Mr. Tangara from Sahel Eco, and the radio journalists from Segou and Moutian were pleased with the Radio Marché system. They will test and deploy the new system in their daily routine.
During the trip we met farmers from the Tominian area and asked them their opinion about Radio Marché. The farmers were happy with the efforts currently undertaken to support their farming business by providing this new match-making platform that connects them to new customers. The farmers showed us their products and we could finally taste the honey and appreciate the sheabutter.
We took note of all remarks from our stakeholders, so that we can improve and extend Radio Marché and add functionality in the next coming months. We expect to be back in Mali in May 2012. Apart from the next version of Radio Marché, we will start working on other voice-based systems that may support Regreening in Mali. To be continued....