In the news this week: the Question Box

Chalk drawing of a question mark

Image by SlinkyDragon, used under the Creative Commons license.

Ken Banks at IT World writes about the Question Box — a service allowing a person to ask a question through a telecom box placed in a village, and then receive a response from someone on the other end of the line who has a computer in front of him/her. Banks explains:

It works like this: A villager presses a call button on a physical intercom device, located in their village, which connects them to a trained operator in a nearby town who’s sitting in front of a computer attached to the Internet. A question is asked. While the questioner holds, the operator looks up the answer on the Internet and reads it back. All questions and answers are logged. For the villager there is no keyboard to deal with. No complex technology. No literacy issues. And during early trials at least, no cost. Put simply, Question Box, as it’s called, provides immediate, relevant information to people using their preferred mode of communication, speaking and listening.

You can see photos of the Question Box and of people using it on the Question Box Project’s Flickr photostream.

Banks also notes that the Grameen Foundation this week launched its AppLab initiative in Uganda. (AppLab stands for application laboratory, and is essentially a project to get people in different locales around the developing world building information access applications for mobile devices such as cellphones. Their about us page has more detail). Kiwanja posts an insider’s view of the project’s rollout in Uganda to his blog.