Inspiring TMT Workshop in Bamako

From 9-13 October, the W4RA team visited Bamako in Mali for the Nuffic-funded Tailor Made Training (TMT) workshop at the offices of AOPP (Association des organisations professionnelles paysannes). This association brings together agricultural innovators in the country. The attendees are very interested in using ICTs to improve communication and knowledge sharing among their members.

Kasadaka in Bamako

Kasadaka in Bamako. This version has a built-in touch screen.

Digivet demonstration

Digivet demonstration. Alou Dolo from local IT club Yeleman is helping us.


During the four-day workshop, we demonstrated a number of applications developed in the context of our W4RA research, including the VOICES demonstrators, Mr Jiri and the Kasadaka voice platform which was based on a Raspberry Pi. We also showed the DigiVet application developed by Gossa Lo. In a number of breakout sessiosn, the AOPP members then developed a number of new use cases. These included an information system for seed information. In various locations in Mali, farmers develop and enrich seeds (sesame, sorghum, etc.) and sell these to other farmers. These seeds are adapted to fit the local soil and climate. To improve the effectiveness of this seed information, better sharing of this information is required. Other ideas included a veterinarian service and a marketplace application.

Field trip: visiting the champs ecole

Field trip: visiting the champs ecole. We are standing inbetween sesame plants.

To deepen our understanding of the use cases and the local context, we visited a “Champs Ecole” (testing field) where new types of sesame and sorghum plants and new planting strategies were monitored. We also visited an organisation “Femmes en action” who organize trainings for local women on how to fabricate products out of raw plant materials, such as Baobab-bonbons and the always-delicious Bissap (Hibiscus lemonade). The head of the group, Fatim, was a very inspiring lady and she also showed us tubs full of fish that could be farmed in town residencies. We even got to take home some of the produced dried fish flakes.

Discussing the use casesa

Discussing the use cases


The final day we demonstrated a number of applications. Specifically, we showed a very early prototype of a voice-accessible seed market, as was explored in the workshop. For this, we used Kasadaka as the rapid-prototyping platform. It fulfilled its purpose quite well as the farmers were triggered by this demonstration ad provided valuable feedback and questions to further specify the use case and requirements. Of course, we are still running into some issues, specifically with regestering key presses (DTMF) on the Malian network. We also showed Senepedia.org, a wiki for agriculture (sene, in the Bambara language). In the next months, the AOPP staff will experiment with this wiki to register and share information that concerns their members.

All in all, this was a very successful and inspiring meetup and we are looking forward to going back to Mali in the beginning of next year with new prototypes and demonstrations.
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African farmers in E-Data & Research magazine

The October edition of the KNAW’s E-Data and Research magazine features an article submitted by Christophe Gueret, Stefan Schlobach and myself on the need for facilitating data sharing in developing regions. Our submission was rewritten into a nice interview-like article, which you can find on page 8 (and copied below). The article is in Dutch.

For more information, visit http://worldwidesemanticweb.org

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VOICES video

As the VOICES project is ending, we wanted to wrap up our results in the form of a nice video. The result shows the three systems (RadioMarche, Foroba Blon and Tabale) that have been deployed and tested in Mali, Africa. The video was shot by people from the project and edited by Pepijn Borgwat from Synergique and myself. There is an English and a French version, both are embedded below.

 

The Web Of Voices (english) and Le Web Par La Voix (francais) from Synergique

 

 

Web Science 2013 (and a bit of CHI)

Nana presenting the VOICES paperLast week, coming back from Mali, I extended my stopover in Paris for a week to visit the Web Science 2013 conference, which was colocated with CHI 2013. It was my first time visiting the WebSci conference and I want to use this short post to share my impressions. My colleague Paul Groth visited both conferences as well and wrote an excellent trip report.

One aspect I really enjoyed was the fact that it was colocated with CHI and that participants were encouraged to go to eachothers sessions. I visited a panel on speech technologies, which is
The Web Science conference started for me with the IFIP VASCO workshop followed by the Web Science education workshop. I think theoretically for a young field as Web Science it is a good idea to discuss the different programmes and it was nice to hear the different aspects of the curriculums. I hope that next year, the VU Web Science minor is listed on the different international web pages as a good example of how to do a Web Science programme for non-computer science students.very relevant in the light of our VOICES project. The CHI interactivity demo sessions were very cool and convinced me to try to send in something to this conference next year.

Data-DJ Paul Groth

The conference itself featured a nice keynote speech by one of the “Fathers of the Internet” Vint Cerf and by the great Cory Doctorow on the horrors of DRM. It was very nice to hear about Internet Law and copyright protection from someone who -as an artist- is on the potential benefiting end of the discussion.  Doctorow is at the same time well versed in the technical details and can tell a coherent story (no slides!).

Although I was very skeptical about the format beforehand, I feel the Pecha Kucha session  was a very successful endeavour. Paul Groth presented our paper on online prayer [1] excellently and Nana Gyan did a great job telling the Web Science audience about our work in Mali [2]. Both papers were among the 8 papers that were nominated for best paper, so that is a great achievement!

Some of the other sessions dragged on a bit too long and although I appreciate the intent of trying to make the conference more interdisciplinary, I felt that some of the philosophically and sociologically oriented papers were not that well presented. In some cases it was hard to find where the “science” was.

Some papers I liked:

  • Taxis Metaxas story on the analysis of “Narco-tweets” and citizen journalism in Mexico. Mr. Metaxas gave a very passionate account of his research in Mexico and played a voice recording of the anonymous citizen journalist @MelissaLotzer. A very example of socially relevant research.
  • Another good presentation about web journalism is the talk by Souneil Park  Challenges and Opportunities of Local Journalism: A case study of the 2012 Korean general election.
  • I liked Harry Halpin’s talk on the question of whether or not the Web extends the mind although I’m not sure if I can judge it on its philosophical merits.
  • I saw some nice posters, including one on the Open Annotation specs, one on a webtool for supporting archeologist

All in all it was a nice conference, and it was very interesting to see that in a lot of presentations  the meta-discussion on what constitutes Web Science, what its scope is , what the methodologies are, was discussed to great lengths.

Hope to be there again next year.

Archeology Poster

[1] Fabian Eikelboom, Paul Groth, Victor de Boer and Laura Hollink (2013) A Comparison between Online and Offline Prayer. In Web Science 2013. [PDF]

[2] Nana Baah Gyan, Victor de Boer, Anna Bon, Chris van Aart, Stephane Boyera, Hans Akkermans, Mary Allen, Aman Grewal, Max Froumentin. Voice-based Web access in rural Africa. In Web Science 2013

ICT 4 Development course final presentations

[crosspost from worldwidesemanticweb.wordpress.com]

This friday, a brand new course at the VU University Amsterdam came to a satisfying close. The ICT 4 Development course (ICT4D) was offered to VUA Computer Science students for the first  year and I feel it was a success. The course, which was a collaboration between the Computer Science department and the Center for International Cooperation of the same university, aimed to teach students how one should go about designing and deploying ICT projects in developing areas.

Student group presenting their XO deployment planTo this end, the students learned about the importance of considering local socio-economic contexts but also got to experience two technologies often used for development projects. The students received a crash course in the Sugar operating system for the XO laptop from the One Laptop Per Child project and were presented with a tutorial on VoiceXML for developing voice-based applications. Students formed groups and chose either one of these technologies to solve a real-world problen in its development context.

The course ended today with student group presentations. Three groups presented an XO deployment. One of these included an agricultural program in Namibia that involves teaching children about growing local food next to their schools. The XO laptop can assist this education by providing tips for growing the crops. Two other presentations focused on XO deployments in neighbouring countries Iran and Iraq and included mockups and prototypes for XO programs (activities) that assist children both inside and outside school. There is even a good chance that the program in Iraq will actually be deployed and one of the teachers (who happened to be one of the student’s mother) was present at the presentation.

student group presenting their VoiceXML moduleThe fourth group developed an additional voice module for the RadioMarché system currently deployed in Mali, allowing local farmers to call in with their mobile phones when they want to sell produce. A voice menu enables them to tell the system how much of a specific product they have to offer and how much money they want in return.

All in all, this trip around the world showed how much the students have learned. We hope some of the projects will actually lead to real deployments and are looking forward to teaching the course again next year.

Voice Access to Malian linked data

Statue talking on the phone (foto via Flickr by gadgetdan)A quick update related to the Malian Linked Data post. The Voices project is mainly concerned with voice access to Web information, to allow the local users in the developing countries themselves being able to access the data using simple 2g mobile phones. Therefore I have experimented with providing some form of voice access to the linked market data. This resulted in a small prototype demonstrator.

The voice service is built using VoiceXML , the industry standard for developing voice applications. Although in a deployment version we cannot assume that text-to-speech (TTS) libraries are available for the local languages, we here only implement English-language access to the data, using English TTS.

The prototype voice application is running on the Voxeo Evolution platform. The platform includes a voice browser, which is able to interpret VoiceXML documents, includes (English) TTS and provides a number of ways to access the Voice application. These include the Skype VoIP number +990009369996162208 and the local (Dutch) phone number +31208080855.

When any of these numbers is called, the voice application accesses a VoiceXML document hosted on a remote server. This document contains the dialogue structure for the application. In the current demonstrator, the caller is presented with three options, to browse the data by product or region, or to listen to the latest offering. The caller presses the code on his or her keypad (this is Dual Tone Multi-Frequency or DTMF). The voice application interprets the choice and forwards the caller to a new voice menu.

For products, the caller must select the type of product (“press 1 for Tamarind”, “press 2 for Honey”, etc.), for regions the caller is presented with a list of regions to choose from. Based on the choice the application then accesses a PHP document on the remote server, the choice is copied as a HTTP GET variable.

Based on the choice, a SPARQL query is constructed. This SPARQL query is then passed to the RadioMarche Linked Data server, which returns the appropriate results. For a product query, all (recent) offerings about that product are returned. The SPARQL
result is then transformed into VoiceXML and articulated to the caller.

The demonstrator is now in a very early prototype version, so not everything might work all the time.

The above paragraphs are also part of a  paper submitted to the Downscale2012 workshop.