Dr. Nana Baah Gyan and the Web for Rural Development

Freshly minted dr. Nana flanked by his two paranimphs receives the laudation from supervisor prof. Akkermans.

Freshly minted dr. Nana flanked by his two paranimphs receives the laudation from supervisor prof. Akkermans.

On 5 april 2016, Nana Baah Gyan successfully defended his PhD thesis “The Web, Speech Technologies and Rural Development in West Africa, An ICT4D Approach” in front of the reading committee at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Dr. Nana worked as a PhD researcher mostly in the context of the FP-7 VOICES project and was supervised by prof. Hans Akkermans and dr. Victor de Boer.

Nana investigated the history of speech systems in developing countries. He discussed and developed strategies for requirements harvesting for an instance of an ICT4D project under rural conditions, the results of which led to an actual implementation of voice-based ICT tools for rural farmers in Mali.

frontpage Nana

Nana’s thesis is available online.

His thesis furthermore deals with evaluating the impact of the project on the lives of stakeholders involved as well as the potential such tools and systems hold for future research. The thesis also discusses what ICT4D generally means for education in West Africa and beyond.

You can read more about Nana’s research in his thesis [PDF] or on the http://w4ra.org site.

 

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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