14 July 2009

For Uganda’s poor, a cellular connection

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Banana query
In a country where people don’t have electricity, much less Internet access, the Grameen Foundation partners with Google to relay information through mobile phones. Dara Kerr reports from on the ground for CNet:

“The research for this project began a year and a half ago at the Application Laboratory, AppLab, which was set up in Kampala, Uganda, by the Grameen Foundation. It has done field research, quantitative needs assessments, prototyping, and focus group testing to figure out how to design and structure mobile applications that could deliver the information.

Since most cell phones in Uganda have only voice and SMS capabilities, the technology was built for SMS. A person texts a question to a specific code, which goes to the database built by AppLab, then using Google’s algorithms, keywords are identified and the most suitable answer is sent back to the cell phone. ” […]

“For the next few months, there is a promotional period and all texts are free, which helps AppLab continue to build its database of queries. When the promotional period ends, MTN and Google have agreed to charge agriculture and health queries at half the cost of a normal SMS message, while all the other services will have the standard rates. Meanwhile, Google will be supporting an on-the-ground assessment to make sure these services are having a beneficial impact for the people of Uganda.”

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