This is the
VOA Special English Development Report.
you have a question about something, where do you go? For many people the
answer is simple. They go online to a search engine like Google or Yahoo. But
what about people in rural or underdeveloped areas who may have no way to get
on the Internet?
A business and international development
consultant in California, Rose Shuman, wanted to find an answer for them, too. Her
solution is Question Box.
Box is a service that provides answers -- free of charge -- for people who
cannot search the Internet directly. They might not be able to read, or they
simply have no access.
Question Box began two years ago
in India. People use a metal call box with a push-to-talk button to connect to
a live operator, as Rose Shuman explains:
SHUMAN: "You just push a button, a big green button, and that will connect
you directly to our operators who are sitting in front of computers, and speak
your language. And you can ask them any sort of question you want, and they'll
look it up in English or in Hindi, or whatever the main language is, and
translate the answer right back for you."
The service is currently offered in two villages. The
latest version of the box uses mobile phone technology, and solar panels in
case the electrical power fails. Rose Shuman says the aim was to make the box
as easy as possible for users.
ROSE SHUMAN: "Rather than try to bring a lot of
infrastructure to them and expect them to learn how to use the Internet, the
idea was to make a technology that even Grandma could use, figuring that
Grandma could probably walk up to a box and push a button."
Question Box expanded to Uganda. Forty community workers with mobile phones
connect villagers to call center operators in Kampala. The community workers go
around telling people about the service. They wear T-shirts that say "Ask
Internet service in Uganda proved slow and undependable. So Question Box teamed
up with a local technology company to store information on a local server. That
way, the researchers in Kampala can quickly search the database for answers.
Box is a project of Open Mind, a nonprofit organization founded by Rose Shuman.
She says Question Box is working to expand by offering its software through
Uganda, Question Box formed a partnership with the Grameen Foundation. Grameen
had money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to bring agricultural
information to rural farmers. But users also ask about current events and many
ROSE SHUMAN: "When was Mahatma Gandhi born, and
how long is the Nile River? What's the tallest mountain? The funniest one I
think we got was, 'Did the pyramids ever move to another place?' Which we found
pretty funny. But we did look it up, and they haven't moved."
that's the VOA Special English Development Report, written by June Simms. I'm Steve Ember.