What is Awaz Do?
“Awaz Do” is an exhortation to “give voice”. It is a communication system that potentially allows anyone with access to a simple phone line to record an audio message for the world to hear. The person can also use the system to receive messages from anyone who may care to respond. This system can be described as an audio mailbox facility. It is similar to a web log (blog) in structure. Just as one creates and manages an internet blog, the users of Awaz Do have administrative control over their audio mailboxes that allows them to add, delete or replace messages or responses.
Why do we need Awaz Do?
Communication models similar to Awaz Do already exist on the Internet. However, the Internet (as we know it, and as of now) has huge drawbacks in terms of being a democratic and egalitarian interface. This is largely because the Internet is still largely accessed through the personal computer or high-end telephones – both of which are relatively expensive and technologically complex devices. Hence the Internet largely remains the domain of a technocratic society. It has failed to involve many marginal populations directly.
On the other hand, in recent years, the number of phone users, has dramatically expanded across the globe (largely due to wireless technology). An unprecedented number of people from most diverse milieus now use the phone as an everyday communication tool.
Hence, Awaz Do, which uses the ordinary telephone as the interface, has the revolutionary potential to bring in all these people - many who have so far existed outside the digital divide – into the information loop.
How does Awaz Do work?
This system consists of a telephone, or even several telephones in different geographical areas, connected to a computer server. The telephone number acts as a gateway to the Awaz Do system. The computer server is where all the audio data is stored. Various software programs manage the different features of the system. An interactive voice response (IVR) system interfaces with the users and helps them navigate through the system. Database management software organizes information and makes it searchable. Other software components help users manage and maintain their audio mailboxes.
On calling the Awaz Do network, a voice menu gives the caller three broad choices: 1) to create an audio mailbox, 2) to listen to existing audio mailboxes, 3) to go to one’s own pre-created mailbox to manage or modify content. Any of these selections leads to subsequent menus that offer further options.
If a user wants to create a new mailbox, this is created instantaneously and the unique mailbox number and administrator password are read out to the user. The user can then begin adding audio messages to the mailbox immediately. Each mailbox can contain several messages, each of which is date and time stamped for easy retrieval. Each message may also have several responses threaded to it.
If the user chooses to navigate to other mailboxes, then he/ she can enter the appropriate mailbox number and begin listening to the messages and responses stored there. The user may also record a response to these audio postings.
The third option allows users to manage their mailboxes by entering the administrator password provided to them at the time of creation of the mailbox.
Who are the potential users and what are the probable uses of the Awaz Do system?
By using speech – which is the most natural and spontaneous of communicating methods – and by using an interface (the telephone) that almost everyone is familiar with, the Awaz Do system hopes to encourage anyone and everyone to “give voice” and “get heard”.
Only a few scenarios have been imagined below to indicate the myriad ways in which the system may be used.
1) As an egalitarian networking tool
From an old lady posting traditional recipes, to a vernacular citizen journalist posting news briefs, to a blind teenager posting limericks, various people can use Awaz Do to create their own audio content for the world to hear. By advertising their mailbox numbers, users can find audiences beyond their personal phone book entries. Listeners may also pass on the mailbox numbers with impressive content to other interested people and thus the audience may grow. Since listeners may also leave their responses (and also hear other such responses) a feedback loop is generated and communication networks can grow.
2) As a bulletin board for underdeveloped communities
Important proclamations of the village council or a slum area committee could be posted in an audio mailbox. This mailbox number would be made publically available for people to allow them to access this information. Feedback for these proclamations could be collected by encouraging people to leave their responses to the posted messages. Alternatively, any community member could start his or her audio blog where news and events concerning the population may be regularly posted in the local dialect. The public could be motivated to add to this information by recording it as responses in the same audio mailbox.
3) As a cheap and efficient offline communication tool between distanced people
For example: families who have members that have migrated to the city or another country can use the Awaz Do mailbox system to communicate with each other. Since the remote Awaz Do server could be accessed by dialing a local number at each end, either party has only to make a local call to leave a message. As the two locations may have a substantial time difference, people at each end could post and receive at a time convenient to them.
4) As a locative sonic inscription tool
Plaques/ stickers around historical precincts, advertising a phone number and an audio mailbox extension number, can inform tourists that audio tours of the area are available. On dialing the said numbers, a pre-recorded audio guide compiled by experts can be accessed by the tourists on demand. Tourists could add a query about any aspect they want more information on an the experts could respond to this within a given time frame.
5) As a survey and tracking tool
A researcher could post inquiries relating to a survey or a study (say, relating to the issues faced by people living with HIV) in a mailbox in the Awaz Do system and announce this mailbox number (perhaps through a relay SMS campaign) to the focus group at large. The willing respondents could then keep recording their answers by logging into the system when they can or whenever they want to. The researcher could close the survey when the sample size or time period of the survey has been deemed adequately large. Since all audio entries are time and date stamped, a graph of the variation in the number of responses over the time period could also be generated.
The project was conceived by Vishal Rawlley and developed with the support of Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science and Technology in conjunction with the OBORO new-media lab.
The development of this system was made possible by the technical contributions of Sébastien Couture (programmer for the voicemail system) and Bobby Kozinuk (developer of the telephone activated electronic circuit).
In March 2007, the prototype system was successfully developed and demonstrated. The project is awaiting field tests and the implementation of the system for public use is at a planning stage.