Reaching low-literate populations using voice-based games

Posted on Jul 8, 2012 in Projects we like

Before officially announcing the Geeks Without Bounds Accelerator program, we already had several projects that we were helping nudge forward. One of the earliest projects we worked with is a research project called Polly led by the Language Technologies Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. The lead developer of Polly, Agha Ali Raza, is a PhD student at CMU/LTI and a native of Pakistan.

Polly is a telephone-based system for reaching low-literate populations via a simple voice-based game, then providing them with development-related voice-based services. Polly is currently in active use in Pakistan and has reached over 40,000 individual users and over half a million calls as of July 2012.

Polly was initially launched in 2011 using Tropo’s cloud communications API. In 3 short weeks it amassed over 2,000 users and over 10,000 calls. Due to the overwhelming success of the pilot, the developers contacted Geeks Without Bounds to see if we could assist with helping them launch a version that expanded the number of simultaneous users while eliminating the expensive international long distance charges the application was incurring.

The solution we proposed was to create the first-ever private Tropo cloud in Pakistan. Our friends over at Voxeo Labs (the team behind Tropo), offered the project a free 30-port license of PRISM (the underlying media and application server that Tropo runs on top of). The U.S.-based Carnegie Mellon team connected with a team in Pakistan at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

The most important addition in May 2011 was the introduction of a development-related application (called ‘the payload’) as part of the dialog menu: The Polly teams scans Pakistani newspapers daily for advertisements for jobs that are appropriate for low-skilled, low-literate workers, records them in the local language, and makes them available for audio-browsing by phone. Polly users can browse job opportunities, and can even forward a promising one to a friend. So far these job ads have been listened to over 70,000 times.

It’s quite exciting to see some of our early work coming to fruition. For more info check out the Polly project website.