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Web Sites That ­se the Spoken Word Will Empower the Illiterate


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IBM India Research Laboratory Director Guruduth Banavar

IBM India Research Laboratory director Guruduth Banavar and colleagues have developed a system which allows a Web site to be built and operated primarily using voice.

Credit: Cybermedia India Online Ltd.

A variety of advancements have been made in Internet technology in the past few years, but the Internet continues to reinforce a fundamental division between those who can read and those who are illiterate. Despite the widespread use of video content, most Web sites still rely on their users being able to read and write, particularly when designing a site.

IBM India Research Laboratory director Guruduth Banavar and colleagues developed a system based on voice extensible markup language, similar to the hypertext markup language used on conventional Web sites, which allows a Web site to be built and operated primarily using voice. Banavar hopes to create a "spoken Web" based on mobile phones, which are already an effective alternative to computers for obtaining online information in poor countries. Banavar envisions a spoken Web that allows users to dial a Web site and listen to a list of topics to find information such as the price of rice in the local market, which well should be used for irrigation, or when the next mobile hospital visit to their village will be, for example. What separates Banavar's objective from a regular call center is that users will be able to add content by recording a comment that is made available to others, and users can build their own sites.

Laboratory trials of the system show that even non-expert users can learn to build their own spoken Web sites in as little as 10 minutes.

From The Economist
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