A Picture and a Thousand Words: Visual Scaffolding for Mobile Communication in the Developing World

A Picture and a Thousand Words: Visual Scaffolding for Mobile Communication in the Developing World

Robert Farrell (IBM T J Watson Research Center, USA), Catalina Danis (IBM T J Watson Research Center, USA), Thomas Erickson (IBM T. J. Watson Research Center, USA), Jason Ellis (IBM T J Watson Research Center, USA), Jim Christensen (IBM T J Watson Research Center, USA), Mark Bailey (IBM T J Watson Research Center, USA) and Wendy A. Kellogg (IBM T J Watson Research Center, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-761-9.ch004
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Abstract

Mobile communication is a key enabler for economic, social and political change in developing regions of the world. Today’s internet-enabled multimedia and touch-screen mobile smartphones could become the future platform for delivering information and communication technology (ICT) to these regions. We describe Picture Talk, a smartphone application framework designed to facilitate local information sharing in regions with sparse Internet connectivity, low literacy rates and having users with little prior experience with information technology. We argue that engaging citizens in developing regions in information creation and information sharing leverages peoples’ existing social networks to facilitate transmission of critical information, exchange of ideas, and distributed problem solving. All of which can promote economic development.
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Background

In this section we provide background on some of the obstacles that BoP populations currently face in becoming part of the global community with access to information technology.

In the economically developed world, access to information technology has been largely through Internet-connected computers. An important benefit of access to the Internet has been the potential for contact with the worldwide community of users. The Usenet network, one of the earliest online discussion venues (created in 1979), supported threaded discussion on a wide variety of topics among participants distributed worldwide. Online communities became very popular in the 1980s and 1990s. For example, the WELL (“Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link”) was a hybrid face-to-face and online group that served participants in the Bay area of San Francisco, California (Rheingold, 1993). Members of the WELL engaged in discussions of topics of common interest and the forum also served as a means of self-expression. Similar applications could be deployed to BoP communities to enable discussions on topics of local interest, provide a voice for individuals who would otherwise have no forum for their ideas, and enable solutions to communal problems through information exchange.

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