For the last two years, Frohlich and Jones have worked together on StoryBank, a project enabling textual and computer illiterate people to build a repository of audio-visual content via camera phones. Here’s their report from Budikote, a village in rural India.
Mobile phones are having a particular impact, and the StoryBank project, based in a rural Indian region, has been looking at ways of using them to enable technology-poor villagers to participate in and benefit from content creation and sharing activities. Skipping the text-based internet paradigm altogether, the project is exploring how camera phones and a library of digital stories (the story-bank) can be used to extend existing initiatives in community radio.
While village textual literacy rates are low, visual and oral expression thrive.
The starting point for the StoryBank project then, was a sense that the villagers had valuable stories and information to share, which might be extended with new technology. In particular, the way they currently told stories with pictures and music might be used to enliven radio content, or could be captured and shared in new ways… These included widening participation through making stories on a mobile phone, using photographs as illustrations, and providing ‘listen again’ facilities in a convenient location.
So the system we’ve built has at its heart a large touch screen display in the village’s community resource centre. This is a place where self-help groups gather, school children hang out and other villagers often pass through for information or to bump into their friends. Then, there are the mobile phones, Nokia N80s, donated by Nokia, a partner in the project. Villagers make short stories of up to six images and a two-minute audio track on the phones. They can then go to the community centre and donate their content to the StoryBank. Alternatively, they might want to share their story with others – the phone has a special-purpose media player and stories can be transferred to other phones over Bluetooth. All of the stories are available for browsing on the StoryBank screen – groups can watch them together and they can be downloaded to the phones for later viewing.
The system gave a public voice to many more people in the village than ever before. People of all ages, castes and occupations were involved – school children and young people were particularly enthusiastic, but other groups also participated – including farmers, labourers, health workers, auto drivers, teachers, cleaners, shopkeepers, carpenters and housewives. This wide participation of people in the trial reflected the usability of our phone and display interfaces, and shows that it is possible to create and share digital content without any textual input and output, or prior knowledge of multimedia editing tools and computers.