Two weeks ago the latest version of Freedom Fone, affectionately known to his handlers as “Fred,” was set loose.

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Inspired by the cockney rhyming slang “dog and bone” (meaning phone), the Freedom Fone dog logo and quirky character of Fred was born a few years ago. Fred is still young, but after a few years of software development (and dog training!), and thanks to Knight News Challenge funds, he’s now ready to go out into the world on his own.

This is a report on his recent adventures since the launch of Freedom Fone version 1.5. To learn more about how it works, try our online demo. But in a nutshell, Freedom Fone is an information and communication tool, which marries the mobile phone with Interactive Voice Response (IVR), for the benefit of citizens. It provides information activists, service organizations and NGOs with widely usable telephony applications, so they can deliver vital information to communities who need it most. Freedom Fone makes it easy to build voice menus, run SMS polls, receive SMS messages and manage voice messages.

Testing Out Fred

Various individuals scattered across the globe have been downloading, installing and testing Fred’s performance and his repertoire of tricks to see whether he’s a useful addition to their existing communication strategies. For example, one NGO has been exploring the possibility of using Freedom Fone to support original music by indigenous musicians from the Northern Territory of Australia. Another is using it to communicate with multicultural communities involved in community arts. A British organization is considering using Fred to provide information and support for school kids and parents from disadvantaged communities.

Meanwhile, an individual in the States has been investigating whether Freedom Fone can be used for social networking with his friends. The prospect of using Freedom Fone as a “voicebook” platform to offer up some voxpop audio ear candy is a cool one!

We hope that all users of our free open source software have a good experience. If you give Fred a try, we ask that you please let us know how well he fetches the stick that you throw him!
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Although Fred has new admirers, he also remains loyal to his long-standing friends. In particular, he’s formed a very close bond with the Farm Radio International (FRI) crew, who have been consistently good to him.

FRI has been using Freedom Fone for over a year at Radio Maria in Tanzania and for other projects in Ghana. In Tanzania they are running the Kuku Hotline, which provides rural farmers with information about chicken production. The above image of DJ Lilian Manyuka shows her interviewing a rural extension officer about his role in providing local farmers with information.

Fred Helps with Zimbabwe’s Constitution

Another loyal companion of Fred is the Kubatana Trust of Zimbabwe. Not only did Kubatana have a hand in breeding and raising Fred, they’ve also been there to take Fred for lots of walks around the block. So far they are very happy with the way version 1.5 behaves, barks, wags and runs.

i-55ab09ce7a46998d881e9574885e3992-eric_matinenga_1004.jpgZimbabwe is currently drafting a new constitution, and Kubatana is using Freedom Fone to offer a constitutional question-and-answer service in English, Shona and Ndebele. To do this, it has been collaborating with Constitutional Affairs Minister Eric T. Matinenga (pictured above).

Kubatana’s mobile lines have being receiving questions from the public about the constitution; Matinenga’s responses will be recorded and the audio clips will be shared using Freedom Fone. In this use case, Fred is proving to be a powerful tool for citizens to question, debate and understand the constitution.

Kubatana also recently used Freedom Fone for lighter fare during the Harare International Festival of the Arts, held between April 27 and May 2, 2010. The Fred-powered hotline featured renowned HIFA master of ceremonies, Gavin Peters, giving the public the inside scoop on what was hot and happening during the festival’s week-long activities.

Those are the updates for now, but stay tuned for more on Fred’s new bag of tricks!

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