Freedom Fone version 1.6 is now available for download. This version builds on existing core features and adds some useful new functionality, and we hope it will inspire new deployments. Freedom Fone provides a voice database where users can access news and public-interest information via landline, mobile or Internet phones. Users can call in and then dial specific numbers to find the information they need.

Deployments of 1.5

Since the public launch of version 1.5 six months ago, there have been over 230 downloads of the software from the website, hundreds of email enquiries and thousands of visits to the demo site from over 3,000 different locations worldwide.

The diverse spectrum of individuals and organizations who have downloaded the software cover a wide spectrum of potential usage scenarios: Reaching out to ethnic refugees; sending reminders to pregnant mothers; communicating with indigenous arts communities; providing information services for remote musicians; helping victims of xenophobic violence; interacting with parents and school children from disadvantaged communities; providing support to sexual health workers; preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS; and audio journalism from the field. Let us know how you could foresee using Freedom Fone.
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Tariro on Top continues to be one of the Kubatana Trust’s most successful deployments of Freedom Fone to date. The call-in audio soap opera deals with sexual harassment in the workplace in an entertaining yet informative manner.

In just over a month there have been 1,752 calls from 1,102 unique numbers, with an average of 46 calls per day. Seventy percent of these calls were made from mobile phones and the remainder from landlines. Tariro on Top, the first program in an edutainment series, is comprised of five two-minute episodes. The average call length into the service has been over two minutes, with most callers listening to at least the first full episode. This is a significant achievement for a cost-to-caller service of this kind in Zimbabwe, where mobile calls cost U.S. $0.25 a minute and where unemployment hovers around 94 percent.

In terms of marketing, the SMS campaigns advertising the service created dramatic spikes in call volumes. Interestingly, the distribution of free, postage-paid postcards seemed to attract more determined callers who appeared to navigate through the voice menus more thoroughly. If you are in Zimbabwe, try out Tariro while it’s still live by calling 0913 444 321 up to 8. For international callers dial +263-913-444321 up to 8. Alternatively, you can listen to the audio files online.

Development of 1.6

Here’s a quick overview of some of the new functionality in Version 1.6 of Freedom Fone.

A language switcher now makes it easy to translate the user interface into English, Swahili or Spanish. In September, when we have our localization interface in place, we will invite volunteers to translate the GUI into additional languages.

It is now really simple to export audio files, including voice messages received through the leave-a-message component. Another valuable simplification addresses the need for callers to be able to leave a voice message by simply ending their call. The original functionality, which required callers to explicitly save their voice messages by pressing a designated number, is still available for organizations that wish to use it. System reporting has also been improved thanks to the inclusion of a report that details the duration of each call to the service.

This version is being ported to Ubuntu 10.04 and will be released as Version 1.6.5 LTS in September. This will be the stable long-term support version for the current feature set. Additional functionality will be incorporated into Version 2.0 due in October 2010. There’s lots more to come, but you should definitely get going with Version 1.6 now!

Digital Activism

At the same time we’re working to increase use of Freedom Fone, a recent interview with Gaurav Mishra, the CEO of 2020 Social, has caused us to consider the nature of digital activism. Speaking with the Guardian, Mishara said there are two main paradigms of digital activism: Empowering people with information and engaging with inspiration.

He listed Freedom Fone as a good example of a simple-to-use technology that empowers disadvantaged communities (mainly in Africa and Asia) by providing access to basic information and a voice to tell their stories firsthand. Mishra said that the second paradigm, engaging with inspiration, works with privileged online communities, based mainly in affluent North America and Europe. For these groups, it is not a lack of information access but rather a “crisis of caring” — and the goal of this paradigm is to inspire action. In the end, he said, we are limited at looking at the world through either lens, and the world can benefit from a cross-pollination of these paradigms.

Mishra said that “researchers have found support for the 1:9:90 rule in many different contexts. The 1:9:90 rule says that 90% of all users are consumers, 9% of all users are curators and only 1% of the users are creators” of content.

We have encountered similar trends with Freedom Fone. For instance, for one of the current services, only 1 percent of the callers have taken advantage of the leave-a-message service to contribute feedback and participate in a two-way dialogue, despite the high call volumes into the service. This indicates one of the difficulties of shifting between paradigms and not only informing, but also inspiring action.

Freedom Fone could better engage with the inspiration paradigm by encouraging compelling content that promotes meaningful conversation, collaboration and participation. This may lead to increased co-creation and collective action of the open source software and user communities. Organizations like ours could benefit from improving collective intelligence by aggregating collective actions effectively and building stronger recommendation systems — such as case studies and best usage scenarios — just as Google does by ranking pages.

What do you think organizations like Freedom Fone could do to support both paradigms?