Thank you for using MTN

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We have been having fun finding ways to get connected to the ‘net in preparation for our field work far from Kampala. We have been using tethered cell phones as modems, and today we created a local wifi network from a mobile broadband connected laptop (I called it “BeckyLovesMatooke”). By the way, MTN (Uganda’s major mobile provider, and Grameen partner) gave me this awesome message after I made a call yesterday:

Thank you for using MTN

Art/Mo/Sphere is on the Maker Faire Website

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Hey, we are actually on the Maker Faire website! Come see us at the end of May!

I “finally” made a website for Art/Mo/Sphere

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Last Friday, Laura, Ashley and I dusted off the old Art/Mo/Sphere to show off to new students at the I School Open House. We has some tech difficulties, but at least we got an idea of what we might want to do if we want to continue working on it. Here’s a website I made that talks about the project.

Laser Cutter Workshop at the Berkeley Institute of Design

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Today, Noah, Eric, and Ed from stopped by the Berkeley Institute of Design to give us an introduction on how to use the VERSAlaser cutting system. Read more at

History of the Book

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I just posted a mini blog on about a great book called The Evolution of the Book, which I heard about from spending a day in Paul Duguid and Geoffrey Nunberg’s Concepts of Information class. (I hope you both are teaching that class, or at least History of Information, next year!)

I just started reading The Evolution of the Book, by the late Frederick Kilgour. Kilgour was an American rock star librarian who was interested in computerizing book catalogues to aid information access. The Evolution of the Book includes a timeline of book formats. Kilgour mentioned that the papyrus scroll was around for about 2100 years before the codex was invented. Apparently, as the codex increased in popularity over time (over a loooong period of time), not all works on papyrus scroll were copied over to the new book format, and many volumes of… who knows? where lost.

Read more here!

Keep up with me at

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Hi! While I might use this space for iSchool-related class content, you can keep up to date with me and my projects at!

Allowing Rural Communities to Tell their Own Stories: Community Narrative Systems

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By Carol C and Michael M.

One application of Information Technology that we would like to explore further is the potential for communities to tell their own stories about the what they see as the most important needs that they have. A common thread of the lecturers featured in the Designing Rural Computing Applications course is the idea that communities know best what they need, and that researchers should spend a great deal of time learning, acknowledging, and helping members of rural communities achieve their goals.

Many of our guest lecturers advised students to not only spend a great deal of time assessing the most pressing needs of people on the ground, but to also to commit a great deal of time to determine these needs. Lee Thorn, for example, advised us to leave “80% of all the solutions in the hands of the people.” Yet there seems to be a communication gap between technology advocates and rural citizens in the developing world. The course has also produced quite a lot of debate about how technology can best serve rural communities.

ICTD should not just be focused on providing gizmos to rural communities. Information technology should also be thought of as a tool to allow rural communities to tell their own stories and provide insight into their own needs. What are the most pressing problems in a particular community? Is it education? Lack of roads? Lack of health care?


One potential problem to this type of system are the political repercussions of dissenting media. In Turkey, for example, there are strict regulations on what types of government criticisms can be reported. This type of censorship could prevent such a system from being freely used by rural communities.

Another problem that prevents the dissemination of information is illiteracy, especially in rural areas. For example, literacy rates of women in parts of rural India are around 40%.

Possible Designs of a Community Narrative system

A system might be as simple as a wiki that travelers can update with testimonies that they hear about on their travels. For example, WikiTravel has a great deal of information about every country on earth. Yet, it lacks very much information about the economic conditions and needs of rural citizens of those countries.

Another idea might be a multiple input “narrative aggregation system,” that allows people to share stories about what they feel are their most pressing needs in any way they can – mail, txt, phone, or computer.  PostSecret has been very successful in terms of garnering interest and readership.  Anybody can easily, anonymously, post their stories in such a venue, potentially routing around the censorship issue.  People like to hear stories, so stories of problems that could potentially be solved, aggregated through a PostSecret-like or any other medium, could find a voice through the press.  Perhaps members of the press can get involved in gathering this data.

Finally, a simple blank journal can be used to record the thoughts of the community, and the book can be scanned, translated, and posted for the world to read.

Agriculture Information Systems for Gujarati Farmers

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I currently work at a community radio station. One of the challenges of community radio is figuring out how to make the programming current and relevant to those who don’t have access to other media. Neil Patel’s talk, on “Agriculture Information Systems for Gujarati Farmers” described an amazingly successful application of Information Systems to aid farmers in interacting with each other through mass media. Neil spoke about an interesting intersection between radio and information systems, where farmers in Gujarat could participate in the content of a radio program through their mobile phones.

Some of the many challenges that rural farmers in Gujarat face are a lack of market access, the perception that the farming lifestyle is undesirable, and depleting yields due to dynamic conditions in the environment. Fortunately, there is a successful radio program that addresses these concerns.

The radio program reaches an amazing number of farmers: 500,000. It is one of the top 2 agricultural programs in the state. The program is  performed by professional radio personalities – two characters are upbeat “agricultural experts.” Neil mentioned that is is an “infotainment approach” – it’s not “preachy,” and it’s more of a colearning experience, that’s not patronizing to the farmer. In fact, farmers in the region find the program to be so compelling that they organize listening parties to experience the program together.

Neil went on to describe a system where farmers could interact with the radio program through a cell phone. Farmers could record testimonials, listen to past shows, and hear testimonials from other farmers. I found the description of Neil’s interface to be a good example of how Information Technology could be applied to aid rural communities in a sensible, efficient, and inexpensive way.

Aiding Community Health Workers

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There are many challenges regarding providing health care to rural African communities. Reasons for a general lack of health care provisions include a lack of doctors, equipment, inability to pay for services, and great distances between facilities. In today’s first lecture, by Brian, we learned that community health workers can be a good bridge between rural communities and health care providers.

Different organizations employ and organize different groups of community health workers, resulting in differences the quality of health care and client record keeping. One problem that ICTD technology may be able to address is the problem of inefficient data collection. One example of this is ComCare, software that runs on mobile phones that allows health care workers to easily collect information about clients during routine health visits.

Through face-to-face interviews and needs assessment meetings, Brian described methods that he used to study how ComCare was being deployed. I thought that it was interesting that after the ComCare system was deployed, it was found that the system could provide information to health workers that the designers did not necessarily anticipate them wanting. For example, some community workers were interested in seeing statistics about their visits, for, among other things, to prove to their superiors how many houses they had visited.

Designing Appropriate Computing Technologies for Rural Development

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Tapan Parikh’s recent lecture on “Designing Appropriate Computing Technologies for Rural Development” highlighted a component of ICTD work that I have rarely heard about – the personal experience of a researcher uprooting his life in order to immerse himself in a rural community.

Professor Parikh related some of his experiences in travelling to India. His linguistic background and familial connections allowed him to overcome some initial communication and housing issues. In fact, Parikh became so immersed in his field work that at one point, he found it hard to communicate with an American friend – he had not spoken English in quite a while! However, Parikh also faced cultural challenges, such as adjusting to a much slower pace of life.

Parikh also mentioned that he dedicated an entire year to his work in India. His story illustrates an aspect of effective ICTD that has been echoed in almost every lecture so far: A researcher in the field of ICTD must truly immerse themselves in a rural community’s lifestyle to fully understand the scope of the community members’ problems. Similarly, Parikh’s lecture also illustrates a common theme in this class, that an ICTD project must have long term goals and follow through. As Lee Thorn says, ICTD work is not a short term vacation – researchers in developed countries must plan for a long term commitment to their projects.

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