Voice4All: Voice-based social media for rural developing regions



In places such as rural India, small-scale farmers struggle to meet the challenges of fierce global competition, increasing costs of farm inputs, water shortages, and new diseases and pests brought on by a changing climate. To deal with these challenges, information has become a critical input to farming operations: faced with rapidly changing conditions, farmers need market information, timely technical advice, and alerts on new and improved techniques. There are currently few sources for reliable, timely knowledge. Television and radio have achieved remarkable penetration in rural areas and stand as an effective means of information dissemination. However, without a platform to discuss, debate, and relate personal experience, information is not actionable.

Social media - email, blogs, wikis, forums, and social networks - has revolutionized how people learn and share expertise on the web, but the Internet and its associated access technologies (broadband connectivity, PCs) are out of reach for much of rural India. Even if Internet-connected PCs were available, widespread usage is constrained by language and literacy barriers. But while computers are unaffordable or unfamiliar to rural communities, mobile phones are not.


Avaaj Otalo is a service for farmers to access relevant and timely agricultural information over the phone. This service was designed in the summer of 2008 as a collaboration between UC Berkeley School of Information, Stanford HCI Group, IBM India Research Laboratory and Development Support Center (DSC), an NGO in Gujarat, India.

By dialing a phone number and navigating through simple audio prompts, farmers can record, browse, and respond to agriculturual questions and answers. In addition to the Q&A forum, the service includes an announcements board of headline-like snippets updated regularly by DSC staff, and a radio archive to listen to past episodes of DSC's popular weekly radio program.

Avaaj Otalo led to the founding of Awaaz.De (literally, "give voice"), a company in India that provides a hosted solution for deploying voice-based social media.


Neil Patel
Paresh Dave, Sachin Oza (Development Support Center)
Scott Klemmer
Tapan Parikh

Publications, Posters, and Workshop Papers

Neil Patel, Krishna Savani, Scott R. Klemmer, Tapan S. Parikh
"Power to the Peers: Authority of Source Effects for a Voice-based Agricultural Information Service in Rural India" To appear in Proceedings of IEEE Conference on Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICTD 2012).   [pdf]

Neil Patel
"Sharing Information in Rural Communities Through Voice Interaction" Ph.D Dissertation, Computer Science, Stanford University   [pdf]

Neil Patel, Scott R. Klemmer, Tapan S. Parikh
"An Asymmetric Communications Platform for Knowledge Sharing with Low-end Mobile Phones" In ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology (UIST 2011).   [pdf]

Neil Patel
"Information Service Or Online Community? Putting 'Peer-to-Peer' in Social Media for Rural India" Presented at the Workshop on Social Media for Development at ACM Conference for Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW 2011).   [pdf]

Neil Patel, Deepti Chittamuru, Anupam Jain, Paresh Dave, Tapan S. Parikh
"Avaaj Otalo - A Field Study of an Interactive Voice Forum for Small Farmers in Rural India" In Proceedings of ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2010). [pdf] (Best Paper award)

Neil Patel, Sheetal Agarwal, Nitendra Rajput, Amit Nanavati, Paresh Dave, Tapan S. Parikh
"A Comparative Study of Speech and Dialed Input Voice Interfaces in Rural India" In Proceedings of ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2009). [pdf]

Neil Patel, Sheetal Agarwal, Nitendra Rajput, Arun Kumar, Amit Nanavati, Paresh Dave, Tapan S. Parikh
"Experiences Designing a Voice Interface for Rural India" Presented at the IEEE Workshop on Spoken Language Technology for Development (SLT 2008).   [pdf]


Neil Patel
"Not Your Average Farmer: Designing for Lead Users in ICT4D Research " In ACM Interactions Magazine, Volume 17, Issue 5 (Sept + Oct 2010). [pdf]


Voice social media codebase

Financial Support


Neil Patel (neil at awaaz dot de)