How do you obtain information without a computer or a cellular phone with good (or any) Internet access? In two emerging nations, you may call to get free information.
The Open Mind nonprofit organization has launched “Question Box” projects in India and Uganda combining hardware and a service.
The hardware is a sturdy metal box housing a push-to-talk cellular telephone. Press the box's button, and pose a question to Question Box employees at a call center.
An employee either answers the question immediately or asks the caller to wait a few minutes while the answer is researched. In Uganda, the Internet is unreliable and so slow that information is, instead, stored on local databases created by Appfrica Labs. In India, access is more reliable, so the Internet is often used as part of the Question Box service.
If no Question Box phone is available, as in rural Uganda, residents can ask local cellphone-equipped Question Box employees a question. The employee or the questioner will speak to the information center to obtain an answer.
Open Mind emphasizes agricultural information to stimulate economic growth, but Question Box information is available for many questions. The service reminds me of Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK)’s more advanced Life Tools offering in India. But Life Tools assumes cellular data availability, albeit a slow GPRS connection and SMS, and charges a subscription fee.
In emerging nations, the Internet often reigns as the repository of information, but accessing and distributing it often requires innovative solutions.
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