"IBM Builds a Search Engine Aimed at the Estimated Fifth of the World's Population that Cannot Read"
Some 10,000 people worldwide use a version of the Web like no other: it is operated by voice over the telephone. Called the “Spoken Web,” it is the result of an IBM research project attempting to re-create the features and functions of the text-based World Wide Web for people in developing regions with low levels of literacy and technical skills.
Four years since the first prototype was released, the spoken Web is part of everyday life for users in four Indian states and parts of Thailand and Brazil. These people use it to learn of things such as local grain prices or job opportunities. On the spoken Web, telephone numbers replace Web addresses. A person can call in to a voice site and listen to or record content.
A voice site has some structure: for example, when a person calls in to upload a site, they interact with an automated telephone system that accepts voice commands and prompts the user to create a title for their site and add sections of different information. However, listening to long voice messages is inefficient and costly, says Rajput.
“We want you to be able to speak a pesticide name, for example, to quickly find content about that,” he says. But designing a search engine that works like that is far from simple. Voice-recognition technology can be used to take a person’s search term and match it against a previously processed index of recorded voice sites. But presenting the results is a challenge. “We can’t have it read out a list of 20 results. It would take too long, and people would not remember them all,” says Rajput. “Instead it [must] tell the user it has that many, and ask how to narrow them down.”
About Gary Price
Gary Price (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. He earned his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Alumnus of the Year from the Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com. Gary is also the co-founder of infoDJ an innovation research consultancy supporting corporate product and business model teams with just-in-time fact and insight finding.