Next Billions - Community Resource Messenger
The design and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) has evolved beyond its workplace origins to include people living at the margins of contemporary society. Increasingly in the U.S., as in the developing world, people who do not own personal computers to access the internet are instead using inexpensive mobile phones for access. State and federal agencies in the U.S. have recognized the benefits of these devices, creating programs to provide free phones and airtime to citizens who meet income guidelines (see, e.g., the SafeLink program).
IBM, along with others, is engaging in opportunities created by the explosive growth of mobile phones. While much focus in developed nations is on "smart phones" (and small form-factor computers such as netbooks and tablets), the highest growth and adoption rates around the world are for basic cell phones. Because these devices have such limited interfaces (speaker, microphone, small LCD, 12-key keypad), innovative approaches must be used to enable users access to information and services enabled by the internet and wireless networks.
The Social Computing Group is engaged in a joint research study with Christopher Le Dantec and Keith Edwards of the Georgia Institute of Technology. The focus of the collaboration is to explore how ICTs can enhance communication for homeless clients and their case workers. The Community Resource Messenger project approaches the homeless and their case workers as two interacting 'publics' — each with shared constraints and unique desires, whose members must be fully aware, and in charge of their communication choices. The solution leverages a web-based communications center for case workers to send messages to their clients' phones, and basic cell phones for clients to produce user-generated content. The system also includes a large digital message board installed in the shelter for both case workers and clients to broadcast and share information with each other in a public way.
A deployment study led by Christopher Le Dantec began in February 2010. We will post results and additional information here as it becomes available. In the meantime, you can read about Chris's ethnographic and foundational work that is the basis for the solution and joint study.