Spreading the word

Fred’s diary is rather full these days. We have been testing and debugging a pre-release copy of version 1.6 and eagerly anticipate its imminent launch at the end of June. With this improved version of Freedom Fone, we have recently hosted Freedom Fone demos in Harare for a number of organisations including: Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), Humanitarian Information Facility Centre (HIFC), Médecins Sans Frontières-Belgium (MSF-Belgium), Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA), Southern Africa AIDS Information Dissemination Service (SAfAIDS), Young Voices Network and Radio Voice of the People.

With version 1.6 we will assist Community Radio Harare (CORAH) to launch a new information on demand service for its listening clubs. This will be a significant step for CORAH as its efforts to-date have been severely constrained by the government’s refusal to license a single community radio station in the country. Community radio stations in Zimbabwe have innovated by producing ‘off air’ products like audio CDs, cassette tapes and printed materials. Freedom Fone will allow CORAH to extend information to local communities via interactive audio menus, accessible to callers across existing mobile GSM networks.

Kubatana has been innovating with Fred for edutainment, and is preparing to pilot the first episode of a call-in audio soap opera, aimed at a Zimbabwean audience. The audio programme, to be available on 9 call-in mobile numbers, will be updated every Monday. Each episode will last a month, with a new segment of the drama being added each week until the episode’s conclusion. The first episode deals with sexual harassment in the workplace and is titled “Tariro on Top!” Although the programme has serious undertones and highlights the scourge of sexual harassment in the work place, the characters are humorous, the plot entertaining and I was left eager to find out more on what happens next.

In mid-July we will take Fred ‘down South’ to meet with potential partners in Johannesburg and Cape Town. We hope to see a steady increase in the uptake of Freedom Fone amongst civic and media orientated organisations as word of the software platform spreads. Recently, we’ve also been mulling Freedom Fone’s potential as a tool to disseminate and gather information around specific events like elections, epidemics and crisis situations.

As practitioner developers, we have built an initial platform to service our own communication needs. For Freedom Fone to be more relevant in the wider world, we would like subsequent development cycles to be informed by the needs of a wider variety of organisations’ and individuals’ needs. Please help us build a better product by experimenting with these early versions of the software, and letting us know what you think.