Giving Social Media a Voice

diagram of Elder News Network.png

We've been providing advice to a very exciting project to build a neighborhood knowledgebase of caregiving services for seniors.  The idea is to enable caregivers, seniors, their families and friends to all work together in collecting, discussing, and validating ... a caregiving neighborhood empowering itself through knowledge sharing.  It seems like an ideal application for social media but ...

The neighborhood is largely low-income and of course the target audience is seniors.  How many people in this group spend all day online typing text into Twitter, FaceBook, etc.?  Will a conventional wiki, blog, or microblog interface be useful in either collecting or disseminating information?  We're concerned that we'll build a conventional text-based digital clubhouse and nobody will come.

So we've been exploring the idea of an “Elder News Network” based on a “phone wiki” ... using voice over conventional phone networks to collect and disseminate information from the community.  The concept grows out of previous work we had done on phone-based user-generated content projects as well as research on the needs of disadvantaged and senior communities for health information.

 Based on our research so far, no one has developed complete end-to-end voice analogues of wikis, blogs, etc.  Our draft strategy is to integrate open source voice platforms with text-based content management systems and scripting languages.  Open source components might include:

  • Robust CMS (candidate: Drupal) with a wide variety of social media modules to support wikis, blogs, microblogging, RSS, etc.
  • Voice server platform (candidate: Asterisk) supporting PBX-type call and voice management functions.
  • Speech recognition in various languages (candidate: Sphinx).
  • Speech synthesis (aka "text-to-speech") in various languages and dialects. (candidate: Festival).

Depending on the development schedule, we may decide to build prototypes of some pieces of the interface using commercial platforms. An example of a “user-generated” voice content project using the commercial platform angel.com is Confess, built with funding from the New York State Council on the Arts.

We're very interested in hearing from anyone who's working in this area.  It seems like a very promising approach to extending the social media revolution (and its benefits in terms of community building and empowerment) to new and important audiences.