Over the past few days we (thankfully) gathered a lot of community and media attention, with questions, doubts, criticism and lots of constructive feedback on how we can improve the project, so first things first, thank you to all of you who took the time to ask, share and think about VERBAL.
After that, and going straight to the point, we managed to separate all the feedback into five big questions, that we’ve answered:
1.- Why did you choose to crowdfund your project? Why did you choose Kickstarter in particular?
When we hit upon the idea of a platform to deliver internet services through voice telephony as an aid to bridge the digital divide, we realized that the project would require a global community to become a reality. And we mean this in more than one sense.
First, we wanted to communicate and validate our vision with a large community at once, even if, evidently, this community was not representative of our potential users. We wanted this community to start questioning and building upon our vision right away: coming up with more use cases, potential applications, and even locations interested in implementing VERBAL. Finally, in strictly financial terms, the amount of funding that we require would be impossible to raise in other crowdfunding platforms, particularly those with a more regional -as opposed to global- reach.
In sum, for us, the idea of having the Kickstarter community -perhaps representative of the most connected part of the global population- funding a “bridge” for the most unconnected part of the population, represents a wonderful gesture.
2.- Isn’t the computing challenge that you’re trying to solve too big for the amount of money that you’re asking for and the estimated time of delivery?
Some people have approached us with a concern for the scale of the challenge: they believe that we are trying to pull off an enterprise of Google proportions from scratch. The fact is that, as it is explained above, the system that we are setting up builds upon already available and proven technologies, some of them Open Source: Asterisk, Amazon Web Services, CMU Sphinx, Wit.ai, as well as an open-ended list of web services (Wikipedia, e-mail platforms, etc.).
This doesn’t mean, however, that the task is trivial: again, as explained above, we need to optimize a speech recognition engine (our current choice is CMU Sphinx) to work in at least two languages (English and Spanish, with a particular focus on the latter), in several local accents, and for telephone audio quality. Thus, we believe that the challenge matches the financial and time requirements that we have set out for ourselves.
3.- Will VERBAL users be charged for the service? If so, will the service be affordable and price competitive with alternatives?
It is important to stress that not all costs associated with the use of VERBAL depend on us. Thus, the exact model of implementation will necessarily have to be negotiated with different telephony carriers once the platform is ready and could vary on a location by location basis. It may even be possible to offer it free of charge through public-private partnerships.
We certainly want to make VERBAL as accessible as possible for the majority of people. However, in order for the service to be feasible and achieve that goal, it needs to be sustainable and scalable. This may require to charge for the service at a price that still represents the most affordable option to get the benefits of the Internet.
With your support for our Kickstarter campaign, we will not only be able to complete the development of our platform, but we’ll also be able to run a pilot implementation for about a year. This will allow us to figure out the missing details and have a great product with which we’ll be able to negotiate with carriers and other actors in the telecommunications industry.
4.- Is a service like VERBAL desirable for the intended users? Will it be useful and usable?
We have been able to validate our idea on the field. For example, the footage that you see on the video comes from a visit to a small community in Hidalgo (Mexico) that is currently not connected to the Internet. There, we had the chance to speak with kids, teachers and people in general about VERBAL and even show them a proof of concept in English language.
In communities such as that, there is a real need for the information and communication possibilities offered by the Internet, and the response to a service like VERBAL has been very positive. Of course, we still need to work hard on usability-focused design for the basic suite of apps and on showing to the developer community the wide range of possibilities.
5.- What about the rewards? Why would I be interested in getting a subscription when I already have Internet access?
Totally right, that’s why we’re adding some new rewards today, that will allow you to donate that subscription to someone who isn’t connected to the Internet yet. With this gift, you get a VERBAL USB bracelet or a t-shirt as a symbol that you brought someone online.
We hope these answers solve some of your doubts and get you excited again about the project, so if that’s the case please back our campaign and keep spreading the word, it’s for a good cause! 🙂