Proximity WiFi as an alternative way to distribute news to mobile phones
This project in Armenia has used proximity broadcasting to send alternative news to mobile phones that communities would otherwise not have discovered. It has revealed important new methods for making news discoverable to very small distances like the local bus stop or shop. It also reveals new data analytics that would otherwise be unavailable to publishers via the giants of the Internet: Google and Facebook.
CAST — The Aim
- Build a lightweight community connectivity system for content distribution
- Generate proximity insights: new data analytics that allow publishers to pinpoint what content is consumed where
- Facilitate novel approaches to digital literacy with engaged communities
New knowledge and impact have been created around:
- How to build hyperlocal proximity networks using online to offline wifi technology
- Future scoping information systems for remote communities
- New hyperlocal news data analytics for publishers: Proximity Insights
- Novel methods to add to media plurality in a highly politically pressured environment
- Strategies to improve digital literacy and community communication that can challenge a digital divide
Innovation is fundamental in order to answer the growing trends in mobile and multimedia consumption of content, as well as the importance of online and digital tools in making local, relevant and socially valuable information accessible, and ‘findable’, to audiences.
CAST aims to drive this forward by testing a new way to amplify independently produced information that would otherwise be drowned out by the ‘noise’ of the Internet. It does this by prototyping a lightweight community connectivity system capable of hyperlocal content distribution.
CAST has trialled a new community communication network in rural Armenia developing models to emerge alternative news media in a highly politically pressured national state. We scraped news and information from news sources alternative to those normally accessed in the community as well as providing the villagers to report their own stories and set their own news agenda. The project was a collaboration between the Media Innovation Studio, UK, Impact Hub Yerevan and SMART Edge Platform provider WICASTR™, Yerevan.
We served news onto the devices from these seven news outlets which in and of itself raises important questions about who is in charge of the news agenda with these new and emerging technologies:
Civilnet, Hetq, Kolba.am, the United Nations Development Programme, Delegation of the European Union to Armenia Newsletter, Arm Weekly News, ArmComedy
The project also raises important questions around marketing guidelines which largely do not include this nature of hyperlocal push and pull distribution.
This report presents the empirical findings of the first field trial of the CAST prototype. It sets out our approach and explains how we built an online to offline network and why. It then presents early findings on proximity insights: what data we captured and how that data was processed. We present key learnings from the project offering suggestions for future iterations. It situates CAST in a number of research fields including place-based journalism, hyperlocal publishing, information communication systems, media plurality and digital literacy. It draws into focus the potential and limitations of a village connectivity system aimed at enhancing the discoverability of alternative news and information.
26 devices were installed in three villages: Lernapat, Ltchashen and Kamaris. Locations included schools, health-care centres, bus stops and village meeting spots. The total sample of hits to all devices was 120,077 (82,431 in Kamaris compared to 37,646 in Lernapat.) Once restricted to grounded data, the total number of visitors to the two villages was 485.
In total, 269,836 calls were originally logged to the devices. However once duplicates, foreign IPs, invalid requests and other errors were accounted for the total sample of usable data was 1,704. This represents the total number of pages served.
In total between June — December 2016 from seven participating news and information providers, 4938 articles were served, 520 videos, and 12,521 images totalling 22GB of data. Wikimedia was provided as an offline static resource on the devices.
34 training visits, installation or meeting dates were held in the villages but a permanent project representative or trainer in the village would have been more effective to maximise impact and learning. Community projects of this nature need local representatives and consistent training over sustained periods.
Digital literacy was developed by encouraging young people to write about their village. Lernapat (population of 2,000) engaged 12 authors and 3 editors to the site. They published more than 70 articles in categories about their village culture and sports. Kamaris and Ltchashen engaged 5 editors each.
Overall activity to the CMS Wordpress hosting hyperlocal content produced by the community performed better than scraped content from news providers. Total hits to the three village .be sites was 950 compared to 754 .in.
The CAST system can increase audience numbers by providing offline accessibility to the population of the village. One news provider Arm Weekly News reported: “During the CAST project site attendance increased by 5%.”
The overall deployment of WICASTR™ devices was insufficient to offer adequate coverage or to trial CAST in a mesh formation. The pilot thus stopped short of offering an effective alternative to online experiences in any one village.
Mobile Internet connectivity remains a major issue in remote places. Even the CAST system required some connectivity and this was inconsistent.
Online to offline systems which cannot rely on services provided by the technology giants need bespoke analytics and these should be put in place from the start.
Where some Internet connectivity is available albeit slow or fixed location this detracts from the value of village-only networks. CAST further evidences the stranglehold of the Internet social media giants such as Facebook.
User design must be central to any community-facing interface as this can be an immediate barrier to engagement.
Digital habits are such that on-demand and constantly refreshed sites have been normalised and there is an expectation for regular updates on a project offering news and information.
Digital literacy was low among many user groups and there was much confusion around data management, privacy and capture. CAST went some way to informing citizens about personal data but much more needs to be done.