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Basic informationEdit

Project detailsEdit

Official project name
The Marked Up Language Project
Project start date (include month, day, and year)
6 January 2014
Project completion date (include month, day, and year)
12 September 2014
Please describe the project in 1–2 sentences
The Marked Up Language Project proposes to build an innovative audio based system that improves internet accessibility. The prototype will be tested by attempting to specifically empower 150,000 low income people in Rhode Island to find information that they need quickly, cheaply and easily about what’s happening at their city hall or in their community.

Financial detailsEdit

Currency requested
Amount requested in currency requested
Equivalent amount in US$ on the date of this submission
List the exchange rate used to calculate the amount listed in US$

Project lead detailsEdit

See the eligibility requirements for more information.

Are you an organization, an individual, or an individual submitting on behalf of a group?
Project lead name
Andy Law
Project lead username or email
Project lead title (position), if any
Project Leader

Goals and measures of successEdit

Project goalEdit

Please briefly describe what will be accomplished if the project is successful.

Project goal
We can all recall reading the content of a website out to someone needing information on the other end of a phone line and how helpful that was to them in locating an address, finding a phone number, checking a timetable or understanding how to do something. Can you imagine how empowering that support could potentially be to someone who has never had a connection to the internet?
Unfortunately accessing even small focused amounts of information through current 'state of the art' automated dial in systems is frustrating and time consuming and the alternative of using call centers is very expensive.
The Marked Up Language Project intends to test it's accessibility prototype by making all the city hall event calendars, meeting minutes, agenda items, news and community events easily available. The prototype already redesigns the whole audio dial in service experience by making it more conversational, story based and intuitive but further testing is required to iterate this into a 'universally' usable experience. Designing a great service experience shouldn't be underestimated and is central to this proposal as it has the power to reduce system 'friction' and provide broad accessibility.
Prototype service tests of news and educational websites have been very successful and participant feedback has been even more encouraging. Building a bigger city wide system and expanding its content will gather more granular data and provide insights for progressing the system, particularly content formatting and standards sharing.
Some of the video sketches are available here:
The project deliverable is to disseminate the proven usability of the service experience and all the working standards including the related technical knowledge.

Measures of successEdit

Please provide a list of measurable criteria that will be used determine how successful the project is. You will need to report on the success of the project according to these measures after the project is completed.

Measures of success
I believe that using the service is so deceptively easy it can be learned in a minute by most people as the main interaction involves using only three buttons that allow like a music player, a flowing audio based navigation of narrative. In this case the narrative comes from the reformatting of complex websites.
Currently when you call and connect with the system you jump straight into a web ‘story’ by entering one of the standard short codes such as Providence City Hall 783# (PVD#). The main subjects of the site are narrated to you, moving from introduction to introduction. If you want to interrupt and edge the ‘conversation’ forward you use a single # or move to the next subject completely you use a double #. Moving back is a double * and edging back is with a single *. When the subject of the conversation catches your interest you can ‘digress’ into the story deeper by pressing a single zero. Returning to the previous conversation is a double zero. Six commands: '#', '##', '*', '**', '0', or '00' from three keys with single or double timings.
Surprisingly the ability to detect two distinct timings is a new innovation and would be an easily achievable technological 'leap' for dial in services.
During the initial test phase automated and interview based feedback will be gathered and analyzed for data such as user numbers, growth rates and repeat activity. This information will be used to inform the ongoing debugging, development and design process.
The adoption of the system by a wide variety of content providers will be an important measure but ultimately 'traction' in the form of repeat activity will be the greatest indicator of success during this early stage.

Project scope and activitiesEdit

This section describes what will happen if this project is funded. Who will do what, and when?

List of activities
Timetable Overview
The Marked Up Language Project’s mission during the 8 months is simply to build and deploy a service that provides Rhode Island citizens with free access to a working phone based system for delivering content in a spoken format whilst expanding the available network through a program of outreach and support for content providers interested in participating.
The establishment and dissemination of standards, usability and technical knowledge will build the foundations for development of the project and allow an expansion in the number of access nodes for all US citizens and expand the network to include more educational, community and news content.
The desktop computer based hardware and a phone line will be purchased, assembled and installed with an internet connection into studio space at RISD.
The Software Engineer will ideally be recruited from the Boston and Providence community but they may work remotely from further afield.
The Data Assistant will be recruited from the Providence community.
Free phone and plan samples for testing will be requested from Assurance Wireless.
A bulk phone plan will be sourced, negotiated and purchased.
January 2014
Exchange Build
The Software Engineer will adapt the Asterix open source software and construct a content delivery system that reads marked up text and generates and delivers audio using a voice application. The existing working prototypes will be used to communicate the interaction and experience desired from the PBX and its software control. The current prototype uses an application written within the processing project, a simplified version of java. The interaction is performed with 3 of the keypad keys and the code accesses the apple mac’s inbuilt Text To Speech engine. Earlier prototypes used MIT Civic Media’s open (voice over internet protocol) VoIP Drupal project that is founded on a ‘traditional’ dial in, dual-tone multi-frequency signaling (DTMF) experience that was developed in the 1960’s.
The Software Engineer will also participate in the development of a content markup language that can be used by the other project members.
January 2014 - March 2014
Content Production
The Data Assistant will initially work with the existing Providence City Hall data set in collaboration with the Mayor's office Information Technology department. Importantly the Data Assistant will be charged with broadening the content, expanding deeper into state wide interests.
February 2014 - March 2014
Testing and debugging of the whole system will initially take place within Providence starting with the academic and governmental communities and then expand into samples of the community.
March 2014 - April 2014
General Release
Low income, technically inexperienced users will be approached as quickly as a usable system exists with the system being announced to selected communities through the same local media outlets that covered the work I was involved with as a City Commissioner. RISD also has a Community Engagement office that is structured to help with this process.
A selective announcement process and the limited number of phone lines will also ensure that the system isn't over loaded and will avoid larger scale usage issues shutting down the test. Future large scale testing would have to be done in partnership with voice application service providers such as Twilio (who currently don't allow innovation with their core software).
Particular attention will be given to automated data logging during this phase.
May 2014 - August 2014
The Project Leader will be involved during the testing and general release period in interview based research to gather qualitative data on the success of the system. They will pay particular attention to the perception of the experience as getting the design of the interaction right is extremely important to the success of the project.
May 2014 - August 2014
All three of the project team will work on producing clear and transferable data about the project for use by third parties.
This will take the form of technical documentation on the markup language used with the content and the adaption of the Asterix software and the use of audio generating software. Some work may need to be done concerning the integration of the system with phone based services.
Importantly documenting the narrative style for differing forms of content will be very important.
Other forms of evidence will also be created such as documentary video of the user experience in various contexts and testimonials of content providers.
August 2014 - September 2014
The project will announce its closure and using press exposure explicitly request more feedback from the community.
All documentation will be made available on the project's website.
The nature of open projects will ensure that an open model will be successfully copied, modified and deployed across more media channels and communities.
September 2014
Further Research
Following on from the funded project I would also provide consultation for organizations interested in increasing their accessibility by modifying their existing content management systems (CMS) to support the generation of NSML content. This could include the Providence Journal, the Miami Herald, RISD and even the BBC.
I also intend to continue experience prototyping. One final area of research would be to investigate accessibility for data entry by refining and upgrading the dial in experience to include more comprehensive interactions such as commenting and blogging.

Budget and resourcesEdit

Please provide a detailed breakdown of project expenses according to the instructions here.

Grantees are subject to line-item scrutiny of expenses. Changes to the approved budget beyond 10% in any category must be approved in advance.

Project budget table
Custom Telephone Exchange
As the form of interaction involves timing of key presses and this is ‘new’, we will need to build our own small electronic private automatic branch exchange (PBX) to handle calls and generate the spoken audio responses using Asterix software that is open source and free (as in beer) but runs on specific hardware and server side scripting to control content text to speech generation. As previously mentioned voice application service providers currently don't allow innovation with their core software.
Estimated cost of $2500.00
Patent Application
The project was made public before just March 16, 2013 and is covered by the first-to-invent provisions and gives the Marked Up Language Project until March 15, 2014 to define and draft a patent application(s) for the interaction and experience. A patent could secure the accessibility of these services by being gifted to the Wikimedia Foundation and given an open licensed.
Estimated cost of $5000.00
Free Phone Number
Having as few barriers to entry as possible is a big factor in accessibility and so it is critical that there is no charge to call the service.
Limiting access to the 401 area code and being able to restrain people down to 1 hour a month should allow 10,000 people to use the service for over 3 months.
Estimated cost of $20,000.00
Data Assistant
Some content providers such as Providence City Hall would require a higher degree of assistance to support the generation of NSML content. This will require a part-time assistant to semi-manually transfer and reformat existing web content making it more narrative based and including the appropriate mark up.
Estimated cost of $4500.00
Project Engineer
As a robust version of the system is more technically challenging than I could handle alone the Marked Up Language project would require a part-time software engineer suitable for specifying, coding and supervising such a construction. Also one of the first tasks for the project is to publish an extension to the standard generalized markup languages such as HTML. We could call this the Narrative Structure Markup Language NSML. This would enable a discourse around the practice of spoken word, narrative based websites, story linking and how to format this all in a internet friendly way.
Estimated cost of $20,000.00
Project Leader
Andy Law and is an Associate Professor in Industrial Design at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence RI where he is allowed as part of his contact of employment to engage with Community Service and carry out Professional Practice.
Estimated cost of $9600.00
Number Category Item description Unit Number of units Cost per unit Total cost Currency Notes
1 Hardware Desktop Computer 1 Package 1 1200.00 1200.00 USD Computer to run custom Asterix software, house the Digium card and generate the voice response. Includes peripheral hardware.
2 Hardware Digium Card 1 Card 1 1100.00 1100.00 USD The Digium card to receive phones calls and construct responses
3 Hardware Audio Card 1 Card 1 200.00 200.00 USD The audio card speeds up the construction of audio responses
4 Freelance Costs Software Engineer Per day 40 500.00 20000.00 USD This Software Engineer is required to adapt the Asterix code, to write custom code for interpreting the content mark up and to write the associated content mark up specification.
5 Freelance Costs Data Assistant Per day 30 150.00 4500.00 USD The Data Assistant is required to convert as much government data as possible into narrative whilst adding relevant content links.
6 Freelance Costs Project Leader Per day 32 300.00 9600.00 USD The Project Leader will work in all areas of the project periodically throughout the 8 months equivalent to one day per week.
7 Running Costs Phone Call Charges Per minute 2000000 0.01 20000.00 USD The phone call costs are provided free to increase accessibility. They will be capped at 1 hour per month for 3 to 4 months per individual 401 phone number.
8 IP Protection Patent Application Per application 2 2500.00 5000.00 USD Protection to ensure that IP remains in the public domain.
Total cost of project
Total amount requested from the WMF Grants Program
Additional sources of revenue that may fund part of this project, and amounts funded

Non-financial requirementsEdit

See a description of nonfinancial assistance available. Please inform Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) of any requirements for non-financial assistance now.

Requests for non-financial assistance


This section is optional. It may be used to highlight the potential grantee's potential for successfully executing this project.

Consider including the following information:

  • List of team members (names or usernames):
  • Onwiki evidence of community support (such as a project about this discussion):
  • Endorsements from community members or movement groups:
  • Special skills or qualifications this potential grantee or project lead brings to this project:
  • Evidence of past success in executing similar projects:
Andy Law
As well as being an Associate Professor in Industrial Design at RISD, I'm also the Chair of the Scottish Orkney Island based charity the Erlend Williamson Art Fellowship. Previously I’ve worked as a Course Leader and Lecturer in Product Design at the University of Edinburgh and University of Dundee, a Research Fellow at Goldsmiths University of London and the Royal Collage of Art in London and a Researcher at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea in Italy.
I have a background of being proactive, engaged and supportive of entrepreneurial, economic, educational and academic activity through design thinking and doing. I have a competent self taught level of coding and regularly teach introductory Java to designers.
For a long time my academic research and professional work has investigated the accessibility of industrial (systematized) production and the impact of changes to the communication and interaction that surrounds these services. This work has established a simple model of ‘actions’ accessed and correlated by various forms of ‘correspondence’ that can be applied to any situation. My work as a Commissioner on the Open Providence Commission for Transparency and Accountability, caused me to apply this simple model to civic engagement and realize that there was a relatively easy way of improving a lot of lives.
Rhode Island School of Design
The facilities and my peers at RISD are a great resource as they include coders, writers, ethnographers, experience designers and enthusiastic test subjects in the form of students.
"This project will push forward the quest for improved accessibility to web-based community information, something I believe is a very important aspect of improving digital public services."
Colin Burns Executive Creative Director - Future Media British Broadcasting Corporation
“Rhode Island governments are quickly moving more information exclusively online, and leaving those without Internet access behind. This proposal will help make sure fewer people are left behind during that transition.”
John Marion Executive Director Common Cause Rhode Island
“[The Marked Up Language Project] MULP leverages the ubiquity of regular old-fashioned telephones with the peer-to-peer sharing possibilities enabled by the Web.”
John Maeda President Rhode Island School of Design
"The City of Providence is deeply committed to transparency and accountability in local government. This project will help build on the positive momentum related to open government already taking place, and we are excited about its potential application both here and beyond."
Toby Shepherd Deputy Director of Policy City of Providence
"This is a critical and valuable project for Rhode Island; building many bridges and powerful connections for long term success. Andy is such a strong leader that I feel confident that this should be highly completive and well designed product."
Joy Mountford Akamai Technologies
"Finding new ways to improve accessibility to relevant local information is a very important areaof research and development in our networked age. This proposal will do much to advance the state of the art in this area."
Nigel Jacob Co-Chair Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics City of Boston


In the sections below, please describe how the project is related to the Wikimedia mission and Wikimedia's strategic priorities.

Fit to strategyEdit

How will this project support the key organizational objectives of
  • increasing reach (more people will access or contribute to Wikipedia or our other projects),
  • participation (more people actually contributing),
  • quality (more content, more useful content, or higher-quality content),
  • credibility (more trust in our projects),
  • organizational maturity and effectiveness (how it will move you or the Wikimedia community forward),
  • or financial sustainability (how it will help you achieve more in the long run)?
This statement should address at least one of the strategic priorities listed here specifically. See WMF Grants Program criteria for decisionmaking.
Over 15% (maybe as high as 19%) of RI residents have a phone or are entitled to a free phone yet have no access to the internet. This totals more than 150,000 Rhode Island citizens.
These statistics represent a microcosm for the US at large. Between 10% and 40% of citizens have no access to the internet but have a phone or are entitled to a free phone through the Lifeline government benefit program. This totals more than 30 million United States citizens.
Projecting the impact of the project on a global level, the figures are even more remarkable. 5.9 billion people (86% of the world) have a mobile but only 1.6 billion people (23% of the world) have a smart phone and only 16% of the world has a broadband connection. Africa, excluding a few countries has the lowest mobile penetration of 65% but this is growing fast.
This works out at 4.3 billion people having a phone but no connection to the internet. The Marked Up Language Project could give these people an accessible audio connection to the World Wide Web and Wikipedia.


If the project will benefit a specific online community, please tell us.
The project will benefit low income people in Rhode Island and lay the foundations for projects that will benefit low income people in the USA and the rest of the world.
Please provide a brief statement about how the project is related to other work in the Wikimedia movement. For example, does the project fit into a work area such as GLAM, education, organizational development, editor retention, or outreach?
The project has the similar objectives to Wikipedia Zero but a very different approach and is more specifically targeted.
If successful, will the project have the potential to be replicated successfully by other individuals, groups, or organizations? Please explain how in 1–2 sentences.
A key objective of this project is to establish and dissemination standards, usability and technical knowledge. The potential of the project is so big that it has to be open in order to be fully successful.
Please list other benefits to the movement here.
The Foundation will receive a lot of positive press as it is aligned with open government topics.
The project has the potential to greatly increase the number of Wikipedia users or in this case 'listeners'.