Phonecasting in WordPress

While chatting with Jeff Waugh, we worked out a great way of blogging from remote Tanzania: podcasting by telephone! Here’s how.

Even if we’re not in one of the 70% of Tanzanian villages with mobile phone coverage, we’ll still have a satellite phone. We call into a voicemail service like mBox and just start talking. It then emails us the MP3 file of the recording.

WordPress already lets you blog by email, checking a standard POP3 mailbox and turning whatever it finds there into a blog post. Email subject becomes post title, email body becomes content. But it doesn’t support attachments. Yet.

Jeff reckons it’d be easy enough to see if the email contains an MP3 file and extract it. It could then be handed to, say, the PodPress plug-in, which in turn makes sure the MP3 file is properly connected to the blog post to work as a podcast. PodPress then automatically updates your podcast listing in iTunes and other directories.

As an added bonus, WordPress can automatically send a message to Twitter when a new episode goes online.

How do we avoid spam? Well, mBox uses Caller ID to make sure the email has a subject like:

mBox Voice message from NNNNNNNNNNN to MMMMMMMMMM

We can check the email headers to ensure they’re legitimately from mBox or whoever we use. And we can use the sender’s phone number to correctly assign the author, and the receiving phone number to, well, post into different categories or whatever.

So, to run through it again… I’m standing on the ferry to Zanzibar. I make a satellite phone call to describe the magnificent view. Five minutes later, that’s a podcast. And everybody gets notified via Twitter.

Of course there’s bound to be some potential for screwing this up, but whaddyareckon?

7 Replies to “Phonecasting in WordPress”

  1. @andrewdotnich: I haven’t thought it through completely. I reckon the reports I do would just be announced in my own Twitter stream. This sort of thing will continue after I’ve done Project TOTO. The ActionAid people will have their own blog(s), so I imagine their own Twitter streams too.

    Now that WordPress allows multiple instances of plug-ins, potentially there can be different categories of posts handled different ways.

  2. I think this is a great idea. If the folks you’re going to be talking to are already comfortable with their phones and the idea of voicemail messages, that’s most of your technical training sorted, right? They’ll just have to remember they’re leaving voicemail messages for the world.

    I’ve been playing around with the AudioBoo app/service, but it’s reliant on the user having an iPhone, the app, a 3G connection, an account on the service and so on. Your solution sounds to me like it’ll work because it’s got an amount of platform independence; any phone that can dial the target number will work. I also like the podcasting idea because people would be able to record and share their thoughts wherever they are at the time (assuming they’ve got their phone with them at the time), rather than having to be near a computer.

    But what about the language barrier? Wikipedia notes that use of English in Tanzania is diminishing in favour of Swahili, which might be a bit of a problem if one of your objectives is to have Tanzanians communicating directly with the English-speaking world. Would your proposed workflow have a community of translators elsewhere grabbing the podcasts and recording/transcribing English translations?

  3. @Dean: The first two bloggers chosen do speak English, so that’s not a problem. However you’re right, outside the city English is little-used. Swahili was promoted as part of a push to develop a national identity from disparate tribes.

    This does mean our first bloggers won’t be, say, poor farmers, but they’ll at least be a lot closer than me, or Western aid workers. One step at a time.

  4. Further conversations on Twitter yesterday led to some further suggestions. As they always do.

    1. @bsains suggested the PostMaster plug-in for WordPress may get much of the work done in terms of handling email attachments.
    2. @eddit0r suggested using the open source telephone system Asterix for switching the voicemail, rather than relying on third parties. My initial thought was that we don’t have an Asterix-knowledgeable person on board at the moment and it’s yet another system to configure in a short time, whereas mBox is 5 minutes to set up. But yes, Asterix’s flexibility would be an added bonus in the future.

    Any further thoughts? I know Jeff will be reading this at some point…

  5. @mwandani: Oh, please Sir, feel free! Anyone is welcome to link to anything on this site. Mind you, we still have to get this technology to work. Wish us luck!

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