Last Hursley presentation!

We are the Chatty Web team, working on the conversational internet project. The Conversational Internet is a project proposed by the Royal London Society for Blind people, and our hope is to create a piece of software that enables blind users to browse the internet more intelligently and efficiently, through voice commands and speech output.

The team is: Monique, Abbie, Chris, and Nitin.

“That’s cool, but why don’t blind people just use…”

Why do we need a Chatty Web?

by Nitin Nihalani

A common reaction we get after explaining the idea of the Conversational Internet to someone for the first time is “That’s cool, but why not use…” followed by some existing technological solutions that would be fairly usable by the visually impaired. While these reactions are valid, the limitations of the proposed solutions are often dismissed, or regarded as ‘allowable’. In this blog post I will address these queries and hopefully make it clear that the Conversational Internet is a unique and necessary solution.

Why not use the telephone?

Despite it being clumped together with cameras, music players, and an endless ocean of apps, the good ol’ telephone is still a sound method (pardon the pun) of communication, and indeed gathering information. However, it has the following limitations:

  • It requires someone at the other end

  • Gathering information cannot be done at one’s own pace or with a relaxed mindset

  • It could potentially rack up a hefty phone bill

  • It has no social networking capabilities

  • It’s impossible to “browse”. A phone call is made when you know what you’re looking for, but can’t find it. What if you just want to look through the news for articles that interest you?

Why not use the radio or television?

Radio and pre-programmed television are still good ways of finding out information, particularly the news. They tell you what you need to hear, and can sometimes be quite entertaining. Together, the phone, radio and television were sufficient for everyone for years, but are they sufficient today? The answer is no:

  • They tell you what you need to hear, but not what you want to hear

  • You can’t decide when you are told

  • You can’t decide how many times you are told

  • You can’t decide the pace at which you are told

  • You can’t find out more information on a particular subject, what you hear is what you get

  • No social networking or location based capabilities

Why not use Siri?

“Hah! Now I got you!” you may think when you suggest Apple’s intelligent voice-controlled personal assistant. Fully equipped with social networking and location based capabilities, along with being there whenever and however much you need it, it seems like the ideal solution. The key here though, is that Siri is not a competitor to the Chatty Web and they do not set out to achieve the same goals. In conjunction, both technologies could potentially provide as close to a full solution as we may ever get, but what’s Siri lacking that the Chatty Web can provide? Well:

  • You cannot “browse” the Web on Siri effectively. As with the telephone, it is effective when you know what you want, but useless when you don’t

  • Siri does not have a generic solution to fit every website

  • You need a Siri-capable Apple product, which costs money!

Why not use screen readers?

I said at the beginning of this posts that these questions are valid. This one is not. If you have asked this, then please see this video. Screen readers are an outdated, unintelligent piece of technology that badly needs to be replaced.

Being visually impaired with the Internet as it is today is like having all the food you could eat available to you, but not being able to chew. You could suggest eating porridge, soup and anything that can be sucked up a straw for the rest of your life, but that evades the wider problem. Visually impaired people use the Internet as a last resort, while most of us cannot imagine life without it. Such discrimination should not be tolerated, and instead we should all strive for empowerment!

Keep posted for the developments in our technology in this area