Found on BizCommunity on 30 August 2010
The Shuttleworth Foundation, as part of its m4Lit (mobiles for literacy) project, launched a new library of cellphone stories – also known as mobile novels or m-novels in South Africa. Over the next six months the plan for Yoza is to build a library of cellphone stories of multiple genres that are available to teens not only in South Africa, but throughout Africa.
The m-novel library, called Yoza, uses cellphones to encourage teen reading and writing; the m-novels are interactive and free. Yoza is available on www.yoza.mobi and on MXit on all WAP-enabled cellphones, as well as on Facebook.
Steve Vosloo, founder of Yoza and fellow for 21st century learning at the Shuttleworth Foundation, says: “For the foreseeable future the cellphone, not the Kindle or iPad, is the e-reader of Africa. Yoza aims to capitalise on that to get Africa’s teens reading and writing.”
The m4Lit Project began in 2009 as a pilot initiative to explore whether and how teens in South Africa would read stories on their cellphones. Most of the reading and writing that happens on cellphones is of very short texts, eg. SMSes and chat messages on MXit. The Shuttleworth Foundation published a story called Kontax in September last year- twenty pages in length – and actively invited reader participation through this longer content. Readers could leave comments on chapters, vote in opinion polls related to the story and enter a writing competition. By the end of May 2010 another Kontax story had been published. Kontax has already been published in Kenya through MXit.
Since launch, the two stories have been read over 34,000 times on cellphones. Over 4,000 entries have been received in the writing competitions and over 4,000 comments have been left by readers on individual chapters. Many of the readers asked for more stories and in different genres. Encouraged by the high uptake of the stories and by these reader requests, the Shuttleworth Foundation decided to launch Yoza.
Stories are published under a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike licence. Anyone can freely copy, distribute, display and remix the content, as long as they credit the original and subsequent authors. The Praekelt Foundation was commissioned to develop the software platform that drives Yoza, and this too will be released as open-source software.
Competitions with airtime prizes are held to prompt readers to participate in the interactive questions at the end of chapters, aiming to keep readers engaged and coming back for more. Current story languages include English and isiXhosa, an Afrikaans story is being written, and ideally stories in all of the South African languages will ultimately be published on Yoza. The Shuttleworth Foundation is encouraging the public to get involved in translating the stories into local languages.
“We are looking to grow the library of stories as well as a vibrant community of young users who not only read the stories but participate in the commenting, reviewing and writing of them. We’re turning reading into a social, sharing experience,” says Vosloo.
For more information on submiting original stories to Yoza, go to www.yoza.mobi/write.
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