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"Conversation. What is it? A Mystery! It's the art of never seeming bored, of touching everything with interest, of pleasing with trifles, of being fascinating with nothing at all. How do we define this lively darting about with words, of hitting them back and forth, this sort of brief smile of ideas which should be conversation?" Guy de Maupassant

Monday, September 19, 2005

My experiences with the Virtual Call Centre we have set up and the thought of a Virtual Phone Bank, makes me wonder whether it is worth considering combining the concept of an automated version of this little grassroots call centre with the PeopleFinder Project. The PeopleFinder project is a centralized repository, where you can search the data from dozens of sites, databases and forums that have been established to help survivors of Hurricane Katrina find their loved ones, and to allow people to report missing people.

Benefits? It would take it to quite another level - from search to dialogue to action even. From an online service to one that could be accessed by millions more, without internet connections. In this way, during disaster situations, it would also be possible to reach out to regions that are poorly connected to the internet.

earthlights1.jpg [picture credit here]

Add to that a functionality that Evelyn Rodriguez [link via Nancy] talked about in her post from a few days ago. Skype to SMS and SMS to Skype messages that go onto a central site.

In an emergency, think: Cheap. Simple. Ubiquitous. Perhaps cellphone SMS messages that go directly to a central wiki that is hosted by an large easy-to-remember-even-if-I-never-imagined-I-would-be-in-a-major-disaster organization whether it is Red Cross or Google?

Here in India, cell phone cos have deals with Yahoo and MSN messengers - where as a user all I do is punch in a 4 digit number and i am logged on, I can send text messages thru the phone without any internet connection. This could be extended into an sms-internet gateway. Send text message not needing internet to phone number ... get reply back not needing internet to that phone number. At the back end of the phone number receiving the text message is a gateway box that dumps the query off to the internet, (perhaps a person perhaps a machine), and formats a response to go out.

Could all such logs or those we are getting with our SkypeIn number be recorded as well and automated to integrate into the PeopleFinder, ShelterFinder, Katrinahousing.net and all the other sites dealing with ? Can the Skype-Tellme link-up work here.

This isn't something I have my arms around completely yet, I just intuitively feel there is potential to grow and effectively scale-up the little whipped up centre we have at present. There are many questions that Phil raised when he was helping me articulate my thoughts and develop this idea - Can the tools we're using successfully scale-up to enable multiple operators to act simultaneously. With a more expanded functionality (like the red cross) do you need the other tools used in call centres - like scripts, call databases, traffic analysis, integration with other systems, etc? Or would keeping it very simple and clean (so people can volunteer more quickly and with less training) be a better approach?

Would we lose the visceral experience of being part of a self organizing team, of solving immediate and tangible problems, of helping people who really need, using your wit and compassion and connectivity.

Also see an earlier post by Stuart on Skype call centres, where he shared this scenario, and a possible how-to :

An entrepreneur is growing rapidly, his call center is outsourced and he needs to bring it in house for better quality. He's going to set up a bank of PC's to handle it. He goes to Walmart and purchases 50 Xandros Linux ready Skype PC's at $200 and adds another $300 for quality screen and a couple of other miscellaneous bits. He loads them all up with Skype and logs everyone of them on to "CorporateCallCenter". He goes to the Skype account page and purchases one SkypeIn Account for one year at a cost of 30 Euros and buys E50 worth of minutes. He's ready to go. His staff can now handle up to 50 concurrent calls in bound or outbound all using the same line and account.

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