My South Asian trip is mainly exploratory, with one notable exception. Bookshare.org is going international, and India is one of our focus countries for this expansion. My first visit after the India Economic Summit was to National Association for the Blind (India) to see Dipendra Manocha. Dipendra has been a subscriber to Bookshare.org for our O'Reilly technical titles, but we're trying to move beyond these into serving a full range of books with publisher and author permissions.
I've met with Dipendra in other places like Tunisia and Redmond, Washington, and he's well known on the international blindness technology stage because of his tech leader role at NAB and in the DAISY consortium (the international digital talking book standard that we and most other libraries for people with print disabilities either use or are going to use). I was able to tour the facilities, which included at least three digital recording studios using the DAISY software for human narrated books. Narrators were recording digital audio books in both English and Hindi while I was there. I'll have a ton more to say about Indian languages over the next few days!
Dipendra and I have been talking about working together for years, but during this meeting we were able to get down and plan out our work phase by phase. We're going to write a more detailed document together on this by email over the next month (we hope!), but the outlines are pretty clear.
1. Benetech makes the engineering changes we have planned to make Bookshare.org adapted for the needs of international users, mainly around easy display of those titles available to international users. We get the 3,000 books we have permissions for through our processes and in our collection.
2. Trusted partners in India (like NAB or affiliated organizations) provide the main support interface to people with print disabilities in India, including subscription payments (likely to be much lower in India), proof of disability and customer service. Benetech then acts much more like a backend partner rather than a retail partner as we are in the U.S. and people start getting access to English language books in 2007.
3. Groups in India start providing English language books for inclusion in Bookshare.org for global distribution, for those books that are freely distributable (especially textbooks from India) and those where permissions have been granted. We believe that there is tremendous value in accessing content from India.
4. Leaning almost entirely on India's technology skill base, the work needed to make the other 22 official Indian languages accessible starts. Technology we take for granted in English nowadays needs much more development, including optical character recognition, data entry, searching and voice synthesis. The initial idea is to continue to use the English Bookshare.org interface while posting books in these different languages.
5. Assuming that the preceding steps have been successful and there's lots of takeup, consider further advances such as other language web interfaces, cell phone readers (instead of using PCs) or having a server located in India.
As you might imagine, this is very exciting stuff for me. I really want to see Bookshare.org transcend borders and ensure that all people who need access to books around the world have them. By partnering with the groups in each country that have the expertise, relationships and especially trust, we can work together to realize this vision!