Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Nigeria to benefit from RIAM project

Remmy Nweke

TELECOMMUNICATIONS users globally including Nigeria would soon begin to reap the benefits of using technologies, especially the mobile phones to access the web whether low or high-end, courtesy of RIAM.

It would be recalled that recently it was reported that over seven million mobile phones would be rendered useless if third generation (3G) technology takes root in the country. Nigeria has attained estimated 25 million subscriber base.

Reciprocal Interoperability between Accessible and Mobile webs (RIAM), a project of the University of Manchester in the United States, is working on how to connect disabled technologies such as deploying mobile phones to use web very easily.

The project is to facilitate the connection of some mobile phone technologies hitherto unable to connect to the web due to some embedded features.

Billed to gulp £205k, about N49,748,340.39, the project would be led by a web accessibility expert, Dr. Simon Harper of the school’s Computer Science department.

The fund is being provided by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, while Dr. Harper’s team would work together with semantic web expert, Professor Ian Horrocks and another web accessibility expert, Mr. Yeliz Yesilada.

Media Relations Officer, University of Manchester, Mr. Simon Hunter, who disclosed this to our correspondent, said that currently, websites have to be re-designed to work on mobile phones.

He also said that the aim of the three-year project will be to develop a host of new software with the potential to make the mobile web as simple to use as the internet.

He explained that this was due to the fact that many conventional websites can not be displayed on small screens.

Therefore, both the content and the choice of websites available on the mobile web are limited.

He quoted Dr Harper as saying, “Mobile web users are handicapped not by physiology but technology. Not only is the screen on the majority of phones very small, limiting the user’s vision, but the information displayed is difficult to navigate and read.”

He stressed the fact that the content displayed is determined by a service provider and not the user, hence users are left often with a web screen that is not very accessible or user friendly.

“Our aim is to change this by enabling web accessibility and mobile technologies to interoperate,” Dr. Harper declared.

A core part of the project, the leader enlightened, would be the development of a validation engine to screen websites so as to ensure they are accessible and mobile web compatible.

He emphasized, the validation engine would work in tandem with a transcoding programme which will de-clutter web pages and reorder them into a web mobile friendly format.

“Once transcoded the aim is to let the user determine how the pages are displayed on their mobile phone,” Dr. Harper said, pointing out that Screenreaders used by blind or visually impaired web users are very good at stripping web pages down into text only formats but what current project tends to achieve is content rich formats which is just as accessible.

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