In 2012, our director, Dr. Agha Ali Raza created Polly along with Roni Rosenfeld (his doctoral thesis advisor at Carnegie Mellon) and Umar Saif (his thesis committee member and research collaboration partner). Polly is a voice-based, telephone-based service that engages low-literate and non-tech savvy users in light entertainment and spreads useful development-related information to them as they become more comfortable with the voice interface. Polly allows users to record a short-message their voice, to modify it using a choice of funny voice modifications and to optionally send the original or modified version of the message to their friends. Consequently its use spreads virally among the target population and results in spreading development-related information to low-literate masses. The simple entertainment acts as a soft incentive for users to train themselves and overcomes the scalability hurdle of explicit user training and motivation. It also allows Polly to organically spread among the population through word of mouth as well as scheduled message deliveries from one user to another. As users become more comfortable with the interface, Polly introduces them to development related services like job search, health information etc.
Seeded with 5 users, within a year Polly amassed 165,000 users from all over Pakistan who took part in more than 636,000 calls, including 200,199 forwarded voice messages. These users were also exposed to a Job-Audio Browser where they could listen to newspaper job ads, fit for low-skilled workers, and forward these ads to friends. At its peak Polly was spreading to 1,000 new users every day. The 728 job ads in the system were listened 386,000 times by 34,000 users. Polly was used primarily by low-educated young men for entertainment and other creative uses like voicemail, group messaging and telemarketing. Its viral spread crossed gender and age boundaries and attracted a large number of blind users. Its use remained primarily in low-socio-economic strata.
Following is a brief description of the various deployments of Polly since 2011