Semapedia introduced to Africa: Powered by "Made in Ghana" technology

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Friday, April 7, 2006

Accra — The Ghana-India Kofi Annan Centre for Excellence in ICT introduced the Semacode technology and the Semapedia application to a segment of the Ghanaian public in a presentation delivered by Guido Sohne, Developer-In-Residence at the Centre and Chief Software Architect of CoreNett Ltd, a Ghanaian electronic transaction processing company.

Introduced for the first time in Africa, Semapedia is a way of associating Internet sites with physical barcodes that can be read by cameraphones, enabling one to look up information about physical objects quickly and easily.

The Semacode technology

A semacode for the wikipedia article on the subject

The Semacode (a URL barcode), was conceived in Canada (North America), and includes portions (such as one of the very first versions) that were developed in Ghana (West Africa) by local software developers. Simon Woodside, the founder of the Semacode Corporation and the Semacode community site contacted Mr. Sohne for assistance in developing an early version of Semacode and Mr. Sohne in turn recommended Francois Bonin, another Developer-In-Residence at the Kofi Annan Centre for Excellence, to develop this software. Mr. Bonin successfully delivered on the project to develop an implementation of this technology, which later on has become increasingly widely adopted and known.

The significance of Semacode is that one can now link a real world, physical object to arbitrary data. Before there has been no link, except for things like ordinary barcodes such as those used in stores to label products, or on books to indicate publication details. Unlike Semacodes, traditional barcodes have limited storage for information, are fixed function and good for only one narrow application, and also require the use of special, custom hardware and software to read or access such barcodes.

With the Semacode approach, all it now takes is for an ordinary camera phone, equipped with a Semacode reader software package (available free of charge by pointing your mobile phone web browser to the over the air distribution). There is no need to purchase any hardware or software to read these two dimensional barcodes.

Semacodes, by embedding a URL into a barcode, enable any portion of the Internet to be 'attached' to any object, and can replace barcodes by going further to give arbitrary information on the Internet, not just the simple product number.

After the successful development of the core of the Semacode encoding software (called the Semacode Tagger), Semacode went on to achieve user adoption, such as with the inception of the Semapedia, the Physical Wikipedia.

Semapedia, the physical Wikipedia

A Semapedia entry (photo credit: akaalias from flicker)

In the words of Stan Wiechers and Alexis Rondeau who are the founders of the Physical Wikipedia, "Semapedia is a non-profit project. The idea was to bring the amazing knowledge from the wikipedia to places in the real world where it matters. Being able to stand in front of a building and dive into its history right on the spot is something incredibly useful to anybody.

Doing that by just taking a picture with your mobile phone of a semacode is a very very simple interaction that is understandable to everybody. We have been explaining and showcasing to people with no technical background at all and they still immediately understand the use and value of our project.

Semapedia is a community project, everybody can go to our site and create semapedia tags via a simple text entry form right away, print them out and start hyperlinking ojects to the information he wants people to know."

Made in Ghana

Following his interest in the initial development of the Semacode encoder, Mr Sohne has continued with Semacode technology by developing free software, licensed under the GNU General Public License, to create Semacodes. The first version of his software was developed as an experiment to investigate the benefits of writing code for the Apple Mac OS X operating system. Mr Sohne had at the time recently acquired an Apple PowerBook and used the Semacode as a goal to be achieved that would serve as a learning exercise for the newly acquired hardware. This software grew to include a C to JavaScript port of the Semacode encoder to run within a web browser, so that it could be accessible on all platforms, and not just the Apple platform.

Within computer software development, a port can be considered akin to a translation between two human languages. It retains the essence of its source, yet is somewhat different while performing the same function. With that transformative step, each Web browser is itself a full blown Semacode encoder, regardless of platform. And since each Semacode created by the software is in a hyperlink format, all the Semacodes created can be conveniently stored by web engines such as Google.

Powering this all, are deceptively simple Semacode symbols that are easy to create and quick to read, a testament to simple ideas brought to life by complex systems. Perhaps the real genius of the idea behind the Semacode, brainchild of Mr. Simon Woodside of Semacode Corporation, is that it is so simple that it works so well and so easily. It was not so simple before the breakthrough concept of the Semacode as a URL barcode that is accessible by a wide variety of 'off the shelf' camera phones!

Bringing Semapedia to Africa

Today, this introduction of the Semapedia and its associated technologies, at the prestigious Ghana-India Kofi Annan Centre for Excellence, explained and explored the possibilities that are opened by the use of Semacodes. The audience received the talk very well and suggested several interesting ways of locally applying Semacodes during an engaging discussion during question and answer time.

The introduction of the Semapedia immediately preceded the launching of the first African entry into the Semapedia which will take place immediately after the talk, when several members of the audience used Semacodes to tag the Ghana-India Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence with its corresponding entry into the Wikipedia.

During the presentation Mr Sohne said that "The time has come for African content to take its place in the global constellation. We need more African content, and anybody can help add more content to the Wikipedia. So tag something today. It's really easy to do and the software is free too!"

If it can be done in Ghana, then it can easily be done elsewhere in Africa and even in Asia, Europe and North America too. It is rare to find African created technology being used today in Western cyberspace so this event is indeed a laudable step forward for African technology as well as an indication of the benefits of collaborative development based on liberal software licensing such as open source software that can arise from further North/South private sector partnerships.


This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.
This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.

Alexis Rondeau, Stan Wiechers. "Semapedia Introduced To Africa" —, April 10, 2006