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An iPhone and Android visual dictionary for Crisis Camp Haiti

I’m attending the 2nd Crisis Camp for Haiti this weekend. It’s amazing how many more people are planning to show up and help out from across the country and the world.

In prep for the weekend I’ve written a prototype for a visual dictionary mobile application that runs on iPhone and Android phones. Haiti has a large mix of languages and a high percentage of people with limited reading and writing skills, but relief workers still desperately need to communicate on a variety of subjects. Good visual dictionaries can be great for this since they allow communication through well recognized images and symbols, but the existing approaches are paper based which limits the vocabulary. Physical dictionaries also need to be printed and then distributed to the aid workers (a hard task in a crisis).

By using a mobile application we hope to work around these issues.

Here are some screenshots of the prototype. It’s not pretty, but it works on both iPhone and Android and I think it’s a solid starting point. I developed it in Appcelerator Titanium because that is what one of the existing teams is using for their mobile applications. It allows us deploy the app to any Android or IOS device. And it’s great for prototyping and testing since you can do that using normal web development tools.

You can expand the dictionary on the server and the client downloads the updates next time it’s connected. I think we may add a way to share dictionaries directly between phones as well, (not surprisingly, internet access in Haiti is intermittent at best). In time my hope is that we can even crowdsource the images and translations into an open source repository to have an ever-growing vocabulary for this and other image-based translation apps.

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