By Susan Dickson
David Iberkleid believes in the power of information â€“ so much so that he helps bring all sorts of information to 72,000 Spanish-speaking people every day.
As a graduate student in information science at UNC a few years ago, the Bolivian-American worked as a volunteer teaching computer skills to Latino families at Carrboro Elementary School. He was surprised to learn how little some of those he taught knew of the World Wide Web.
â€œI found that â€¦ there was a huge segment of society that wasnâ€™t accessing the Internet like we would expect them to,â€ he said, adding that â€œlittle things like putting the cursor in a box and managing several different pagesâ€ were foreign to those he taught.
Iberkleid, a self-proclaimed information junkie, decided to keep teaching computer classes to Latinos once his volunteering gig ended, helping people in their homes and eventually through the Human Rights Center of Chapel Hill and Carrboro. He wanted to help break through the information divide, and a little over a year ago an answer came to him.
â€œEverybody has a phone,â€ he said. â€œMost people have unlimited text messaging.â€
Today Iberkleid helps bring information to the Spanish-speaking community in a seemingly simple way, reaching 72,000 subscribers across four states, including about 320 in Carrboro, about one per Latino household. His service is called PaseLaVoz, or Spread the Word, and provides Spanish speakers with free text-messaged information on topics ranging from events and jobs to traffic and emergency information. Subscribers find the service through word of mouth, and itâ€™s been exploding in popularity, with subscriptions tripling in the past three months.
The Town of Carrboro even recently took notice of Iberkleidâ€™s power to reach the Latino community, using PaseLaVoz to reach out to Latino residents about a public hearing regarding changes to Jones Ferry Road, an area where many Spanish-speaking residents live.
â€œIt was a way of trying to reach out to them through non-traditional channels,â€ said town transportation planner Jeff Brubaker. â€œIn traditional channels, we arenâ€™t very successful.â€
HRC director Judith Blau has also used the service to reach out to the community and get out information of particular interest to Spanish-speaking residents.
Iberkleid said that while his subscriptions are growing rapidly in areas far from Carrboro, this area was a great place to start his service.
â€œCarrboro was a key fertile ground for this,â€ he said, noting the â€œopenness of the community.â€
He used a grant from the HRC and private funding to help fund the startup, and hopes to find a way for the service to become self-sustaining.
However, Iberkleid doesnâ€™t want to charge for subscriptions, since so much of the information his service provides is user-generated and content could suffer with fewer subscribers.
But he knows what he does is valuable.
â€œWe send text messages, and text messages get opened,â€ Iberkleid said.
He hopes to leverage that dissemination of information to attract advertisers hoping to reach a targeted audience in a timely manner.
Right now, subscribers get varying numbers of text messages, depending on their interests, averaging a half to two text messages a day.
â€œWe know that the threshold where they stop tolerating it is much higher than that,â€ Iberkleid said. Moreover, PaseLaVoz previously allowed subscribers to send free advertising through the service, so he knows the interest is there.
Just this month, Iberkleid began offering advertising through PaseLaVoz, so he has yet to see how popular his service will be with advertisers. But if the interest in subscriptions is any indication, the little Carrboro-born business may have success in its future.
â€œI think itâ€™s just a matter of establishing ourselves as a go-to place to do this,â€ he said.