Students score with interactive Web site

By Warwick Ashford, ITWeb London correspondent
Johannesburg, 31 Mar 2006

In line with an international trend towards interactive Web sites, two Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) students have developed a driving school search engine for learner drivers in SA that has won them a place in the National Innovation Competition for IT-based projects.

Rafiq Phillips and Miguel dos Santos won the CPUT competition with their Web site, which enables users to search for driving schools approved by the SA Institute of Driving Instructors (SAIDI). Users can then book lessons directly with instructors who meet location, language and driving code requirements.

Entering the various search criteria results in a list of matching driving instructors with links to information about the instructors, including photographs, portfolios, rates and e-mail addresses for requesting lesson bookings.

"Any e-mail request sent to the chosen driving instructor is confirmed by an instant SMS alerting the instructor to ensure a prompt response," says Phillips. He ascribes the success of the project to the high level of interactivity, which he says is missing from similar US sites.

Virtual community

The site uses interactive Web 2.0 characteristics, Phillips says, which have been enabled by the use of Asynchronous JavaScript and XML, which Java experts predict will have a huge impact on future Web applications because it enables service-oriented architecture for the client.

On a recent visit to SA, Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance director Leonard Brody said Web 2.0 was about the two-way Web that would continually boost the importance of virtual communities.

In addition to the e-mail connectivity to facilitate interaction between people around a point of common interest, the iDrive site promotes the concept of a virtual community by providing connectivity through the Mxit free message exchange application for mobile phones.

"We use Gaim software (an instant messaging application) to handle messages sent using the Mxit application. Many users have Mxit on their phones because it costs as little as 2c to send a message using GPRS data," says Phillips.

Rapidly climbing from about 400 hits a day after first going live with the site in September 2005, the Web site is receiving over 1 500 hits daily. "We had no idea the concept would prove so popular so quickly," says Phillips.

Although iDrive covers driving instructors only in Gauteng and the Western Cape at present, the site developers plan to extend coverage as SAIDI membership grows beyond these two provinces.

There are also plans to expand the language options for instructors to the Web pages, beginning with Xhosa, Afrikaans and Zulu, they say.

Phillips and Dos Santos will join the winning teams of all the other higher education innovation competitions to compete in the National Innovation Competition sponsored by the National Research Foundation`s Innovation Fund.

The national competition is aimed at stimulating entrepreneurship among higher education students and offers a prize of R300 000 for the best business plan, based on a technological innovation that will lead to a tangible product or service.

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