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Aditya Vashistha, Edward Cutrell, Nicola Dell, and Richard Anderson, Social media platforms for low-income blind people in India, ACM – Association for Computing Machinery, October 2015.

We present the first analysis of the use and non-use of social media platforms by low-income blind users in rural and periurban India. Using a mixed-methods approach of semistructured interviews and observations, we examine the benefits received by low-income blind people from Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp and investigate constraints that impede their social media participation. We also present a detailed analysis of how low-income blind people used a voice-based social media platform deployed in India that received significant traction from low-income people in rural and peri-urban areas. In eleven-weeks of deployment, fifty-three blind participants in our sample collectively placed 4784 voice calls, contributed 1312 voice messages, cast 33,909 votes and listened to the messages 46,090 times. Using a mixed-methods analysis of call logs, qualitative interviews, and phone surveys, we evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the platform and benefits it offered to low-income blind people.

Henry Corrigan-Gibbs, Nakull Gupta, Curtis Northcutt, Edward Cutrell, and William Thies, Deterring cheating in online environments, in ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum. Interact. (TOCHI), ACM – Association for Computing Machinery, September 2015.

Many Internet services depend on the integrity of their users, even when these users have strong incentives to behave dishonestly. Drawing on experiments in two different online contexts, this study measures the prevalence of cheating and evaluates two different methods for deterring it. Our first experiment investigates cheating behavior in a pair of online exams spanning 632 students in India. Our second experiment examines dishonest behavior on Mechanical Turk through an online task with 2,378 total participants. Using direct measurements that are not dependent on self-reports, we detect significant rates of cheating in both environments. We confirm that honor codes–despite frequent use in massive open online courses (MOOCs)–lead to only a small and insignificant reduction in online cheating behaviors. To overcome these challenges, we propose a new intervention: a stern warning that spells out the potential consequences of cheating. We show that the warning leads to a significant (about twofold) reduction in cheating, consistent across experiments. We also characterize the demographic correlates of cheating on Mechanical Turk. Our findings advance the understanding of cheating in online environments, and suggest that replacing traditional honor codes with warnings could be a simple and effective way to deter cheating in online courses and online labor marketplaces.

Aditya Vashistha, Rajan Vaish, Edward Cutrell, and William Thies, The Whodunit Challenge: Mobilizing the Crowd in India, Springer, September 2015.

While there has been a surge of interest in mobilizing the crowd to solve large-scale time-critical challenges, to date such work has focused on highincome countries and Internet-based solutions. In developing countries, approaches for crowd mobilization are often broader and more diverse, utilizing not only the Internet but also face-to-face and mobile communications. In this paper, we describe the Whodunit Challenge, the first social mobilization contest to be launched in India. The contest enabled participation via basic mobile phones and required rapid formation of large teams in order to solve a fictional mystery case. The challenge encompassed 7,700 participants in a single day and was won by a university team in about 5 hours. To understand teams’ strategies and experiences, we conducted 84 phone interviews. While the Internet was an important tool for most teams, in contrast to prior challenges we also found heavy reliance on personal networks and offline communication channels. We synthesize these findings and offer recommendations for future crowd mobilization challenges targeting low-income environments in developing countries.

Aditya Vashistha, Edward Cutrell, Gaetano Borriello, and William Thies, Sangeet Swara: A Community-Moderated Voice Forum in Rural India, ACM – Association for Computing Machinery, May 2015.

Interactive voice forums have emerged as a promising platform for people in developing regions to record and share audio messages using low-end mobile phones. However, one of the barriers to the scalability of voice forums is the process of screening and categorizing content, often done by a dedicated team of moderators. We present Sangeet Swara, a voice forum for songs and cultural content that relies on the community of callers to curate high-quality posts that are prioritized for playback to others. An 11-week deployment of Sangeet Swara found broad and impassioned usage, especially among visually impaired users. We also conducted a follow-up experiment, called Talent Hunt, that sought to reduce reliance on toll-free telephone lines. Together, our deployments span about 53,000 calls from 13,000 callers, who submitted 6,000 posts and 150,000 judgments of other content. Using a mixed-methods analysis of call logs, audio content, comparison with outside judges, and 204 automated phone surveys, we evaluate the user experience, the strengths and weaknesses of community moderation, financial sustainability, and the implications for future systems.

Aditya Vashistha, Edward Cutrell, and William Thies, Increasing the reach of snowball sampling: The impact of fixed versus lottery incentives, ACM – Association for Computing Machinery, March 2015.

Though many researchers have studied how to incentivize people to respond to surveys, little is known about how these incentives impact respondents’ willingness to recruit others to participate as well. In this paper, we show that the incentives offered for individual survey responses can have a dramatic impact on the overall reach of a survey through a network of peers. In a field experiment in India, we made a survey accessible via mobile phones and offered respondents either a fixed incentive (guaranteed payment of about $0.17) or a lottery incentive (1% chance of winning $17). When asked to choose, a significant fraction of respondents preferred the lottery incentive. However, when encouraged to spread the survey, the fixed incentive spread over 100 times further, reaching about 800 people in a day. We interpret this surprising result and discuss the implications for HCI.

Edward Cutrell, Jacki O’Neill, Srinath Bala, B. Nitish, Andrew Cross, Nakull Gupta, Viraj Kumar, and William Thies, Blended Learning in Indian Colleges with Massively Empowered Classroom, ACM – Association for Computing Machinery, March 2015.

Students in the developing world are frequently cited as being among the most important beneficiaries of online education initiatives such as massive open online courses (MOOCs). While some predict that online classrooms will replace physical classrooms, our experience suggests that blending online and in-person instruction is more likely to succeed in developing regions. However, very little research has actually been done on the effects of online education or blended learning in these environments. In this paper we describe a blended learning initiative that combines videos from a large online course with peer-led sessions for undergraduate technical education in India. We performed a randomized controlled trial (RCT) that indicates our intervention was associated with a small but significant improvement in performance on a summative exam. We discuss the results of the RCT and an ethnographic study of the intervention to make recommendations for future, scalable blended learning initiatives for places such as India.

Indrani Medhi-Thies, Pedro Ferreira, Nakull Gupta, Jacki O’Neill, and Edward Cutrell, KrishiPustak: A Social Networking System for Low- Literate Farmers, ACM – Association for Computing Machinery, March 2015.

With the wide penetration of mobile internet, social networking (SN) systems are becoming increasingly popular in the developing world. However, most SN sites are text heavy, and are therefore unusable by low-literate populations. Here we ask what would an SN application for low-literate users look like and how would it be used? We designed and deployed KrishiPustak, an audio-visual SN mobile application for low-literate farming populations in rural India. Over a four month deployment, 306 farmers registered through the phones of eight agricultural mediators making 514 posts and 180 replies. We conducted interviews with farmers and mediators and analyzed the content to understand system usage and to drive iterative design. The context of mediated use and agricultural framing had a powerful impact on system understanding (what it was for) and usage. Overall, KrishiPustak was useful and usable, but none-the-less we identify a number of design recommendations for similar SN systems.


Aditya Vashistha, Erin Brady, William Thies, and Edward Cutrell, Educational Content Creation and Sharing by Low-Income Visually Impaired People in India, ACM – Association for Computing Machinery, December 2014.

Low-income visually impaired people face a wide variety of educational challenges which are magnified in the developing world. Digital assistive technologies (such as screen readers) are typically out of reach, so individuals depend on Braille and audio recordings to access educational content. Unfortunately, there are acute shortages of Braille and high quality audio books for many subjects, leaving students scrambling for ways to continue their education. We present a formative study that examines the educational landscape for low-income visually impaired communities in rural and peri-urban India, the challenges they face in accessing educational content, and the solutions they have invented. We conducted interviews with 16 stakeholders, including students, teachers, and content producers, to understand the education ecosystem in their communities and how they use technologies such as basic mobile phones to consume, create, and share educational content. In particular, we found that these communities have established an informal network of peer-produced audio content that is shared via Bluetooth, memory cards and CDs. Our analysis suggests ways in which technology can improve access to professionally authored materials and augment these informal networks of peer-production.

Ariel Schwartz, Mohini Bhavsar, Edward Cutrell, Jonathan Donner, and Melissa Densmore, Optimizing Mobile Deployments, no. MSR-TR-2014-45, 1 April 2014.

Mobile devices are increasingly powerful and flexible tools for grassroots work. This document offers guidelines for thinking about your deployment, drawing attention to the latent project features that can influence the use of a device you issue for community level or frontline social service work.

Andrew Cross, Mydhili Bayyapunedi, Dilip Ravindran, Edward Cutrell, and William Thies, VidWiki: Enabling the Crowd to Improve the Legibility of Online Educational Videos, ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, 12 February 2014.

Videos are becoming an increasingly popular medium for communicating information, especially for online education. Recent efforts by organizations like Coursera, edX, Udacity and Khan Academy have produced thousands of education¬¬¬al videos with hundreds of millions of views in their attempt to make high quality teaching available to the masses. As a medium, videos are time-consuming to produce and cannot be easily modified after release. As a result, errors or problems with legibility are common. While text-based information platforms like Wikipedia have benefitted enormously from crowdsourced contributions for the creation and improvement of content, the various limitations of video hinder the collaborative editing and improvement of educational videos. To address this issue, we present VidWiki, an online platform that enables students to iteratively improve the presentation quality and content of educational videos. Through the platform, users can improve the legibility of handwriting, correct errors, or translate text in videos by overlaying typeset content such as text, shapes, equations, or images. We conducted a small user study in which 13 novice users annotated and revised Khan Academy videos. Our results suggest that with only a small investment of time on the part of viewers, it may be possible to make meaningful improvements in online educational videos.


Edward Cutrell, Srinath Bala, Andrew Cross, Naren Datha, Rahul Kumar, Madhusudan Parthasarathy, Siddharth Prakash, Sriram Rajamani, William Thies, Chetan Bansal, and Aldo John, Massively Empowered Classroom: Enhancing Technical Education in India, no. MSR-TR-2013-127, 31 December 2013.

Students in the developing world are frequently cited as being among the most important beneficiaries of online education initiatives such as massive open online courses (MOOCs). However, very little research has actually been done on the effects of online education in developing contexts. We describe a case study of our experience building and deploying Massively Empowered Classroom (MEC), an experimental project designed to explore how online educational content and techniques in blended learning can be used for undergraduate education in India. Our pilot study of a single course in algorithms extended over two semesters to more than 120 colleges in three state technical universities in India, and reached more than 4000 students. We identified a number of issues that we believe are unique to the Indian educational context. Specifically, we identify four key domains that MOOCs and similar educational initiatives must manage: Content, Incentives, Awareness, and Bandwidth. We believe that similar issues will extend to other developing countries with significant resource constraints.

Ariel Schwartz, Mohini Bhavsar, Edward Cutrell, Jonathan Donner, and Melissa Densmore, Balancing Burden and Benefit: Non-Prescribed Use of Employer-Issued Mobile Devices, in Proc. ICTD 2013, Dec 07-10 2013, Cape Town, South Africa, ACM, 7 December 2013.

Mobile devices are increasingly powerful and flexible tools for computing and communication. When ICTD workers are given a mobile phone 'for work', what else do they do? And to what extent can or should an employer shape that use? This note presents research in progress, focused on rules that development projects impose to govern use of mobile devices. This work maps these rules against actual instrumental (work-related, non-prescribed) and non-instrumental (personal) device use, and enforcement of these rules, in eight projects using a popular mobile-based job aid, CommCare. We present early insights from qualitative analysis of two such deployments in India identifying a range of often conflicting policy choices that affect device use for project mission and/or professional and personal empowerment. We explore tradeoffs for morale, work quality, mission, and device integrity. We identify user remote availability, soft intimidation, and validation as mechanisms to shift authority and credibility of information sources. The implications of our findings are increasingly important as governments and NGOs arm frontline workers with mobile devices as tools to improve service delivery.

Nimmi Rangaswamy and Melissa Densmore, Understanding jugaad: ICTD and the tensions of appropriation, innovation and utility, in Proceedings of ICTD 2013, the 6th International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development, Cape Town, South Africa, ACM, December 2013.

This paper seeks to bring scrutiny to ‘Jugaad’ as concept of user driven innovation in the context of ICTD research. We collate and organize a variety of definitions denoting adoption and innovation of technology in constrained eco systems. We attempt to bring a nuanced understanding of contextual processes supporting or hindering use adoption and innovation of ICTs by probing the multi-meanings of Jugaad as ground-up processes of technology adoption

Niranjan Pai, Pradnya Supe, Shailesh Kore, Y.S. Nandanwar, Aparna Hegde, Edward Cutrell, and William Thies, Using automated voice calls to improve adherence to iron supplements during pregnancy: A pilot study, in Proceedings of ICTD 2013, the 6th International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development, ACM, December 2013.

For years, researchers have explored the use of mobile phone reminders to improve adherence to medication. However, few studies have measured the direct medical benefit of those reminders, especially for low-literate populations in the developing world. This paper describes the use of automated voice calls to promote adherence to iron supplements among pregnant women in urban India. Unlike prior studies, we assess impact via a direct measurement of hemoglobin (Hb) levels in the blood. We enrolled 130 pregnant women from a low-income area of Mumbai, India and randomly assigned them to control and treatment groups. Both groups received a counseling session and a free supply of medication. The treatment group also received short audio messages, three times per week for a period of three months, encouraging them to take iron supplements. Results suggest that auto- mated calls positively impacted Hb levels. However, because we could only recover 79 women for follow-up, and the effect size was small, our results lack statistical power (aver- age change in Hb = 0.43 g/dL, 95% CI = -0.13 - 0.98 g/dL, p=0.13). We conclude that automated calls deserve further consideration for reducing maternal anemia, and we share our lessons learned for the benefit of future interventions.

Anjali K. Mohan, Edward Cutrell, and Balaji Parthasarathy, Instituting credibility, accountability and transparency in local service delivery? The Helpline and Aasthi in Karnataka, India, in in Proceedings of ICTD 2013, the 6th International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development, ACM, December 2013.

While e-governance is acclaimed as a means to decentralisation, and an efficiency and accountability enhancing mechanism, it can be implemented in different ways. In a strong centralized state like the Indian state, decentralization is often pursued in a centralized manner through top-down interventions. This paper, traces the implementation of two centrally driven e-governance interventions in the state of Karnataka, India i.e. Helpline and Aasthi to argue that while ‘centralized decentralization’ may be justified on grounds of standardization, it can have divergent outcomes, many of which are often contrary to the objectives of decentralization. The experience of Helpline and Aasthi belies the claim of e-governance being an efficiency and accountability enhancing mechanism. On the contrary, the centralized approach to decentralization in implementing Helpline and Aasthi has weakened the accountability of the state and limited the efficiency gains of urban decentralization.

Nimmi Rangaswamy and Payal Arora, Digital leisure for development: Reframing new media practice in the global south, in Media, Culture, Society, September 2013.

Photoshopping of newlyweds, downloading the latest movies, teens flirting on social network sites and virtual gaming may seem like typical behavior in the West; yet in the context of a village in Mali or a slum in Mumbai, it is seen as unusual and perhaps an anomaly in their new media practice. In recent years, some studies (Ganesh, 2010; Mitra, 2005; Arora, 2010; 2012; Rangaswamy & Cutrell, 2012; Kavoori, Chadha & Arceneaux, 2006) have documented these leisure-oriented behaviors in the global south and argued for the need to emphasize and reposition these user practices within larger and contemporary discourses on new media consumption. Yet, for the most part, studies in the field of Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) have duly relegated such enactments as anecdotal. This is partly due to the fact that much of this research is driven by development agendas with a strong historical bias towards the socio-economic focus (Burrell & Anderson, 2009). Data that is not directly addressing project-based outcomes is sidelined. However, as emerging economies globalize and urbanize exponentially, and their users become more critical consumers and creative contributors of digital content or ‘prosumers’ (Bruns, 2008) and arguably free laborers (Scholz, 2012) instead of classic development beneficiaries, a paradigm shift is needed in approaching this new media audience with a more open-ended, explorative and pluralistic perspective.

Jonathan Donner and Marion Walton, Your phone has internet - why are you at a library PC? Re-imagining public access for the mobile internet era, in Interact: 14th IFIP TC13 Conference on Human-Computer Interaction, Springer, September 2013.

This study focuses on teenage users of public internet access venues (PAVs) in low-income neighbourhoods of Cape Town. It documents their cultivation of detailed ICT repertoires to make the most of available ICTs. It highlights the continuing importance of PAVs as supplements for poorly equipped schools, and reveals the incompleteness of any supposed transition to mobile-only internet use. While the mobile internet is opening up opportunities for young people, its current form still conflicts with the easy (global) rhetoric of a closing digital divide and the end of the PAV. We recommend policy and design actions (effecting rules, training, messaging, functionality, and Wi-Fi) to reconfigure PAVs to be more useful "in the age of the mobile internet". Though some actions require support from policymakers, this is fruitful ground for designers and technologists. We identify steps which can be undertaken immediately, rather than waiting for future device convergence or lower tariffs.

Indrani Medhi, Kentaro Toyama, Anirudha Joshi, Uday Athavankar, and Edward Cutrell, A comparison of list vs. hierarchical UIs on mobile phones for non-literate users, Interact: 14th IFIP TC13 Conference on Human-Computer Interaction, September 2013.

Previous research has shown that low-literate users have difficulty using hierarchical information architectures and that a list design showing all items at once on a PC screen works best for search tasks. However, the limited screen space on phones makes it impossible to show more than a few items at once on a single screen. Does a hierarchical UI work better on a phone? In this study, we compared the performance of non-literate users from Bangalore, India, on a search task using a hierarchical UI (four levels deep) and a multi-page list that had forty items across seven pages of a touch-screen phone. Our results show that participants using the multi-page list perform better both in terms of time taken and percent correct even when the list UI design requires them to browse through multiple pages of items on the phone.

Mohammed Kaleemur Rahman, Taking Stock of Toilets in Bangalore’s Government Schools: Status, Challenges and Opportunities, no. MSR-TR-2013-77, 2 August 2013.

Toilets play a key role in the overall functioning of a school. It is hard to imagine a school functioning efficiently without a set of toilets. According to UNICEF, “education for girls can be fostered by something as basic as a girls-only toilet”. Even in cases where schools have toilets, they will be unusable unless they are clean, private and functional. Currently, there is an extensive database on elementary education in India called District Information System for Education (DISE). It has school ‘report cards’ of more than 1.3 million schools providing qualitative and quantitative information about them. However, these only mention whether the school has toilets for boys and for girls. This can be misleading because even if a school has separate toilets for boys and girls, they could be unusable due to various reasons.

In an initial set of informal visits to 8 schools in the Shivajinagar, Frazer Town and KG Halli areas of Bangalore, we got the impression that toilets were an integral part of the school’s infrastructure. In some cases, the poor condition of toilets affected attendance and enrollment at the school, especially for girls. One of the school headmasters (HM) complained that parents are reluctant in sending their daughters to school if there are no separate toilet facilities for them. The boys at the school would urinate in open-air at a corner of the school ground.

In order to get a deeper understanding of the toilet infrastructure in government schools, we worked with the Akshara Foundation to carry out a survey of 36 schools in Bangalore. 16 of these schools were located in the urban Kaval Byrasandra cluster and 20 in the rural Sarjapura one. The goal of this investigation is to document the challenges and opportunities in providing usable toilet infrastructure in government schools in Bangalore. We found that:

  • It is hard to get accurate state of school toilets due to inconsistencies and lack of toilet usability data in the DISE database
  • There are significant differences in key attributes of urban and rural schools
  • Poor toilets pose major problems and concerns for students, teachers and parents
  • Many schools face water supply problems especially in urban areas
  • Vandalism is a non-trivial problem that can have serious consequences for schools
  • Schools with indifferent SDMCs do not get proactively improved
  • Schools with buildings not owned by the government get limited support from it
  • Urban parents in our sample were indifferent to their children’s studies
  • Enrollment in schools is affected by social, material and financial factors
  • Community ownership is essential for schools to sustain their toilet infrastructure
  • School toilet report cards have potential to incite stakeholders

These findings have been described in detail in this document, along with pictures when applicable. Due to the diverse context of each school, there are exceptions in our generalizations. We hope that this document will be useful to those working in the government school space in Bangalore, specifically in the area of infrastructure and sanitation.

Preeti Mudliar, Jonathan Donner, and William Thies, Emergent Practices Around CGNet Swara: A Voice Forum for Citizen Journalism in Rural India, in Information Technologies & International Development, vol. 9, no. 2, pp. 65-79, 11 June 2013.

Rural communities in India are often underserved by the mainstream media. While there is a public discourse surrounding the issues they face, this dialogue typically takes place on television, in newspaper editorials, and on the Internet. Unfortunately, participation in such forums is limited to the most privileged members of society, excluding those individuals who have the largest stake in the conversation. This article examines an effort to foster a more inclusive dialogue by means of a simple technology: an interactive voice forum. Called CGNet Swara, the system enables callers to record messages of local interest, as well as to listen to messages that others have recorded. Messages are also posted on the Internet as a supplement to an existing discussion forum. In almost three years of deployment in India, CGNet Swara has logged more than 137,000 phone calls and released 2,100 messages. To understand the emergent practices surrounding this system, we conducted interviews with 42 diverse stakeholders, including callers, bureaucrats, and media members. Our analysis contributes to the understanding of voice-based media as a vehicle of social inclusion for remote and underprivileged populations.

Nimmi Rangaswamy and Ed Cutrell, Anthropology, Development, and ICTs: Slums, Youth, and the Mobile Internet in Urban India, in Information Technologies & International Development, MIT Press, June 2013.


In this article, we present results from an anthropological study of everyday mobile Internet adoption among teenagers in a low-income urban setting. We use this study to explore how information about everyday ICT use may be relevant for development research, even if it is largely dominated by entertainment uses. To understand how ICT tools are used, we need to study the spaces users inhabit, even if these spaces are dominated by mundane, non-instrumental, and entertainment-driven needs. The key here is for ICTD discourse to situate insights from anthropological studies (such as this one) within an understanding of what drives a specific user population to adopt technologies in particular ways. Clearly there is a link between context and use, and understanding this may be invaluable for development research. Adopting a narrow development lens of technology use may miss the actual engagements and ingenious strategies marginal populations use to integrate technologies into their daily lives.

Aditya Vashistha, Ed Cutrell, and Bill Thies, Mapping Interactive Voice Response Call Data in Developing Regions, ACM CHI 2013 Workshop on Geographic Human-Computer Interaction, May 2013.

In this position paper, we discuss the importance of adding location data to the information collected using Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems in the developing world. We also discuss various approaches to input location data using basic phones, as well as open research questions.

Nimmi Rangaswamy and Ed Cutrell, Local Pocket Internet and Global Social Media Bridging the Digital Gap: Facebook and Youth Sub-Stratum in Urban India, IFIP 9th International Conference on Social Implications of Computers in Developing Countries, May 2013.

As Web 2.0 technologies penetrate the world and as more people are spurred to go online, the digital literacy gap shrinks yet differences persist: mainly between users who have infrastructural supports and those who do not to acess, use and persist with ICTs. Technologies in developing countries like India have found new ways to immerse and embed into the social milieu of users. Our paper offers a Developemnt 2.0 framework to investigate Facebook in India as social media with developemnt impacts on everyday day life. The focus of this paper is Facebook as appreciable and compelling new media for non-elite youth in urban India. We use our research as a springboard for understanding the ways internet technologies are continually re-defining social practices in the urban edges of developing economies. Having reached the socially disadvantaged, Facebook is transforming as a space to learn, play and connect with global digital culture. Facebook, for the non-elite youth in India, is ignited by two products: the modest feature phone and the micro pre-pay pocket internet serviced by local and global providers and mediated by the desire of young facebook users. Once ignited, we argue the mobile phone as the central, sometimes only, device for multi-media affordances priming socio-digital experiences. This research is an anthropologically informed study about low income users of the mobile [pre-pay] internet accessing facebook primarily on their [modest] phones and the possibilities of transgressing social identity, transforming self-perception, expanding social connections and life chances. Development 2.0 should examine ways in which the provision of alternative platforms of social and economic exchange can work to energize new forms of communication behaviours and social interactions conferring media entitlements for the digital-poor in the world. The key to understanding this relationship is for a more reflexive, critical and beneficial understanding of developmental benefits accruing to user engagement with Web 2.0.SNS technologies.

Jonathan Donner and Cecile Bezuidenhoudt, In a world with mobile data, survey questions about Internet use should no longer implicitly favor PCs , in Mobile media practices, presence and politics: The challenge of being seamlessly mobile, Routledge, May 2013.

The increasingly widespread use of data-enabled mobile handsets presents new challenges for the measurement and theorization of Internet behaviors. The common operationalization of Internet use as an activity performed via a personal computer (PC) with a distinct beginning, middle, and end has come under pressure from two groups—those for whom the PC has become but one of myriad ‘ubiquitous’ access methods, and those who use a PC rarely (or never). Drawing on household survey data from Kenya, Ghana and Tanzania, we explore the strains evident in the traditional survey question “how often do you access the Internet?” Based on our findings, we recommend methodological approaches that offer (a) no implicit/default privilege to the PC and (b) clear conceptual separation between devices, channels, venues, and uses. We conclude by arguing that since the interplay between theory and operationalization is bidirectional, a shift to a more fluid and multifaceted operationalization of “Internet use”, if widely adopted, may help reframe theoretical discussions on what it means to interact with the world’s digital data networks.

Andrew Cross, Mydhili Bayyapunedi, Edward Cutrell, Anant Agarwal, and William Thies, TypeRighting: Combining the Benefits of Handwriting and Typeface in Online Educational Videos, 29 April 2013.

Recent years have seen enormous growth of online educational videos, spanning K-12 tutorials to university lectures. As this content has grown, so too has grown the number of presentation styles. Some educators have strong allegiance to handwritten recordings (using pen and tablet), while others use only typed (PowerPoint) presentations. In this paper, we present the first systematic comparison of these two presentation styles and how they are perceived by viewers. Surveys on edX and Mechanical Turk suggest that users enjoy handwriting because it is personal and engaging, yet they also enjoy typeface because it is clear and legible. Based on these observations, we propose a new presentation style, TypeRighting, that combines the benefits of handwriting and typeface. Each phrase is written by hand, but fades into typeface soon after it appears. Our surveys suggest that about 80% of respondents prefer TypeRighting over handwriting. The same fraction of respondents prefer TypeRighting over typeface, for videos in which the handwriting is sufficiently legible.

Indrani Medhi, Meera Lakshmanan, Kentaro Toyama, and Edward Cutrell, Some Evidence for Impact of Limited Education on Hierarchical User Interface Navigation, ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, April 2013.

One of the greatest challenges in designing applications for economically poor communities is that potential users may have little or no education. We investigated how limited education appears to impact the ability to navigate a hierarchical UI, even when it has no text. We scored 60 participants from low-income communities in India using tests of textual literacy and Raven’s Progressive Matrices. These were used as proxies for educational level and a subset of cognitive abilities. We then evaluated participants’ performance on a UI task involving hierarchical navigation. First, our results confirm that textual literacy is correlated with scores on the Raven’s test. In addition, we found that performance on both instruments are predictive of performance in navigating UI hierarchies, even when the UI is text-free. This provides statistically significant confirmation of previous anecdotal hypotheses. We conclude with design recommendations for UI hierarchies for people with limited education.

Sebastien Cuendet, Indrani Medhi, Kalika Bali, and Edward Cutrell, VideoKheti: Making video content accessible to low-literate and novice users, ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, April 2013.

Designing ICT systems for rural users in the developing world is difficult for a variety of reasons ranging from problems with infrastructure to wide differences in user contexts and capabilities. Developing regions may include huge variability in spoken languages and users are often low- or nonliterate, with very little experience interacting with digital technologies. Researchers have explored the use of text-free graphical interfaces as well as speech-based applications to overcome some of the issues related to language and literacy. While there are benefits and drawbacks to each of these approaches, they can be complementary when used together. In this work, we present VideoKheti, a mobile system using speech, graphics, and touch interaction for low-literate farmers in rural India. VideoKheti helps farmers to find and watch agricultural extension videos in their own language and dialect. In this paper, we detail the design and development of VideoKheti and report on a field study with 20 farmers in rural India who were asked to find videos based on a scenario. The results show that farmers could use VideoKheti, but their success still greatly depended on their education level. While participants were enthusiastic about using the system, the multimodal interface did not overcome many obstacles for low-literate users.

Nimmi Rangaswamy and Neha Kumar, The Mobile Media Actor-Network in Urban India, ACM Sig CHI 2013, April 2013.

Building on a growing body of human-computer interaction (HCI) literature on information and communication technology (ICT) use in the developing world, this paper describes the vast, growing mobile media consumption culture in India, which relies on the ubiquity of informal socioeconomic practices for reproducing, sharing, and distributing pirated digital media. Using an Actor-Network Theory (ANT) based approach, we show how piracy not only fuels media consumption, but also drives further technology adoption and promotes digital literacy. To do this, we first uncover the role of piracy as a legitimate actor that brings ICT capability to underserved communities and reveal the heterogeneous character of the pirated mobile media distribution and consumption infrastructure in India. We then emphasize the benefits of an ANT-based theorydriven analysis to HCI’s efforts in this arena. In particular, ANT enables us to one, draw attention to the ties in the pirate media network that facilitate the increased decentralization of piracy in India; two, highlight the progressive transition from the outsourcing to the selfsourcing of users’ media needs as this network evolves; and three, recognize the agency of human and non-human entities in this inherently sociotechnical ecosystem.

Nimmi Rangaswamy, Mobile Untamed: New Media in the digital shadow lands of India, Association of Asia Studies, March 2013.

The focus of this paper is the relationship between mobile new media technologies and non-elite youth in urban India framing social media as a marker for broader social realities and structuring youth engagement with them. Yet it remains a challenge to explain the rapid rise of mobile phone ownership and the preponderance of the mobile internet and new media among and amidst social disadvantage and constrained economic capacity. Millions of teenagers in constrained environments like the Indian slum are beginning to evolve unique definitions of internet technology having vaulted across traditional communication barriers to embrace mobile internet technologies: these have indeed revolutionized communication ecologies in technology constrained environments. New media practices in India, especially among youth, broadly inspire two ways of viewing in popular media; as either techno-elites or as strapped humans in need of assisted digital literacy. The social media user is no longer an elite base but cuts across social segments in urban India. The themes we explore to frame this paper will be a departure from the established credo of new media youth practices. New media at the lower economic spectrum in India is, first, a mobile phone centric experience; second, marks the entry of the internet experience; and third, allows a hitherto unavailable trans-hierarchical class/caste social experience. We foreground the leapfrogging of digital media technologies as they re-characterize the genre of virtual life: a leap discontinuous and disruptive, revolutionizing the media ecology of young India.

Ted McCarthy, Joyojeet Pal, and Edward Cutrell, The “voice” has it: screen reader adoption and switching behavior among vision impaired persons in India, in Assistive Technology: The Official Journal of RESNA, Taylor & Francis, 27 February 2013.

We present results from a mixed methods study of screen reader use and switching behavior among people with vision impairments in India. We examine loyalty and experimentation with screen readers and find that the main drivers of adoption for early users differ significantly from the factors that drive continued use by advanced users. We discuss the factor that emerges as one of the strongest stated drivers of early adoption, TTS “voice” quality, particularly a “humansounding voice” as one of the key features differentiating free/open source (FOSS) products from more expensive proprietary products. While the initial preferences are driven by voice quality, application support becomes more important over time as users speed up their sound settings and become more comfortable with the resultant non-human-sounding speech. We discuss these findings from two theoretical perspectives – first, through the application of the economics of behavior switching, and second, vis-à-vis novice and expert approaches toward new product adoption. We argue that these findings further our understanding of initial user comfort related to assistive technology adoption, and the impact of early technology choices on long-term technology switching behavior.

Pranav Ramkrishnan, Aditya Vashistha, Ed Cutrell, and Bill Thies, DocTalk: Extending Doctors' Reach with Personalized Voice Messages, ACM Symposium on Computing for Development (ACM DEV), January 2013.

Because doctors are scarce in developing regions, they often lack the time to provide detailed counseling to every patient. In this paper, we propose DocTalk: a system that extends doctors' visits by allowing them to share pre-recorded audio messages, in their own voice, to patients with low-end mobile phones. DocTalk uses a combination of SMS and interactive voice response (IVR) to orchestrate this communication between doctors and patients. We describe the design and implementation of the system, as well as feedback gathered in conversations with 21 doctors in urban India.

Kalika Bali, Sunayana Sitaram, Sebastien Cuendet, and Indrani Medhi, A Hindi Speech Recognizer for an Agricultural Video Search Application, ACM Symposium on Computing for Development (ACM DEV), January 2013.

Voice user interfaces for ICTD applications have immense potential in their ability to reach to a large illiterate or semi-literate population in these regions where text-based interfaces are of little use. However, building speech systems for a new language is a highly resource intensive task. There have been attempts in the past to develop techniques to circumvent the need for large amounts of data and technical expertise required to build such systems. In this paper we present the development and evaluation of an application specific speech recognizer for Hindi. We use the Salaam method [4] to bootstrap a high quality speech engine in English to develop a mobile speech based agricultural video search for farmers in India. With very little training data for a 79 word vocabulary we are able to achieve >90% accuracies for test and field deployments. We report some observations from field that we believe are critical to the effective development and usability of a speech application in ICTD.

Dipanjan Chakraborty, Indrani Medhi, Edward Cutrell, and William Thies, Man versus Machine: Evaluating IVR versus a Live Operator for Phone Surveys in India, ACM Symposium on Computing for Development (ACM DEV), January 2013.

Many organizations in the developing world need to conduct phone surveys to collect data from low-income respondents. Such organizations generally have two options: employ a live operator, or utilize interactive voice response (IVR). Despite the relevance of this question, we are unaware of any work that rigorously compares the accuracy, speed, and cost of an IVR survey relative to a live operator. In this paper, we address these questions by giving two identical interviews one using IVR, and one using a live operator to 31 low-income job seekers in India. The IVR interview included a brief introduction by a live operator, to provide context for the call. Out of the 20 people who completed both surveys, we found that IVR incurs a 4.0% error rate (95% C.I. 2.5% 6.1%) and requires 2.5 times longer for users. We summarize our experience as a set of recommendations for practitioners in this space.

Rijurekha Sen, Andrew Cross, Aditya Vashistha, Venkat Padmanabhan, Edward Cutrell, and William Thies, Accurate speed and density measurement for road traffic in India, in Proceedings of ACM Symposium on Computing for Development (DEV 2013), ACM, January 2013.

Monitoring traffic density and speed helps to better manage traffic flows and plan transportation infrastructure and policy. In this paper, we present techniques to measure traffic density and speed in unlaned traffic, prevalent in developing countries, and apply those techniques to better understand traffic patterns in Bengaluru, India. Our techniques, based on video processing of traffic, result in about 11% average error for density and speed compared to manuallyobserved ground truth values. Though we started with intuitive and straight-forward image processing tools, due to a myriad of non-trivial issues posed by the heterogeneous and chaotic traffic in Bengaluru, our techniques have grown to be non-obvious. We describe the techniques and their evaluation, with details of why simpler methods failed under various circumstances. We also apply our techniques to quantify the congestion during peak hours and to estimate the gains achievable by shifting a fraction of traffic to other time periods. Finally, we measure the fundamental curves of transportation engineering, relating speed vs. density and flow vs. speed, which are integral tools for policy makers.


Anne Oeldorf-Hirsch, Jonathan Donner, and Edward Cutrell, How Bad is Good Enough? Exploring Mobile Video Quality Trade-offs for Bandwidth-Constrained Consumers, in Proc NordiCHI 2012, ACM, 15 October 2012.

In developing countries, many would-be mobile internet users perceive downloadable video content as too expensive. Aggressively degrading this video could reduce its file size and therefore its cost. The studies presented here explore extreme cases of this quality/cost trade-off for mobile phone users in urban India. A series of online studies tested the effects of manipulating a video’s content, bit rate, frame rate, and audio quality on quality ratings and enjoyment. Results show that video quality and thus file size can be greatly reduced with relatively little decrease in these outcomes. A field experiment with low-income users in urban India explored consumers’ choices when presented with a trade-off between video quantity and quality and found that nearly one-third selected a lower quality video for the benefit of more video content. Results suggest that offering lower-quality videos to bandwidth-constrained users could provide monetary savings with only minimal reduction in consumer satisfaction.

Andrew Cross, Edward Cutrell, and William Thies, Low-cost audience polling using computer vision, UIST, 7 October 2012.

Electronic response systems known as “clickers” have demonstrated educational benefits in well-resourced classrooms, but remain out-of-reach for most schools due to their prohibitive cost. We propose a new, low-cost technique that utilizes computer vision for real-time polling of a classroom. Our approach allows teachers to ask a multiple-choice question. Students respond by holding up a qCard : a sheet of paper that contains a printed code, similar to a QR code, encoding their student IDs. Students indicate their answers (A, B, C or D) by holding the card in one of four orientations. Using a laptop and an off-the-shelf webcam, our software automatically recognizes and aggregates the students’ responses and displays them to the teacher. We built this system and performed initial trials in secondary schools in Bangalore, India. In a 25-student classroom, our system offers 99.8% recognition accuracy, captures 97% of responses within 10 seconds, and costs 15 times less than existing electronic solutions.

Marion Walton and Jonathan Donner, Public access, private mobile: The interplay of shared access and the mobile Internet for teenagers in Cape Town, University of Cape Town, October 2012.

The study assesses and describes the interplay between public PC-based Internet access and private mobile-based access for urban teenaged public access venue (PAV) users in Cape Town. South Africa is a particularly fruitful “leading edge” environment to do this work since not only mobile use, but specifically mobile Internet use, is increasingly common even among resource-constrained young people. We combine quantitative surveys with open-ended interviews of users and PAV operators. Discussion is structured around five claims: 1) Public access and private mobiles offer different affordances, and teenage users have developed complex, fine-grained practices which help them to negotiate the respective strengths and weaknesses of the affordances. 2) The PAV provides non-substitutable impact to resource-constrained users, even those with “the Internet in their pocket.” 3) Public access supports the development of digital literacies associated with hyperlinked media and large-format documents, while mobile access supports everyday social literacies and messaging. 4) Teens can use a combination of mobile and public access Internet resources to participate in networked media production and grassroots economic mobilization. 5) PAV operators can improve venue rules and skills to encourage the complementary use of the mobile Internet.

Nimmi Rangaswamy and Edward Cutrell, Re-Sourceful networks: Notes from a mobile social networking platform in India, in Pacific Affairs, September 2012.

The paper analyzes SMSGupShup, a mobile-centric social networking platform in India. It focuses on a set of dominant users (young, male) who are redefining the nature of micro-blogging and the creation of mobile networking communities. Like many social networking sites, assembling, maintaining and growing social networks are primary behaviours on GupShup. Unlike many others, where maintaining a personalized profile and conversing with a networked community take prominence, users of GupShup show markedly different messaging or broadcasting practices. While captivated by the idea of connecting with people all over India for the first time through the GupShup platform, the primary motivation of users is not conversation, forging a “second life” or building interest groups, but optimizing the networking service to expand one’s own group membership. From a qualitative study of user profiles, the paper demonstrates how GupShup can inform thinking about facets of mobile communities in developing countries: specifically, changing ideas about the networking platform as a “second social life” to one of a pecuniary “resource.”

Ted McCarthy, Joyojeet Pal, Edward Cutrell, and Tanvi Marballi, An analysis of screen reader use in India, in Proceedings of ICTD 2012, the 5th ACM/IEEE International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development , ACM, July 2012.

We present the results of two surveys and a qualitative interview-based study with users of screen readers in India. Our early interviews moved us in the direction of examining patterns that differentiate users of two particular software applications – the dominant market standard JAWS and the free, open source challenger NVDA. A comparison between the two is timely and particularly relevant to issues elsewhere in the developing world. In the short term, the question of choosing one application over another could be based on price and support for custom-made applications, but in the long term, issues of language support are likely to be of concern as well. We explore software adoption behavior and present results that show the relationship between the quality of audio and peoples‟ willingness to use one software over another. We also compare the switch from JAWS to NVDA to other kinds of switches from dominant software to open source options. In conclusion, we discuss the business aspects of screen readers and examine why the comparison between these two applications is particularly important in the discussion on accessible personal computing for people with vision impairments in the developing world.

Nimmi Rangaswamy and Edward Cutrell, Anthropology, development and ICTs: Slums, youth and the mobile internet in urban India, in Proceedings of ICTD 2012, the 5th ACM/IEEE International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development , ACM, July 2012.

In this paper we present results from an anthropological study of everyday mobile internet adoption among teenagers in a low-income urban setting. We attempt to use this study to explore how information about everyday ICT use may be relevant for development research even if it is largely dominated by entertainment uses. To understand how ICT tools are used, we need to study the spaces users inhabit, even if these spaces are dominated by mundane, non-instrumental and entertainment-driven needs. The key here is for ICTD discourse to situate insights from anthropological studies (such as this one) within an understanding of what drives a specific user population to adopt technologies in particular ways. Clearly there is a link between context and use, and understanding this may be invaluable for development research. Adopting a narrow development lens of technology use may miss the actual engagements and ingenious strategies marginal populations use to instate technologies into their everyday.

Swati Ittan, Gaurav Paruthi, and William Thies, Mapping Large Educational Websites to Interactive DVDs, IEEE International Conference on Technology for Education, July 2012.

In areas lacking computers and Internet connectivity, one promising strategy for delivering electronic educational content is to utilize common household technologies such as TVs and DVD players. Recent work has demonstrated that it is possible to leverage the interactive features of DVD players to provide an (offline) Internet browsing experience, using the remote control for search and navigation. However, until now it has not been documented how to overcome the engineering challenges in mapping large numbers of interactive menus to a single DVD. This paper offers the first description of such a tool. We have applied this tool to burn over 257,000 screens of Wikipedia content to an interactive DVD, for use by low-income communities.

Aditya Vashistha and Bill Thies, IVR Junction: Building Scalable and Distributed Voice Forums in the Developing World, 6th USENIX/ACM Workshop on Networked Systems for Developing Regions (NSDR 2012), 15 June 2012.

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems play an important role in collecting and disseminating information in developing regions. Recently,researchers have used IVR technology to build voice forums, in which callers leave messages that can be heard over the Internet and over the phone. However, despite their appeal, voice forums remain difficult to set up, and difficult to scale due to the overhead of moderating content and the cost of phone calls. This paper discusses the challenges and opportunities in creating scalable voice forums. We also present a new open-source system, IVR Junction, that leverages existing free services and commercial tools to simplify the process of creating a voice forum. IVR Junction utilizes familiar cloud-based services to provide free content hosting and moderation, as well as a novel mechanism for automatically synchronizing content across geographically-dispersed offices, thereby enabling local access points with decreased calling costs.

Nupur Bhatnagar, Abhishek Sinha, Navkar Samdaria, Aakar Gupta, Shelly Batra, Manish Bhardwaj, and William Thies, Biometric Monitoring as a Persuasive Technology: Ensuring Patients Visit Health Centers in India's Slums, International Conference on Persuasive Technology, June 2012.

Managing chronic disease is particularly challenging in the developing world, because every trip to a health center can translate to lost time and wages on the part of the patient. This problem is especially acute for tuberculosis patients, who in India are required to visit a center over 40 times in the course of a six-month treatment period. In this paper, we explore the role of a biometric attendance terminal in persuading patients to complete follow-up health visits in slum communities of New Delhi, India. The terminal, which enrolled over 2,300 patients across 25 centers during our 2 years of observation, uses biometric fingerprint scanning to ensure that tuberculosis patients receive and take medications on the right schedule. We evaluate the perceived impact of the terminal via interviews with 8 health workers, 4 center owners, and 23 patients. Our findings suggest that the biometric terminal helps to draw patients to the center, both by incentivizing health workers to convince patients to come, and by persuading patients that in-person visits are important.

Indrani Medhi, S. Raghu Menon, Edward Cutrell, and Kentaro Toyama, Correlation between Limited Education and Transfer of Learning, in Information Technologies and International Development, vol. 8, pp. 51-65, June 2012.

One of the greatest challenges in designing applications for developing communities is that potential users may have little or no education. We investigate how limited education correlates with cognitive skills for conceptual abstraction, as required for transfer of learning in video-based skills training. Through a controlled experiment we compared 56 participants from low-income communities in India, split into two groups of 28, based on scores of a textual literacy assessment tool. Group A included participants who passed the test cut-off condition; Group B included those who did not. Participants were then rated for their ability to generalize video instructions on how to use a vacuum cleaner to similar, but not necessarily identical, tasks. Results confirmed that: 1) Both groups faced challenges when a skill required generalization from instructional material; 2) Group A performed better than Group B all-around on this learning task; 3) Diversification of examples within instructions helped Group A participants in transfer of learning, but not Group B participants. We conclude with design recommendations for instructional videos for populations with limited education.

Aakar Gupta, William Thies, Edward Cutrell, and Ravin Balakrishnan, mClerk: Enabling mobile crowdsourcing in developing regions, in CHI 2012: Proceedings of the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, ACM Conference on Computer-Human Interaction, May 2012.

Global crowdsourcing platforms could offer new employment opportunities to low-income workers in developing countries. However, the impact to date has been limited because poor communities usually lack access to computers and the Internet. This paper presents mClerk, a new platform for mobile crowdsourcing in developing regions. mClerk sends and receives tasks via SMS, making it accessible to anyone with a low-end mobile phone. However, mClerk is not limited to text: it leverages a little-known protocol to send small images via ordinary SMS, enabling novel distribution of graphical tasks. Via a 5-week deployment in semi-urban India, we demonstrate that mClerk is effective for digitizing local-language documents. Usage of mClerk spread virally from 10 users to 239 users, who digitized over 25,000 words during the study. We discuss the social ecosystem surrounding this usage, and evaluate the potential of mobile crowdsourcing to both deliver and derive value from users in developing regions.

Nicola Dell, Vidya Vaidyanathan, Indrani Medhi, Edward Cutrell, and William Thies, "Yours is better!" Participant Response Bias in HCI, in CHI 2012: Proceedings of the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, May 2012.

Although HCI researchers and practitioners frequently work with groups of people that differ significantly from themselves, little attention has been paid to the effects these differences have on the evaluation of HCI systems. Via 450 interviews in Bangalore, India, we measure participant response bias due to interviewer demand characteristics and the role of social and demographic factors in influencing that bias. We find that respondents are about 2.5x more likely to prefer a technological artifact they believe to be developed by the interviewer, even when the alternative is identical. When the interviewer is a foreign researcher requiring a translator, the bias towards the interviewer’s artifact increases to 5x. In fact, the interviewer’s artifact is preferred even when it is degraded to be obviously inferior to the alternative. We conclude that participant response bias should receive more attention within the CHI community, especially when designing for underprivileged populations.

Marshini Chetty, Richard Banks, A.J. Bernheim Brush, Jonathan Donner, and Rebecca Grinter, "You're Capped!" Understanding the Effects of Bandwidth Caps on Broadband Use in the Home, in CHI 2012, ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, May 2012.

Bandwidth caps, a limit on the amount of data users can upload and download in a month, are common globally for both home and mobile Internet access. With caps, each bit of data consumed comes at a cost against a monthly quota or a running tab. Yet, relatively little work has considered the implications of this usage-based pricing model on the user experience. In this paper, we present results from a qualitative study of households living with bandwidth caps. Our findings suggest home users grapple with three uncertainties regarding their bandwidth usage: invisible balances, mysterious processes, and multiple users. We discuss how these uncertainties impact their usage and describe the potential for better tools to help monitor and manage data caps. We conclude that as a community we need to cater for users under Internet cost constraints.

Nithya Sambasivan and Edward Cutrell, Understanding negotiation in airtime sharing in low-income microenterprises, in CHI 2012: Proceedings of the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, ACM Conference on Computer-Human Interaction, May 2012.

Shared access to airtime is a prominent mode of connectivity access in the developing world. We seek to understand airtime sharing among low-income microenterprises in India (small, low-capital businesses, such as flower sellers and milkmen), that constitute 90% of the total enterprises in India. We introduce social negotiation as the foundation of airtime sharing. We highlight negotiation mechanisms in the microenterprise, showing how shared resources are used towards personal interests amidst tensions and value conflicts, by adapting, modifying, subverting, and repurposing airtime. We then explore the design space of airtime and bandwidth sharing in low-income communities, including designing for negotiation and improving readability of airtime.

Preeti Mudliar, Jonathan Donner, and William Thies, Emergent Practices Around CGNet Swara, A Voice Forum for Citizen Journalism in Rural India, in Proceedings of the International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development, ACM, March 2012.

Rural communities in India are often underserved by the mainstream media. While there is a public discourse surrounding the issues they face, this dialogue typically takes place on television, in newspaper editorials, and on the Internet. Unfortunately, participation in such forums is limited to the most privileged members of society, excluding those individuals who have the largest stake in the conversation.

This paper examines an effort to foster a more inclusive dialogue by means of a simple technology: an interactive voice forum. Called CGNet Swara, the system enables callers to record messages of local interest, and listen to messages that others have recorded. Messages are also posted on the Internet, as a supplement to an existing discussion forum.

In the first 21 months of its deployment in India, CGNet Swara has logged over 70,000 phone calls and released 1,100 messages. To understand the emergent practices surrounding this system, we conduct interviews with 42 diverse stakeholders, including callers, bureaucrats, and members of the media. Our analysis contributes to the understanding of voice-based media as a vehicle for social inclusion in remote and underprivileged populations.

Nimmi Rangaswamy and Sumitra Nair, Marginal Rich Users in Urban Indian Slums , ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, February 2012.

In this paper we describe our observations on the practices ofexperiences with marginalized users of ICTs in urban Indian slums. We use the term ‘marginal’ to denote users in resource-poor environments with little or no formal ICT backbone infrastructures or training facility. In particular, we seek to highlight juxtapose the poverty of state or donor investments and the bounty of contextual socio-economic mechanisms in producing the ‘marginal rich user’ in the absence of state and donor investments with. These unfold to reveal an interesting admixture of supplying to, and expenditure and use management by the marginal user of ICT devices, especially the mobile phone and the mobile internet. Deploying two profiles: One of a margin rich mobile phone entrepreneur, and another of a margin rich mbile internt user, wWe argue that the marginal users are a category no less than the mainstream user in ambitiously kneading technology to suit desires

Nimmi Rangaswamy and sumitra nair, The PC in an Indian Urban Slum: ICT, Enterprise and Entrepreneurship in ICT4D 2.0, in Journal of Information technology for Development, Routledge, February 2012.

This paper examines the embedding of ICT (information and communication technologies) tools in everyday practices among underserved populations in urban India. Using ethnographic investigations of PC-aided Micro and Small Enterprises (MSEs) in a low-income slum neighborhood in Mumbai, it pursued three broad research goals: first, to etch-out organic ICT immersions in technology-stressed environments; second, to articulate a new and evolving socio-technical system in an urban slum ecology; third, to seek a fit between goals of ICT for Development (ICTD) and impacts of PC-aided enterprise on ICT access and adoption. Based on the ICT4D2.0 approach interrogating the technology-for-development discourse, the paper substantiates the need for a ‘new view of the world’s poor: one that views the poor not as passive consumers but agile agents and innovative producers of ICT products and services.

Thomas Smyth and N Rangaswamy, Assembling and Aggregating Mobile Phones: The Social Ecology of Grey Mobile Phone Markets in Urban India, Mobiles for Development, 2012 NCR India, February 2012.

The paper makes a case for information and communication technologies (ICT), with a focus on the mobile phone related businesses against the broader backdrop of the developing economy of India. ICTs come to India through two routes; the global employment route of IT information companies or the development route of donor-driven services to bridge internal digital divide. Local and context specific small businesses are organic, market-driven and self-sustaining bringing affordable mobile phone and other ICT services to underserved contexts. Our paper reports from research on the grey mobile phone markets in urban India. We argue that a) Mobile Phones have largely emerged in developing economies as grey or illegal products and services b) Grey markets display specific characteristics as businesses c) Grey markets immerse in a cultural milieu of coded informal culture. The first focuses specifically on the variety of products and services in the market, second on the organizational arrangements and business practices of ICT grey markets and third on a variety of cultural codes that govern businessmen in grey markets. Our research is a response to the relative paucity of knowledge about grey markets dealing with ICT products, especially mobile phones, and their socio- business practices. As mobile phone proliferation and PC penetration are set to increase following augmented broadband and 3G investments from the Indian state and service providers, our research is a timely and relevant mapping exercise of ICT dispersion and immersion via grey market mechanisms.

Nimmi Rangaswamy and sumitra nair, De(coding) the poor: Towards a transparent and accountable NREGA information infrastructure, IFIP 9th International Conference on Social Implications of Computers in Developing Countries, February 2012.

This paper examines the information infrastructure produced by Government of India’s flagship poverty eradication tool, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA, 2005). This justiciable act, grants the rural citizen the right to work, and aims the ‘to provide for enhancement of livelihood and security of the households in the rural areas of the country by providing at least one hundred days of guaranteed wage employment in every financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.’Launched in 2005, it was extended in three phases to cover all of India. The following figures convey its scope: The Act’s schemes provided employment to almost 55 million households and spent approximately 80 billion USD in 2010-11 alone (DoRD, 2011). The union government realized the scope of data management this programme demanded, and introduced an ambitious nationwide digitization drive to address this challenge. Further, building on the rights-based model of the act, it located transparent and accountable information as a key driver in the success of the poverty alleviation goal. We examine this MGNREGA information infrastructure as a critical e-governance mechanism and ask the following question: What is the relationship between the MGNREGA information infrastructure’s vision of transparent, accountable programme-related information, and its need to achieve scale and sustainability?

Indrani Medhi, Mohit Jain, Anuj Tewari, Mohini Bhavsar, Michael Matheke-Fischer, and Edward Cutrell, Combating Rural Child Malnutrition through Inexpensive Mobile Phones, Nordic Conference on Human-Computer Interaction, 2012.

Most organizations in the developing world still rely on paper for record keeping, giving rise to many problems in aggregation, storage, transmission and analysis of data. Errors and time delays associated with paper data are particularly problematic in the domain of healthcare. We present a case study of CommCare, a low-cost mobile phone data collection solution deployed to enhance the paper-based record management system of a non-profit organization working in prevention of child malnutrition in rural central India. Through a three-month unsupervised field trial with ten rural health workers we report data management gains in terms of data quality, completeness and timeliness for 836 recorded patient cases, and demonstrate strong preference for the system by health workers. We found that the motivation for use and acceptance of the system was tied to respect and social power in local communities associated with using the device, as well as non-work-related uses of the phone.

Indrani Medhi, Anuj Tewari, Mohit Jain, and Edward Cutrell, The Fate of a Digital Slate: Unexpected Issues with Deployment in Rural India, in User Experience Magazine, vol. 11, 2012.

As many UX professionals know, an initial rosy impression about the usability of a system may be trumped by unexpected issues seen in the context of actual deployment. These kinds of surprises can be especially dramatic when working in the area of ICT4D (Information and Communication Technology for Socio-Economic Development). We describe a case study of the deployment of a prototype low-cost digital slate for assisting the tracking of child malnutrition in rural India. Our prototype uses an ink pen and normal paper coupled with an interactive touch screen that allows for a fairly seamless transition from older, paper-based systems to the recording of digital information. This was designed for people who have little or no experience working with digital systems beyond simple cellular phones or calculators. In previous explorations, we had tested the slate with low-income, low-literate users in a rural microfinance setting. There, we found the slate to be very effective, winning the approval of both our users and NGO partner. Following this result, we adapted the device to a health data record management application for child malnutrition tracking. In the initial training and evaluation of the system with 10 low-income, low-literate, rural health workers in central India, it looked like an unqualified success. However, in a 3 month follow-up field trial with the same users, we encountered a number of unexpected challenges that overwhelmed our initial optimism. This experience demonstrates that we must pay a great deal of attention to issues well beyond simple usability to broader socio-technical concerns that arise in situating these systems into real-world settings.

Jonathan Donner and Patricia Mechael, mHealth in Practice: Mobile technology for health promotion in the developing world, Bloomsbury Academic, 2012.

There has recently been an explosion of interest around the application of mobile communication technologies to support health initiatives in developing countries (mHealth). As a result, there is a need to promote and share rigorous research for better informed policy, programming, and investment. There are, however, few platforms for the exchange of information and proven practice between practitioners and researchers.

The subtopic of prevention, well-being, and health promotion within mHealth is particularly ripe for deeper exploration. While many reports tout the potential of mobiles to influence behaviour change for health, there is limited knowledge about what works (and what does not work), and about how to evaluate current and future programs. This is a focused edited volume with contributions from leading researchers and practitioners to identify best practices in using mobile technologies to promote healthy behaviours (and reduce unhealthy ones) in resource-constrained settings with a special focus on developing countries.

This topic is inherently interdisciplinary. Though the opportunities to leverage mobile phones for health are new, the challenges confronting researchers and practitioners are well-established and theoretically complex, with roots in decades of work on mediated behaviour change campaigns and theories.

Gary Marsden, Edward Cutrell, Matt Jones, Amit A. Nanavati, and Nitendra Rajput, Making technology invisible in the developing world, in Computer, IEEE, 2012.

Those of us in the developed world live in an environment where information is literally everywhere. In addition to physical media such as newspapers, books, and magazines, invisible signals carry data to our smartphones, tablets, and laptops. The uncountable pages in the World Wide Web leave nearly no question unanswered, and using mobile devices to obtain data has become natural. Information and communication technology (ICT) has become so convenient that we scarcely think about it. For those in the developing world, however, information is less than pervasive. Although many people have a cell phone, access costs and user literacy barriers make acquiring data a deliberate, complicated, and expensive undertaking. Those in the developing world can’t effortlessly pluck invisible information from the air and must go to great lengths to find what they need. Three representative ICT projects—two based in India, and the other in South Africa—seek to make access to information ubiquitous in the developing world. These systems fit naturally into the users’ environment, effectively making the technology invisible and providing the underprivileged with natural, convenient access to a wide range of data sources.


Nimmi Rangaswamy and Srikanth Yamsani, ‘Mental Kartha Hai’ or ‘Its Blowing my Mind:Evolution of the Mobile Internet in an Indian Slum, Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference, October 2011.

This paper is an ethnographic exploration of on-line practices of teens in a slum in Hyderabad, India. It is also an attempt to develop concepts for building a novel user model in unique socio-technical ecology. We examine how teenagers relate to the internet, develop expertise, and engage themselves in a socio-technical universe of family, peers, and locality. As ethnographers we look for qualitative indicators embedded in broader social and cultural ecologies of youth engagement with the mobile internet. We identify learning, innovation and self-perception of internet use as modes of everyday negotiation between both rising usage desires and stringent costs.

Nimmi Rangaswamy and Nithya Sambasivan, Cutting chai, Jugaad, and Here Pheri: Towards a UbiComp for a Global community, in Personal and Ubiquitous Computing , vol. 15, no. 6, pp. 553-564, Springer Verlag, June 2011.

This paper attempts to re-imagine ubiquitous computing and technologies for populations in resourcepoor, digitally unstable, and diversely literate environments. Extending UbiComp’s frame of reference to include any ICT with a ubiquitous presence, we articulate how technologies are adopted, accessed, used, and diffused in three urban slums of India. We showcase important local practices surrounding technology diffusion and their widespread implications for entrenching ICT use through sharing, learning, training, renewing, and extending use and access. We do this by discussing three main processes at the intersection of technology consumption, resource constraints, and cultural production specific to low-income communities in India: Cutting Chai or sharing technology ownership and maintenance to cut costs, Jugaad or workarounds in the face of resource constraints, and Here Pheri or gray market activity that subvert legal business processes. We also suggest a few design principles to provoke new kinds of inquiry and practice in the design and implementation of UbiComp for a global community.

Prasanta Bhattacharya and William Thies, Computer Viruses in Urban Indian Telecenters: Characterizing an Unsolved Problem, ACM Workshop on Networked Systems for Developing Regions, June 2011.

Computer viruses can pose a serious threat to the operations of computer kiosks in the developing world. In this paper, we investigate the experiences, behaviors, and unmet needs of telecenter owners as they attempt to prevent virus infections on their machines. Based on interviews in 25 centers in Bangalore, India, we conclude that virus control is largely an unsolved problem for this population. We characterize the local strategies for coping with viruses, barriers to eliminating the problem, and opportunities for future research.

Saurabh Panjwani, Towards End-to-End Security in Branchless Banking, in Workshop on Mobile Computing Systems and Applications (HotMobile), ACM, May 2011.

Mobile-based branchless banking has become one of the key mechanisms for extending financial services to disenfranchised populations in the world's developing regions. One shortcoming of today's branchless banking systems is that they rely largely on network-layer services for securing transactions and do not implement any application-layer security. Recent attacks on some of the most popular branchless banking systems show that these systems are, in fact, not end-to-end secure.

In this paper, we make the case for designing mobile-based branchless banking systems which build security into the application layer of the protocol and guarantee end-to-end security to system users. Our main contribution is a threat model which effectively captures the goals of end-to-end authenticated transactions in branchless banking. This model, besides incorporating the obvious external threats to a protocol, also accounts for the possibility of insider attacks---those mountable by banking agents or other human intermediaries in the system. We then provide recommendations for solution design based on the security requirements of our model and the infrastructural constraints under which branchless banking systems operate.

[This is the ACM copyrighted version that appears in HotMobile 2011. Please contact author by email if interested in the full version.]

Nithya Sambasivan, Julie Weber, and Edward Cutrell, Designing a phone broadcasting system for urban sex workers in India, in Proceedings of the 2011 annual conference on Human factors in computing systems, ACM, New York, NY, USA, May 2011.

Nimmi Rangaswamy, Short Message Social Networking and Emerging Digital Literacies, IFIP 9th International Conference on Social Implications of Computers in Developing Countries, May 2011.

We present insights from a case-study of SMSGupShup, the largest mobile social networking platform in India, by adopting a digital inclusion lens to understand information sharing and communication practices steering computer literacy among users. We point to the pioneering affordances of the platform in a developing country allowing a variety of skill share and transfer between mobile communities. Ostensibly friendship, instant connection and sharing via an affordable ‘one click’ SMS channel and competitive pricing are why users flock to SMSGupShup. Underlying these is the use of platform by the more privileged tech-savvy group exchanging skillful information with those less capable of doing the same. Equally and arguably important are the affordances of sharing information to hack programs and crack phone codes to expand usage skills. Amidst a variety of usages to achieve diverse ends, social media emerges as a powerful tool to meet the goals of digital inclusion and literacy

William Thies, Aishwarya Lakshmi Ratan, and James Davis, Paid Crowdsourcing as a Vehicle for Global Development, ACM CHI 2011 Workshop on Crowdsourcing and Human Computation , May 2011.

By connecting remote workers to a global marketplace, paid crowdsourcing has the potential to improve earnings and livelihoods in poor communities around the world. However, there is a long way to go before realizing this potential. To date, most workers on microtasking platforms come from relatively well-off backgrounds, and there has been limited impact on low-income individuals.

In this position paper, we outline a research agenda to extend the benefits of informal, paid microtasking to low-income workers in developing countries. This goal will require research along multiple fronts, spanning the crowdsourcing platforms themselves, their impact upon users’ livelihoods, and their scalability to large populations. While there are many challenges to overcome, the rewards are great. We believe that a new focus on low-income workers is critically important to unlock the potential scale and impact of paid crowdsourcing platforms.

Jonathan Donner, Shikoh Gitau, and Gary Marsden, Exploring mobile-only internet use: results of a training study in urban South Africa, in International Journal of Communication, vol. 5, pp. 574–597, 11 April 2011.

Using an ethnographic action research approach, the study explores the challenges, practices, and emergent framings of mobile-only Internet use in a resource-constrained setting. We trained eight women in a nongovernmental organization’s collective in South Africa, none of whom had used a personal computer, how to access the Internet on mobile handsets they already owned. Six months after training, most continued to use the mobile Internet for a combination of utility, entertainment, and connection, but they had encountered barriers, including affordability and difficulty of use. Participants’ assessments mingled aspirational and actual utility of the channel with and against a background of socioeconomic constraints. Discussion links the digital literacy perspective to the broader theoretical frameworks of domestication, adaptive structuration, and appropriation.

Marion Walton and Jonathan Donner, Read-Write-Erase: Mobile-mediated publics in South Africa’s 2009 elections, in Mobile Communication: Dimensions of Social Policy, pp. 117-132, Transaction Publishers, 4 April 2011.

This paper describes four kinds of mobile mediated political participation observed during the 2009 national elections in South Africa: (1) SMS ‘wars’ in the run-up to the election; (2) .mobi websites hosted by political parties; and the political content included on (3) the mobile social network Mig33 and excluded from (4) its counterpart/competitor, MXit. We discuss the failure of all four forms to support the emergence of a networked or mediated public, and consider how particular properties of the mobile internet, vs. the ‘traditional’ internet, are partially responsible

Indrani Medhi, Somani Patnaik, Emma Brunskill, S.N. Nagasena Gautama, William Thies, and Kentaro Toyama, Designing Mobile Interfaces for Novice and Low-Literacy Users, in ACM ToCHI, vol. 18, no. 1, ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction, April 2011.

While mobile phones have found broad application in bringing health, financial, and other services to the developing world, usability remains a major hurdle for novice and low-literacy populations. In this article, we take two steps to evaluate and improve the usability of mobile interfaces for such users. First, we offer an ethnographic study of the usability barriers facing 90 low-literacy subjects in India, Kenya, the Philippines, and South Africa. Then, via two studies involving over 70 subjects in India, we quantitatively compare the usability of different points in the mobile design space. In addition to text interfaces such as electronic forms, SMS, and USSD, we consider three text-free interfaces: a spoken dialog system, a graphical interface, and a live operator. Our results confirm that textual interfaces are unusable by first-time low-literacy users, and error prone for literate but novice users. In the context of healthcare, we find that a live operator is up to ten times more accurate than text-based interfaces, and can also be cost effective in countries such as India. In the context of mobile banking, we find that task completion is highest with a graphical interface, but those who understand the spoken dialog system can use it more quickly due to their comfort and familiarity with speech. We synthesize our findings into a set of design recommendations.

Guarav Paruthi and William Thies, Utilizing DVD Players as Low-Cost Offline Internet Browsers, ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, April 2011.

In the developing world, computers and Internet access remain rare. However, there are other devices that can be used to deliver information, including TVs and DVD players. In this paper, we work to bridge this gap by delivering offline Internet content on DVD, for interactive playback on ordinary DVD players. Using the remote control, users can accomplish all of the major functions available in a Web browser, including navigation, hyperlinks, and search.

As our driving application, we map the entirety of – encompassing 5,500 articles and 259,000 screens – to a double layer DVD. We evaluate our system via a study of 20 low-income users in Bangalore, India. Using our DVD as reference, participants are able to answer factual questions with over 90% success. While most participants prefer to use a computer if one is available, for resource-poor environments the DVD platform could represent a viable and low-cost alternative.

Rajeev Rastogi, Ed Cutrell, Manish Gupta, Ashok Jhunjhunwala, Ramkumar Narayan, and Rajeev Sanghal, Connecting the next billion web users, in Proceedings of the 20th international conference companion on World wide web, ACM, New York, NY, USA, April 2011.

With 2 billion users, the World Wide Web has indeed come a long way. However, of the 4.8 billion people living in Asia and Africa, only 1 in 5 has access to the Web. For instance, in India, the 100 million Web users constitute less than 10% of the total population of 1.2 billion. So it is universally accepted that the next billion users will come from emerging markets like Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and Russia.

Emerging markets have a number of unique characteristics:

  • Large dense populations with low incomes
  • Lack of infrastructure in terms of broadband, electricity, etc.
  • Poor PC penetration due to limited affordability
  • High illiteracy rates and inability to read/write
  • Plethora of local languages and dialects
  • General paucity of local content, especially in local languages
  • Explosive growth in the number of mobile phones

The panel will debate the various technical challenges in overcoming the digital divide, and potential approaches to bring the Web to the underserved populations of the developing world.

Marshini Chetty, Richard Banks, AJ Brush, Jonathan Donner, and Rebecca E. Grinter, While the Meter is Running: Computing in a Capped World, in Interactions Volume 18, Issue 2, vol. 18, ACM, 1 March 2011.

What happens when your Internet use is palpably constrained? What happens when you only have a fixed amount of bandwidth per month and where every byte you access uses up this precious resource? Or worse, what happens when you have to share that bandwidth pool with the three other Internet users in your household? These are the questions raised when we begin thinking about how users interact with the Internet in metered bandwidth situations. By answering these questions, we can help Web developers, interaction and application designers, and even Internet service providers (ISPs) customize their experiences for situations in which each byte delivered has a monetary value. In this article, we report initial insights from our experiences studying how households in South Africa use metered bandwidth.

Jay Chen, David Hutchful, William Thies, and Lakshminarayanan Subramanian, Analyzing and Accelerating Web Access in a School in Peri-Urban India, International World Wide Web Conference, March 2011.

While computers and Internet access have growing penetration amongst schools in the developing world, intermittent connectivity and limited bandwidth often prevent them from being fully utilized by students and teachers. In this paper, we make two contributions to help address this problem. First, we characterize six weeks of HTTP traffic from a primary school outside of Bangalore, India, illuminating opportunities and constraints for improving performance in such settings. Second, we deploy an aggressive caching and prefetching engine and show that it accelerates a user’s overall browsing experience (apart from video content) by 2.8x. Unlike proxy-based techniques, our system is bundled as an open-source Firefox plugin and runs directly on client machines. This allows easy installation and configuration by end users, which is especially important in developing regions where a lack of permissions or technical expertise often prevents modification of internal network settings.

Nimmi Rangaswamy, The ‘Short Message Service’ Authors: Authoring Social Media in India, Type the publisher's Digital media and learning conference, Long Beach, March 3-5, 2011name, February 2011.

We aim to unwrap emerging mobile social networking patterns in India through a case study of SMSGupShup, [GupShup means gossip in Hindi] the largest social media networking site with 40 million Indian subscribers. While GupShup is touted as a micro-blogging site, a set of user behaviours seem unique and unparalleled. The purpose of this talk is to consolidate disparate patterns of usages around authoring and content management. It highlights the various modes of authoring practices to publish and manage a network profile on GupShup. While GupShup allows people to originate and nurture groups by creating and sharing content, publishing as an author-driven practice is often a case of borrowing content from indeterminate sources. Authoring in the form of posts, updates, replies or messages adopt a set of practices that borrow content from secondary sources, usually with no attribution or crediting originations. These can range from breaking national/local news, sports highlights, to haiku-style pop and folk poetry, none of which authored by the publisher but borrowed from secondary, sometimes even untraceable sources. A group owner on GupShup can post all his messages without citing its origination and no incumbency to site a source. Neither do posts emanate from the account holder’s personal ruminations, reflections, status updates, commentaries or reviews. What then are these publishers posting and for who? We foreground on the culture of authoring practices and dwell upon issues related to what makes for authorship and content management on the SMSGupShup platform.

Azarias Reda, Edward Cutrell, and Brian Noble, Towards improved web acceleration: leveraging the personal web, in NSDR 2011: Proceedings of the 5th ACM workshop on Networked systems for developing regions, ACM, New York, NY, USA, 2011.

Web acceleration mechanisms play an important role in challenged network environments where connectivity is limited or expensive. However, as web usage gets increasingly personal and fragmented, traditional web acceleration systems that leverage redundancy in user requests to optimize performance find it difficult to perform well. This is unfortunate because personalization is an otherwise important trend that allows users to focus on content that is relevant to them. To start tackling this growing problem, this paper makes three contributions. First, we provide the first personalized, large scale web usage data in a developing country context. This allows researchers to get a nuanced understanding of access behavior that is not offered by aggregate data. Second, we present some analysis on this dataset, which provides tangible evidence for describing the increasingly fragmented and personal nature of web access even in developing countries. Finally, based on lessons learned from the analysis, we provide some recommendations for building effective web acceleration mechanisms in the face of an increasingly personal web. We believe the next generation of web acceleration systems for challenged networks need to have a strong personal component.

Edward Cutrell, Context and design in ICT for global development, in UN Chronicle. United Nations in a united world., United Nations, 2011.

Saurabh Panjwani, Abhinav Uppal, and Edward Cutrell, Script-agnostic reflow of text in document images, in MobileHCI 2011: Proceedings of the 13th International Conference on Human Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services, ACM, New York, NY, USA, 2011.

Reading text from document images can be difficult on mobile devices due to the limited screen width available on them. While there exist solutions for reflowing Latin-script texts on such devices, these solutions do not work well for images of other scripts or combinations of scripts, since they rely on script-specific characteristics or OCR. We present a technique that reflows text in document images in a manner that is agnostic to the script used to compose them. Our technique achieved over 95% segmentation accuracy for a corpus of 139 images containing text in 4 genetically-distant languages—English, Hindi, Kannada and Arabic. A preliminary user study with a prototype implementation of the technique provided evidence of some of its usability benefits.

Edward Cutrell, Technology for emerging markets at MSR india, in CSCW 2011: Proceedings of the ACM 2011 conference on Computer supported cooperative work, ACM, New York, NY, USA, 2011.

The Technology for Emerging Markets (TEM) group at Microsoft Research India seeks to address the needs and aspirations of people in the world's developing communities. Our research targets people who are just beginning to use computing technologies and services as well as those for whom access to computing still remains largely out of reach. Most of our work falls under the rubric of the relatively young field of Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICTD or ICT4D). Reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of ICTD, TEM is a multidisciplinary group engaged in a range of technical and social-science research. We work in the areas of cultural anthropology, sociology, political science, economics, and psychology, all of which help us understand the social context of technology and how it relates to communities and individual users. We combine this understanding with technical research in hardware and software to devise solutions for underserved communities in rural and urban environments around the world.

Akhil Mathur, Divya Ramachandran, Edward Cutrell, and Ravin Balakrishnan, An exploratory study on the use of camera phones and pico projectors in rural India, in MobileHCI 2011: Proceedings of the 13th International Conference on Human Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services, ACM, New York, NY, USA, 2011.

Mohit Jain, Jeremy Birnholtz, Edward Cutrell, and Ravin Balakrishnan, Exploring display techniques for mobile collaborative learning in developing regions, in MobileHCI 2011: Proceedings of the 13th International Conference on Human Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services, ACM, New York, NY, USA, 2011.

The developing world faces infrastructural challenges in providing Western-style educational computing technologies, but on the other hand observes very high cell phone penetration. However, the use of mobile technology has not been extensively explored in the context of collaborative learning. New projection and display technologies for mobile devices raise the important question of whether to use single or multiple displays in these environments. In this paper, we explore two mobile-based techniques for using co-located collaborative game-play to supplement ESL (English as a Second Language) education in a developing region: (1) Mobile Single Display Groupware: a pico-projector connected to a cell phone, with a handheld controller for each child to interact, and (2) Mobile Multiple Display Groupware: a phone for each child. We explore the types of interaction that occur in both of these conditions and the impact on learning outcomes.

Azarias Reda, Saurabh Panjwani, and Edward Cutrell, Hyke: a low-cost remote attendance tracking system for developing regions, in Proceedings of the 5th ACM workshop on Networked systems for developing regions, ACM, New York, NY, USA, 2011.

Tracking attendance is an important consideration for many developing world interventions. In many cases, these interventions are located in remote areas where it is not always feasible to deploy expensive attendance tracking systems. In addition, since many existing systems focus on tracking participants (such as patients or students), rather than agents (such as teachers or health workers), they assume a trusted administrative staff on-site to record attendance. In this paper, we present the design of Hyke, a system for remote and cost effective attendance tracking in developing regions. Hyke combines voice-biometrics with accurate location tagging for tracking attendance in remote locations without the need for a trusted mediator on-site. Hyke was designed based on our observation of a currently deployed teacher attendance tracking system in rural Rajasthan, India. We have implemented some of the key components in Hyke, and discuss some of the security concerns in the system. The Hyke biometric stack for voice recognition is built atop several open source technologies, and provides a simple interface for non-expert users. Our evaluations with Indian speakers over telephone audio suggests the biometric stack is at par with the current state of the art. We believe this will be a useful tool for researchers who would like to incorporate voice technologies in their developing world projects.


Divya Ramachandran, Vivek Goswani, and John Canny, Research and Reality: Using Mobile Messages to Promote Maternal Health in Rural India, in ICTD2010, 4th IEEE/ACM Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and International Development (ICTD) 2010, London, UK, IEEE, 13 December 2010.

Rural health workers in India do not always have the training, cred-ibility or motivation to effectively convince clients to adopt healthy practices. To help build their efficacy, we provided them with mes-sages on mobile phones to present to clients. We present a study which compared three presentations of persuasive health messages by health workers using a phone-based lecture-style message, a phone-based dialogic message that elicits user responses, or no ad-ditional aids. We found that dialogic messages significantly im-prove the quality of counseling sessions and increase discussion be-tween health workers and clients; however, we did not statistically measure an effect of either phone-based message on health behav-ioral outcomes. We analyze these results in light of the challenges we faced and compromises we made through the research process due to the interplay of social, cultural and environmental realities, and discuss how these factors affect ICTD projects at large

S R Sterling and N Rangaswamy, Constructing Informed Consent in ICT4D Research , 4th IEEE/ACM Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and International Development (ICTD) 2010, London, UK, IEEE, December 2010.

The field of Information and Communication Technology for Development includes participatory and action research pilots with a research and change agenda. Such ICT4D research does not fit traditional models for evaluating community risk and benefit. Looking at the history of informed consent and international development, uses of informed consent in development scenarios, and at efforts specific to ICTD research, we present how informed consent is currently addressed, as well as the inadequacy of adapting present academic informed consent models to development. Informed consent in ICT4D research provides academic rigor to the field, helps establish a fair, moral and candid relationship with the community to set expectations, and standards for other intervention-based research efforts. We suggest practical recommendations for models that contribute to community involvement and trust, while offering the target community an opportunity to negotiate their level of participation

Aishwarya Lakshmi Ratan, Sunandan Chakraborty, Pushkar V. Chitnis, Kentaro Toyama, Keng Siang Ooi, Matthew Phiong, and Mike Koenig, Managing Microfinance with Paper, Pen and Digital Slate, in Proc. of ICTD 2010, IEEE, December 2010.

India’s extensive Self-Help Group (SHG) microfinance network brings formal savings and credit services to 86 million poor households. Yet, the inability to maintain high-quality records remains a persistent weakness in SHG functioning. We study this problem and present a financial record management application built on a low-cost digital slate prototype. The solution directly accepts handwritten input on ordinary paper forms and provides immediate electronic feedback. A field trial with 200 SHG members in rural India shows that the use of the digital slate solution results in shorter data recording time, fewer incorrect entries, and more complete records. The paper-pen-slate solution performs as well as, and is strongly preferred over, a purely electronic alternative. The digital slate solution is able to comfortably move between paper and digital worlds, achieving efficiency and quality gains while catering to the preferences and budgets of low-income low-literate clients.

M. Bernardine Dias, Mohammed Kaleemur Rahman, Saurabh Sanghvi, and Kentaro Toyama, Experiences with Lower-Cost Access to Tactile Graphics in India, First Annual Symposium on Computing for Development (ACM DEV 2010), London, UK, ACM, December 2010.

Tactile graphics allow the visually impaired to perceive two-dimensional imagery, which is an essential part of experiencing the world and learning several subjects such as science and geography. In the developed world, such graphics are available to blind students from an early age, and students grow up familiar with tactile representations of images. The production of tactile graphics, however, requires extensive manual labor by sighted people, or costly graphical braille printers. Thus, blind students in developing regions often grow up without any exposure to these learning aids and as a consequence are often prevented from studying the sciences.

In this work, we explore the potential of enhancing access to tactile graphics in the developing world through a software tool that can convert images to a form that can be printed as tactile images using lower-cost braille text printers. We investigate the effectiveness of this tool in producing different types of tactile graphics, and also explore the impact of these graphics on students and visually impaired teachers at a school for the blind in India. We find that our subjects are highly enthusiastic about tactile graphics, are quickly able to understand them, and learn how to write the alphabet using them.

David Hutchful, Akhil Mathur, Apurva Joshi, and Edward Cutrell, Cloze: An Authoring Tool for Teachers with Low Computer Proficiency, in 4th IEEE/ACM Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and International Development (ICTD) 2010, London, UK, IEEE, IEEE, December 2010.

The Multiple Mice project demonstrated the financial and learning benefits of enabling students in resource-constrained schools to share one computer. In India, the lack of Multiple Mice authoring tools coupled with teachers‘ low computer proficiency means little or no customized content is created. This is problematic as the capability to create digital content enables teachers to prepare digital lessons that address the particular learning needs of their students. In this paper, we report on a 34-week field study in three Indian peri-urban schools. We identify key issues impeding digital content creation by low computer proficiency teachers. We also present an authoring framework, Cloze, which successfully enables these teachers to create content for MultiPoint applications. Finally, we recommend guidelines for designing authoring tools for teachers with low computer proficiency.

Revi S Sterling and Nimmi Rangaswamy, Constructing Informed Consent in ICT4D Research, 4th IEEE/ACM Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and International Development (ICTD) 2010, London, UK, IEEE, December 2010.

The field of Information and Communication Technology for Development includes participatory and action research pilots with a research and change agenda. Such ICT4D research does not fit traditional models for evaluating community risk and benefit. Looking at the history of informed consent and international development, uses of informed consent in development scenarios, and at efforts specific to ICTD research, we present how informed consent is currently addressed, as well as the inadequacy of adapting present academic informed consent models to development. Informed consent in ICT4D research provides academic rigor to the field, helps establish a fair, moral and candid relationship with the community to set expectations, and standards for other intervention-based research efforts. We suggest practical recommendations for models that contribute to community involvement and trust, while offering the target community an opportunity to negotiate their level of participation

Shashank Khanna, Aishwarya Ratan, James Davis, and William Thies, Evaluating and Improving the Usability of Mechanical Turk for Low-Income Workers in India, in Proc. of DEV 2010, ACM, December 2010.

While platforms such as Amazon Mechanical Turk have generated excitement as a potential source of income in developing regions, to date there remains little evidence that such opportunities have transformed livelihoods for low-income workers. In this study, we analyze the usability barriers that prevent those with basic digital literacy skills from accomplishing simple tasks on Mechanical Turk. Based on our observations, we design new user interfaces that reduce the barriers to task comprehension and execution. Via a study of 49 low-income workers in urban India, we demonstrate that new design elements – including simplified user interfaces, simplified task instructions, and language localization – are absolutely necessary to enable low-income workers to participate in and earn money using Mechanical Turk. We synthesize our findings into a set of design recommendations, as well as a realistic analysis of the potential for microtasking sites to deliver supplemental income to lower-income communities.

Ilda Ladeira and Edward Cutrell, Teaching with storytelling: An investigation of narrative videos for skills training, 4th IEEE/ACM Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and International Development (ICTD) 2010, London, UK, IEEE, December 2010.

We present a study on using storytelling for teaching skills to low-income workers in the developing world. Taking a cue from work on using dramatized stories and video to promote technology use and agricultural and HIV/AIDS education, we investigated storytelling’s ability for teaching low-literacy populations. We created a series of videos to teach domestic workers in urban India bed-making and vacuuming. We tested the effect on learning of a) embedding instructional content in narratives and b) adding motivational content on the benefits of learning these skills. We compared:1) instruction-only videos, 2) instructional videos book-ended with voice-overs describing skills’ benefits, 3) combined instructional and narrative videos showing no skill learning benefits; and 4) combined instructional and narrative videos which portray benefits for learning a skill. Narrative framing and motivational content each improved learning, but combining them resulted in dramatic improvement.

Indrani Medhi, Raghu Menon, Edward Cutrell, and Kentaro Toyama, Beyond Strict Illiteracy: Abstracted Learning Among Low-Literate Users, 4th IEEE/ACM Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and International Development (ICTD) 2010, London, UK, IEEE, December 2010.

One of the greatest challenges in designing applications for developing communities is that potential users may have limited literacy. Past work in UI design for low-literate users has focused on illiteracy as the inability to read per se, with little recognition to other cognitive differences between literate and non-literate users. In this paper, we investigate the correlation between literacy and cognitive skills for conceptual abstraction using video-based skills training. We performed a controlled experiment that compared 28 non-literate and 28 literate participants from low-income communities in India. Results confirm that both the groups did worse when a skill required generalization from instructional material, compared with the case when instructional material was specifically and exactly tailored to the skill. Literate participants did better than non-literate participants all-around on this learning task. In addition, we found that diversification of examples within instructions helped literate participants in transfer of learning, but did not help non-literate participants. We conclude that ICT UI and content for low-literate users should be sensitive to issues beyond strict illiteracy, to additional cognitive differences among these users.

Jonathan Donner, Framing M4D: The Utility of Continuity and the Dual Heritage of “Mobiles and Development”, in The Electronic Journal of Information Systems in Developing Countries, vol. 44, no. 3, December 2010.

The paper suggests that research on the role of mobile telephony for socioeconomic development (M4D) draws on two frames. One frame stresses the relative freedom of telephone users to do whatever they choose. The other stresses how technologies and technology-led interventions are embedded in recursive, context specific relationships with user communities. Together these frames support M4D’s “dual heritage”. After detailing current M4D archetypes representing each heritage, the paper introduces a conceptual and practical synthesis, that is, large-scale platforms for distributed, semi-constrained interaction. This paper considers two examples of such platforms – MXit, South Africa’s mobile social networking service, and M-PESA, Kenya’s mobile money transfer system – including both anticipated and unanticipated consequences of operating “at scale” and beyond the confines of a controlled M4D intervention. Finally, this paper introduces implications of the dual heritage and of the rise of hybrid platforms for research and practice.

Saurabh Panjwani, Navkar Samdaria, Aakar Gupta, Edward Cutrell, and Kentaro Toyama, Collage: A Presentation Tool for School Teachers, in ICTD 2010, IEEE, December 2010.

We present Collage, a software application designed for classroom presentations for K-12 teachers in the developing world. An in-depth investigation of teaching practices in several schools in India led us to believe that a simple tool that enabled the display of images and textbook materials while facilitating blackboard-like interactions would be very helpful for these teachers. Collage is a simple media viewer with a small number of features that enables teachers to prepare lessons with little overhead and then present them in classrooms with maximum flexibility. The tool was deployed in three schools in suburban India for use in real-world classroom teaching. All teachers who used Collage uniformly praised it, and students’ learning of visual concepts seemed to improve through it. Interestingly, some teachers continue to use the tool now for their own teaching needs and have spontaneously shared it with colleagues from other schools.

To appear in ICTD 2010. Download prototype here:

Olga Morawczynski, David Hutchful, Nimmi Rangaswamy, and Edward Cutrell, The Bank Account is not Enough: Examining Strategies for Financial Inclusion in India, in Proc. of the 4th IEEE/ACM Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and International Development (ICTD) 2010, London, UK, IEEE, IEEE, December 2010.

The Indian government has undertaken an ambitious strategy for financial inclusion (FI) as part of its development agenda. With the aid of technology-enabled branchless banking initiatives, this drive has been successful in regards to extending access—nearly 60% of the Indian population is banked. However, empirical evidence suggests that the majority of bank accounts are not being utilized, especially not by the poor who are the target of FI. This paper examines the reasons for such underutilization and also recommends ways to improve the FI drive. The paper contributes to the strand of ICTD literature that focuses on FI in two ways. First, it makes clear that the measures of FI success should not be focused on access alone. The real impact comes from appropriate usage of these accounts. Second, it argues that financial education (FE) should be integrated into the FI drive. This would help the poor to more effectively exploit their links to formal financial services and decrease their reliance on costly informal alternatives.

Kiran Gaikwad, Gaurav Paruthi, and William Thies, Interactive DVDs as a Platform for Education, in IEEE/ACM International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development, IEEE, December 2010.

While many technologies remain out-of-reach for households in the developing world, one exception to this rule is that of entertainment technologies. Even in poor communities, there is a strong drive to own devices such as TVs and, increasingly, DVD players. Though they are typically used for video content, ordinary DVD players also support rich interactivity and programmability, including the capability to browse over 100,000 menus using the remote control. Our vision is to leverage these capabilities to support interactive applications – such as encyclopedias, language tutoring, and medical decision systems – without any dependence on a computer.

As a step towards this vision, in this paper we explore two novel applications of interactive DVDs in the context of education. The first is as a platform for PowerPoint presentations, where TVDVDs have the potential to replace computers while reducing costs and improving teacher familiarity. The second is as a platform for children’s books, where one can provide thousands of books on DVD for the same price as printing a single book. We evaluate each of these solutions – which have already found uptake with NGOs – via case studies in Indian schools.

Nicole Bidwell, Ann Light, Ilda Ladeira, Jameila Roberson, Shikou Gitau, Nimmi Rangaswamy, and Nithya Sambasivam, Gender Matters: Female Perspectives in ICT4D Research, 4th IEEE/ACM Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and International Development (ICTD) 2010, London, UK, IEEE, December 2010.

We present our experience of gender as female ICT4D researchers. We highlight our field experiences and comment on our perceptions of how being a woman and performing our female identity has influenced our own ICT4D research. We discuss how gender tensions are further compounded by the researcher’s own physical and social characteristics, such as race, age, social class, and skin color. We apply the lens of reflexivity and performativity to examine critically and explore analytically our field experiences. We end with practical observations about our collective experience.

Nicole Bidwell, Ann Light, Ilda Ladeira, Jameila Roberson, Shikou Gitau, Nimmi Rangaswamy, and Nithya Sambasivan, Gender Matters: Female Perspectives in ICT4D Research, 4th IEEE/ACM Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and International Development (ICTD) 2010, London, UK, IEEE, December 2010.

N Rangaswamy and S Nair, The Mobile Phone Store Ecologyin a Mumbai Slum Community:Hybrid Networks for Enterprise, in Information Technologies and International Development, vol. 16, no. 2, pp. 51-65, November 2010.

We report on an ethnographic study of mobile stores’ business practices in a

slum community in Mumbai. The basic mobile phone store that sells small

“talktime” (the period of billing per call) is graduating to repair, formatting,

and maintenance of phone hardware and software. Central to this process of

store expansion and skill building is the store entrepreneur. He forges relations

with procurement channels and mediating agents, renewing existing ties and

expanding business loops by interweaving social and business networks. We

refer to these aggregations as “hybrid networks,” and we highlight their maintenance

as a critical resource governing enterprise potential.

By evoking the ecology of the mobile phone business in an urban slum

setting, the paper draws attention to the following concepts: 1) the unique

potential of ICTs as an entrepreneurial commodity, 2) the micro- and small

enterprise (MSE) as a functional model for local technology immersions, and

  1. Local social networks as pivotal in expanding technology adoption and

aligning with the needs of the low-income consumer. In essence, we locate

the small mobile phone store as the site of convergence for the commercial

expansion of mobile phone technology.

Kevin Donovan and Jonathan Donner, A note on the availability (and importance) of pre-paid mobile data in Africa, in Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Mobile Communication Technology for Development, Karlstad University Studies, November 2010.

We argue that clear and easy access to prepay data will be as essential to the widespread adoption and use of the mobile internet in developing countries as access to prepay airtime was to the adoption of the mobile telephone. In late 2009, we conducted a desk assessment of the availability of pre-pay (pay-as-you-go) data from major operators in 53 African countries. We identified at least one operator in 38 countries which offered pre-pay data, and in 3 cases we could determine that no prepay data was available. Information available from many operators was vague, incomplete, and hard to obtain, suggesting that a threshold of mainstream promotion of the service by operators may not yet have been crossed. We suggest topics for further research, both on the demand and supply sides of the prepaid data equation

Saurabh Panjwani and Rachita Chandra, A Study of Teachers’ Reactions towards Video-Assisted Feedback, in India HCI 2010, October 2010.

This paper presents results from a 4-week study investigating teachers’ reactions towards the use of video as a feedback instrument. Four teachers in a public-private school in Pune, India, were treated to three feedback protocols involving video technology in different measures and modes of operation. Results indicate that teachers have a strong preference for feedback protocols that involve video, both in terms of effectiveness and ease of use, although most teachers view the advice of a human mentor as indispensable. We also found evidence to suggest that video technology improves the quality of human feedback by enabling rapid recall of events and by facilitating resolution of conflicts.

Rangaswamy and N, Ethnography of Photo-Mixing: The Digital Photo Studio in India, Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference, September 2010.

For almost a decade, the analog photo studio in India began to change technology tracks to digitize the business of making and printing photos. Not unusually, the demand for photos increased while client taste for an emerging market of photo-situations proliferated. There were several reasons for a studio owner to go digital. A Bangalore studio owner told us “…it was the digital environment. It was better, faster, precise technology. To stay in competition we had to adopt... From taking photos to printing, enlarging, mixing, merging, touching-up, giving background, restoration, giving colour to black and white everything is digitized”. We attempt to thematize and contextualize the following 1. The range of photographic mixing and makeover in the emerging client market for digital studios 2. The specific kinds of trick photography 3. The immense potential these specific preference hold for customized design implications.

Saurabh Panjwani and Edward Cutrell, Usably Secure, Low-Cost Authentication for Mobile Banking, in Symposium On Usable Privacy and Security (SOUPS) 2010, Association for Computing Machinery, Inc., July 2010.

This paper explores user authentication schemes for banking systems implemented over mobile phone networks in the developing world. We analyze an authentication scheme currently deployed by an Indian mobile banking service provider which uses a combination of PINs and printed codebooks for authenticating users. As a first step, we report security weaknesses in that scheme and show that it is susceptible to easy and efficient PIN recovery attacks. We then propose a new scheme which offers better secrecy of PINs, while still maintaining the simplicity and scalability advantages of the original scheme. Finally, we investigate the usability of the two schemes with a sample of 34 current and potential customers of the banking system. Our findings suggest that the new scheme is more efficient, less susceptible to human error and better preferred by the target consumers.

[The scheme proposed in this paper, and its variants, were jointly developed by Microsoft researchers and Eko India Financial Services Ltd.]

Jonathan Donner and Marcela X Escobari, A review of evidence on mobile use by micro and small enterprises in developing countries, in Journal of International Development, vol. 22, no. 5, John Wiley & Sons, 30 June 2010.

The paper offers a systematic review of 14 studies of the use of mobile telephony by micro and small enterprises (MSEs) in the developing world, detailing findings about changes to enterprises' internal processes and external relationships, and findings about mobile use vs. traditional landline use. Results suggest that there is currently more evidence for the benefits of mobile use accruing mostly (but not exclusively) to existing MSEs rather than new MSEs, in ways that amplify existing material and informational flows rather than transform them. The review presents a more complete picture of mobile use by MSEs than was previously available, and identifies priorities for future research, including comparisons of the impact of mobile use across subsectors of MSEs and extensions beyond studies of existing enterprises.

Note to readers: The PDF on this page is the pre-peer reviewed revision of an earlier conference paper. Please use this pre-peer-review version for general reading only – for citations and particularly direct quotations please refer to the final and definitive version, available online from Wiley-Blackwell at

Saurabh Panjwani, Prasad Naldurg, and Raghav Bhaskar, Analysis of Two Token-Based Authentication Schemes for Mobile Banking, no. MSR-TR-2010-75, June 2010.

We analyze two token-based authentication schemes, designed for authenticating users in banking systems implemented over mobile networks. The first scheme is currently deployed in India by a mobile banking service provider named Eko with a reach of over 50,000 customers. The second scheme was proposed recently in [SOUPS2010] (in joint effort with Eko) to fix weaknesses in the first system, and is currently being considered for deployment. Both systems rely on PINs and printed codebooks (which are unique per user) for authentication.

In this paper, we present a detailed security analysis of the two schemes. We show that EKO’s current scheme is susceptible to PIN recovery attacks and a class of impersonation attacks wherein the attacker compromises users’ codebooks. The new scheme, on the other hand, is secure against both these attack possibilities. We also show that the two schemes are secure against impersonation attacks where users’ codebooks are not compromised. Variants of the new scheme with improved security are also proposed.

Michael Paik, Navkar Samdaria, Aakar Gupta, Julie Weber, Nupur Bhatnagar, Shelly Batra, Manish Bhardwaj, and William Thies, A Biometric Attendance Terminal and its Application to Health Programs in India, in ACM Workshop on Networked Systems for Developing Regions, June 2010.

Tracking attendance is a necessity in a variety of contexts in the developing world, encompassing health programs, schools, government offices, and a litany of other milieux. While electronic attendance tracking systems exist and perform their core function well, they are expensive, monolithic and offer little customizability.

In this paper we describe a fingerprint-based biometric attendance system implemented using off-the-shelf components: a netbook computer, a commodity fingerprint reader, and a low-cost mobile phone. The system identifies visitors based only on their fingerprint, and uploads attendance logs to a central location via SMS. Its functionality goes beyond that of existing market offerings while improving modularity, extensibility, and cost of ownership.

We deployed this system in two health programs – supporting tuberculosis patients in New Delhi and sex workers in Bangalore – and logged over 550 users and 4,500 visits over the course of several months. Our experience suggests that the system is usable in real-world contexts, though incentives are needed to sustain usage over time. We reflect on the sociocultural factors surrounding adoption and describe the potential to impact health outcomes in the future.

Shikoh Gitau, Gary Marsden, and Jonathan Donner, After access – Challenges facing mobile-only internet users in the developing world, in Proceedings of the 28th international conference on human factors in computing systems (CHI 2010), Association for Computing Machinery, Inc., 16 April 2010.

This study reports results of an ethnographic action research study, exploring mobile-centric internet use. Over the course of 13 weeks, eight women, each a member of a livelihoods collective in urban Cape Town, South Africa, received training to make use of the data (internet) features on the phones they already owned. None of the women had previous exposure to PCs or the internet. Activities focused on social networking, entertainment, information search, and, in particular, job searches. Results of the exercise reveal both the promise of, and barriers to, mobile internet use by a potentially large community of first-time, mobile centric users. Discussion focuses on the importance of self expression and identity management in the refinement of online and offline presences, and considers these forces relative to issues of gender and socioeconomic status.

Thomas N. Smyth, Satish Kumar, Indrani Medhi, and Kentaro Toyama, Where there's a will there's a way: mobile media sharing in urban india, in CHI '10: Proceedings of the 28th international conference on Human factors in computing systems, ACM, New York, NY, USA, April 2010.

We present the results of a qualitative study of the sharing and consumption of entertainment media on low-cost mobile phones in urban India, a practice which has evolved into a vibrant, informal socio-technical ecosystem. This wide-ranging phenomenon includes end users, mobile phone shops, and content distributors, and exhibits remarkable ingenuity. Even more impressive is the number of obstacles which have been surmounted in its establishment, from the technical (interface complexity, limited Internet access, viruses), to the broader socioeconomic (cost, language, legality, institutional rules, lack of privacy), all seemingly due to a strong desire to be entertained.

Our findings carry two implications for projects in HCI seeking to employ technology in service of social and economic development. First, although great attention is paid to the details of UI in many such projects, we find that sufficient user motivation towards a goal turns UI barriers into mere speed bumps. Second, we suggest that needs assessments carry an inherent bias towards what outsiders consider needs, and that identified “needs” may not be as strongly felt as perceived.

Nithya Sambasivan, Edward Cutrell, Kentaro Toyama, and Bonnie Nardi, Intermediated technology use in developing communities, in CHI '10: Proceedings of the 28th international conference on Human factors in computing systems, ACM, New York, NY, USA, April 2010.

We describe a prevalent mode of information access in low-income communities of the developing world—intermediated interactions. They enable persons for whom technology is inaccessible due to non-literacy, lack of technology-operation skills, or financial constraints, to benefit from technologies through digitally skilled users—thus, expanding the reach of technologies. Reporting the results of our ethnography in two urban slums of Bangalore, India, we present three distinct intermediated interactions: inputting intent into the device in proximate enabling, interpretation of device output in proximate translation, and both input of intent and interpretation of output in surrogate usage. We present some requirements and challenges in interface design of these interactions and explain how they are different from direct interactions. We then explain the broader effects of these interactions on low-income communities, and present some implications for design.

Divya Ramachandran, John Canny, Prabhu Dutta Das, and Edward Cutrell, Mobile-izing health workers in rural India, in CHI '10: Proceedings of the 28th international conference on Human factors in computing systems, ACM – Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, April 2010.

Researchers have long been interested in the potential of ICTs to enable positive change in developing regions communities. In these environments, ICT interventions often fail because political, social and cultural forces work against the changes ICTs entail. We argue that familiar uses of ICTs for information services in these contexts are less potent than their use for persuasion and motivation in order to facilitate change. We focus on India’s rural maternal health system where health workers are employed in villages to persuade pregnant women to utilize health services. Health workers face challenges due to resistance to change in the village, and because of their limited education, training and status. These factors appear to reduce the motivation of health workers and impair their performance. For two months, we deployed short videos on mobile phones designed to persuade village women and motivate health workers. We also asked health workers to record their own videos. While our results are preliminary, they show evidence that the creation and use of videos did help (1) engage village women in dialogue, (2) show positive effects toward health worker motivation and learning, and (3) motivate key community influencers to participate in promoting the health workers.

N Rangaswamy, S Jiwani, and I Roy Chowdhary, Micro-blogging and Mobile Chattering in India, ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction, April 2010.

We report from on-going research of ‘SMS Chatter ’, the largest SMS-based mobile social networking site in India. The aim of this position paper is to share initial results from an investigation of the platform and note its emerging nature and the content of messaging. Unlike other social networking sites like Twitter where conversation, retweeting and maintaining a personalized profile take prominence, mobile social media in India shows different kinds of appropriation. SMS Chatter, seemingly, is not only for ‘egocentric’ users, but also for individuals and small and medium enterprises that choose the platform to promote various products and services. Posts that are not promotional take the form of short poetry, jokes or inspirational messages and constitute secondary content that is circulated without attribution. In this paper, we will emphasize and delineate two features of SMS Chatter, namely, a) the entwined and informal nature of social and business networking and b) the dominance of borrowed or secondary content of posts and the lack of conversational content or retweets.

Matthew Kam, Susan Dray, Kentaro Toyama, Gary Marsden, Tapan Parikh, and Edward Cutrell, Computing technology in international development: who, what, where, when, why and how?, in CHI EA '10: Proceedings of the 28th of the international conference extended abstracts on Human factors in computing systems, ACM, New York, NY, USA, April 2010.

Building on the successes of prior workshops at CHI and other HCI conferences on computing in international development, we propose a panel to engage with the broader CHI community. Topics to be discussed include why international development is important to HCI as a discipline, and how CHI researchers and practitioners who are not already involved in international development can contribute.

N Rangaswamy and S Nair, The PC- aided Enterprise and Re-cycling ICT: An ICT for D Story?, International Development Research centre, March 2010.

This paper focuses on three goals: first, to investigate organic ICT (information and communication technologies) immersions from a study of PC-aided Micro and Small Enterprises (MSEs) in a low-income slum neighborhood in Mumbai; second, to articulate anew and evolving socio-technical system in a slum ecology; third, to seek a fit between the goals of ICT for Development (ICTD) and the impacts of PC-aided enterprise on ICT access and adoption. Our findings are also three fold: first, ICT-aided MSEs are self-sustaining; second, they promote self- skill building; third, they re-cycle technology for greater affordability and effective immersion.

Susan T. Dumais, Georg Buscher, and Edward Cutrell, Individual differences in gaze patterns for web search, in Proceeding of the third symposium on Information interaction in context, ACM, New York, NY, USA, 2010.

Indrani Medhi, Ed Cutrell, and Kentaro Toyama, It's not just illiteracy, India HCI in conjunction with the IFIP TC13 Special Interest Group on Interaction Design for International Development, 2010.

There is increasing interest in using computing applications towards the socio-economic development of the poor. However, because poverty commonly correlates with illiteracy, researchers have identified various usability challenges that low-literate users may encounter in interacting with traditional text-based UIs. To counter such problems, researchers have proposed non-textual UIs for these users. However, most current work focuses exclusively on illiteracy (the inability to read) per se, with little recognition to other problems or the overall context in which a user is situated. In this paper we suggest that the inability to read is only one of several possible concerns that prevent useful interaction of existing computing (PC and mobile phone) UIs by low-literate users. Through our ethnographic and usability studies with 400 low-literate, low-income subjects across India, the Philippines and South Africa, we find a host of nuanced issues which mediate how a user interacts with computing technologies. Such issues include: cognitive difficulties, collaboration, cultural etiquette, experience and exposure, intimidation, mediation, motivation, pricing, power relations, social standing, and others. We observe that these factors can have far-reaching influence on the design of UIs as well as services for low-literate populations.

Nithya Sambasivan, Edward Cutrell, and Kentaro Toyama, ViralVCD: tracing information-diffusion paths with low cost media in developing communities, in CHI '10: Proceedings of the 28th international conference on Human factors in computing systems, ACM, New York, NY, USA, 2010.

We describe ViralVCD: a low cost method for tracing paths of information diffusion in developing communities using physical media. We instituted a participatory video framework for creation and dissemination of developmental videos in seven urban slums and peri-urban communities of Bangalore, India. By combining a call-in contest with Video CDs, we were able to measure developmental impact as well as elicit data on social networks and technology usage practices. In particular, our technique was able to extract data from multiple layers—social, technological, and developmental. ViralVCD allowed us to identify key actors and map information diffusion, as well as technology ownership and access. These findings have implications for HCI initiatives targeting low income locales and populations.

Georg Buscher, Susan T. Dumais, and Edward Cutrell, The good, the bad, and the random: an eye-tracking study of ad quality in web search, in Proceeding of the 33rd international ACM SIGIR conference on Research and development in information retrieval, ACM, New York, NY, USA, 2010.

We investigate how people interact with Web search engine result pages using eye-tracking. While previous research has focused on the visual attention devoted to the 10 organic search results, this paper examines other components of contemporary search engines, such as ads and related searches. We systematically varied the type of task (informational or navigational), the quality of the ads (relevant or irrelevant to the query), and the sequence in which ads of different quality were presented. We measured the effects of these variables on the distribution of visual attention and on task performance. Our results show significant effects of each variable. The amount of visual attention that people devote to organic results depends on both task type and ad quality. The amount of visual attention that people devote to ads depends on their quality, but not the type of task. Interestingly, the sequence and predictability of ad quality is also an important factor in determining how much people attend to ads. When the quality of ads varied randomly from task to task, people paid little attention to the ads, even when they were good. These results further our understanding of how attention devoted to search results is influenced by other page elements, and how previous search experiences influence how people attend to the current page.


Jonathan Donner, Mobile-based livelihood services in Africa: pilots and early deployments, pp. 37-58, 30 December 2009.

The paper describes a collection of initiatives delivering various forms of support functions via mobile phones to small enterprises, small farms, and the self-employed. Using a review of 24 examples of such services currently operational in Africa, the analysis identifies five functions of mobile livelihood services: Mediated Agricultural Extension, Market Information, Virtual Marketplaces, Financial Services, and Direct Livelihood Support. It discusses the current reliance of such systems on the SMS channel, and considers their role in supporting vs. transforming existing market structures.

Rohit Chaudhri and Kentaro Toyama, A Programmable Accessory for Cell Phones, no. MSR-TR-2009-178, 23 December 2009.

Given that software-only extensibility is not possible on low-tier mobile phones, we are exploring a combined hardware-software approach to achieve this. In this report we present the architecture and design of a battery-powered, microcontroller-based programmable accessory for cell phones. The idea is to use the accessory for general purpose computation and leverage the cell phone for IO and communications. The accessory connects to a cell phone over the phone’s data port and communicates using a serial protocol.

Kentaro Toyama, Teresa Peters, Michael Best, Chris Coward, and Beth Kolko, The Big Questions of “ICT4D”, no. MSR-TR-2009-101, 1 October 2009.

There is no clear consensus on the appropriate role for information and communications technology in social and economic development to improve the lives of the poor around the world. The field is fraught with conflicting views about what is most important, what works best, how to measure benefits, what processes lead to good solutions, and who should pay for it all. And, because ICT4D is still young and assessment is difficult, concrete evidence of positive outcomes are scant.

Thus, instead of adding to the loud, but weakly supported rhetoric in ICT4D, this paper presents 13 “hot button” questions that characterize the debate in the field today, and it attempts to summarize the arguments on all sides. The hope is that this will help the reader navigate through the various issues in ICT4D and identify the questions most worthy of further consideration.

Nithya Sambasivan, Nimmi Rangaswamy, Edward Cutrell, and Bonnie Nardi, Ubicomp4D: Infrastructure and interaction for international development--the case of urban Indian slums, in 11th International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing, UbiComp 2009, Association for Computing Machinery, Inc., October 2009.

This paper attempts to re-imagine ubiquitous computing for populations in low-income and information-challenged environments. We examine information infrastructures in mid-sized urban slums of Mumbai and Bangalore in three ways—1) highlighting technologies supporting social networks, 2) examining underlying notions of trust and privacy in building information networks, and 3) discussing protocols and practices around shared access. We then discuss our thoughts on designing for low-income, low-literacy, and resource-challenged communities, presenting new ways to think about the design of ubiquitous technologies for international development. We argue for collaborative exchange between the established strengths of the Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) and Ubicomp communities to generate new ways of shaping technologies towards poverty alleviation in previously neglected socio-economic contexts—Ubicomp4D.

Rahul De and Aishwarya Lakshmi Ratan, Whose gain is it anyway? Structurational perspectives on deploying ICTs for development in India's microfinance sector, in Information Technology for Development, Wiley, 10 September 2009.

The idea of information and communication technology (ICT) being a “hammer” that can be applied to a wide variety of “nails” across different geographic locations, sectors, organizations, and contexts to improve efficiency and/or have a beneficial social impact has come under severe criticism, particularly in the realm of implementing socioeconomic development programs. Structuration theory remains one of the key metatheories that deconstruct the complexity of technology introductions in the context of organizational and behavioral change. In this study, we use a structurational lens to examine two pilot ICT implementations in the Indian microfinance sector, specifically exploring the interactions between the ICT intervention, the organizations and people implementing the change, and the structural and institutional context within which these projects were rolled out. We showcase how an “ICT for development” intervention is inherently a political process, involving choices around defining efficiency and targeting particular social welfare improvements, with varying repercussions for the involved microfinance institution and client. Where the client's context, constraints, and welfare are placed at the heart of the “efficiency” discussion during the technology's design and implementation, the development impact is seen to be far greater and more sustained.

Saurabh Panjwani, Luana Micallef, Karl Fenech, and Kentaro Toyama, Effects of integrating digital visual materials with textbook scans in the classroom, in International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology (IJEDICT), September 2009.

This work examines the effects of treating learners in a classroom to digital visual materials on a shared display, while interleaving such materials with scanned copies of relevant textbook pages. Forty-six ninth-grade students in a public school in Bangalore (India) were divided into two groups and given instruction in Science and Literature, the first group (control) being exposed to digital visual materials in both classes while the second (treatment) to the same materials interspersed with digitally-scanned copies of textbook pages. Students in the treatment group outperformed those in the control group on tasks involving recall and recognition of the visual materials (although the gap was significant only for recall-based tasks). Our results suggest that digitized versions of textbooks are useful in improving students’ retention of visual materials utilized during classroom instruction.

M. Kaleem Rahman, Saurabh Sanghvi, Kentaro Toyama, and M. Bernardine Dias, Experiences with Lower-Cost Access to Tactile Graphics in India, no. MSR-TR-2009-102, August 2009.

Tactile graphics allow the visually impaired to perceive two-dimensional imagery, which is an essential part of learning science, geography, and other subjects. In the developed world, such graphics are available to blind students from an early age, and students grow up familiar with image representations. Tactile graphics, however, require special printers whose costs are often beyond resource-constrained institutions; thus, blind students in developing regions often grow up without any exposure to these learning aids.

In this paper, we investigate the potential of a software solution for converting regular images into a form that can be printed as tactile imagery on relatively low-cost embossing device meant only for braille text. Using techniques of ethnographic design, we explore how students at a school for the blind in India interpret tactile graphics on their first contact with such material, and for a variety of subject matter. We find that our subjects were exceedingly enthusiastic about tactile graphics, rapidly able to understand and absorb two-dimensional representations, and that studying tactile graphics of the alphabet could lead to their learning how to write the alphabet for the very first time.

William Thies, Why it is Hard to Identify Technical Research Problems in ICT4D and How to Make it Easier, in CCC Workshop on Computer Science and Global Development, August 2009.

My position is that a shortage of detailed and compelling problem statements is the primary bottleneck that prevents most computer scientists from conducting research in ICT4D. While interesting problems exist, they are usually discovered via months of fieldwork, and there is little incentive to formalize and disseminate problems for the benefit of other researchers. To address this bottleneck, I argue that we should create a prestigious venue for publishing problem descriptions, rather than problem solutions. I also propose that we establish problem-exchange websites to solicit problems from practitioners; organize structured design contests that aggregate knowledge in a problem area; and leverage the domain knowledge of funding agencies in defining technical research problems.

Indrani Medhi, Aishwarya Lakshmi Ratan, and Kentaro Toyama, Mobile-Banking Adoption and Usage by Low-Literate, Low-Income Users in the Developing World, in Proc. of HCII 2009, Springer Verlag, July 2009.

Due to the increasing penetration of mobile phones even in poor communities, mobile-phone-enabled banking (m-banking) services are being increasingly targeted at the "unbanked" to bring formal financial services to the poor. Research in understanding actual usage and adoption by this target population, though, is sparse. There appear to be a number of issues which prevent low-income, low-literate populations from meaningfully adopting and using existing m-banking services. This paper examines variations across countries in adoption and usage of existing m-banking services by low-literate, low-income individuals and possible factors responsible for the same. It is observed that variations are along several parameters: household type, services adopted, pace of uptake, frequency of usage, and ease of use. Each of these observations is followed by a set of explanatory factors that mediate adoption and usage.

Jonathan Donner and Kentaro Toyama, Persistent themes in ICT4D Research: priorities for inter-methodological exchange, 21 June 2009.

Efforts to bridge methodological and theoretical gaps are of particular value to the ICT4D field. In this paper, we highlight how certain persistent themes in ICT4D research are amenable to ‘bridging’ exercises. The themes are: defining users, closing divides, and establishing impact. For each theme, we present a call for more actionable statistics and data, and suggest parameters for improved interdisciplinary dialogue. We close by considering new ways to leverage technology in these bridging exercises.

Jonathan Donner and Shikoh Gitau, New paths: exploring mobile-centric internet use in South Africa, in Presented at the Pre-Conference on Mobile Communication at the Annual Meeting of the International Communication Association, 21 May 2009.

The title of this workshop, ‘beyond voice’, is illustrative of one of the central questions currently surrounding mobile communication in the developing world. Put simply, there is a great deal of enthusiasm around the notion that a large group of users will access the internet for the first time via data enabled mobile handsets. Recent estimates from India, for example (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, 2007), suggest there may be more mobile Internet connections than traditional PC Internet connections operational in the country. Concurrently, high-end smart phones promise browsing experiences which are steadily closing the gaps in speed and ease of use which have hampered earlier incarnations of the mobile internet, such as WAP.

But the raw enthusiasm, the aggregate statistics, and the glossy marketing images from the top-end of handset markets fail to capture the reality of mobile internet use in the developing world. The crux of this paper’s argument is that the research community knows comparatively little about this supposed community of users who access and use the Internet exclusively via mobile phones. We know little about who they are, how they discover and access the mobile internet, and how the mobile internet fits into their lives.

This paper reports on ongoing qualitative/exploratory research in low income communities in urban South Africa. Through convenience and snowball sampling, the researchers have sought out ‘early adopters’ among mobile-only internet users. The analysis of the interviews will delineate and describe distinctive new “paths” to Internet use that largely bypass PCs. We draw on a domestication approach (Haddon, 2003; Hahn & Kibora, 2008; Silverstone & Hirsch, 1992) to move beyond an ‘adoption’ or ‘diffusion’ paradigm and to complement aggregate statistical perspectives.

As exploratory research, this project cannot definitively identify all the new paths to the internet, nor the relative frequency with which individuals choose these paths. However, early findings will illustrate current and emerging practices in mobile-only internet use, as well as opportunities and constraints for policymakers interested in promoting or leveraging internet use among a much broader community of the world’s inhabitants

Rangaswamy and N, ICT for Mesh-Economy: Case-Study of an Urban Slum, International Federation of Information Processing, May 2009.

The paper submits ethnography of ICT immersions in ‘information poor contexts’ through exploring socio-economic networks of a heterogeneous, low-income community in Mumbai. Here, ICT usages are embedded in two main social processes; 1) grass-root demand for communication 2) a mesh economy of formal and informal networks. We present findings from a contextual study of ICT enabled businesses in a rapidly up-scaling suburban slum amongst its low-income communities. We believe ICTs embedded in resource-stressed survival economies evolve and adapt to fit with existing economic behavior enmeshed in a range of formal and non-formal practices. We observed that here the formal/non-formal dichotomy is transcended, rendering economic distinctions irrelevant at the ground level of business networking processes. We ask if ICT’s, firstly, by the kind of technology they are, have specific potential to aid dissolution of these formal/non-formal distinctions for survival economies. Secondly, by facilitating small businesses, if they bear a special status in promoting survival, sustenance and overall development of the small business community.

Rich Ling and Jonathan Donner, Mobile Communication, Polity, May 2009.

With staggering swiftness, the mobile phone has become a fixture of daily life in almost every society on earth. In 2007, the world had over 3 billion mobile subscriptions. Prosperous nations boast of having more subscriptions than people. In the developing world, hundreds of millions of people who could never afford a landline telephone now have a mobile number of their own. With a mobile in our hand many of us feel safer, more productive, and more connected to loved ones, but perhaps also more distracted and less involved with things happening immediately around us.

Written by two leading researchers in the field, this volume presents an overview of the mobile telephone as a social and cultural phenomenon. Research is summarized and made accessible though detailed descriptions of ten mobile users from around the world. These illustrate popular debates, as well as deeper social forces at work. The book concludes by considering three themes: 1) the tighter interlacing of daily activities 2) a revolution of control in the social sphere, and 3) the arrival of a world where the majority of its inhabitants are reachable, anytime, anywhere.

Aishwarya Lakshmi Ratan, Sambit Satpathy, Lilian Zia, Kentaro Toyama, Sean Blagsvedt, Udai Singh Pawar, and Thanuja Subramaniam, Kelsa+: Digital Literacy for Low-Income Office Workers, in Proc. of ICTD 2009, IEEE, 19 April 2009.

Almost all formal organizations employ service staff for tasks such as housekeeping, security, maintenance, and transport at their office facility. Many of these workers earn wages in line with menial-labor salaries in their respective countries. They have few on-the-job opportunities to upgrade their skills or learn new ones. Kelsa+ is an initiative through which organizations in developing countries can increase digital literacy and skill development among such low-income workers, through the provision of an Internet-connected PC for the service staff’s free, unrestricted use when off duty. We study a Kelsa+ pilot implementation in Bangalore, India, involving an office facility with 35 service staff. In a preliminary exploration over 18 months, we find that at a cost that is negligible for the organization, workers’ use of the Kelsa+ PC is high and can deliver benefits both to themselves and to the office. For workers, broad gains were seen in confidence, self-esteem, and basic digital literacy, while a few individuals experienced improvements in second-language (English) proficiency and career opportunities. These early results point in the direction of a cost-effective ICT4D initiative that could be run in the developing-country offices of the very organizations promoting development off-site.

Neema Moraveji, Kori Inkpen, Edward Cutrell, and Ravin Balakrishnan, A Mischief of Mice: Examining Children’s Performance in Single Display Groupware Systems with 1 to 32 Mice, in International conference on Human factors in computing systems (CHI 2009), Association for Computing Machinery, Inc., April 2009.

Mischief is a system for classroom interaction that allows multiple children to use individual mice and cursors to interact with a single large display [20]. While the system can support large groups of children, it is unclear how children’s performance is affected as group size increases. We explore this question via a study involving two tasks, with children working in group sizes ranging from 1 to 32. The first required reciprocal selection of two on-screen targets, resembling a “swarm” pointing scenario that might be used in educational applications. The second, a more temporally and spatially distributed pointing task, had children entering different words by selecting characters on an on-screen keyboard. Results indicate that performance is significantly affected by group size only when targets are small. Further, group size had a smaller effect when pointing was spatially and temporally distributed than when everyone was concurrently aiming at the same targets.

Jonathan Donner and Marcela Escobari, A review of the research on mobile use by micro and small enterprises (MSEs), in Proceedings of the 3rd ACM/IEEE International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development, IEEE, April 2009.

The paper offers a systematic review of 14 studies of the use of mobile telephony by micro and small enterprises (MSEs) in the developing world, detailing findings about changes to enterprises’ internal processes and external relationships, and findings about mobile use vs. traditional landline use. Results suggest that there is currently more evidence for the benefits of mobile use accruing mostly (but not exclusively) to existing MSEs rather than new MSEs, in ways that amplify existing material and informational flows rather than transform them. The review presents a more complete picture of mobile use by MSEs than was previously available to ICTD researchers, and indentifies priorities for future research, including comparisons of the impact of mobile use across subsectors of MSEs and assessments of use of advanced services such as mobile banking and mobile commerce.

Somani Patnaik, Emma Brunskill, and William Thies, Evaluating the Accuracy of Data Collection on Mobile Phones: A Study of Forms, SMS, and Voice, in IEEE/ACM International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development, IEEE, April 2009.

While mobile phones have found broad application in reporting health, financial, and environmental data, there has been little study of the possible errors incurred during mobile data collection. This paper provides the first (to our knowledge) quantitative evaluation of data entry accuracy on mobile phones in a resource-poor setting. Via a study of 13 users in Gujarat, India, we evaluated three user interfaces: 1) electronic forms, containing numeric fields and multiple-choice menus, 2) SMS, where users enter delimited text messages according to printed cue cards, and 3) voice, where users call an operator and dictate the data in real-time.

Our results indicate error rates (per datum entered) of 4.2% for electronic forms, 4.5% for SMS, and 0.45% for voice. These results caused us to migrate our own initiative (a tuberculosis treatment program in rural India) from electronic forms to voice, in order to avoid errors on critical health data. While our study has some limitations, including varied backgrounds and training of participants, it suggests that some care is needed in deploying electronic interfaces in resource-poor settings. Further, it raises the possibility of using voice as a low-tech, high-accuracy, and cost-effective interface for mobile data collection.

Rikin Gandhi, Rajesh Veeraraghavan, Kentaro Toyama, and Vanaja Ramprasad, Digital Green: Participatory Video for Agricultural Extension, in Information Technologies for International Development, MIT Press, March 2009.

Digital Green is a research project that seeks to disseminate targeted agricultural information to small and marginal farmers in India using digital video. The unique components of Digital Green are: (1) a participatory process for content production; (2) a locally generated digital video database; (3) a human-mediated instruction model for dissemination and training; and (4) regimented sequencing to initiate new communities. Unlike some systems that expect information or communication technology alone to deliver useful knowledge to marginal farmers, Digital Green works with existing, people- based extension systems and aims to amplify their effectiveness. While video provides a point of focus, it is people and social dynamics that ultimately make Digital Green work. Local social networks are tapped to connect farmers with experts, the thrill of appearing “on TV” motivates farmers, and homophily is exploited to minimize the distance between teacher and learner. In a 13-month trial involving 16 villages (eight control and eight experimental villages balanced for parameters such as size and mix of crops) and a total of 1,470 households, Digital Green increased the adoption of certain agriculture practices seven-fold over a classic Training and Visit-based (T&V) extension ap- proach. On a cost-per-adoption basis, Digital Green was shown to be 10 times more effective per dollar spent than a classical extension system. Investments included performance-based honoraria for local facilitators, a shared TV and DVD player in each village, and one digital camcorder and PC shared across the project area. The results are preliminary, but promising.

Rajesh Veeraraghavan and Kentaro Toyama, Warana Unwired: Mobile Phones replacing PCs in a rural sugarcane cooperative, in Information Technologies for International Development, MIT Press, 2009.

Rangaswamy and N, The non-formal business of cyber cafes: a case-study from India, in Journal of information, communication and ethics in society, 7, (2/3), pp 136-145, 2009.

Small businesses enabled by information and communication technologies (ICTs) are deeply embedded in a context of non-formal business relations and practices in developing economies. We take the specific instance of 30 internet cafés in the city of Mumbai as subject of our study to explore the non-formal business culture operating in and through an unregulated grey market. Using ethnographic methods, we profile café management of everyday business strategies and contextualize them in the broader and pervasive culture of non-formal business relationship in the Mumbai economy. Regulatory discourse of information technologies in general and the internet in particular is foreclosed by the language of piracy and ill-legality. Our main contribution in this paper is re-thinking issues related to piracy and ill-legal practices when they are embedded in non-formal economic relations. These define and support a way of life for millions participating in a developing economy. We attempt to open debates by positing non-formality as alternate premise to understand, the so-called, piracy and ill-legal practices among small ICT enabled businesses. By dismissing the ICT grey market as piracy we ignore the nature of market relations critical to governing the non-formal IT sector bringing IT inclusion to the majority in India.

N Sambasivan, N Rangaswamy, K Toyama, and B Nardi, Encountering Development Ethnographically, in Interactions, vol. XVI, no. 6, 2009.

HCI for Development (HCI4D) lies at the intersection of Information Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) and Human-computer Interaction (HCI). The mainstream HCI community creates user experiences for the developed-world consumer, while ICT4D is concerned about creating relevant technologies for developing nations. Their fusion—HCI4D—evolved and re-aligned goals to design user experiences for a new audience, namely populations living in contexts of low rates of telecom diffusion and digital literacy.

Jonathan Donner, Blurring livelihoods and lives: The social uses of mobile phones and socioeconomic development, in Innovations: Technology, Governance, Globalization, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 91-101, MIT Press, 2009.

This paper focuses on how an intermingling of lives and livelihoods, as mediated by the mobile phone, figures into the micro-processes of economic development. It argues for a perspective on work and on livelihoods that is broad enough to account for (and perhaps even take advantage of) the social processes surrounding these activities. Analysts, policymakers, and technologists interested in the application of Mobiles for Development (M4D) should not ignore the way mobiles blur livelihoods and lives; the developmental and ‘non-developmental’ uses of the mobile are not in competition, nor are they always distinguishable. Instead, the uses of mobiles for developmental and ‘non-developmental’ purposes are often interrelated and sometimes mutually reinforcing. The social functions of the mobile (in matters of connection and self-expression) are helping drive its widespread adoption, and these same functions inform the very behaviors that make the mobile a tool for economic development.

Molly Steenson and Jonathan Donner, Beyond the personal and private: Modes of mobile phone sharing in urban India, in The Reconstruction of Space and Time: Mobile Communication Practices, vol. 1, pp. 231-250, Transaction Publishers, 2009.

This chapter contributes to the overall dialogue on the significance of mobile communication for human, social space by expanding the inquiry into one of the world’s largest communities of mobile users, India. In this context, we draw on ethnographic research to identify various modes of mobile phone sharing which cannot be entirely explained by economic necessity, and instead reflect deeper processes of human organization. In the process, the chapter further illustrates how mobile communication helps people create and alter the social spaces around them.

Jonathan Donner, Mobile media on low-cost handsets: The resiliency of text messaging among small enterprises in India (and beyond) , in Mobile technologies: from telecommunications to media , pp. 93-104, Routledge, 2009.

This chapter begins by describing the limited use of most mobile functions—except for voice calls and SMS/text messages—among small and informal business owners in urban India. It draws on this illustration to suggest that forms of mobile media based on low cost, ubiquitous SMS features have the potential to be accessible, relevant, and popular among many users in the developing world. Further examples of SMS-based mobile media applications illustrate an important distinction between these systems. While some applications stand alone, others function as bridges to or hybrids of other media forms, particularly the internet. Over the next few years, these hybrid forms will play an important role in offering flexible, powerful information resources to a sizable proportion of the world’s population.

Indrani Medhi, Nagasena Gautama S. N, and Kentaro Toyama, A Comparison of Mobile Money-Transfer UIs for Non-Literate and Semi-Literate Users, ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 2009.

Due to the increasing penetration of mobile phones even into poor communities, mobile payment schemes could bring formal financial services to the “unbanked.” However, because poverty for the most part also correlates with low levels of formal education, there are questions as to whether electronic access to complex financial services is enough to bridge the gap, and if so, what sort of UI is best. In this paper, we present two studies that provide preliminary answers to these questions. We first investigated the usability of existing mobile payment services, through an ethnographic study involving 90 subjects in India, Kenya, the Philippines and South Africa. This was followed by a usability study with another 58 subjects in India, in which we compared non-literate and semi-literate subjects on three systems: text-based, spoken dialog (without text), and rich multimedia (also without text). Results confirm that non-text designs are strongly preferred over text-based designs and that while task-completion rates are better for the rich multimedia UI, speed is faster and less assistance is required on the spoken-dialog system.


N Rangaswamy and Divya Kumar, The Rise of ICT for Commerce in Small Product Offerings, 19th Australasia Conference on Information Systems, December 2008.

The paper makes a case for information and communication technologies (ICT) in small businesses against the broader backdrop of the developing economy of India. ICTs come to India through two routes; the global employment route of IT information companies or the development route of donor-driven services to bridge internal digital divide. Local and context specific ICT based services in small businesses are organic, market-driven and self-sustaining bringing affordable services to hitherto „underserved‟ and „information poor‟ contexts. It seems pertinent to ask if ICT as service offerings in small business can sustain and evolve a participatory eco-system resulting in expansion of benefits to the player/entrepreneur and customer/user of technology. From a case-study in urban India we observe that most ICT-based or ICT-empowered businesses, services and products are shaped by two factors 1. The nature of key players driving business 2. Local and evolving customer relevance of the product. The two can combine to produce a third- opportunities that can turn businesses round to a more aggressive consumer oriented service offerings to sustain business and increase ICT infusion into local markets.

Jonathan Donner, Katrin Verclas, and Kentaro Toyama, Reflections on MobileActive08 and the M4D Landscape, in Proceedings of the First International Conference on M4D, December 2008.

This paper revisits presentations at the MobileActive08 conference in Johannesburg to critically examine the current diversity of projects and approaches in mobiles for development (M4D). We identify four common choices facing individual M4D projects (intended users, technical accessibility, informational links, and market links) which collectively mark the current landscape of M4D. Discussions of M4D projects have tended to be delineated by traditional development domain (health, education, agriculture, etc). By focusing on choices that cut across domains, we highlight elements which vary across M4D projects, but which to date have not been observed to correlate with project success. We discuss these four choices in light of the broader course of the field of information and communication technology and development (ICTD). Further, we argue that choices made at the project level may create different M4D landscapes, with implications for the breadth and depth of the technologys impact on development.

Jay Chen, Ghulam Murtaza, Srikanth Adimulam, Gursharan Singh, and Kentaro Toyama, Deadline Constrained Minimum Cost Data Transfer over Heterogeneous Connections, in Proc. Int’l Conf. on Mobile Communication Technology for Development, December 2008.

Frederick Weber, Kalika Bali, Roni Rosenfeld, and Kentaro Toyama, Unexplored Directions in Spoken Language Technology for Development, in Proceedings of The 2nd IEEE Workshop on Spoken Language Technology. 2008, December 2008.

N Rangaswamy, S Nair, and K Toyama, “My TV is the family Oven/Toaster/Grill”:Personalizing TV for the Indian Audience, ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction, October 2008.

Interactive TV is a new, exciting entry into the drawing rooms of Indian families. By examining current and nascent interactive TV services we trace ways in which they are deployed, received and consumed in the Indian home. From ethnographic probes we offer observations from Indian domestic contexts in the threshold of adopting interactivity as part of everyday TV viewing. We foreground India as a new and primary emerging site adopting interactive TV and to expand attention from the predominance of designing for Western cultural contexts. We develop a specific focus on personalizing TV, a dominant media attribute of interactive TV, conflicting with conventional viewing patterns in the Indian home. We note emergent challenges for interactive TV adoption patterns, particularly for personalization, in the Indian home. Here, TV is viewed as a) Comfort media b) Shared media c) Media for family bonding and raise concerns for viewer preferences around personalizing TV

Renee Kuriyan Isha Ray and Kentaro Toyama, Information and communication technologies for development: The bottom of the pyramid model in practice, in The Information Society, vol. 24, August 2008.

Rangaswamy and N, ‘There is no entertainment without TV…’:Changing TV environments - A case-study from India, Springer Verlag, July 2008.

The paper contextualizes changing Television viewship from an ethnographic study of 39 individuals and 10 families, in Mumbai, India. Over the last decade, the Indian audiences have been witnessing rapidly transforming television technology, content and services. With changing TV scenarios as backdrop the paper purports to do the following; 1. To evaluate techno-social scenarios of new TV services, 2. To examine how these fit into existing everyday rhythms and routines of family viewing, 3. To gauge initial audience response to nascent interactive TV services. We lead arguments to discuss a set of factors that emerged as critical in influencing families to adopt new interactive TV services as everyday entertainment.

Aishwarya Ratan, Using technology to deliver financial services to low-income households: A preliminary study of Equity Bank and M-PESA customers in Kenya, no. MSR-TR-2009-4, June 2008.

This report presents the results of a preliminary qualitative assessment of technology-enabled financial service delivery channels aimed at reaching low-income, low-literate individuals in Kenya, focusing on the ATM and mobile phone (SMS and USSD) based offerings of Equity Bank and the mobile phone (SIM card/SMS) based M-PESA application of Safaricom. Eleven low- and middle-income respondents from urban and rural locations discussed their socio-economic circumstances and their choices around using various financial services, transaction channels, their mobile phones, etc. in detailed open-ended interviews. We highlight key dependencies that determine how and why these individuals engage with technology-enabled channels to conduct financial transactions.

Rangaswamy and N, Telecentres and Cyber Cafés:A Case for ICT in Small Business, International Communication Association, May 2008.

Telecentre initiatives run by non-profit agents are largely understood as critical access points for digital inclusion. By the same token internet or cyber cafés viewed merely as commercial sites fall outside the purview of non-profit initiatives promoting e-literacy. From a contextual study of ‘small’ internet cafés in urban and peri-urban Maharashtra, India, we report localization of information and communication technology (ICT).Here, internet technologies localize, find survival niches and in many cases, serve as initiation nodes for first time users. The paper introduces a variety of context specific and commercial immersions of ICT services as part of everyday commerce. We argue for-profit spaces like i-cafes equally contribute to digital immersion in ‘information poor’ contexts. ‘Non-developmental’ (read commercial) spaces successfully use ICTs, sustain businesses, generate regular clientele and adapt to local demand. Here, ICT technologies involve and initiate all those who access them at suitable and affordable prices. Can i-cafés do what telecentres supposedly do? In this effort and from a perspective of commercial adoption of ICTs we try to open up debates around telecentres as privileged sites of digital inclusion.

Aishwarya Ratan and Mahesh Gogineni, Cost Realism in Deploying Technologies for Development, no. MSR-TR-2008-196, May 2008.

In this paper, we present a simple costing model supported by three case studies to demonstrate the ways in which a technology intervention's ability to deliver cost savings through efficiency gains is conditional on the local economic environment. Examining a set of information collection and processing transaction tasks that are part of a microfinance institution's workflow, we find that technology-enabled gains depend critically on the technology's impact on labour productivity and variable capital costs, in the context of the local wage rate for adequately skilled labour. In certain contexts, the per-transaction gains from using capital-intensive technologies are overwhelmed by the fixed and operating resources required to generate and sustain these gains.

Neema Moraveji, Taemie Kim, James Ge, Udai Singh Pawar, Kathleen Mulcahy, and Kori Inkpen, Mischief: supporting remote teaching in developing regions, in International conference on Human factors in computing systems (CHI 2008), Association for Computing Machinery, Inc., April 2008.

Mischief is a system to support traditional classroom practices between a remote instructor and a group of collocated students. Meant for developing regions, each student in the classroom is given a mouse and these are connected to a single machine and shared display. We present observations of teaching practices in rural Chinese classrooms that led to Mischief’s design. Mischief’s user interface, with which scores of collocated students can interact simultaneously, supports anonymous responses, communicates focus of attention, and maintains the role of the instructor. Mischief is an extensible platform in which Microsoft PowerPoint slides, used commonly in developing regions, are made interactive. We setup a controlled environment where Mischief was used by classrooms of children with a remote math instructor. The results from the study provided insight into the usability and capacity of the system to support traditional classroom interactions. These observations were also the impetus for a redesign of several components of Mischief and are also presented. These findings contribute both a novel system for synchronous distance education in an affordable manner and design insights for creators of related systems.

Jonathan Donner and Camilo Tellez, Mobile banking and economic development: Linking adoption, impact, and use, in Asian Journal of Communication, vol. 18, no. 4, pp. 318-332, 2008.

Around the globe, various initiatives use the mobile phone to provide financial services to those without access to traditional banks. Yet relatively little scholarly research explores the use of these m-banking/m-payments systems. This paper calls attention to this gap in the research literature, emphasizing the need for research focusing on the context(s) of m-banking/m-payments use. Presenting illustrative data from exploratory work with small enterprises in urban India, it argues that contextual research is a critical input to effective “adoption” or “impact” research. Further, it suggests that the challenges of linking studies of use to those of adoption and impact reflect established dynamics within the Information and Communication Technologies and Development (ICTD) research community. The paper identifies three crosscutting themes from the broader literature—amplification vs. change, simultaneous causality, and a multi-dimensional definition of trust—each of which can offer increased theoretical clarity to future research on m-banking/m-payments systems.

Jonathan Donner, Nimmi Rangaswamy, Molly Wright Steenson, and Carolyn Wei, “Express yourself” and “Stay together”: The middle-class Indian family, in Handbook of Mobile Communication Studies, pp. 325-338, MIT Press, 2008.

This chapter evaluates the mobile phone’s dual position as change agent and reflection of existing tensions in Indian middle class families. It also offers a snapshot of the aspirational consumption that is characteristic of the new middle class in India. Three case studies are reported here relating to mobiles and family financial decisions, romantic relationships, and domestic space. The studies show that, whereas elements of autonomy and individuation do arise from mobile phone use, the adoption of mobiles as a family process better reflects its diffusion in middle-class India. This culturally specific spread of mobiles symbolizes broader socioeconomic phenomena in India.

Jonathan Donner, Research Approaches to Mobile Use in the Developing World: A Review of the Literature, in The Information Society, vol. 24, no. 3, pp. 140-159, 2008.

The paper reviews roughly 200 recent studies of mobile (cellular) phone use in the developing world, and identifies major concentrations of research. It categorizes studies along two dimensions. One dimension distinguishes studies of the determinants of mobile adoption from those that assess the impacts of mobile use, and from those focused on the interrelationships between mobile technologies and users. A secondary dimension identifies a sub-set of studies with a strong economic development perspective. The discussion considers the implications of the resulting review and typology for future research.

Indrani Medhi, Geeta Menon, and Kentaro Toyama, Challenges of Computerized Job-Search in the Developing World, ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 2008.

Rangaswamy and N, Telecentres and Cyber cafes: The case for ICTs in small business,, in Asian Journal of Communication,, vol. 18, no. 4, pp. 365-378, Routledge, 2008.

Telecenter initiatives run by non-profit agents are widely believed to be critical access points for digital inclusion. By contrast, Internet or cyber cafe´s are viewed generally merely as commercial sites, thus falling outside the purview of non-profit initiatives promoting e-literacy. From a contextual study of Internet cafe´s in urban and suburban Mumbai and in peri-urban small towns of Maharashtra state, India, we report on the localization of information and communication technology (ICTs), including how Internet cafe´s discern survival niches and how they often serve as reasonably-priced initiation nodes for first-time users. This article discusses a variety of context-specific and commercial instances of ICT services as manifest in everyday commerce. We argue that for-profit spaces like Internet cafe´s make a major contribution to digital immersion in information-poor contexts and that these so-called ‘non-developmental’ (read commercial) spaces successfully use ICTs to sustain businesses, to generate regular clientele, and to adapt to local demand. In an effort to open up debate around telecenters as privileged sites of digital inclusion, the functions of Internet cafe´s are then compared and contrasted with processes and behaviors associated with telecenters.

Jonathan Donner, Shrinking fourth world? Mobiles, development, and inclusion, in Handbook of Mobile Communication Studies, pp. 29-42, MIT Press, 2008.

This chapter revisits Castells’ assertion that the Informational Society has brought about a ‘fourth world’ of marginalized peoples, bypassed by information technologies and excluded from significant participation in the economic and social organization of the new millennium. Using the fourth world framework, it considers the economic implications of mobile technologies in the poorest parts of the globe. It argues that increased access and use of mobile telephony worldwide may erode, but not eliminate, the fourth world as a significant phenomenon. In addition, it uses the case of mobile use under cases of extreme economic scarcity to reflect on the current state of theory about mobile communication.


Aishwarya Lakshmi Ratan and Savita Bailur, Welfare, Agency and 'ICT for Development', in Proc. of ICTD 2007, IEEE, December 2007.

This paper deconstructs the term “development” in “ICT for Development” – does it imply welfare or agency? Using a framework of individual capability expansion and social choice theory, we illustrate how these two approaches may conflict, and present a simple model to explore how sometimes the Provider's intention in providing an ICT artifact and the User's ultimate usage differ. We analyze our case studies of Our Voices and Hole in the Office against this and find that the User is likely to gain a tangible, immediate return on using agency-enhancing applications (particularly involving entertainment content), while the impact of welfare-enhancing applications is harder to achieve, given the complex contextual determinants of converting information on “potential” welfare outcomes to “actual” welfare gains. We recommend further research on the welfare-agency tension, and on assessing paternalism in “ICT for development” interventions.

Jonathan Donner, M-Banking, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, September 2007.

Aishwarya Lakshmi Ratan, An assessment of Pradan’s ‘Computer Munshi’ intervention to improve microfinance accounting operations, September 2007.

N Rangaswamy, Jonathan Donner, Jan Blom, and Kathy Kitner, Living and Livelihoods: ICTs and the Blurring Domestic and Economic Spheres in Emerging Economies, ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction, August 2007.

Rangaswamy and N, Representing the Non-formal: the Business of Internet cafés in India, American Anthropological Association, August 2007.

It is our contention that small businesses of information and communication technologies are deeply embedded in a context of non-formal business relations and practices in developing economies. Cyber cafés in the city of Mumbai, the subject of our study, and illegitimacy, informality of business practices in emerging economies provide an alternate premise to understand its nature and operates in and through an unregulated grey market of non-formal business practices. In this paper we explore the fit of ICTs into this ‘area’ of commercial practices. We do relationships this by profiling café managers, business strategies and contextualizing these in the broader culture of non-formal business pervading every day transactions. With regulatory discourse of information technologies centered on piracy function. These challenge received notions of visualizing IT in emerging economies as simply piracy and illegality. It also implies coming to terms with markets shaped and structured by para-legal and non-formal processes in negotiating on-going and future business relationships.

Mahesh Gogineni, Preliminary assessment of a pilot intervention run by BASIX involving the use of handheld devices to record microcredit repayments, June 2007.

Rangaswamy and N, ICT for development and commerce: A case study of internet cafés in India, International Federation of Information Processing, May 2007.

The paper, drawn from on-going studies of internet cafés in India, reports interesting localization of information and communication technology (ICT) offerings in shared public spaces. These are in some disjuncture with the ideology of digital inclusion striving to integrate hitherto excluded and ‘information poor’ communities. We find context specific and commercial localization of ICT services contributing to their immersion in underserved contexts, introducing technology as significant part of everyday commerce. If ‘non-developmental spaces’ using ICT are more open to entrepreneurial activities, multiple players, especially the government, could creatively engage with them to promote ICT interventions in everyday civilian life. We indicate some curious and interesting examples strictly belonging to the commercial realm nevertheless bearing the potential for expansion of ICT services.

Mahesh Gogineni, Aishwarya Lakshmi Ratan, and Shabnam Aggarwal, Evaluating the viability of a mobile phone-based, SMS/GPRS-enabled, client data collection channel for urban microfinance, May 2007.

Indrani Medhi and Kentaro Toyama, Full-Context Videos for First-Time, Non-Literate PC Users, IEEE/ACM International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development, 2007.

This paper presents the use of full-context video to motivate and aid non-literate, first-time users of PCs to successfully navigate a computer application with minimal assistance. Following previous work focused on non-literate users, we observed that in spite of our subjects’ understanding of the UI mechanics, they experienced barriers beyond illiteracy in interacting with the computer: lack of awareness of what the PC could deliver, fear and mistrust of the technology, and lack of comprehension about how information relevant to them was embedded in the PC. In this paper, we address these challenges with full-context video, which includes dramatizations of how a user might use the application and how relevant information comes to be contained in the computer, in addition to a tutorial of the UI. In experiments conducted with 35 non-literate residents of Bangalore slums, the introduction of full-context video dramatically improved task completion for a job-search task.

Jonathan Donner, Customer acquisition among small and informal businesses in urban India: Comparing face to face, interpersonal, and mediated channels, in The Electronic Journal of Information Systems in Developing Countries, vol. 32, pp. 1-16, 2007.

This study further explores the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in small and informal businesses in the developing world by focusing on the role of ICTs in customer acquisition and retention. Data is drawn from a survey of 317 sole proprietors and operators of small businesses with five or fewer employees in and around urban Hyderabad in Southern India. Respondents describe how various customers were acquired—via walk-in, referral, family connections, landline telephone, mobile phone, internet/email, etc. Results suggest that face-to-face interactions dominate customer interactions, even among those with access to ICTs. Four tests explore whether telephony enables more specialized, hands-off, numerous or distant relationships with customers; a significant relationship between landline ownership and total number of customers is found.

Jonathan Donner, The Rules of Beeping: Exchanging Messages Via Intentional “Missed Calls” on Mobile Phones, in Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, vol. 13, no. 1, 2007.

This article explores the practice of "beeping" or "missed calling" between mobile phone users, or calling a number and hanging up before the mobile's owner can pick up the call. Most beeps are requests to call back immediately, but they can also send a pre-negotiated instrumental message such as "pick me up now" or a relational sign, such as "I'm thinking of you." The practice itself is old, with roots in landline behaviors, but it has grown tremendously, particularly in the developing world. Based on interviews with small business owners and university students in Rwanda, the article identifies three kinds of beeps (callback, pre-negotiated instrumental, and relational) and the norms governing their use. It then assesses the significance of the practice using adaptive structuration theory. In concluding, the article contrasts beeping with SMS/text messaging, discusses its implications for increasing access to telecommunications services, and suggests paths for future research.

Indrani Medhi, Archana Prasad, and Kentaro Toyama, Optimal audio-visual representations for illiterate users, International World Wide Web Conference, 2007.

We present research leading toward an understanding of the optimal audio-visual representation for illustrating concepts for illiterate and semi-literate users of computers. In our user study, which to our knowledge is the first of its kind, we presented each of 13 different health symptoms to 200 illiterate subjects in one representation randomly selected among the following ten: text, static drawings, static photographs, hand-drawn animations, and video, each with and without voice annotation. The goal was to see how comprehensible these representation types were for an illiterate audience. We used a methodology for generating each of the representations tested in a way that fairly stacks one representational type against the others. Our main results are that (1) richer information is not necessarily better understood overall; (2) voice annotation generally helps in speed of comprehension, but bimodal audio-visual information can be confusing for the target population; (3) the relative value of dynamic imagery versus static imagery depends on other factors. Analysis of these statistically significant results and additional detailed results are also provided.


aishwarya ratan, Deconstructing 4 microfinance myths, no. MSR-TR-2006-194, December 2006.

The jury is still out on the systematic welfare impact and value-addition from the expansion of targeted microfinance market interventions for the poor. We present the following four key insights from a study of 64 low- and middle-income households in rural and urban southern India today on how they use various financial products, services, and instruments (including microfinance) to manage their money: (1) respondents borrow for several reasons other than ‘small enterprise development’ (only 30% share) – it is important to unmarry ‘microfinance’ from ‘small enterprise development’ to objectively assess its welfare impact along multiple dimensions; (2) microfinance remains one (30-35% share) among many formal, semi-formal and informal savings and credit channels used by poor households to manage their income and consumption streams, and negotiate risk; (3) there appears to be some link between being marginally ‘better-off’ in our sample and being affiliated with microfinance in some form – however, interpreting this will involve solving the causal inference quandary; (4) microfinance loans at 24-36% interest rates are considered ‘cheap’ (not exploitative) in our respondents’ environment – attractive terms of finance involve much more than just the stated interest rate. We present these findings to contradict popular rhetoric on the subject, and provide food for thought to any person/ institution interested in using market mechanisms to alleviate poverty.

Ganesh Ananthanarayanan, Sean Blagsvedt, and Kentaro Toyama, OWeB: A Framework for Offline Web Browsing, in 4th Latin American Web Congress (LA-WEB 06), Mexico , October 2006.

N Rangaswamy and K Toyama, Global Events Local Impacts’: India’s Rural Emerging Markets, American Anthropological Association, September 2006.

The paper attempts to analyse rapidly changing rural Indian socio-economic landscapes from a recent empirical study of rural PC kiosks. Rural contexts in India are essentially composite and digitally immature communication ecologies. Some of the questions we wanted to answer were as follows: How do computing technologies find their way into a rural community? Who are the people driving this technology? How technology is being received by the community? Breaking away from a committed long-term participatory ethnography in a bounded field, we consider an array of wider contexts and a repertoire of methods available for qualitative research to study societies in transition.

Rangaswamy and N, Social Entrepreneurship as Critical Agency: A study of Rural Internet kiosks , 4th IEEE/ACM Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and International Development (ICTD) 2010, London, UK, IEEE, May 2006.

My paper looks at rural internet kiosks as small businesses run by owners/operators who display good entrepreneurial spirit and skills that match kiosk offerings to local needs, creating opportunities in constrained commercial environments. Kiosk operators display enough imagination to keep businesses afloat recasting information technologies to accommodate the growing demand for image /visual consumption. We argue for considering the rural internet kiosk not simply as an information booth but as entrepreneurial space to tap several commercial possibilities.

Jonathan Donner, The use of mobile phones by microentrepreneurs in Kigali, Rwanda: Changes to social and business networks, in Information Technologies and International Development, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 3-19, MIT Press, 2006.

A survey in Kigali, Rwanda, suggests that mobiles are allowing microentrepreneurs to develop new business contacts. The results detail the impact of mobile ownership on the social networks of microentrepreneurs in lowteledensity areas, focusing on the evolving mix of business and personal calls made by users. The study differentiates between the contacts amplified through mobile ownership (friends and family ties) and those enabled by mobile ownership (new business ties). The article discusses applicability of the results to settings beyond Rwanda.


R. Veeraraghavan, G Singh, B. Pitti, G Smith, B. Meyers, and K. Toyama, Towards Accurate Measurement of Computer Usage in a Rural Kiosk, in Third International Conference on Innovative applications of Information Technology for Developing World - Asian Applied Computing Conference 2005, December 2005.

Rural PC kiosks are increasingly seen as a tool for socio-economic development in developing countries. In order to make kiosks successful, it helps to understand patterns of usage in existing kiosks. Often, questionnaires or interviews are conducted to determine usage patterns, but self-reporting by subjects is notoriously inaccurate. In this paper, we present a tool that allows accurate measurement of when and how PCs in a kiosk are being used. We discuss how an existing tool has been adapted for easy data collection in rural kiosks and present evidence that even regular users of computers are poor at estimating their own usage statistics.

Rangaswamy and N, Middle Class India's response to rapid development and upward mobility, Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference, November 2005.

Rangaswamy and N, Sociology of ICT: Rural Internet Kiosk as Shared Space, Human Computer Interaction International Conference, July 2005.

By some estimates, there are over 150 rural PC kiosk projects in India, reaching approximately 10,000 rural villages across the country. Efforts like this to apply information and communication technologies to rural development are almost always led by urban technologists, who have preconceptions about villagers and their aspirations. In some cases, the urban-rural cultural differences are further augmented by transnational differences, as multinational corporations, headquartered in other countries, seek to address markets elsewhere.

We discuss a few myths frequently believed by wealthier city-dwellers about poor rural villages in India. While not entirely untrue, these myths tend to create cognitive barriers to good product design. Ethnographic investigation of rural villages and existing kiosk projects can lower these barriers and point product designers in directions that may not be obvious at the outset. In particular, we find that (1) villages are surprisingly up-to-date vis-à-vis modern communications capabilities, (2) some rural villagers aggressively seek out modern technology, and (3) even the poorest populations have desires that go beyond those required for physical sustenance. These facts, along with subtle qualifications, have immediate consequences for the design of rural kiosks and the services they deliver.

Indrani Medhi, Bharathi Pitti, and Kentaro Toyama, Text-Free UI for Employment Search, Asian Applied Computing Conference, 2005.


Kentaro Toyama, Karishma Kiri, Maithreyi Lakshmi Ratan, Anil Nileshwar, Rama Vedashree, and Rafael Fernandez MacGregor, Rural Kiosks in India, no. MSR-TR-2004-146, July 2004.

This document provides an overview of rural kiosks in India, drawing from information we have gathered from the media, Internet web sites, academic studies, interviews with NGOs, and a number of personal visits to project headquarters and actual kiosks in rural villages. Most of the information presented in this document was not collected through formal studies, and so it should not be taken as verified truth. Nevertheless, our hope is that the contents provide an accurate, if impressionistic, view of rural kiosks in India.


Ananish Chaudhuri, Sarah Ali Khan, Aishwarya Lakshmi Ratan, Anne-Laure Py, and Lisa Shah, Trust and trustworthiness in a sequential bargaining game, in Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, Wiley, December 2003.

We use a two-person extensive form bargaining game to explore individuals' trusting and reciprocal behavior and how those relate to their scores on a trust survey. In keeping with prior research, we find that the ‘self-interested’ outcome is rejected by a majority of individuals. People who score high on the trust survey are both trusting and are also trustworthy, in that they reciprocate others' trust. But people with low-trust scores often exhibit trust but are not trustworthy. These ‘inconsistent trusters’ seem to be interested in exploiting the trust and trustworthiness of others in increasing their own payoff.