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Posts in category 'Digital divide'

15 June 2009

US Government providing cellphones for the poor

Phones for the poor
A US federal program providing subsidized phone service now offers cellphones, showing how much society values them, reports The New York Times.

“The users are not the only ones receiving government assistance. Telecommunications industry analysts said the program, while in its infancy, could benefit mobile phone carriers, who face a steep challenge of their own: most Americans already own a cellphone, so the poor represent a last untapped market.”

Read full story

5 June 2009

The Economist on sensors, mapping and mobiles

Technology Quarterly
The Economist this week comes with a new edition of its 24-page Technology Quarterly supplement, which contains four articles that are related to the theme of this blog:

Taken your medicine?
Health care: Mobile phones provide a cheap and simple way to ensure that patients have popped their pills.
Very nice and simple service design project in emerging markets

Mapping a better world
Software: Interest groups around the world are using mapping tools and internet-based information sources to campaign for change.
Great article on how mapping technologies are creating real social change

The connected car
Cars are becoming more connected, both to remote systems for navigation and information, and to each other.
The internet of things, in and around your car

Sensors and sensitivity
Data collection: Mobile phones provide new ways to gather information, both manually and automatically, over wide areas.
What would be the advantages of turning the world’s 4 billion mobile phones into sensors on a global data-collection network?

You can download a PDF of the entire supplement, courtesy of SAP.

1 June 2009

FT special report on connectivity

Connectivity
The Financial Times has published a special report on connectivity, analysing the implications of a connected planet.

My preferred pieces:

Skills: Business must learn from the new tribe
So-called ‘digital natives’ are bringing down the barriers to collaborative working, finds Jessica Twentyman
(If you read one article only, this is the one.)

Mobility: Flexibility is driven from the bottom up
But organisations must ensure employees are not slaves to mobile devices, notes Stephen Pritchard

Overcoming the fear of connectivity
Some organisations, fearful of untoward consequences such as reputational damage, ban social networking websites. Others embrace them enthusiastically and try to persuade others to do likewise.

Developing world: ‘Have-nots’ no closer to catching the ‘haves
Cellphones are nearly ubiquitous but internet access is still very patchy, says Paul Taylor

Case study: Text messages give shopkeepers the power to bulk buy
Stroll through South Africa’s villages – as steeped in ancestral tradition as they are deprived of basic services – and you will come across the convenience store, writes Tom Burgis.

Opinion: IT makes poverty a ‘curable affliction’
Olav Kjorven of the UNDP argues that innovative programmes in developing nations have helped people increase their choices and opportunities

Donor programmes: Sponsors can now view benefits online
Non-governmental organisations and government bodies can see exactly how their money is being spent, writes Danny Bradbury

Developed world: Those with no access miss out on opportunities
Jessica Twentyman examines the evidence that digital exclusion and social disadvantage go hand in hand

Connecting the world: Ubiquity will be a hard state to reach
Network access for all requires money but there are also significant technical hurdles, writes Stephen Pritchard

(Note that without subscription you can read only 10 FT articles a month. But you can double or triple that by installing more than one browser.)

31 May 2009

In the US, even the homeless stay connected

Homeless and online
The Wall Street Journal reports on the use of the internet by homeless people in San Francisco.

“A few years ago, some people were worrying that a “digital divide” would separate technology haves and have-nots. The poorest lack the means to buy computers and Web access. Still, in America today, even people without street addresses feel compelled to have Internet addresses.”

The photos are great, and so are some of the quotes:

“When he realized he would be homeless, Mr. Livingston bought a sturdy backpack to store his gear, a padlock for his footlocker at the shelter and a $25 annual premium Flickr account to display the digital photos he takes.”

But it also shows to what extent the internet in the developed world is still a computer-based phenomenon, in contrast to emerging markets where it is largely mobile.

Read full story

30 April 2009

A selection of CHI2009 papers

CHI2009 proceedings cover
Today I spent some time looking through the CHI 2009 papers. Here is a personal selection (and you need an ACM membership to access them):

A comparative study of speech and dialed input voice interfaces in rural India
Neil Patel, Sheetal Agarwal, Nitendra Rajput, Amit Nanavati, Paresh Dave, Tapan S. Parikh
In this paper we present a study comparing speech and dialed input voice user interfaces for farmers in Gujarat, India. We ran a controlled, between-subjects experiment with 45 participants. We found that the task completion rates were significantly higher with dialed input, particularly for subjects under age 30 and those with less than an eighth grade education. Additionally, participants using dialed input demonstrated a significantly greater performance improvement from the first to final task, and reported less difficulty providing input to the system.

Sacred imagery in techno-spiritual design
Susan P. Wyche, Kelly E. Caine, Benjamin K. Davison, Shwetak N. Patel, Michael Arteaga, Rebecca E. Grinter
Despite increased knowledge about how Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) are used to support religious and spiritual practices, designers know little about how to design technologies for faith-related purposes. Our research suggests incorporating sacred imagery into techno-spiritual applications can be useful in guiding development. We illustrate this through the design and evaluation of a mobile phone application developed to support Islamic prayer practices. Our contribution is to show how religious imagery can be used in the design of applications that go beyond the provision of functionality to connect people to the experience of religion.

A comparison of mobile money-transfer UIs for non-literate and semi-literate users
Indrani Medhi, S.N. Nagasena Gautama, Kentaro Toyama
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.

Comparing semiliterate and illiterate users’ ability to transition from audio+text to text-only interaction
Leah Findlater, Ravin Balakrishnan, Kentaro Toyama
Multimodal interfaces with little or no text have been shown to be useful for users with low literacy. However, this research has not differentiated between the needs of the fully illiterate and semiliterate – those who have basic literacy but cannot read and write fluently. Text offers a fast and unambiguous mode of interaction for literate users and the exposure to text may allow for incidental improvement of reading skills. We conducted two studies that explore how semiliterate users with very little education might benefit from a combination of text and audio as compared to illiterate and literate users. Results show that semiliterate users reduced their use of audio support even during the first hour of use and over several hours this reduction was accompanied by a gain in visual word recognition; illiterate users showed no similar improvement. Semiliterate users should thus be treated differently from illiterate users in interface design.

StoryBank: mobile digital storytelling in a development context
David M. Frohlich, Dorothy Rachovides, Kiriaki Riga, Ramnath Bhat, Maxine Frank, Eran Edirisinghe, Dhammike Wickramanayaka, Matt Jones, Will Harwood
Mobile imaging and digital storytelling currently support a growing practice of multimedia communication in the West. In this paper we describe a project which explores their benefit in the East, to support non-textual information sharing in an Indian village. Local audiovisual story creation and sharing activities were carried out in a one month trial, using 10 customized cameraphones and a digital library of stories represented on a village display. The findings show that the system was usable by a cross-section of the community and valued for its ability to express a mixture of development and community information in an accessible form. Lessons for the role of HCI in this context are also discussed.

Designable visual markers
Enrico Costanza, Jeffrey Huang
Visual markers are graphic symbols designed to be easily recognised by machines. They are traditionally used to track goods, but there is increasing interest in their application to mobile HCI. By scanning a visual marker through a camera phone users can retrieve localised information and access mobile services.
One missed opportunity in current visual marker systems is that the markers themselves cannot be visually designed, they are not expressive to humans, and thus fail to convey information before being scanned. This paper provides an overview of d-touch, an open source system that allows users to create their own markers, controlling their aesthetic qualities. The system runs in real-time on mobile phones and desktop computers. To increase computational efficiency d-touch imposes constraints on the design of the markers in terms of the relationship of dark and light regions in the symbols. We report a user study in which pairs of novice users generated between 3 and 27 valid and expressive markers within one hour of being introduced to the system, demonstrating its flexibility and ease of use.

“When I am on Wi-Fi, I am fearless”: privacy concerns & practices in everyday Wi-Fi use
Predrag Klasnja, Sunny Consolvo, Jaeyeon Jung, Benjamin M. Greenstein, Louis LeGrand, Pauline Powledge, David Wetherall
Increasingly, users access online services such as email, e-commerce, and social networking sites via 802.11-based wireless networks. As they do so, they expose a range of personal information such as their names, email addresses, and ZIP codes to anyone within broadcast range of the network. This paper presents results from an exploratory study that examined how users from the general public understand Wi-Fi, what their concerns are related to Wi-Fi use, and which practices they follow to counter perceived threats. Our results reveal that while users understand the practical details of Wi-Fi use reasonably well, they lack understanding of important privacy risks. In addition, users employ incomplete protective practices which results in a false sense of security and lack of concern while on Wi-Fi. Based on our results, we outline opportunities for technology to help address these problems.
Predrag Klasnja, Sunny Consolvo, Jaeyeon Jung, Benjamin M. Greenstein, Louis LeGrand, Pauline Powledge, David Wetherall

Sharing empty moments: design for remote couples
Danielle Lottridge, Nicolas Masson, Wendy Mackay
Many couples are forced to live apart, for work, school or other reasons. This paper describes our study of 13 such couples and what they lack from existing communication technologies. We explored what they wanted to share (presence, mood, environment, daily events and activities), how they wanted to share (simple, lightweight, playful, pleasant interaction), and when they wanted to share (‘empty moments’ such as waiting, walking, taking a break, waking up, eating, and going to sleep). ‘Empty moments’ provide a compelling new opportunity for design, requiring subtlety and flexibility to enable participants to share connection without explicit messages. We designed MissU as a technology probe to study empty moments in situ. Similar to a private radio station, MissU shares music and background sounds. Field studies produced results relevant to social science, technology and design: couples with established routines were comforted; characteristics such as ambiguity and ‘movable’ technology (situated in the home yet portable) provide support. These insights suggest a design space for supporting the sharing of empty moments.

18 April 2009

Let them eat tweets

Tweet box
Virginia Heffernan writes in the New York Times Magazine on why Twitter is a trap.

“These worries started to surface for me last month, when Bruce Sterling, the cyberpunk writer, proposed at the South by Southwest tech conference in Austin that the clearest symbol of poverty is dependence on “connections” like the Internet, Skype and texting. “Poor folk love their cellphones!” he said. [...]

“Connectivity is poverty” was how a friend of mine summarized Sterling’s bold theme. Only the poor — defined broadly as those without better options — are obsessed with their connections. Anyone with a strong soul or a fat wallet turns his ringer off for good and cultivates private gardens that keep the hectic Web far away. The man of leisure, Sterling suggested, savors solitude, or intimacy with friends, presumably surrounded by books and film and paintings and wine and vinyl — original things that stay where they are and cannot be copied and corrupted and shot around the globe with a few clicks of a keyboard.”

Read full story

11 April 2009

Africa perspective on the role of mobile technologies in fostering social and economic development

South Africa shops
Last week, the W3C Mobile Web Initiative organised a workshop on the “Africa Perspective on the Role of Mobile Technologies in Fostering Social Development” in Maputo, Mozambique.

The workshop set out to understand the specific challenges of using mobile phones and Web technologies to deliver services to underprivileged populations of developing countries, and to capture the specificities of the African context.

“There are today more than half of the population living with less than 3$ a day, and lacking all kind of services (health, education, government…). The incredible growth of the mobile penetration rate last few years is providing a new hope. The potential of simple ICT services on mobiles to improve people’s income has indeed been largely demonstrated. The aim of this workshop is to explore how to leverage these success stories and create an enabling environment that would drive the appearance of numerous services all over the Developing World.”

There were sessions on m-health, technology, mobile activism, enabling environments, m-govenment, m-banking and agriculture.

Presentations and papers are now available online (though some presentations are very concise). Here is a short selection:

Technology

Enabling Environment

M-Banking

5 April 2009

The rise of the mobile divides

Rich Ling
Rich Ling is a sociologist at the Telenor research institute and a visiting professor at the IT University of Copenhagen, who is particularly interested in understanding the social implications of mobile telephony.

He just posted a short paper on the rise of mobile divides, that discusses the differences between the power users in advanced countries that use a lot of IP stuff, the user in the third world and the sort of soccer mom/dad user that is somewhere in the middle.

A lot of attention goes to the first group but the real base of use is often among the other two.

“[The advanced and technically sophisticated super user] is a legitimate object of study. However, it is very important to note that this type of user is a relatively small portion of the total user base. It seems to be very exciting to focus design and development work around this type of person. This is, however, a fallacy. This type of user is very atypical and, as we will see below, does not represent the broader form of mobile use.”

Download paper

(via Jody Ranck)

4 April 2009

Information technologies and international development

ITID
Information Technologies and International Development, a quarterly peer-reviewed journal that focuses on the intersection of information and communication technologies (ICT) with economic and social development, is a gem.

And the entire contents are available for free online.

Here are some of the recent contributions:
- Digital Green: participatory video and mediated instruction for agricultural extension [in India]
- Constructing Class Boundaries: gender, aspirations, and shared computing [based on research in India and Chile]
- A Peer-to-Peer Internet for the Developing World
- The Case of the Occasionally Cheap Computer: low-cost devices and classrooms in the developing regions
- Why Don’t People Use Nepali Language Software?
- Warana Unwired: replacing PCs with mobile phones in a rural sugar cane cooperative
- Problematic Empowerment: West African internet scams as strategic misrepresentation
- Sustainability Failures of Rural Telecentres: challenges from the sustainable sccess in rural India (SARI) project
- The Impact of Mobile Telephony on Developing Country Micro-Enterprise: a Nigerian case study
- ICT in Education Reform in Cambodia: problems, politics, and policies impacting implementation

The Nigerian case study got a lot of feedback recently, as it underlines how in effect mobile phones are excluding millions in the developing world.

10 March 2009

SustainIT – a supplement worth reading

SustainIT
The Independent today introduced SustainIT, the first in a series of three monthly supplements on ICT and globalisation. Some of the articles in the supplement (especially those not written by sponsor BT staff) are a treat:

Corporate social responsibility is vital for business survival
Corporate social responsibility used to be seen as a luxury. No longer. In today’s climate, looking beyond short-term profit is increasingly important – and ICT can help. Roger Trapp explains.

Diane Coyle: For new networking technologies, there are boom times ahead
The whole world should feel the benefit.

Closing the digital divide
How the spread of ICT is improving quality of life for millions in the Third World.

Dreaming up a connected world
Adrian Turpin on the ‘imagineers’ whose visualisations will determine the nature of future communications technologies.

Modern networker: using ICT to change Kenyan life for the better
Ory Okolloh, 32, could be seen as a face of Africa’s connected future.

15 January 2009

Indian usability conference tackled digital divide and user experience design

CAUE
As part of the World Usability Day 2008, the Department of Information Technology at Vishwakarma Institute of Information Technology (V.I.I.T.), Pune (India) hosted on 27-28 November the Conference on Advances in Usability Engineering, a platform that brought together the professionals, academia and students to discuss and share their experiences in the emerging field of usability.

The elaborate conference proceedings (277 pages) contain sections on Usability to Bridge the Digital Divide, Usability Engineering, User Experience Design for New Media, User Experience Research and Offshore Usability.

Download proceedings

(thanks Anxo Cereijo-Roibas)

7 December 2008

Johannesburg conference showcases African bottom-up innovation in mobile phone use

MobileActive08
If you are interested in bottom-up innovation within emerging markets using mobile phones, the recent MobileActive08 conference (more here) in Johannesburg, South Africa generated a wealth of materials. Below are some videos:

Mobiles and news gathering at Al Jazeera
Safdar Mustafa, head of Al Jazeera’s mobile media unit, describes some trials where mobile phones were used for news gathering in Chad and the Sahara.

Money, mobiles, micro-business
Jonathan Donner, from Microsoft, talks about the transformation that has been brought upon the way small/informal businesses function using mobile devices (specifically mobile phones). He provides an anecdote on one businessman he knows – a baker, whose business flourished due to the use of a mobile phone he acquired. Included in this video are examples of how this technology enhances the efficiency of product/service delivery by informal businesses.

No difference in how Zambian men and women use mobile phones
Here Kutoma Wakunuma discusses whether women how women are using mobile technology including what are the barriers and social implications. Dr Kutoma revealed that there is no difference in how men and women use cellular phones and also no difference in the socio-economic potential of mobile usage. She unveiled that mobiles phones decrease isolation among women in society and provide easy and fast communication, especially as the price of mobile phones is becoming cheaper by the day. She added that cellular phones encourage job creation for women who sell airtime and those who run public phone stations. They help in emergencies and danger and have made a major impact in health information as some people access counselling through mobile phones on an anonymous basis.

Measuring social impact of mobiles
Dr Peter Benjamin, the General Manager at Cell-Life, together with Patricia Mechal, the Millenium Villages Project advisor hosted a workshop at the MobileActive08 conference. The workshop, on Mobile Metrics and Evaluation explored the importance of investigating the social impact of initiatives that introduce mobiles into societies expecting the impact to be an inherently positive one. The workshop also dealt with how such initiatives tend to be ignorant of the negative repercussions such projects may have.

Microsoft launches ‘Midas’
Microsoft representatives Fredrik Winsnes and Ian Puttergill talk on the MIDAS prototype, a mobile survey application for developing contexts.
MIDAS is based on a Microsoft driven research initiative based in India, to develop an SMS application for improving the farmer’s access to timely and critical information.
The MIDAS prototype allows farmers to send an SMS query pertaining to details about the local crop market, and an almost immediate response is sent back with the appropriate details.
The project is about making farming efficient, and increasing availability.

Mobiles and citizen media
David Sasaki and Juliana Rotich discuss the role of Global Voices online and Ushahidi.com in leveraging citizen media during the post-election violence in Kenya.

Banking the unbankables
Jesse Moore of GSMA development fund facilitated a workshop at mobileactive08 which evaluated mbanking and mpayment and the evolution of these services within the market. The social impact these services could have on people who are not banking, how mobile banking and payments would work and the future of this service were topics addressed in the workshop.

Mymsta – a loveLife conception
Trina DasGupta, loveLife Mobile Marketing Specialist shares the process that went into creating mymsta.com. A youth website geared at guiding the youth towards making their move. Mymsta is about mobilising young people towards positive change. Its about giving them a forum to share their views, on everything from relationships to employment.

Gary Marsden, mobile interaction designer
Interview filmed at MobileActive08 in Johannesburg, featuring Gary Marsden from the University of Cape Town.

Social SMS gets message across
Activists are boosting their social campaigns by piggy backing on “please call me’s”, flashes and beeps.
Please call me’s are free messages that cellphone users send to get friends and loved ones to call them back.
Jonathan Donner (Microsoft Research India) and Robin Miller (Praekelt Foundation) tell how to use please call me’s to maximise social campaigns and call-centre traffic.

Erik Hersman of whiteafrican.com
Interview with Erik Hersman from whiteafrican.com, shot at MobilActive08 in Johannesburg.

Freedomfone’s fresh look at radio
Mobile’s answer to radio is the Freedomfone. Freedomfone gives users access to dial-up information and services over their mobile. Dubbed ‘dial-up radio’, the service will be invaluable in societies where many people own cellphones but draconian governments have restricted access to newspapers and the airwaves.

Save sea-life with your cell
eMobile phones are becoming the latest gadget used for environmental activism. iVeri payment technology has developed a mobile system for the Southern Africa Sustainable Seafood Institute (sassi)where the public can text a query. The system then sends back a prompt short message reply informing the consumer who is about to make a seafood purchase about the sustainability of the sea life product and other health parameters.

Burma’s GenX activists
Digital Democracy 2.0′s Emily Jacobs and Marc Belinsky show how Burmese (Myanmar) youth use cellphones to communicate with the outside world on political issues that are suppressed by the government.

Mobile’s ‘Dark Side’
“What are the real risks of mobile surveillance?” Al Alegre, executive director of the Foundation for media alternatives has conducted research in 5 Asian countries to investigate the dark side and vulnerabilities in digital interactions and discovered there are threats both internal and external.

Mobile use in low income areas
The use of mobiles in South Africa has increased over the years in low income areas. Tino Kreutzer a masters student at UCT conducted a pilot study into how the youth in low income areas are using mobiles, what this data means and where can researchers go now that they have this data available.

Mobile phones in rural development and agriculture
Ugo Vallauri, David Newman and Jonathan Campaigne discuss small farm productivity issues which are key to economic growth and poverty reduction. They discuss how farmers are not effectively linked to the larger industry and therefore how mobiles phones can be used to help with this area. Farmers use these phones which allow people to enter markets and improve access to partners thereby improving their likelihoods and food security.

Here is the full list of videos

21 November 2008

The impact of mobile technology around the world

Discussion
A three part series of special reports on Radio France International explored the impact of mobile technology around the world. The transcripts are all online and – if you read French – it is highly recommended reading.

The first programme (alternate site) introduces the essential nature of the mobile phone in Africa.

The high cost of using a mobile phone in Africa is the focus of second programme (alternate site). Africans spend between 6 to 10% of their monthly income on mobile phone use. What do they do to afford this?

The last programme (alternate site) looks at Africa as a highly innovative environment for mobile phone use, with many mobile services — banking, micro-finance, market information, political activism, journalism — that are still marginal in more developed economies.

The series was produced in collaboration with Atelier des Médias, RFI’s participative web community.

(via kiwanja.net)

2 November 2008

Everyday Digital Money workshop at UC Irvine

Everyday Digital Money
The Department of Anthropology at the University of California at Irvine recently organised a workshop on innovation in digital money, entitled Everyday Digital Money.

The workshop examined this emerging, complex, and unevenly distributed landscape of digital money innovation from cultural, psychological, legal, artistic, technological, and industrial perspectives, in order to identify key topics for future research within and across disciplines; such as:

  • M-banking, m-payment, and electronic remittance systems
  • Design tradeoffs; e.g., security/accountability vs. accessibility/empowerment
  • Financial literacies and numeracies
  • Regulatory conflicts and opportunities
  • Formal and informal experimentation with new electronic moneys
  • Connections to physical and virtual mobilities

The workshop blog contains a lot of materials, including the presentation abstracts of each of the sessions:

Some papers and presentation slides are available on various websites, including

Further browsing unearthed additional resources such as:

31 October 2008

Designers challenged to include disabled

Universal toilet
CNN reports on how Donald Norman wants designers to be more inclusive:

The future of design could see the divide between able-bodied and disabled people vanish.

Don Norman , design Professor at Northwestern University in Illinois, and the author of ”The Design of Future Things,” is issuing a challenge to designers and engineers across the world: Create things that work for everyone.

“It is about time we designed things that can be used by ALL people — which is the notion behind accessible design. Designing for people with disabilities almost always leads to products that work better for everyone.”

Once the champion of human-centered design — where wants and needs of individuals are the primary consideration in the design process, Norman now believes accessible activity-centered design is a better approach.

Read full story

16 September 2008

Understanding non-users

Marsouin
Interesting article by Hubert Guillaud of InternetActu.net on understanding non-users (my translation):

The French Marsouin research lab just published an interesting study on people who do not use the internet. The study starts off with the various existing typologies to characterise non-users, such as those developed by the Walloon Telecommunications Agency or the ones from the Aquitaine region in France (pdf). When one starts to map out these profile characteristics (particularly those that are socio-demographic or economical), the limitations of this exercise become apparent. The researchers Annabelle Boutet and Jocelyne Trémembert stress that in order to understand the profiles of non-users, we have to start off with inversing the well-known statistics: 7% of those between 12 and 17, 91% of those above 70, and 4 out 5 of those who didn’t finish high school… don’t use the internet.

Their study was based on participative research in the sensitive urban zone of Kérourien in Brest, in order to maximise the involvement of the 125 non-users. As in previous studies, also this study stresses the importance of people’s social circle in the diffusion and the actual appropriation of use; “one makes the step towards technology or towards shared environments, when accompagnied by a close one”. In fact, a decisive factor with non-user is the absence of internet usage in their social circle. However, the role of close family members remains unclear, say the researchers, because we need to better understand each of their roles in the home: they could play a facilitating role (e.g. teenagers helping their parents using web tools), but also a censoring one (by excluding family members through discriminating behaviours and practices), or even a “proxy” one, i.e. as a usage mediator where the value is not so easy to determine: e.g. the teenager who sends mails on behalf of his mother, or helps her setting up internet webcam or chat connections).

In any case, non-users are not necessarily living within a non-technological environnment: 59% of the respondents had a computer at home and 49% had an internet connection. The authors insist strongly on the limitations of the definition of the non-user itself (users through third parties? those who gave up? those who refuse?) which covers a wide range of non-use (frequency, duration, level of knowledge, autonomy…).

15 September 2008

Ethnic minority groups continue to lead the way on digital device take-up and use

Ofcom
Ofcom, the UK communications regulator, states that ethnic minority groups are the prime early adopters in Europe, thereby confirming ethnographic user research at Swisscom.

“Ethnic minority groups are at the forefront of digital communications in the UK, with high levels of mobile phone, internet and multichannel television take-up. But, despite this, many people from ethnic minority groups lack confidence finding content online and are concerned about content delivered on digital communications, new research from Ofcom reveals.

Ofcom’s media literacy audit of UK adults from ethnic minority groups draws on quantitative research from the four largest ethnic minority groups in the UK : Indians, Pakistanis, Black Caribbeans and Black Africans. The audit provides a rich picture of the different elements of media literacy across television, radio, the internet and mobile phones amongst ethnic minority groups.”

Read full story

27 August 2008

Brazil: digital inclusion, but how?

Aprendiz
While hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on digital inclusion projects in Latin America, many of the programs start and end with the technology, writes CNET News (as part of its ongoing series exploring computing in Latin America).

[Cafe] Aprendiz [in Sao Paulo, Brazil] is not your typical digital inclusion center, but it does embrace most important characteristics of the successful ones. It has at least three key elements beyond the technology itself: a clear curriculum, community support, and a model of sustainability.

While these elements sound straightforward, they are often missing in programs that attempt to close the digital divide, whether here in Latin America or in the U.S. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on digital inclusion projects in Latin America, however critics say that too many of the programs start and end with the technology.

“The computer is just 10 percent of the cost of ensuring lower income people or schools use these tools and have access to the Internet” said Maria Eugenia Estenssoro, an Argentine senator from the country’s Coalicion Civica, an opposition party. [...]

Among the most successful inclusion centers [in Brazil] are the ones that have a purpose–whether it is helping students with homework, providing job training for the unemployed, or helping the disabled to communicate.

The article includes some interesting insights on the emerging market strategies of Intel and Microsoft.

Read full story

4 August 2008

Mobile phones and the digital divide

Digital divide
Ken Banks writes in PC World on the capacity of the mobile phone to bridge the digital divide.

While developed markets get excited by the iPhone, N95, BlackBerry, 3G, WiMax and Android, in developing countries, most excitement centers around the proliferation of mobile phones — any phones — into poorer rural, communication-starved areas and their potential to help close the digital divide. Handset giants such as Nokia and Motorola believe that mobile devices will “close the digital divide in a way the PC never could.” Industry bodies such as the GSM Association run their own “Bridging the Digital Divide” initiative, and international development agencies such as USAID pump hundreds of millions of dollars into economic, health and educational initiatives based around mobile technology. With so many big names involved, what could possibly go wrong? [...]

So, if we’re serious about using mobile to help some of the poorest members of society, how about diverting international development funding toward providing a subsidized, fully Internet-ready handset for developing markets? (It’s been tried before but lacked coordination.) Aid donors are already providing funds to the network operators, after all. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Malawi, Sierra Leone and Uganda, for example, the International Finance Corporation (an arm of the World Bank) provided US$320 to Celtel to help expand and upgrade its mobile networks. Network coverage, important as it is, is only part of the equation. From the perspective of the digital divide, who’s addressing the handset issue other than companies responding to market forces (which I’ve already argued are often more fixed on price)?

Ken Banks devotes himself to the application of mobile technology for positive social and environmental change in the developing world, and has spent the last 15 years working on projects in Africa. Recently, his research resulted in the development of FrontlineSMS, a field communication system designed to empower grassroots nonprofit organizations.

Read full story

16 July 2008

From favelas to townships: mobile use in low-income populations

Favelas
MobileActive reports on two studies that explore how low-income people use mobile technology in Brazil and South Africa.

This rise of mobile phone use by low-income and so-called ‘base-of-the-pyramid’ users raises a number of questions. Are low-income people using mobile technology in different ways than their higher-income counterparts? How can mobile phones be designed and used in ways that are useful to these populations? Two new studies–one of favelas in Brazil and the other of a low-income township in South Africa–seek to answer these questions.

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