Archive for November, 2008

 

Nov 13 2008

Nokia Research on Mobile Phone Usage at the Bottom of the Pyramid (Part 2)

by at 1:42 pm

In my previous post on Nokia’s research on mobile phone use at the bottom of the pyramid, I talked about the practice of sharing mobile phones and the challenges in designing a user interface for illiterate mobile phone users.

In this post, I’ll talk about the informal service infrastructure that supports mobile phone use at the bottom of the pyramid.

Here, Jan Chipchase documents informal repair cultures in the developing world and asks —

What can we learn from informal repair cultures? Aside from the benefits, what are the risks for consumers and for companies whose products are repaired, refurbished and resold? Given the benefit to (bottom of the pyramid) consumers are there elements of the repair ecosystem that can be exported to other cultures? Can the same skills be applied to other parts of the value chain? And, given the range of resources and skills available what would it take to turn cultures of repair into cultures of innovation?

Here, Jan Chipchase and Duncan Burns explore street hacks for mobile phones (an update of the informal repair culture presentation) —

Here, Stuart Henshall (not from Nokia) shares his experience in buying a ‘China phone’ at Mumbai’s Manish Market.

The cost of a repaired/ refurbished phone in the gray/ black market is often less than a third of the original handset. The informal repair culture is often convenient, efficient, fast and cheap, especially for poor customers who often don’t have warranty. Together, they reduces both the initial cost of acquisition and the total cost of ownership and increase the lifetime of products, making them accessible to bottom of the pyramid customers. Not only that, these vendors often offer value add services like unlocking phones, installing pirated software, and uploading songs, extending the use cases of these low cost phones.

Here, Jan Chipchase and Indri Tulusan talk about street battery charging services in Uganda that enable residents without regular access to mains power to keep their mobile phone’s charged. It’s another example of how electricity is the bottleneck for mobile use in emerging Asia and Africa.

Finally, Jan Chipchase, Indri Tulusan and Lokesh Bitra deep dive into the practice of community address books maintained by phone kiosk owner to record the phone numbers used by their customers, a study that links back to their research on shared phone use.

In another post, I’ll talk about how all this fits into Homegrown (slides), Nokia’s umbrella project that includes Nokia Remade (phones made from recycled material), Zero Waste, People First, Everyone Connected, and, perhaps, even the Five Dollar Comparison (slides).

In yet another post, I’ll write about the importance of Nokia Life Tools, Nokia’s collaboration with Reuters Market Light and Idea Cellular to bring critical information to rural phone users in India (see Ken Banks, Ashish Sinha and Kiruba Shankar).

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Access,Gaurav Mishra,India,Mobile | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Nov 13 2008

Nokia Research on Mobile Phone Usage at the Bottom of the Pyramid (Part 1)

by at 1:40 pm

In my last post, I wrote about the Nokia Open Studio design competition in slums in Mumbai, Rio De Janeiro and Accra.

Over the weekend, I have been going through research conducted by Nokia’s Jan Chipchase, Younghee Jung, Raphael Grignani and others and here’s a selection of their most interesting research on mobile phone usage at the bottom of the pyramid (more research to follow in another post).

Jan Chipchase on mobile phone usage amongst illiterate users at LIFT 2007 conference

Jan Chipchase and Indru Tulusan on shared mobile phone usage

– 3.3 billion people out of 6.5 billion people in the world have mobile phones. Another 1 billion people will have mobile phones within two years. Most of them will be from emerging Asia and Africa and will have limited literacy. In fact, out of the 774 million illiterate adults in the world, 270 million are in India (UNESCO Institute for Statistics)!

– Three types of literacies are relevant for mobile phone usage — textual literacy, numerical or arithmetic literacy and ‘proximate literacy’, the ability to rely on others who are either literate or at least sufficiently competent in using the device.

– Illiterate users rely on a variety of cues to navigate the world of text and numbers, including inferring meaning from shape, size, texture and scent and delegating tasks to others.

– Textually non-literate users can complete tasks requiring a degree of textual literacy, but these tasks typically take considerably longer to complete. Therefore, they tend to rely on rote learning and revert to the same default choices repeatedly.

– Non-literate mobile phone users typically know how to turn on the phone, receive calls and make local calls, but often struggle with features that require text editing, such as making long distance calls (by using prefixes), creating a contact, saving a text message, and creating a text message.

– Information relayed to non-literate users as part of a phone call is often partially conveyed or remembered because of their inability to write it down. Most users rely on paper based address books maintained by literate family members or acquaintances. Often, when phone calls are made using public phones, the operator maintains the phone book and even dials the number for the non-literate user.

– A non-literate user’s willingness to explore features on a mobile phone through trial and error is often limited because of the high perceived risk of factors such as: changing settings so that things no longer work; past experiences of things going wrong; deleting data that cannot be recovered; becoming lost and not being able to retrace steps; or physically breaking the phone.

– The challenge in designing mobile interfaces for illiterate users is to add context to the text. An icon-driven, voice-enabled or physical-digital hybrid interface may be part of the solution but its design is a non-trivial problem and its use may often be non-intuitive.

– Bringing personal, convenient, synchronous and asynchronous communication within the reach of textually non-literate users will require design innovations at three levels: on the phone; in the communications eco-system; and on the carrier network.

– For many new mobile phone users, the first mobile experience is either on a shared or a public phone. Sharing compromises the personal, convenient and synchronous nature of mobile communication and is driven by cost of ownership, not by preference. Therefore, sharing is a transition state that would eventually lead to full ownership. However, other factors like portable device identity — where a person can access all their personal ‘stuff’ regardless of whose device they are using — may increase shared use over time.

– Shared mobile use practices include — Sente human ATMs, mediated communication, missed calls, shared pre-paid airtime, community address books, and step messaging (delivering a messages via shared mobile phone or kiosk where the message is delivered the last mile on foot).

– Sente is the informal practices of sending and receiving money through public phone kiosks. The sender buys a pre-paid top up card, calls up a phone kiosk operator near the receiver, who uses the credit to top up his own phone and passes the money to the receiver after taking a 10%-30% commission. This is the precursor to formal mobile banking services offered by mobile phone operators.

– Often, feature-rich premium devices are used by very poor users. Such sideways adoption may be driven by the perception of mobile phones as status symbols and the availability of used and remodeled mobile phones. However, phone ownership is not the same as use. If there are cheaper ways to communicate these will be used.

– In an increasingly transitory world, the cellphone is becoming the one fixed piece of our identity, especially for the poorest members of society. Having a call-back number is having a fixed identity point, which, inside of populations that are constantly on the move — displaced by war, floods, drought or faltering economies — can be immensely valuable both as a means of keeping in touch with home communities and as a business tool. The phone-number-as-identity effect is likely to increase as mobile phones become established at providing banking and other core services.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Brazil,Gaurav Mishra,India,Mobile | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Nov 13 2008

Guest Lecture: Digital Divide 2.0, The Myth of Leapfrogging, and Grassroots Innovations

by at 1:34 pm

Here is a presentation I will use for my guest lecture tomorrow in the Information Technology (IT) in a Changing World course at Georgetown University.

You can download the presentation with notes in a PPTX format, or view it online in a PDF format.

SLIDE 1: Global Digital Divide 2.0: Always Off in an Always On World

We can talk about digital divide in many contexts: between countries and within countries, driven by differences in race, gender, education, income and location. In this presentation, I’ll focus on the global digital divide, or the digital divide between countries, but the same ideas are often applicable to digital divides within countries.

SLIDE 2: Introduction

My views on this topic are colored by my own biases. In terms of education and experience, I’m a marketer. In my present role as the GU-ISD Yahoo! Fellow, I’m a quasi-academic. In terms of inclination, I’m a social media enthusiast and my next avatar may be as a social entrepreneur. A lot of the work I’m doing is at the intersection of technology, culture and development and it is informed by my understanding of emerging markets and emerging technologies.

SLIDE 3: Global Digital Divide

Let’s start off by looking at some examples of global digital divide.

SLIDE 4: The Link Between ICTs & GDP

Access to communications technologies is directly linked to the country’s GDP, especially for newer technologies like broadband. The distribution of older technologies like internet and mobile is less skewed, but it’s often a moving target. For instance, high income countries as defined by the World Bank, contribute to 15.7% of the world’s population but 79.9% of the world’s GDP. They also contribute 38.7% of the world’s mobile phone users, 42.7% of the world’s fixed phone users, 55.7% of the world’s internet users and 74% of the world’s broadband users 1.

SLIDE 5: World Map of Computer Penetration

The skewed distribution of technology is true for computers…2

SLIDE 6: World Map of Internet Penetration

internet access…3

SLIDE 7: World Map: Optical Fiber

optical fiber networks…4

SLIDE 8: Cost of Broadband Access

and cost of broadband access5. For instance, the cost of broadband access in Japan is $0.06 per 100 kbps (0.002% of average monthly wage) whereas in Mozambique it’s $361.83 per 100 kbps (1400 times average monthly wage).

SLIDE 9: Cost of Broadband Access

The same disparity exists between high income and low income countries on the whole. The cost of broadband access as a percentage of average monthly per capita income is 2.1% for high-income countries, compared to 909% for low-income countries. 6

SLIDE 10: Cost of ICT Access

The cost of internet and mobile access are less skewed. The cost of internet access as a percentage of average monthly per capita income is 0.9% for high-income countries, compared to 172% for low-income countries. The cost of mobile access as a percentage of average monthly per capita income is 0.7% for high-income countries, compared to 54.9% for low-income countries 7. The relatively flat cost of mobile access is, in fact, one of the main reasons why mobile penetrations have increase so fast in developing countries.

SLIDE 11: Reasons for Differential Technological Achievement

At this stage, it is perhaps useful to step back from ICTs, look at technology in general, and enquire into the reasons for differential technological achievement between countries.

SLIDE 12: Three Types of Technology Transfers

Technology transfer can happen in three ways in developing countries: new-to-market technologies can be invented in the country, technologies invented elsewhere can be adapted by the country, and technologies adapted by parts of the country can diffuse to the rest of the country8.

SLIDE 13: Technology Adaption vs. Diffusion

The good news is that the rate at which technology is adapted by emerging countries has increased: on average, the time it takes before official statistics in a developing country record significant exploitation of a new technology has declined from almost 100 years for innovations discovered in the 1800s to about 20 years for innovations discovered in the late 1900s.

The bad news is that emerging countries fair poorly on both invention and diffusion: even for technologies discovered during 1975–2000, only one third of the developing countries that have achieved at least a 5% penetration level have gone on to reach the 25% threshold and less than 10% have reached a 50% penetration level9.

SLIDE 14: Technological Achievement Index

As a result, even though the rapid progress in developing countries has led to relative convergence, the gap between high income and low income countries remains large.

In general, the level of technological achievement observed in a country is positively correlated with income levels. However, considerable variation is apparent within income groups.

Interestingly, the penetration rates of newer technologies such as mobile phones, computers, and the Internet (many of which are provided by corporations operating in competitive markets) are more directly correlated with income than is the case for older technologies such as fixed-line telephones, electrical power, transportation, and health care services (many of which were originally provided by governments)10.

SLIDE 15: What is Digital Divide 2.0?

As we discussed before, the digital divide will exist as long as income inequities exist. Over time, however, the shape of the digital divide has shifted.

SLIDE 16: The 4 Cs of Digital Divide 2.0

The 4 Cs of Digital Divide 2.0 include computing devices, connectivity, content, and capabilities.

In academic discussions on digital divide, two broad groups can be identified. The Digital Binary group has focused on access (computing devices and connectivity) whereas the Digital Inequality group has looked a broader definition of the digital divide that includes applications (content and capabilities) apart from access11 12.

The difficulties in bridging the digital divide often increase as we move from computing devices and connectivity to content and capabilities.

SLIDE 17: Digital Divide 2.0

As we move from internet and mobile to broadband, 3G and next generation networks on the access side and from SMS and e-mail to web 2.0, mobile 2.0 and the semantic web on the application side, it is difficult to not notice that digital equality is a moving target. As the gap on older technologies narrows down, new gaps on new technologies open up. The global digital divide, in fact, is widening, instead of narrowing.

Specifically, even as the ubiquitous use of mobile phones bridges the digital divide between the developed and developed countries, another digital divide — digital divide 2.0 — is opening up between them. Digital divide 2.0 is not about access to communications devices; it’s about the ability to leverage the power of group-forming social communications technologies to collaborate with others, self-organize into grassroots communities and create crowd-sourced content that is relevant for these communities.

SLIDE 18: The Promise/ Myth of Leapfrogging

Leapfrogging is the idea that poor countries can skip over stages in technology adoption (especially large-scale, industrial, infrastructure-heavy technologies) and directly adopt newer, better technologies (especially light-weight, distributed, ecologically sustainable digital technologies).

SLIDE 19: The Promise of Leapfrogging

The classic example of leapfrogging is the ubiquitous adoption of mobile phones in the developing world. The idea that access to mobile phones will transform the world has become popular not only in the academic and development circles, but also in mass media and popular culture.

Consider this ad film from Indian mobile operator Idea Cellular that promises education for all through mobile phones13

SLIDE 20: The Economic Value of Mobile

This idea is widely supported by research.

In 2005, research conducted by Leonard Waverman of London Business School showed that a developing country which had an average of 10 more mobile phones per 100 population between 1996 and 2003 would have enjoyed per capita GDP growth that was 0.59% higher than an otherwise identical country14.

In 2006, McKinsey & Co. found that the mobile industry contributes as much as 8% to the GDP of some countries, after factoring in direct impact from operators, indirect impact from other industry participants and the surplus created for enterprise and retail users15.

In fact, the very nature of mobile technology makes it an especially good leapfrogger: it works using radio, so there is no need to rely on physical infrastructure such as roads and phone wires; base-stations can be powered using their own generators in places where there is no electrical grid; and you do not have to be literate to use a phone, which is handy if your country’s education system is in a mess. Unfortunately, the mobile phone turns out to be rather unusual and the widespread diffusion of most digital technologies is dependent on the existence of a solid social, economic and industrial infrastructure16.

SLIDE 21: The Myth of Leapfrogging

Unfortunately, the mobile phone turns out to be rather unusual and the widespread diffusion of most digital technologies is dependent on the existence of a solid social, economic and industrial infrastructure.

Broadly, two sets of obstacles stand in the way of technological progress in emerging economies. The first is their technological inheritance. Most advances are based on the labors of previous generations: you need electricity to run computers and mobile phone networks. The second is the country’s capacity to absorb technology: which is dependent on education, R&D, financial systems, rule of law, business climate and good governance.

SLIDE 22: Mobile Interface for Illiterate Users

Even in the case of mobile phones, owning one is not the same as knowing how to use one.

In a long term qualitative research led by Jan Chipchase, the Nokia Research team found that non-literate mobile phone users typically know how to turn on the phone, receive calls and make local calls, but often struggle with features that require text editing, such as making long distance calls (by using prefixes), creating a contact, saving a text message, and creating a text message. Based on the research, they concluded that bringing personal, convenient, synchronous and asynchronous communication within the reach of textually non-literate users will require design innovations at three levels: on the phone; in the communications eco-system; and on the carrier network17.

SLIDE 23: Telecom Usage at the BOP

Similarly, in a large-scale quantitative research conducted in 2006, LIRNEasia found that most mobile users at the bottom of the pyramid felt that the phone improved their ability to learn and earn.

Still, most users only knew how to perform the most basic tasks on their phones. For instance, only 35% of the respondents in India had used SMS, because of low literacy and the absence of any social need to use it. 72% of the respondents in India hadn’t even heard of the internet18.

SLIDE 24: Telecom Usage at the BOP

Let’s look at these two videos to get a flavor of telecom usage at the bottom of the pyramid 19 20

SLIDE 25: How to Bridge Digital Divide 2.0?

The big question, of course, is: how do we bridge digital divide 2.0?

The good news is that we do know what to do. The bad news is that there are are no shortcuts to bridge the digital divide.

SLIDE 26: Government Policy is Important

Government policy is important, both for building linkages with other countries for technology adaption and for building the country’s absorptive capacity for technology diffusion. Only when these two are in place will the spillover and multiplier effects of communications technologies kick in21.

SLIDE 27: Grassroots Innovations Are Equally Important

…but grassroots innovations are equally important in bridging the digital divide.

Here are a few of my favorite ICT4D grassroots innovations.

SLIDE 28: VNL MicroTelecom (India)

VNL’s WorldGSM MicroTelecom is a low cost, rugged, solar powered mobile network designed to serve rural populations profitably.

SLIDE 29: Grameen Village Phone (Bangladesh)

The Grameen Foundation gives microloans to help poor rural woman become public phone operators.

SLIDE 30: United Villages (India)

United Villages uses a van fitted with wifi to connect villages to the internet, with a time lag.

SLIDE 31: QuestionBox (India)

QuestionBox uses human mediation to connect illiterate users to the internet.

SLIDE 32: EkGaon CAMS Mobile Framework (India)

EkGaon’s CAMS Mobile Framework is a paper-mobile hybrid document management system for semi-literate users.

SLIDE 33: BabaJob/ Microsoft Research (India)

BabaJob and Microsoft Research have created a text free job search engine.

SLIDE 34: Ushahidi (Kenya)

Ushahidi uses a Google Maps mashup to map crisis information using text messages sent by users.

SLIDE 35: MobiChange (India)

MobiChange, a project I’m evangelizing, hopes to develop a lowest common denominator mobile social networking platform.

SLIDE 36: Discussion

Finally, I’ll leave you with three questions –

– Is the digital divide narrowing or widening?
– Is leapfrogging a myth or reality?
– Is government policy more important, or grassroots innovations?

References

1 ITU-UNCTAD World Information Society Report, 2007

2 United Nations Global Development Goals Indication

3 Emiel van Wegen based on World Internet Stats data

4 Tata Communications

5 Wired Magazine based on ITU data

6 ITU-UNCTAD World Information Society Report, 2007

7 ITU-UNCTAD World Information Society Report, 2007

8 World Bank Global Economic Prospects, 2008

9 World Bank Global Economic Prospects, 2008

10 World Bank Global Economic Prospects, 2008

11 Technology and Social Inclusion, Mark Warschauer, 2003

12 Eszter Hargittai et al, 2001

13 Idea Celluler Education-for-All Ad

14 McKinsey & Co, 2006

15 Leonard Waverman et al, 2005

16 The Economist, 2008

17 World Bank Global Economic Prospects, 2008

18 Jan Chipchase et al, Nokia Research, 2007

19 Teleuse at the Bottom of the Pyramid, LIRNEasia, 2007

20 LIRNEasia Teleuse at the BOP Film, Part 1

21 LIRNEasia Teleuse at the BOP Film, Part 2

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Access,Brazil,BRIC,China,Gaurav Mishra,India,Language,Mobile,Russia,Social Change | Tags: , , , ,

Nov 07 2008

Social Networking Sites’ Privacy Settings

by at 1:38 am

In order to get a better sense of how different social networking sites (SNS) in the US and BRIC countries approach their users’ privacy, I took screenshots from Facebook, Myspace, Orkut, and Vkontakte.  A very kind master’s student from China, Lydia Zhang, was kind enough to take screenshots of Xiaonei, China’s top SNS, and then translate them into English for our benefit!  Much love to Lydia!! (Lydia is working on a paper on SNSs as well; please, if you are a US student, fill out her survey and e-mail it along to her.  Thanks!)

Myspace is primarily a US thing, while Facebook is popular in the US but also in many other countries around the world (earlier, Gaurav posted about Oxyweb’s map of SNSs around the world).

Orkut is primarily associated with India and Brazil while Vkontakte is associated with Russia.  China’s primary SNS, Xiaonei, competes with Kaixin, but according to Lydia:

“Kaixin (means fun and happiness in Chinese) is a fast-growing SNS in China. Its success mainly relies on its spam-spreading e-mail invitation strategies among SNS users.  Some Chinese internet observers said Kaixin attracts people mainly from companies.  Those white-collar workers spend most of their boring working time on Kaixin to play games developed by third-parties with their colleagues, even their bosses.  This is what they think, leads to Kaixin’s surprisingly high user involvement.  Because users of Xiaonei are mostly college students, who don’t have convenient access (as those white-collar workers in companies) to internet because of economic factors. Generally speaking, Kaixin is basically a clone of Xiaonei but is featured by its spam-spreading and  some popular third-party applications, for example, some most successful games directly copied from FB and some games developed by Chinese third-party. These games of Chinese characteristic could be a possible topic for cross-cultural studies on group involvement of Chinese and foreign SNS. This requires more observations and I will keep tracking those information. Interesting enough is that Xiaonei now realised Kaixin’s threatening expanding and launched recently a new SNS aming at competing with Kaixin in games and other entertaining functions.”

A few notes:  1) Screenshots were taken on Nov. 1, 2008.  2) The screenshots are somewhat huge so I’m just using thumbnails for this post.  I’ve linked to the full-size versions instead.

Privacy settings menu screenshots:

Facebook

Facebook by far has the most extensive and precise (and as danah boyd says, confusing) security settings.  Not only can you blacklist individual users so that they can’t access you at all, you can also configure virtually any different category of information about yourself (education, work, bio, friends) by more categories than the other major SNSs:  friends, friends of friends, your primary network, all your networks, anyone, only some networks, and no one at all.  For your schools, you can also specify by undergrads, grads, alumns, faculty, and staff.

Facebook has so many privacy settings that it breaks them down into four primary categories:  profile, search, news feed and wall, and applications.  Primarily, you can limit your biographical information, who can see your different photo albums, and whether your info gets posted on your wall or not.  You can block whether search engines will index your profile or not, as well.

Another unique feature to Facebook is to see how your profile would look to a specific friend in your network, as an added security measure for those who are nervous about specific people.

At this point I must say that it would be difficult to quantify the number of settings per SNS to see which allowed for the most privacy.  Certainly Facebook offers a level of granularity unparalleled by any other SNS.  It doesn’t, however, let you open up your profile to everyone. The best way to measure degrees of privacy on other SNSs perhaps is to see what the other SNSs lack compared to Facebook.

Myspace

Myspace is currently the biggest SNS in the US but it’s highly doubtful that that will continue to be the case for much longer.  Myspace is undergoing a strategy revamp but is also not very useful compared to Facebook except in specific circumstances.  I was also amazed to see that it offers very little in the way of privacy control.

Myspace offers an individual blacklist, but otherwise has only 5 discrete settings under privacy to customize.  It lets you hide your age, online status, and birthday; it also allows you to blanket-protect your photos (with no granularity), and control who can view your profile by age.  Given that Myspace has the younger online demographic, compared with Facebook, this is completely unacceptable.  Not only does it not do a good job of protecting adults’ privacy, but it does very little to protect minors’ identities.  Outside literature I’ve read has suggested that minors have compensated by creating fake profiles known only among their circles of friends.

Orkut

Orkut, owned by Google, is used a lot in India and Brazil but not so much in the US.  It also has a surprisingly weak array of privacy control options, all fitting on one screen, just like Myspace’s.

Orkut protects against photo tagging (people uploading photos and tagging that you are in them), update statuses, Google indexing (since it’s integrated with Google search), and anonymous friend requests.  It lets you protect certain features (scraps, photos, testimonials, feeds) by three levels of settings:  friends, friends of friends, and anyone.  There is no “no one” setting or anything more granular.

Brazilians and Indians don’t seem to mind.

Vkontakte

Vkontakte is the most popular SNS in Russia, and along with China’s Xiaonei, is a blatant complete Facebook rip-off both in color scheme and layout.  Facebook has sued Vkontakte because of this.  The site DOES provide English support, which is useful for branching out from Russia.

One thing that’s interesting is that upon login, you have to check a box to NOT have Vkontakte save your login settings automatically.

Vkontakte has a blacklist feature.

Vkontakte lets you show your info to only friends, friends of friends, no one, and all users.  Mostly the controls, instead of controlling which of your info gets out, like on other SNSs, controls who can send info TO you, like invites, graffiti, and messages.  You can control who can view your photos or view your profile.  If you select “no one” for who can view your page, it actually says, “No one, delete my page”.  Harsh!

Xiaonei

Xiaonei leaves opting in as the default setting for many of its privacy controls.  For instance, unless you change your settings, anyone can see your entire profile at first, even if they don’t log in.

Xiaonei, as I learned from Lydia’s very helpful translations, probably has the second-best privacy controls to Facebook out of all the sites here.  Interestingly, it lets you share to all, or to just yourself, along with other degrees of privacy.  it lets you set privacy across several different categories of your personal information.  I counted more than 10 different categories.

I saw that Xiaonei offers IM on its profile page; IM in China is one of the biggest sources of traffic among Chinese users.  It also lets you see recent visitors, something you have on Orkut but not on other sites.

Conclusion

Both Myspace and Orkut contain separate settings to protect against spam.  This doesn’t exist on Facebook, Xiaonei (to my knowledge), and Vkontakte.  That they even have problems with spam says something about the data integrity within Myspace and Orkut.

I guess my closing question is, why does Facebook get so much more flak than other services for having lax privacy, when the other competitors’ sites are far worse?  Certainly Myspace had its days in the news for exposing minors to predators and abuse, but now Facebook is the target.  Is it also because Facebook not only might expose users to public and private abuse, but also to abuse by marketers, governments, employers, and corporations?  Is it telling that Xiaonei and Facebook, from China and the US, have similar degrees of privacy controls?

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows,Ben Turner,BRIC,Privacy,Social Media

Nov 02 2008

Hypotheses About Privacy Attitudes

by at 5:57 pm

We have found a lot of conflicting data in our research, as Gaurav expressed in his last post on Flickr privacy settings worldwide.  Brazil and India seem to favor Orkut, despite differing Geert-Hofstede attitudes towards uncertainty avoidance.  Universal McCann found that Americans seem to have fewer contacts and socialize far less online than the BRIC countries, which is odd given that online social networks had a head-start in the US.

In my research model, I am seeing how transparency is the positive compromise between closedness and openness.  Geert-Hofstede and Hall’s high- and low- contexts don’t seem to explain different countries’ behaviors satisfactorily.  I think my model, which breaks down openness and closedness into different aspects of peoples’ lives, like personal, financial, political, health, etc., helps to explain the contrasts far better, or at least leads me down a more productive line of research.

There is little data to go off since this study is new.  I’m not sure we have the time or money to conduct our own surveys or research.  But I’d like to hypothesize a bit on what I think is going on regarding social networking in the US and BRIC countries.

Facebook

For starters, Facebook is taking over the planet (see the SNS map Gaurav posted earlier).  In just three months of statistics, Facebook has overtaken the incumbent SNS in 12 different countries.  The only other SNS to take over a country is hi5, a self-titled “international social networking company with a local flavor”.  Interestingly, Gaurav pointed out to me that it is a San Francisco-based company, but it was started by Indians who moved to SF just to be part of the cluster.  According to the Oxyweb SNS map, Myspace is still the leader in the US over Facebook, which says something about how young Facebook is.

Furthermore, the two top SNSs in Russia and China are virtual identical clones of Facebook in most aspects.  This says something about the pervasiveness of Facebookism.  Imitation is flattery.

So if I were to look ahead into the future, I would have to see Facebook dominating the rest.  No other SNS offers as many privacy controls, and while Gaurav insightfully points out that Brazilians and Indians may prefer fewer settings because they are so social, what is most important to me is that Facebook is already thinking the most deeply about what the future will mean for personal data control, privacy, and security.

Facebook is also creating the most sophisticated application platform out there, even if it hasn’t monetized as quickly as iTunes’s application store or Google’s upcoming Android stores.  It has barely even begun to open up its data through Facebook Connect, yet it’s already sucking up tons of data from other sites through its import features.

Listening to Mark Zuckerberg, its founder, speak about social networking, you get the feeling that very few people understand as well as he does where this is all going.  Public outcries towards Beacon were a surprise to him, because in his mind, it makes more sense if your friends or at least people you trust recommend individual products or brands to you instead of behavioral marketing guesses at what you might like.

I think Facebook will take over because it’s building all the pieces for the future SNS world.  While open data control platforms will allow us to jailbreak and move from one SNS to the other easily, what we will begin to value is whichever SNS offers us the best features.  No one competes with Facebook in that regard, already.

Privacy Attitudes

So if I am to wonder why Americans are more “private” than the BRIC countries, I hypothesize that it’s because Americans desire personal privacy most, and are not as suspicious of political privacy.  That is, even after eavesdropping scandals, most Americans generally believe that they can voice their opinions about the government.  However, what Americans seem most deathly afraid of is privacy from employers, peers, and co-workers.  This has manifested itself in Facebook’s privacy controls, and a continual onslaught of outcries relating to personal privacy.  I would guess that Americans fear a loss of reputation within their professional community more than in their national community.  Americans talk a lot of potential employers reading their social networking profiles.

I am thinking there might be two key spheres that affect decision-making then:  privacy from government and privacy from society (personal privacy).  In my model, health, sexual, and financial privacy would be subsets of personal privacy.  Political privacy would stand on its own.  Are there subsets of political privacy?

Contrast the US obsession with personal privacy with Chinese internet users.  I would assume that not only are Chinese internet users more biased towards well-educated, fairly well-off people than the US online population is, but they also fear actions from their governments more, based on the government actively monitoring what they might post online.  This would not change the fact that Chinese are highly social, are very well-connected, and indeed are even far more comfortable meeting strangers online than Americans, whose friend networks are primarily comprised of people they know in person.

And contrast it with Russians, who not only may fear repression by their government for speaking out, but are also less social than Brazil and India.

India could be seen as both highly social and also not afraid of government action.  And Brazil would be highly social (Gaurav calls Indians and Brazilians “hyper-social”), but Brazilians seem somewhat afraid of government action (see their recent wiretapping scandals).

Personal and Political Privacy

Hypothesis Model: Personal and Political Privacy

If these generalizations (and I realize they are highly generalized!) hold, then that would put Brazil and China in the same quadrant, but obviously at different degrees.

Moving Forward

This model seems to present a lot fewer contradictions for me, but I do not want this to seem like blatant stereotypes.  The model still leaves a lot of questions.

To what degree are Brazilians afraid of their government?  They have had a lot of eavesdropping scandals, but to what degree does the individual care?

Why are Russians seen as being less personally open?

Is there any hard data on any of this?

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Nov 01 2008

The Blogosphere in China

by at 11:59 pm

On October 24, 2008, at the University of California at Irvine hosted a conference entitled Public Spheres, Blogospheres where the panelists discussed the impact of new media such as blogging in countries such as Iran and China. I was particularly interested in the commentary by Ken Pommeranz and Jeff Wasserstrom on the role of blogs in China.

It turns out that contrary to the popular belief in the West that all media toe the line of the Chinese Communist Party, blogs in China do present alternative views of initiatives undertaken by the government. This is not to say that Chinese bloggers are raging dissidents; in fact the spectrum of Chinese bloggers includes edgy, antigovernment writers, to hyper nationalist, pro-government contributors.

But, as in the United States, the Internet in China is used for a multiplicity of purposes. I don’t have data to substantiate some of these claims, but the presenters at this conference pointed out that Chinese citizens use the Internet for online shopping, networked video games, and for a diversity of other options. One interpretation of Internet usage in China is that the government is trying to keep its citizenry happy enough, and with enough options such that it is latently channeling dissent by providing distractions.

The examples of how blogs could potentially serve as challenges to state authority are subtle. The presenters at this conference highlighted the fact that with new social media technology, videos on YouTube or jokes on blogs are heavily read, and proliferated at a much faster rate than they ever were previously. While these jokes might not directly subvert the state, if they are given enough time to percolate, satirical comics have the potential to generate new perspectives on the government within the populace.

The more conventional examples include blog posts in the run-up to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Initially, bloggers in China expressed frustration at Western treatment of the torch run in various cities en route to China. In analyzing the postings of these bloggers, one might very easily consider them as nationalistic. However, when the earthquake struck the Sichuan province of China, the tenor of these blog posts changed. While the government continued to focus on the torch run and celebrate China’s hosting of the Olympics without publicly addressing the victims in Sichuan province, bloggers began calling attention to this glaring dereliction of duty by the state. The government responded very quickly. They introduced a moratorium on the torch run, declared a moment of silence for earthquake victims, and started to raise money for victims of the earthquake. (Incidientally, Premier Wen Jiabao even leveraged social media tools by creating a Facebook page where he discussed his efforts to help victims.) These are the very same bloggers who could have been considered nationalistic based on their response to the treatment of the torch runners in Western countries.

One of the more fascinating tidbits that came out of this presentation was that three out of the 10 best-selling novels in China are written by bloggers, based on the content of their blogs. In China, as in the United States and other countries around the world, new social media traverses political and commercial lines.

As I move forward with my research, I look forward to delving deeper into the blogging culture of China, as well as the other BRIC countries.

No responses yet | Categories: 2008-09 Fellows