dsc_0054I am an HCI and ICTD researcher, currently at Google’s Next Billion Users team, working with product teams to design better experiences for under-represented communities in resource-constrained environments. I graduated with a Ph.D. from University of California, Irvine and an MS from Georgia Tech. My Ph.D. was funded by ICS Dean’s fellowship and Google Anita Borg scholarship. I have interned at Microsoft Research India, Nokia Research Center in Tampere, and IBM TJ Watson Research Center in Hawthorne. At Google, I have traversed technology products for energy infrastructure, Internet access, civic engagement, and gender at Google.org and Google Access.

Broadly, my work falls under a few categories:

Marginalized communities: Our current project here seeks to understand women’s access, privacy and safety concerns with technology. In the past, we have designed and deployed a voice-based system based on ethnographic research with sex workers in India (at CHI 2011), analysed intermediated usage in slum communities of India (at CHI 2010), and analysed how low-resource communities construct access and improvisations around technology (at Ubicomp 2010, Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, and CHI 2010)

Internet access: Examples of projects include designing public Wi-Fi in 400 train stations in India; caching solutions like Accelerator in SE Asia; and mobile data transparency through SmartBrowse in Ghana. We have written about how Indian users and non-users of public Wi-Fi assemble their conceptions of the technology at CHI 2017, how longitudinal immersion in high-speed Wi-Fi shifts behaviours at ICTD 2016, and how mobile data transparency leads to better data savings and longer time spent online in Ghana in ICTD 2012.

Crises and climate change in low-resource environments: We are studying a series of environmental and man-made disasters in India to understand how communities respond in the face of infrastructural and political failure. More coming soon.

Design for emerging markets: Our research has resulted in Google’s official guidance for Android and Web developers for emerging markets. See talks at I/O 2017 on accessibility for the Global South, I/O 2016 on research methods for low-resource areas, and I/O 2015 on principles for global design. The latest is a new collection of design and research methods for emerging markets at Google Design, including an article on high level principles for global design. I am editing a new column on ICTD in ACM Interactions, called The Next Billion. If you are interested in contributing, please send me a note.

I used to co-write a world music blog.

Upcoming talks:

  • Global UX, Nov 2017
  • Google I/O, May 2017
  • CHI, May 2017
  • UC Berkeley iSchool, Apr 2017
  • Stanford HCI lunch, Mar 2017
  • MIT Media Lab, Feb 2017

Select research projects:

Imagined Connectivities: Synthesized Conceptions of Public Wi-Fi in Urban India. CHI 2017.

How do new Internet users imagine public Wi-Fi? As public Wi-Fi proliferates all over the Global South, it’s important for technology designers and policy makers to understand people’s understandings and mental models around it. We report from a qualitative study on public Wi-Fi conceptions as held by urban Indians. Our findings show that prior public Wi-Fi users and non-users alike raised a surprising range and depth of conceptions—ranging from suspicion of operators’ intentions to monetize, to concerns about sexual image morphing, to fears of phone wipeouts, to aspiration—which were informed by popular media, Bluetooth cultures, and social learning. Many of these conceptions negatively influence adoption of public Wi-Fi.

SmartBrowse: Design and Evaluation of a Mobile Data Price Transparency Tool for Mobile Web Use. ITID and ICTD 2012.

[“Best of ICTD” special issue paper]

Mobile data can cost a large fraction of one’s monthly income.  Yet it suffers from a lack of price and data usage transparency, which is needed to make informed decisions about Internet use. We designed SmartBrowse, an Internet proxy system that (1) shows mobile data usage information and (2) provides controls to avoid overspending. We deployed the system for 10 weeks with 299 participants in Ghana. Half the users were given SmartBrowse, and the other half were given a regular Internet experience. Our findings show that, compared with the control group, using SmartBrowse led to (1) a significant reduction in Internet credit spend and (2) increased online activity among SmartBrowse users, while (3) providing the same or better mobile Internet user experience.

Designing a Phone Broadcasting System for Urban Sex Workers in India. CHI 2011.

[Best of CHI honourable mention]

How can information systems be designed for sensitive, stigmatized and marginalized communities in low-resource environments? We worked with Pragati, an NGO dedicated to assisting Urban Sex Workers (USWs) in Bangalore, India, to help improve their outreach to the women they serve. We conducted ethnographic action research to understand the lifestyles and needs of USWs. Designing for trust, busyness, privacy and a need for invisibility, and an unusually high phone penetration, we designed a phone-based broadcasting system that amplified Pragati’s existing successful social structures. We then deployed the system on four different occasions. Our system connected with 82.25% of the members, out of which 80.7% listened to messages in entirety, attributing to trust-worthiness and non-intrusiveness.

Intermediated Technology Use in Developing Communities. CHI 2010.

[Best of CHI honourable mention]

How do resource-constrained communities get access to digital artefacts? From an ethnographic study in two urban slum communities in Bangalore, India, we describe how ‘intermediation’ enables people rendered inaccessible to technology (by literacy, affordability, social access), to benefit from them through digitally skilled users—thus, expanding the reach. Intermediation is often a fundamental enabler of access. We present an empirical and analytical contribution of instances of intermediation, and the design and metrics considerations it poses; personal-private and single-user assumptions of technology need to be re-considered to integrate with global contexts.

Design for accessibility in the Global South.
I/O 2017.