18 August 2009

Mobile phones and friendship networks

BBC technology news features Nathan Eagle's research tracking the calls of MIT students and looking at how their calls reflect their friendship networks. The tracking data could predict, accurately, whether two numbers were those of friends. Salutory for qualitative researchers: the research found a significant discrepancy between what people say they do and, when their phone is tracked, what they actually do. (People overestimate the time they spend communicating with friends and underestimate the time spent communicating with other contacts.) The trial is now being extended to a wider user community in Finland and will be extended to Kenya (and possibly other African countries) where Eagle is now teaching and researching.

In Kenya Eagle he has developed txteagle mobile crowdsourcing which sends small paid tasks to people to carry out on their phones, for example Swahili translation tasks for Nokia (to be launched in September). Currently the tasks are text based but may move to voice-based tasks. Interesting discussion in this CBC interview about how to judge the task payment so that it provides incentives but doesn't result in people quitting their day jobs.

More generally Eagle discusses the kinds of applications he and his students are developing noting the market-specific issues in phone and phone application design. He comments on the different circumstances of a designer working in Finland and an African day labourer who will be carrying a Nokia phone in his pocket: "You really have to have some insight into the market."

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