Sharing information in rural communities through voice interaction

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Online communities enable people to participate in globally shared knowledge pools, but they are out of reach for poor and isolated communities around the world. Mobile phones have the potential to overcome the PC's accessibility, affordability, and familiarity barriers. However, most mobile information services limit rural populations to being passive knowledge consumers, not active producers. This dissertation explores the design and usage of voice-based social software for rural communities. We designed an application that allows small-scale farmers in India to share agricultural advice by posting, listening to, and replying to others' voice messages using any phone. It has served over 35,000 calls for over 4,000 callers since 2009. This dissertation presents research guided by three questions for designing systems in this context: First, how do you design effective UIs for navigating audio content? Second, what community dynamics emerge? Third, how do you support sustained community engagement? Prior work has assumed that spoken input is most effective for technology novices with limited literacy. We tested this hypothesis in controlled and natural settings, instead finding that touchtone input was more effective and preferable. Next, we tested whether information was more influential when it came from high-status scientists compared to peer farmers. Contrary to stated preference, participants acted more upon the same information when it came from a peer. Based on these and other experiences from our fieldwork, we developed a generalized software platform for deploying voice-based social media combining call-in and and call-out features, and web-based moderation. Finally, we analyzed the impact of access costs, finding that paying for calls had a dramatic impact to usage overall, and peer-to-peer responding in particular. We present some preliminary experiments using financial incentives and motivational messaging to boost usage.


Type of resource text
Form electronic; electronic resource; remote
Extent 1 online resource.
Publication date 2011
Issuance monographic
Language English


Associated with Patel, Neil Girish
Associated with Stanford University, Computer Science Department
Primary advisor Klemmer, Scott
Thesis advisor Klemmer, Scott
Thesis advisor Parikh, Tapan S
Thesis advisor Winograd, Terry
Advisor Parikh, Tapan S
Advisor Winograd, Terry


Genre Theses

Bibliographic information

Statement of responsibility Neil Patel.
Note Submitted to the Department of Computer Science.
Thesis Thesis (Ph.D.)--Stanford University, 2011.
Location electronic resource

Access conditions

© 2011 by Neil Girish Patel
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 Unported license (CC BY-NC).

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