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Failures make us stronger! The new Muft

F*ck Failing.

I stood outside CST station and Railtel office for 3 months to beg for permissions to start a free WiFi zone. I think Google provides WiFi there. I failed.

I flew to New Delhi, Chennai, Raipur and Hyderabad to beg for permissions to start large scale free WiFi zones in some neighborhoods. No government support. I failed.

Our first rounds of tech trails failed miserably. I lost all my savings in prototyping. I started borrowing money from family and friends.

2015 was full of fails.

But as I look back, all these fails have helped me create something larger.

In the past few months, my goal has been to transition Muft Internet​ (from a social movement) into a solid foundation.

Today we are a functional organization with zero donations, 5 full time employees and 120+ volunteers across India.

We have over 50 WiFi zones sponsored by advertisements – at cafes, hotels, colleges, hospitals, bus stops, public transport vehicles etc. We have 15 Internet service providers who use our technology.

We have enabled free Internet access for 100,000 users so far with more users coming in every month.

We have created new educational programs to create young entrepreneurs in the WiFi/Broadband space

And what do you think new website? Would love to get some feedback.

I have a feeling that there’s going to be a whole of lot of winning this year!

Ending the 400 year old information war

For the lack of a better term, ‘Information Divide’ is a way societies have been manipulated hundreds of years – with people who had or have access to quality information versus who didn’t or don’t.

During the Atlantic slave trade era – Africans who were shipped to North America were taught how to cook, clean, farm and knit; but weren’t allowed read and write.

In the 1600s – after the printing press was invented in Europe; the monarchs controlled distribution of information via ‘The Press Act’.

During the colonialism era in India and for many countries within the African continent – information was restricted by not allowing public meetings to facilitate a revolution; and curbing freedom of press.

During the soviet and nazi era – information was only passed from a ‘need-to-know’ basis and the general public was usually unaware of what’s going on because of government restricted/controlled media.

China and Pakistan still block youtube. Indian government indulges in censorships too.

Curbing information access and punishing information seeking behavior has created massive socio-economic gaps in society.

When we fast forward to the age of the Internet and the idea of an open and neutral Internet; revolutionary movements have been possible in countries like Tunisia. This was possible because of an open Internet. If at that moment, social media sites were blocked or extra-ordinarily expensive or slow for the general public to access – the outcome of the country wouldn’t be the same as we see today.

Bridging the digital divide (with an open and neutral Internet) and creating digital literacy programs is arguably one of the best way to support information seeking behavior as we know it.

With an open Internet we have had new opportunities to bridge information gap around the world. Millions of online courses are now possible because universities (and organizations) started posting their course contents online.

At present both these topics, net neutrality and digital divide, are looked at with a separate lens. Whilst in-fact, both these issues are deeply interlinked in our political, social and technical debates/solutions on these topics.

Introducing a design perspective through this research would club these issues into an ‘information divide’ debate.

By understanding the affordances (or restrictions) caused by non-neutral networks – our technologists, educators and lawmakers can better predict effects and design solutions to bridge information poverty.

‘Responsible design’ of the Internet can help our society transcend towards to a knowledge era for all instead of an information (or restricted information) era for a few.

The doors of #Kutch – Pictures taken 13 years after the earthquake!

I recently went to visit my grandmother in Kutch. It’s a beautiful and place with kind, hospitable, sweet (and talkative) folks! Kutch has a rich history and your can read about it on wikipedia. Here’s a short summary:

The Kutch (Gujarati: કચ્છ, Sindhi: ڪڇ) a 45,652 km² district in Gujarat is almost the same size as the country of Estonia.

Kutch literally means something which intermittently becomes wet and dry. Kutch is virtually an island, as it is surrounded by the Arabian Sea in the west; the Gulf of Kutch in south and southeast and Rann of Kutch in north and northeast. The border with Pakistan lies along the northern edge of the Rann of Kutch, of the disputed Kori Creek.

The language spoken predominantly in Kutch is Kutchi language, a slightly varied dialect of standard Sindhi, to a lesser extent Gujarati, and Hindi. The script of the Kutchi language has become extinct. It is now mainly written in the Gujarati script.

Kutch district is inhabited by various groups and communities. Many of these have reached this region after centuries of migration from neighbouring regions of Marwar (Western Rajasthan), Sindh, Afghanistan and further. Even today, one can find various nomadic, semi nomadic and artisan groups living in Kutch. Ahirs lives a comparatively large group in Kutch.

A large part of the growth of Kutch came after intense development by the state government as part of 2001 earthquake relief. A few momentos that survived the quake and the rapid development still stands today. I took some pictures of the same.

Doors of Kutch (2) Doors of Kutch (4) Doors of Kutch (5) Doors of Kutch (8) Doors of Kutch (9) Doors of Kutch (10) Doors of Kutch (11) Doors of Kutch (12) Doors of Kutch (13)

Sustainability in (or through) Human Computer Interaction – Feedback and Reflections

How do we design an idea so beautiful that it will last for generations – not just a few years?

How do we create responsible technologies that our grandchildren and their children can use?

How useful is in invention?  Not to an individual – but to the society and environment as a whole?

How do we create something so perfect, that it can stand the test of time and environment?

What’s the point of all the gadgets and technology if it is going to end up in a developing /poor country’s dumpland?

What’s the point of the latest research in ICT if we don’t know how much copper is left on this planet to create scalable solutions?

How do make the most sustainable cellphone? Something that can be used for decades?

Where does a product go after we use it?

I don’t have the answers to all these questions but recently I took a course in Sustainability  in Human Computer Interaction. The course doesn’t answer all of the above questions for you. Instead, what it does is make you ask these questions to yourself! As technologists, it important that we do! Besides, I have always enjoyed courses that tell me how to think’ rather than ‘what to think’!

We have all the technology we need to become a super civilization. As a race, we have even mastered elements of technology needed for space travel. However, we haven’t collectively discovered a way our technological systems, artefacts and services can be sustainable.

The questions this course made me ask myself were of significant importance as it would be for any technology designer, developer, entrepreneur and policy makers – in order to think large! Our world is so connected that the solutions created for one part of the planet could be a natural disaster for the other side.

It’s foolish and short term for individuals as well organizations to think about technology with their narrow self interests. The only ideas that will survive the test of time will be the ones that are viewed (and curated) with the lens of sustainability.

The course started with us understanding a problem within the realms of sustainable development and codesigning a technological solution that would solve the problem.

I started with an idea that Europeans create too much waste per person in comparison to other countries.

The troubling fact is that it’s cheaper to buy a new washing machine than fixing one has stayed in my head for years. Why isn’t cost to environment considered as the cost of technology?

The problems were described and jotted down in one of the assignments:
Eventually, the group created a fantastic solution called HELP ME FIX IT!

To view a sample prototype of our idea click here.

The basic simplicity of use was possible through various Interaction Design methods – however, the fundamental spark that gave us an idea to create something like this was possible through the course – Sustainable HCI

So, if I had to change something about this course, what would it be?

  1. More examples of ICT4D and HCI4D are working towards creating sustainable technological solutions for all.
  2. Mention a list of MUST WATCH documentaries. There are some amazing films like “The Age of Stupid” and “Who killed the electric car” to understand what’s actually wrong with the world and the human attitude towards sustainability.

This paper gave me joy. Textfree UI


This has to be one of the most awesome papers I have read.

My great grandfather could do math as he was a banya (small business man) but had to leave school early to support the family.

Even though he couldn’t read and write or manage any digital manipulation, the genius man built himself an empire.

The only reason he became a successful entrepreneur was because he was creative, empathetic and understood people.

There are so many geniuses out there and whilst they miss internet based services, we definitely miss their creativity online.

This paper gives me joy. I hope designers read this. It presents a great case study not just for India.

Amazon Echo presents a brilliant example of awesome computing being done without textual interfaces.

Abstract of My Research Thesis Proposal: This is why I am going to India!

As of 2014, over half of the human beings living on this planet are deprived of Internet access. Most of these people live in developing or poor countries. This reflects a deep gap between technology creators/designers and their understanding/involvement of the end users. The problems lie beyond our conventional understanding like hardware availability and network coverage.

The traditional methods of design and research are just not working in understanding the real problems that lies deeply embedded within socio-technical design of small communities in these countries. The numerous problems associated with enabling internet access include social & cultural perception of technology; outdated/unfair public policies shaped by corporate oligopoly and political bureaucracy that affects affordability; learn-ability and usability from an HCI perspective; and contextualization of applications, services and content. It’s impossible for an individual, a company, or an organization to foresee and solve all these intertwined problems that hinder enabling internet access.

The first part of the purpose of this research is to gain a deep understanding in the current socio-technical issues involved in enabling Internet access in developing countries using a (distributed) Participatory Design approach. By understanding and compiling a list of all the major problems involved, I would like to create a design solution with the help of the local community (and other stakeholders) to enable internet access in one small local community in a developing country.

What is User Experience?

what is user experience
What is User Experience? Image Source:

The noun ‘user experience’ refers to an encounter with a system that has a beginning and an end. It refers to an overall designation of how people have experienced (verb) a period of encountering a system. This view emphasizes the outcome and memories of an experience rather than its dynamic nature. It does not specifically emphasize its individual nature because ‘a user experience’ can refer to either an individual or a group of people encountering a system together. (Nigel Bevan Professional Usability Services UK, February, 2011)

The definition of UX has rather been streamlined after the result from Dagstuhl Seminar on Demarcating User Experience in September, 2010. The article has systematically covered all notable aspects of defining the term and understanding what is User Experience? It gives as an insight from multiple points of view; from the perspective of general users, experts, students and academicians. My personal insights what is user experience as as follows:

In my opinion, which was mainly formed after reading the white paper on UX, UX is a very huge term. There are numerous different types of users having varied experiences at a particular point of time. To understand User Experience, one must think of it as a general experience faced by the user while he/she has actively or passive engaged with an environment, product or service.

In order to evaluate consistency in UX we need to understand what usability metrics are. Tom Tullis and Bill Albert, in their book called Measuring the User Experience, write “User experience, or UX as it’s often abbreviated, refers to all aspects of someone’s interaction with a product, application, or system. User experience can be qualified and quantified. Task success rates, task times, number of mouse clicks or keystrokes, self-reported ratings of frustration or delight, and even the number of visual fixations on a link on a web page are all examples of usability metrics. And these metrics can give you invaluable insight into the user experience.” (Tullis & Bill, 2008)

Evaluating user experience can help us identify broken experiences and improve the usability of products. User experience does not only focus user interfaces or usability. It’s an overall experience that a user faces and from a business perspective, having a good UX for customers is an absolute must for survival.

Content, User and Context are the the 3 fundamental things that are looked out for while designing UX. Every UX design is dependent on studying a user under a context and with the specific content. This also means that the user experience is fundamentally focused humans and not technology. As a phenomenon, UX is always measured with respect to duration of use, task time or repeated tasks over time or a one time event.

There is still much for me to learn about User Experience and more importantly explore it huge scope from multiple perspectives – as a professional, a student, a user and an academician. The best way to more forward, is by understanding how to evaluate user experience.