Re-architecting Web and Mobile Information Access for Emerging Regions
Candidate: Jay Chen
Advisor:    Lakshmi Subramanian

Abstract

Providing access to information for people in emerging regions is an important problem. Over the past decade there have been many proposed and increasingly numerous deployed systems to enable information access, but successes are few and modest at best. Internet in emerging regions is still generally unusable or intolerably slow. Mobile phone applications are either not designed for the phones that poor people own, otherwise, the applications lack functionality, are difficult to use, or expensive to operate. In this work we focus on enabling digital information access for people in emerging regions.

To advance the state of the art, we contribute numerous observations about how people access information in emerging regions, why the current models for web access and SMS platforms are broken, and techniques to enable applications over constrained Internet or SMS. The mechanisms presented here were designed after extensive field work in several different regions including rural, peri-urban, and urban areas in India, Kenya, Ghana, and Mexico. Multiple user studies were conducted throughout the course of system design and prototyping. We present a novel set of context appropriate platforms and tools, some spanning several layers of the networking stack. Five complete systems were implemented and deployed in the field. First, Event Logger for Firefox (ELF) is an easily deployable Firefox extension which functions as both a web browsing analysis tool and an in-browser web optimization platform. Second, RuralCafe provides a platform for web search and browsing over extremely slow or intermittent networks. Third, Contextual Information Portals (CIP) provide cached repositories of web pages tailored to the particular context in which it is to be used. Fourth, UjU is a mobile application platform that simplies the design of new SMS-based mobile applications. Finally, SMSFind is a SMS-based search service that runs on mobile phones without setup or subscription to a data plan.

Taken as a whole, the systems here are a comprehensive solution for addressing the problem of enabling digital information access in emerging regions.