Shared computing in Emerging Markets

06 Sep 2007|LiAnne Yu

Here in the West, we often take for granted that computers are primarily personal devices. Even if our computers don’t belong to us but come with the job, there’s a strong sense that “this is my computer” and I can put “my stuff” on it, which nobody else has the right to access without my permission.

In Emerging Markets, however, the expectations around computer usage are drastically different.

For the majority of people in developing countries such as India and the Philippines, computer usage is primarily within shared, public environments such as internet cafes or school labs. Walk down any street in New Delhi, India, or Manila, Philippines, and you’re likely to see iCafes packed with people of all ages gaming, editing their resumes, catching up on email, or checking people out on social networking sites. Most children in these markets learn computing in shared environments, and this creates different types of behaviors as well as expectations about computer use. Activities we take for granted, such as saving files in certain locations or book marking favorite websites, are experienced in very different ways when people don’t work from the same computers every day.

We recently conducted ethnographic research in New Delhi, India among school and internet café computer managers and their end users. What we found was a unique set of challenges that end users as well as IT managers face. End users want to experiment and personalize, while IT managers seek to keep their computers consistently set. End users seek ways to save and retrieve information and documents, while IT managers find it difficult to accommodate the desire to save large numbers of files on each machine. End users often have a weak sense of responsibility when it comes to taking care of public machines, whereas IT managers feel they are spending too much time restoring their settings and containing viruses.

These challenges also represent incredible opportunity areas to provide a better computing experience for the next billion consumers whose first and ongoing encounters with computers will be in shared, public environments. Microsoft’s SteadyState product is one such solution aimed at creating a better computing experience in emerging markets. Here is a link to an audio story we created based on our ethnographic research about a man named Naveen and his experiences running an iCafe in New Delhi, India.

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