Musings on mobile money research from EPIC

October 2nd 2013

What is mobile money as an object of research? And how do we best design research programs and methodologies for it? These were the topics of a paper that Heather Horst and myself presented at the Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference in London.

Designing mobile money research is complex because mobile money is itself complex. Simultaneously a commodity and a social good, mobile money is applicable to a broad range of uses and users. It incorporates the qualities of money, as a store of value, medium of exchange, and unit of account.

And because mobile money depends upon mobile technology, it cannot be readily separated from practices of communication, at least insofar as we want to understand how users incorporate it into their everyday lives. Mobile money therefore lends itself readily to both quantitative and qualitative analysis.

Read the rest of this post on the IMTFI Blog.

How do mobile money providers view their customers?

September 30th 2013

As mobile money services continue to roll out around the world, it is becoming increasingly clear that its uses, and its users, are diverse. To what extent do mobile money providers recognize this diversity and use it as a marketing strategy? I pondered this question as I browsed mobile money television advertisements on YouTube.

Two advertisements in particular stood out for me: M-Pesa's "Send Money Home" advertisement by Safaricom in Kenya, and TchoTcho Mobil's "Keep Cash Safe" advertisement by Digicel in Haiti. They caught my eye because they create a similar scene, yet they are promoting very different uses of mobile money.

Big data, small data, thick data, no data: A global perspective on the EPIC debate

September 20th 2013

There were two kinds of people at EPIC this year: those who felt that the big-small-thick data debate is necessary, and those who didn't. Okay, so maybe it's a bit more complex than that, but people are easier to understand when categorized and quantified, right?

Big data was a big focus at EPIC. The debate focused around what big data is, and how ethnographers can show companies that context still matters. Tricia Wang began the discussion in her keynote, arguing that big data really only generates lots of data points, and that we need the thick data that ethnography provides to make sense of it.

Why thick data can be just as creepy as big data

September 17th 2013

Yesterday, in the first session of EPIC2013Martin Ortlieb asked a question that stopped me in my tracks. Plenty of people, he said, think that big data collection is creepy. Every day, as we interact in a computer-saturated world, bits of information about our personal selves are being collected and deployed by marketing companies to sell us stuff and spy on us.

But are classic ethnographic methods really any different? Don't people find it creepy when us anthropologists go poking around, asking questions?