My research at Google has gotten me interested in studying personal finance, financial management, and the digitalization of financial services. I'm passionate about this research because it makes a difference. There are many aspects of this topic, such as access to financial services. Access to formal financial services, such as bank accounts and loans, is incredibly important, especially for helping to alleviate poverty because they help individuals save money, build credit, and protect against risk (sickness, job loss, etc.). In this digital age, there are a number of financial services available online, increasing the options for those who are geographically isolated or homebound, however the HCI literature has almost no research on existing barriers to online financial services or how online financial services are being utilized by different populations.
My dissertation research was in the area of social computing and HCI. I studied the dynamics of online peer production communities, specifically how consumers and average contributors differ from users who produce the majority of the content. I've looked in depth at this issue in both Wikipedia and Cyclopath. As part of my research I've done logs analysis, surveys, interviews, and user testing.
My research, while always somewhat quantitative in nature, started to incorporate qualitative elements due to the fact that I couldn't answer all the questions I wanted to using data logs alone. I was very interested in looking at sites that offer the option of user contribution (such as Wikipedia). My dissertation research investigated quantitative and qualitative differences between consumers, average contributors, and core contributors (who produce the majority of the content). How do these users differ in their usage of the site, when they contribute, the quality of their contributions, the type of work they are doing, how much time they spend on the site, their reasons for using the site, the benefits they receive from the site, etc.?
While my early work studied Wikipedia, the remainder of my work was based on the site Cyclopath. Cyclopath is a geographic wiki started by Reid Priedhorsky and Loren Terveen in 2006 in GroupLens lab. The primary goal of Cyclopath is to give cyclists in the Twin Cities a good, bike-friendly route between two points. The secondary goal is to allow the map to be edited by any user. This allows users to receive up to date information. As we ran the site out of our research lab, we had access to data logs, the option to add features to the site, and the ability to meet our users in person.
Part of what interested me in this domain was the conflict that while we (site owners, researchers) think we want everyone to participate, the sites usually work smoothly without everyone contributing. However, anecdotally, we know that some people have information to offer that they aren't contributing. How can we get users to contribute information that is useful to the site without forcing people to contribute or having a site overrun with unnecessary contributions?