Hustling Online: Understanding Consolidated Facebook Use in an Informal Settlement in Nairobi

Viwandani, Nairobi, Kenya

Facebook is a global phenomenon, yet the HCI community knows little about how the site is used outside of the United States where users are increasingly located. To address this gap, we built on our prior research in rural Kenya and qualitatively studied Facebook use among 28 young adults living in Viwandani, an informal settlement, or slum, in Nairobi, Kenya. To overcome the costs associated with Internet use, slum residents consolidated diverse online activities onto Facebook. Viwandani residents used the site to look for employment opportunities, market themselves, and seek remittances from friends and family abroad. These findings motivate a design agenda for the urban poor built on an understanding that Facebook is used, with mixed success, to support income generation. A key part of this agenda calls for developing ICT interventions grounded in users’ existing practices rather than introducing new and unfamiliar ones.

Opening different webpages and logging onto to multiple online accounts takes time. Costs of accessing Facebook at cyber cafés and on mobile devices limited the amount of time Viwandani residents spent online. This restriction resulted in them consolidating multiple online activities onto Facebook, or treating the site as an entry point for accessing all types of online content. While simultaneously chatting with friends, monitoring status updates, and answering messages, participants also engaged in income generating activities, such as looking for employment, marketing themselves, and seeking remittances.

Designing Crowdsourcing Applications
In Viwandani, smartphones are scarce and owners of the devices recognize that using them for typing tasks is cumbersome. Because participants are familiar with Facebook and are trying to use the site to generate income, there are opportunities to thoughtfully integrate crowdsourcing applications into the social networking site, rather than design stand alone applications.

For more, see our full paper.
Susan P. Wyche, Michigan State University
Andrea Forte, Drexel University
Sarita Yardi Schoenebeck, University of Michigan

“Facebook is a Luxury”: Social Media Use in Rural Kenya

As the growth of social networking sites (SNS) plateaus in developed countries, users in emerging marketsare becoming the next area of growth for services like Facebook.

Figure 1: As the growth of social networking sites (SNS) plateaus in developed countries, users in emerging markets are becoming the next area of growth for services like Facebook.

Facebook use is pervasive in developed countries. Computers, smartphones, high-bandwidth Internet, and electricity are ubiquitous. However, in Kenya, technological infrastructures are less developed. Despite limited technology use, social media participation is growing in Kenya. I conducted interviews at Internet cafés in rural Kenya (see Figure 2). My findings reveal that online participation is limited by:

  • costs associated with using the Internet
  • limited access to computers and smartphones
  • unreliable electricity

Study participants consistently told me the costs of creating and maintaining a Facebook account prevented them from joining. Westerners often regarded the site as free of charge. Kenyas earn the equivalent of $1.50 a day and incur many internet costs in order to use facebook such as:

  • using the Internet at a café costs $0.01-$0.02 dollars/minute (0.50 to 2 KSh/minute)
  • creating an email account costs $0.11 (10 KSh)
  • Creating, scanning, and uploading a profile picture has a cost

An employee of a cafe in Bungoma, Kenya, explains the cost associated with creating a Facebook account:

It is common knowledge like if you want to be on Facebook you must have a photo, when they come, they come armed with that photo, you have to scan and upload it for them and they get excited and you see like scanning one photo is thirty shillings, thirty Kenyan shillings. Uploading is ten shillings. . .

Once an account was established there were further costs associated with maintaining it. All participant lacked domestics Internet access, so in order to use Facebook they had to travel to town from a rural village typically by paying for a ride on a bicycle, motorcycle, or matatu.

In Kenya, using the internet for 30 minutes costs the same as feeding a family. The using the Internet at a café for 30 minutes typically cost 0.50 KSh ($0.60).  This would also buy enough maize porridge to feed a family for a few days. Participants who accessed the site described doing so as a luxury. They allowed themselves to use Facebook after “finishing other expense.”

Drawing on this finding and others,  I discuss the critical role of constraints in understanding social media use, to raise questions about broadening online participation and to highlight ethical issues HCI/CSCW researchers must consider when studying Facebook use in developing regions.

Figure 2: Sites Visited in western Kenya

Figure 2: Sites visited in western Kenya

For more, see our full paper, “’Facebook is a Luxury': An Exploratory Study of Social Media Use in Rural Kenya” at http://www.susanwyche.com/.

Susan P. Wyche, Michigan State University, Sarita Yardi Schoenebeck, University of Michigan, and Andrea Forte, Drexel U.