Last week I successfully defended my PhD thesis. It is titled Designing Technology for Existing Infrastructure in the Developing World.
The word ‘thesis’ has been described to me as a single sentence that encapsulates the red thread connecting all the work you’ve done. The ‘dissertation’ is a document supporting that thesis. The thesis itself is supposed to be straight forward and not blow any minds. The mind blowing happens in the 100+ pages of supporting evidence in the dissertation.
My thesis is:
Technology can be built for the developing world using existing infrastructure.
The dissertation includes:
The main thrust of the work as a whole is that rather than imagine brand new experiences using hardware and software, it is possible to create tools that fit into existing workflows, enhancing what is already in place.
After writing the dissertation you have a ‘Final Exam’, where you basically present your work to a committee and whoever else wants to come. I focused on two projects. The slides are here on Google Drive. The Google Slides presentation there that does not say ‘PDF-ready’ is the full Final Exam Experience™, with all the fancy animations I spent so long crafting.
If you prefer things a bit more old fashioned, you can grab the PDF here.
The two tools I cover in the dissertation are Open Data Kit (ODK) Tables and Siskin.
Tables is a tool used for building mobile apps using web tools. I’m not involved with current Tables development, but it is nearing release as part of the ODK 2.0 tool suite. Code can be found on github.
Siskin is a tool for sharing web content on the local network. If you’re familiar with Pocket, it is a lot like Pocket but with a way to share content with other users on the local network. After you’ve saved content, it is available offline. Even if the connection to the internet is down, as long as the WiFi network or LAN is up, you can magically discover peers and share content, all without requiring an internet connection. Peers are discovered using the same system as Chromecast (mDNS and DNS-SD), which makes it a pretty magical experience.
Siskin is known publicly as SemCache, which originally stood for Semantic Cache. Semantic caching is a well-known idea, which I didn’t realize at the time. The code for Siskin is available in the SemCache repo on github.
The framework for matching requirements with technology is called DUCES. I originally presented it at the ACM DEV conference in London in 2015. Full details for DUCES and the data collection study are available on my research page.