In India social hierarchy is important. Is this refelected in the use of information resources via mobile phones? Do users over-value institutionally-recognized authorities relative to peer-sourced content? This is the main question of the article "Power to the Peers: Authority of Source Effects for a Voice-based Agricultural Information Service in Rural India" published on the website of the Stanford Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) group.
Experiment: tips from farmers and scientists sent to farmers
In order to test this hypothesis, a controlled experiment of source authority effects on a voice-based agricultural information service for farmers in Gujarat, India was carried out. Tips from farmers and scientists were alternately sent to 305 Indian farmers through automated phone calls. After hearing the tip, subjects were presented the option to hear more information by calling a phone number. The experiment captured how many follow-up calls were induced by farmers versus scientists.
Outcome: demand for peer-based agricultural information dissemination
Participants called the follow-up number significantly more often when the tip preview was recorded by a peer than a scientist. On the other hand, in interviews conducted both before and after the experiment, a majority of farmers maintained that they preferred receiving information from scientists. This stated preference may have been expressing the more socially acceptable response.
The authors interpret the experimental results as a demonstration of the demand for peer-based agricultural information dissemination. They conclude with design implications for peer-to-peer information services for rural communities in India.