App Agility: HCI Researcher’s App Gives Harassment Victims a Powerful Tool

Jill Dimond_formal profile.jpgArguably one of Jill Dimond’s strengths is her aptitude to learn and develop for a variety of mobile computing platforms, which have become a ubiquitous part of modern society in less than a decade since the emergence of the smartphone. From the early days of the PDA and smartphone boom with Palm OS and Blackberry, to the current landscape of iOS and Android dominance, Dimond has been researching and developing for mobile technology since she was an undergraduate at the University of Michigan.

At 20, she created a spelling application interface for elementary school kids on Palm OS. Making use of the Palm image library and built-in camera - when camera phones were still a novelty - her interface allowed students to capture photos of objects to spell. In early 2009 in Mount View, Calif., Dimond found herself at the center of Google’s development strategy of its soon-to-be monstrous hit Android. She was a Georgia Tech graduate student interning as a software engineer and researcher on the Android team. In her four months at Google she helped develop the user interface for App Inventor, a visual programming language for the Android platform.

Dimond has taken her experiences in mobile computing development and her passion for serving others - particularly marginalized groups - to apply it to her primary studies as a Ph.D. student in Human-Computer Interaction in the GVU Center and School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech.

Her current research, under advisor Dr. Amy Bruckman, examines how the design of technology can impact participation in social movements. Dimond is designing, building and evaluating technology to support a social justice organization called Hollaback, a group that uses technology in order to combat street harassment and violence. Her efforts have yielded an Android app and web infrastructure that allows users to blog about their experiences and post pictures of public harassment on the Hollaback network of 40 geographic-specific websites in 13 countries.

The genesis of her research stems from her volunteer work and general interest in social issues and technology.

“I started volunteering at a women’s domestic violence shelter and saw many issues with the women who had to live there and the technology they used,” Dimond said.

Based on the experience, she started a research study that examined how technology is intertwined in the lives of domestic violence survivors - how it both helps them move on but also how it can be potentially dangerous.

“Technologies such as social network sites and mobile phones connect us in different and new ways that we cannot sometimes control,” she said.

As Facebook and other websites court users to create online social connections, Dimond has focused her energy on using technology to create awareness of social issues. Her research is helping to make technology more accessible and easy to use especially for disenfranchised groups or those who are discriminated against.

With her Android app Hollaback, users can snap a photo or text a message on mobile phones and use the devices – or the website – to send the stories of harassment and violence directed towards them in public. The content is then published and mapped on the various local Hollaback websites. Fellow master's student Daphne LaRose helped by building a new version of the app to let bystanders report harassment as well.

Originating in New York, Hollaback expanded from one blog in the city that never sleeps to other U.S. states, Asia, Europe and South America, thanks in no small part to Dimond’s mobile computing and web expertise.

Dimond said that whether people see or experience harassment, they now have an outlet to help impact the problem and help others within their communities. She also believes her research can be applied to those who want to engage in social change and use technology to do so.

“I hope to add to the conversation and provide an example where technology does not necessarily make people ‘slacktivists,” Dimond said.

Her research has expanded from looking at technology and violence to how technology can play a role in organizing and activism. After finishing her doctorate, Dimond plans to start a technology cooperative to develop and design technologies for social change as well as contribute back to the research community by writing up the findings and designs.

She is compelled to share her knowledge and be an agent for change - helping those who sometimes cannot help themselves - and that, along with her mobile computing acumen, is another of Dimond’s strengths.

 

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Writer: Joshua Preston (404-385-3845) (jpreston@cc.gatech.edu)