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Osarieme Omokaro, PhD Candidate, University of North Carolina; Intern, IBM Research

Osarieme Omokaro, PhD Candidate, University of North Carolina; Intern, IBM Research

PhD candidate Osarieme Omokaro brought her mobile, social – and goose spotting – expertise from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte to her summer internship at IBM Research. A Smarter Planet caught up with her recently to talk about her innovative Goose Spotter Android app and how the participatory nature of mobile computing can impact everything from the location of a goose to molding a country’s social policy.

A Smarter Planet: What is the Goose Spotter project and what was the motivation behind it?

Omokaro: I started the Goose Spotter project as part of my doctoral thesis research, A Framework to Promote User Engagement for Participatory Sensing Applications. I wanted to know: How do we get people to provide quantity and quality data that is important to scientific research, or even civic purposes?

When brainstorming with my academic advisor, Dr. Jamie Payton, I didn’t have to look too far for an idea. Geese are the unofficial mascot at UNC-Charlotte. They’re all over campus, blocking traffic, and guarding sidewalks and parking spaces. They even on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

Students use the Goose Spotter app to take and caption photos of geese on campus. And GPS location, time and date are automatically recorded when a picture is uploaded. Approved goose sightings are plotted on a map that embeds the pictures and captions.

Goose Spotter Main Menu

Goose Spotter Main Menu

Smart phones make an excellent platform for “participatory sensing.” They’re ubiquitous and resource-rich in terms of their processing power, sensor capability, memory, and display – and we carry them just about everywhere.

The key for me is to understand what motivates the volunteers who use the app. They might all perform similar tasks, but they’re motivated individually. So, Goose Spotter – which is embedded with different kinds of incentives to study what motivates people to contribute data in these volunteer scenarios – is actually more about us than the geese.

A Smarter Planet: How did you decide to apply for an internship at IBM?

Omokaro: Interestingly, I have Google to thank for connecting me to IBM. I received Google’s Women of Color Scholarship award, where I attended the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference in 2012. I stopped by the IBM booth and was interviewed on the spot.

Their platform for big data analytics was something that caught my attention. With the advent of crowdsourcing and participatory sensing, people are now massive generators, as well as consumers, of information. Gaining insights from massive crowd generated information is IBM’s forte.

Also their products are intertwined with people’s lives. Working at IBM would provide a platform for me to creatively design something that creates social value. IBM is the place where my passion could truly become a profession.

A Smarter Planet: Tell us more about the expertise that you brought with you from UNC.

Osarieme Omokaro: Creating An App

  • Design for social value: Use technology to capture and communicate value and meaning.
  • Focus on user experience: Goose Spotter needed an interface that was intuitive, playful, colorful, catchy and easy to use.
  • Be deliberate about incentives: Understand your users and what appeals to them is key to incentivizing properly.
  • Embrace Social Media: Within a week of launching Goose Spotter, I got a call from NBC Charlotte asking for an interview on the project. They heard about the project on Twitter!

Omokaro: I feel blessed to be on Melissa Cefkin’s Work Design and Innovation Services Research cross-disciplinary team of anthropologists, ethnographers, social scientists, human computer interaction experts and computer scientists. I’ve learned a lot from each and every one on the team, and think I’ve brought some valuable skills, too.

My doctoral research is all about increasing user engagement through incentives in “participatory sensing,” which I’m applying to another study in evaluating the motivation around one of IBM’s crowdsourcing platforms. Results from this could serve as recommendations to the team on incentives, and also help benchmark findings from my doctoral research.

A Smarter Planet: How else would you like to expand your work?

Omokaro: Ultimately, I want to harness the power of communities to gather data crucial to making informed decisions and forming social policy in developing nations, such as my home country of Nigeria. For instance, census data on unemployed youth, or the number of elderly in certain regions; documented accounts of oil pipeline vandalism, among many other issues are not readily available – but would help inform policymakers and spur action toward good causes.

This lack of data is a major impediment to effective social development and security. My dream project would be to use participatory sensing to obtain and make readily available this kind of vital information. IBM’s Big Data analytics and statistical tools could help me turn the collected data into insights that could lead to real social change.


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This girl is a genius. Once your internship is over at IBM i’ll find you and you are hired.

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