My Global Obsession

Jane Davis, BitTorrent’s UX Research and Designer, provides an inside look at the process of understanding our international user base and how this insight impacts our products.

My obsession with international research has become something of a running theme here at BitTorrent. With slight prompting (if any), I launch into diatribes about our users in the rest of the country and the rest of the world. When you’ve got easy, constant access to technology, it’s all too easy to forget that vast swathes of the world don’t share that experience and you can end up designing products that meet the needs of only a fraction of users.

BitTorrent Around The World

As a company with a vast international user base, BitTorrent has a responsibility to our users to be mindful of their needs, to understand their access to technology, how fast their Internet is, how consistent it is and what obstacles or stumbling blocks they face when trying to use technology. While we’re not quite ready to send our research team roaming around the world to find these things out in person, our user research team has been working closely with members of our product teams to build a picture of what the technology needs and access look like across the world. This lets our product teams focus on our full user base and prevents the myopia that can come from having constant access to fast Internet connections and the most current technology.

There are many ways to get a picture of how people access and use technology. Surveys, remote interviews, and research from other organizations can provide useful insights. Of all the tools available though, none is more powerful than in-person research – seeing people in their daily life interacting with technology, in the environment in which they’re most comfortable. The insights gained from in-person research simply can’t be replicated in remote interviews or surveys. The flow of conversation, the ability for a person to grab their phone or computer and show the researchers what they mean, the meandering, branching conversations that lead to moments of clarity and insight – these are invaluable for gaining a complete understanding of people and their lives.

A Look Into Our Research

As part of BitTorrent’s effort to expand our understanding of our international users and their needs, we’ve been focusing on localizing our surveys and segmenting them by region. Although we’re in early stages, we’re already discovering some key differences between what our American and Russian users want from their torrent client. The graphs below are a great example of how geography impacts our users’ needs and wants:

BitTorrent International Research

BitTorrent International Research

As we see, while fast speeds top both lists, users in Russia have different values from our American and British users when it comes to their preferred features. Also, while fast speeds are important to a lot of our Russian users, they come in near last for a large percentage of them as well. This knowledge helps us better understand our users and informs our design decisions, although it won’t be complete until we fill in the gaps in our understanding using qualitative research as well.

Industry Insights

Mozilla recently performed an in-depth look at technology needs in Thailand and Indonesia. One of the researchers is a dear friend of mine, Gemma Petrie, and when she published a blog post giving an overview of their findings, I immediately read it to see what BitTorrent could learn. It gives insight into telecom infrastructure, the rise of mobile devices, what distribution channels are used for content and all manner of other things that have implications for any technology company operating in the global market. It’s a fascinating glance into the needs of users that are half a world away from our offices in the Bay Area, and it serves as a reminder to all of us at BitTorrent that our personal experiences are not universal. My job here is to make sure we never lose sight of that, and I’m exceptionally grateful to Mozilla for sharing this piece of the global picture with us.

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