Tricia Wang

Co-founder, Constellate Data
Global Tech Ethnographer

The human side of big data, social media, and more.

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Tricia Wang is a global technology ethnographer and co-founder of Constellate Data, a consulting, research, and training firm working with organisations that use data to understand people.

Recognised as a leading authority on social media, youth, human-centered design, and Chinese internet culture, Tricia’s work and points of view have been featured in The Atlantic, Al Jazeera, Fast Company, Makeshift, and Wired. A sought-after speaker, she has given talks at conferences such as Lift, Strata, Webstock, and South by Southwest. She has also spoken at Wrigley, P&G, Nike, 21st Century Fox, Tumblr and various investment firms.

With more than 15 years’ experience working with designers, engineers, and scientists, Tricia has a particular interest in designing human-centered systems. She advises corporations and startups on integrating “Big Data” and what she calls Thick Data — data brought to light using digital age ethnographic research methods that uncover emotions, stories, and meaning — to improve strategy, policy, products, and services. Organisations she has worked with include P&G, Nokia, GE, Kickstarter, the United Nations and NASA. She recently finished an expert-in-residency at IDEO where she extended and amplified IDEO’s impact in design research.

Tricia has a BA in Communication and PhD in Sociology from UC San Diego. She holds affiliate positions at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society and at New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP). She is also a Fulbright Fellow and National Science Foundation Fellow where she is the first Western scholar to work with China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) in Beijing, China.

Tricia began her career as a documentary filmmaker, an HIV/AIDS activist, a hip-hop education advocate, and a technology educator in low-income communities. She has worked across four continents; her life philosophy is that you have to go to the edge to discover what’s really happening.

She is currently writing a book about the emotional effects of the internet on Chinese citizens.


Tricia tailors each presentation to the needs of her audience and is not limited to the topics we have listed below. These are subjects that have proven valuable to customers in the past and are meant only to suggest her range and interests. Please ask us about any subject that interests you; we are sure that we can accommodate you.

The Conceit of Oracles: Why we mis-prize quantitative over qualitative data

Technology is playing an increasingly large role in decision-making processes. But are we really making more informed decisions? How do we even know we are asking the right questions? And what are we missing in our measurement-driven world?

Tricia tackles those questions in this talk by looking at methods of prediction from the Oracle of Delphi in Ancient Greece to the use of electricity during the Scientific Revolution and the invention of computers in the Age of Information. These historical events provide a lens for understanding how we ended up in a “data-driven” society — a world where computers are mostly valued as predictive machines, quantitative output is seen as “truth”, and the qualitative cultural context is seen as inferior to quantitative data. As Tricia explains, predictions, forecasting, and measurements that over-rely on quantitative data is that a misleading representation of actual human experiences can result. This is a terrible mistake and one that is committed frequently within organizations.

We are facing one of the biggest struggles of our times: the challenge for institutions is to treat their stakeholders (e.g users, employees, consumers, audience) as humans, not as data points. Connected to this challenge is the dominant belief that numerical measurements such as Big Data, will lead to more knowledge, justifying investment in quantitative research at the expense of qualitative research. This struggle speaks to the important role of ethnography in ensuring that businesses, governments, and organizations are people-centered in the face of bureaucracy and numbers-driven thinking. But before ethnography can play a more strategic role inside institutions, the field needs to evolve. Ethnographers need to focus on making their work more visible, more integrated with Big Data, and more accessible. Our job is to teach organizations to design for experience, not usability; to create for people, not users.

When companies prioritize experience, they will see a greater business value in bringing in experts to provide explanatory knowledge that is connected to real social experiences.

Designing for Trust

Free Lunch is a non-profit in China that uses a crowd-sourced reporting and monitoring system to gain donor's trust. The system is filled with inefficiencies and redundancies, but it's very good at getting people to donate and participate. How did it accomplish this? As Tricia explains, Instead of designing for efficiency, Free Lunch was designing for trust. In a historical parallel, the measurement of electricity consumption in the 19th century reveals that accuracy in measurement was compromised to gain consumers' trust in devices. Both Free Lunch and electricity measurement reveal that making products/services more usable may require us to prioritize the user's need. Several design principals should be considered when designing for trust.

Sleeping in Internet Cafes: The Next 300 Million Chinese Users

In China, over 300 million migrants reside in cities; these communities represent some of the most marginalized and poorest groups that are now actively incorporating new communication tools into their lives. These migrants are also the fastest adopters of digital tools and the quickest growing population of digital users. What do these coinciding cultural-technical processes mean for the people undergoing these shifts? Drawing on her fieldwork in China over the past three years, Tricia focuses on three areas that point to the future of social change and innovation in China: gaming, entertainment, and consumption.


The Cost of Missing Something | TEDxCambridge

Elastic Self

Interview | Strata + Hadoop 2014

Dancing with Handcuffs: The Geography of Trust in Social Networks | lift

The Elastic Self: What Millions of Chinese Youth Tell Us About The Future of Online Identities and Social Media | Webstock '13