Awareness and Interruptions

Dabbish, L., Kraut, R. (2004). Controlling Interruptions: Awareness Displays and Social Motivation for Coordination, in Proceedings of the 2004 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work. 2004, ACM Press: Chicago, IL. p. 182-191. The paper addresses the notion of awareness with an interesting angle: how would awareness displays might interrupt and then impact people's activity (leading to performance problems. The authors used a very simple game to investigate whether "team membership influences interrupters' motivation to use awareness displays and whether the informational-intensity of a display influences its utility and cost".

Results indicate interrupters use awareness displays to time communication only when they and their partners are rewarded as a team and that this timing improves the target's performance on a continuous attention task. Eye-tracking data shows that monitoring an information-rich display imposes a substantial attentional cost on the interrupters, and that an abstract display provides similar benefit with less distraction.

This study has direct implications for design:

To balance the tradeoff between the amount of information presented and the incentive to use that information, electronic communications systems could regulate the awareness information they provide based on an interrupter’s inferred motivation to use that information. For example, in designing a corporate instant messaging client, one could apply these results by presenting a workload awareness display of a target’s activities only to people internal to the user’s project or company, and no such display to people outside the company.

Currently, the “away” and “busy” messages which various instant messaging clients use are too temporally coarse to provide sufficient information for synchronizing interruptions. (...) Displaying information about a remote collaborator’s workload helps both parties if that information is in an easy to process format and the potential interrupter has incentive to be polite.

Why do I blog this? because my research is about studying how certain awareness tools (bringing mutual-location awareness) influence collaboration in terms of producing a mutual intelligibility. Taking into account interruptability might be an issue, however, in the activities I studies, it's less continuous so interruptions are less important.