User's perceptions of visual and arphid tags

User Perceptions on Mobile Interaction with Visual and RFID Tags by Sara Belt (University of Oulu, Finland), Dan Greenblatt, Jonna Häkkilä (Nokia Multimedia, Finland), Kaj Mäkelä (Nokia Research Center, Finland). This paper has been presented at the workshop "Mobile Interaction with the Real World (MIRW 2006)" at Mobile HCI 2006 in Espoo, Finland.

It describes a study of user perceptions on mobile interaction with visual and RFID tags, which seems to be a dismissed topic in HCI. The methodology is straightforward:

The study consisted of interviews, which were carried out in the city center of Oulu, Finland, in June 2006... held on a pedestrian mall next to a busy shopping area at the city center. Participants were chosen from those present on the street, to achieve a balance of male and female, with ages ranging from teenager to middle aged (50+) (...) During the interview, each participant was shown two posters, one employing an RFID tag and one a visual tag. Participants were first asked about their familiarity with a particular tag technology, and then given a brief easy-to-understand explanation of how the tag works (though they were not told how to interact with it). The participant was asked what kind of information they would expect to receive from the tag, and then given a properly-equipped mobile phone andemonstrate how they would interact with the tag,The study included 26 participants (11 female, 15 male). All study participants happened to own a mobile phone.

The paper summarizes the results, I am was interested by some of them:

it was found that the used tag technologies were generally unknown to the participants (...) RFID tags were known from security tags on clothing or compact discs. Despite of visual recognition of the tag, they were not aware of their usage in the current context. In general the participants were receptive and enthusiastic towards the presented information acquisition methods and came up with suggestions for novel applications. (...) It was apparent from the interviews that the participants had developed a diverse range of mental models governing what kind of information the tags could store, and how that information could be transferred to their mobile phone. For the visual tag, once it was established that it was just ink printed on the surface of the paper, most users deduced that you need to use the camera to access the information. Some users suggested that they actually needed to take a picture of the visual tag, while others just pointed the camera at the tag and waited for it to register automatically.

RFID tag: Given its decreased visibility (i.e. hidden behind the paper), and more advanced technology, it makes sense that the appropriate interaction technique with the RFID tags proved slightly more elusive for participants. When asked how they would interact with the RFID tag, responses included utilizing text messaging,the visual tags because they were cheaper to use and caused less waste. (...) One issue that people were unclear on is the distinction between the content of the tag and how the phone will actually utilize that content. When asked what information the tag may contain, many users correctly guessed it would contain band-related information, and some suggested specifically that the tag may contain an mp3 file. One user even asked how much data the RFID tag can hold. although the tag itself does not need to be visible.

Why do I blog this? this kind of study is very pertinent in the sense that it shows how potential users of this technology (puzzled by new usage such as this poster thing) can be perceived. When technology is situated and pervasive, the assumptions about how things work are more and more complex and diverse. Misconceptions are always interesting to look at and observe. This makes me think about the "naive/folk psychology": "the set of background assumptions, socially-conditioned prejudices and convictions that are implicit in our everyday descriptions of others' behavior and in our ascriptions of their mental states" (Wikipedia's definition). Designing pervasive computing applications may benefit from having a look at such naive psychology and how people attribute meaning/behavior/functionalities to these new technologies.