Methodology for public pervasive computing

Public Pervasive Computing: Making the Invisible Visible by Jesper Kjeldskov, Aalborg University and Jeni Paay, IEEE Computer, Vol. 39, No. 9. (2006), pp. 60-65. Through the presentation of a project called "Just-for-Us" (a mobile web service that aims at adapting content to the user's physical and social context), the paper shows how the urban environment inspire researchers to explore the intersections between physical,social,and digital domains. The interesting point here is that it shows how system developers and HCI designers try to obtain a fundamental understanding of a physical space and how it impacts the social interactions taking place there prior to sketch any ideas about technologies. Achieving such a goal is often done by looking at architecural theorists such as Kevin Lynch or Christopher Alexander (maybe the most well-cited in computer sciences, it would be good to know why).

Their methodology is very intriguing:

"our aim was closer to Lynch and Alexander’s original purpose—analyzing and understanding a physical space, from the level of a city precinct down to each individually designed element—but in this case to inform digital rather than physical design. Guided by their analytical techniques, we systematically mapped Federation Square’s physical and informational properties. Several field visits resulted in a collection of 250 digital photos annotated with written observations of the relationship between architectural elements and the environment, as well as about interactions among people inhabiting the space. Using rapid ethnography content analysis and affinity diagramming, we extracted from the photographic data and notes a concise set of descriptive features for the overall city precincts as well as specific architectural elements. We then created a Lynchian map of Federation Square (...) To complement the architectural field study, we therefore studied three established social groups, each consisting of three young locals, during typical outings at Federation Square. An interviewer first talked with each group for 20 minutes about their socializing experiences and preferences and then, accompanied by a cameraman, followed the group to an area within Federation Square where they had arranged to spend some time together. Throughout the filmed visit, the group verbalized their actions as they moved around the space and responded to questions from the interviewer."

It enabled them to reveal four "disctricts" and found "detailed architectural features" that foster, challenge or hinder social interactions. Moreover, the "sociological field study" showed how people rely on cues embedded in the environment (landmarks, focal points...), how they determine what to do by relying on others' behavior and their experience.

Why do I blog this? Rather than the system produced, I was interested in how this was used: "These field studies generated insights that inspired us to create a computing system to facilitate new types of social interaction in urban settings", which is described in the system architecture as well as the user interface.