Research about "hybrid ecologies"

The Mediamatic workshop about digital/physical hybridization that I attend next week is a great opportunity to start reshuffling my research interests. It's been one month that I started working at the Media and Design Lab at EPFL, starting new projects is a slow process (especially when you don't take vacations right after a phd dissertation) but things are starting to be more clear. My work there is focused on the user experience of gaming; this is very broad given that it encompasses a lot of systems (on-line gaming, gestural interfaces, etc.) but it seems that the projects that emerged can be framed under the "hybridization of the digital and the physical". I won't enter into the details of these nascent projects but the idea is to look at the new user experience created by the merging of multiple environments that you have in pervasive gaming or location-based games. In a sense, it's about using games as a platform to study new interactions. In addition, this connects to my previous work (Phd dissertation here) in the sense that I am interested in multi-user interactions and awareness process: how what people do together in a hybridized world is influenced by specific technologies? how certain design affect collaborative interactions? (Picture by myself, overview of my desk)

My morning read was a smart way to think about some umbrella framework about this hybridization topic: Crabtree, A. and Rodden, T. (2007): "Hybrid ecologies: understanding interaction in emerging digital-physical environments", to appear in the journal Personal and Ubiquitous Computing.

In this paper, the authors pave the way for the investigation of "hybrid ecologies", i.e. a new class of digital ecology that merge multiple environ- ments, physical and digital, together. They provide a starting point about how to analyze cooperative interactions in these environments by highlighting fundamental features of interaction with them: the fragmented nature of interaction, how people articulate collaborative work and seamful representations. They exemplify this using ethnographical vignette form the "Uncle Roy with you" pervasive game.

Historically, as the authors describe, these "hybrid ecologies" correspond to a shift from media spaces (that LINK physical spaces through digital medium), mixed reality environments (that fuse physical and digital environments), ubiquitous computing (that embeds the digital into physical environments) to hybridization (that merges multiple environments physical and digital).

The main lessons from the ethnographic study they carried out are described as follows:

"The development of new computing environments gives rise to new forms of collaboration, not only in terms of how people engage in everyday activities together but also in terms of how they articulate collaboration means that a degree of interactional (including communicative) asymmetry is built into collaboration in hybrid ecologies. (...) Hybrid ecologies rely on the articulation of ‘fragments of embodied virtuality’ or fragmented interaction. (... interaction is distributed across distinct ecologies (...) In hybrid ecologies collaboration is distinctively concerned with the articulation of fragmented interaction. By fragmented interaction we mean that collaboration in hybrid ecologies is mediated by different mechanisms of interaction, which are differentially distributed among participants. (...) There is nothing inherently new about fragmented interaction, then, it inhabits collaboration everywhere as we switch between digital and physical media in course of our everyday activities. What is new, however, is the way in which collaboration is provided for in hybrid ecologies, through the interweaving of hybrid networks and hybrid models of space, and how mechanisms of interaction are articulated in hybrid ecologies. (...) fragmented interaction is articulated in two fun-damental ways in hybrid ecologies: - Through the exercise of ordinary interactional competences. - Through the use of digital representations of action and collaboration in real and virtual environments. "

Why this paper is important for my research? because it gives an overview of some of the topics that might be interesting too look at so that researchers can "unpack the nature of cooperative interaction in hybrid ecologies":

"We propose articulation work, fragmented interaction and seamful representation as core topics (...) Furthermore, understanding how novel interaction mechanisms are articulated across multiple physical and digital ecologies is essential to understanding the collaborative character of emerging physical-digital environments and, thereby, of inform- ing design. (...) The uncovering of articulation work enables developers to determine what may and may not be automated and what may or may not left to human skill and judgement. (...) Understanding interaction in hybrid ecologies will consist, then, of understanding such things as how awareness and coordination ‘get done’"

To put it shortly:

"Fundamentally, understanding cooperative interaction in hybrid ecologies requires us to unpack the fragmented character of interaction, which will consist of uncovering the ordinary interactional competences that users exploit to make differentially distributed mechanisms of interaction work and the distributed practices that articu- late seamful representations and provide for awareness and coordination."

Why do I blog this? this definitely gives some framework to a current project I am working on right now.