User experience of automation on context-aware applications

Is Context-Aware Computing Taking Control Away from the User? Three Levels of Interactivity Examined by Barkhuus & Dey is an interesting paper about the users' experience of different degrees of automation in ubicomp. They investigated this through a user study of a context-aware application in which 3 levels of interactivity are defined:

"personalization, passive context-awareness and active context-awareness. Personalization is where applications let the user specify his own settings for how the application should behave in a given situation; passive context-awareness presents updated context or sensor information to the user but lets the user decide how to change the application behavior, where active context-awareness autonomously changes the application behavior according to the sensed information"

The results are intriguing (please see the details of the methodology in the paper):

"Our study found that users’ sense of control decreases when autonomy of the service increases, as suggested by previous research. We believed that personalization would be preferred and would be more accepted than both passive and active context-awareness, however, the results of our study do not support this. Instead we find that people prefer context-aware applications over personalization oriented ones. (...) participants felt they had less control in the context-aware groups but still preferred the context-aware approaches (...) The incurred cost due to loss of control can result in users turning off a service. While the participants initially liked many of the active context-aware services, they might become frustrated by their perceived lack of control and eventually turn the service off. (...) Our conclusion is that users are willing to accept a large degree of autonomy from applications as long as the application’s usefulness is greater than the cost of limited control. "

Why do I blog this? This is close to the debate about automation that I described here. I am indeed interested in this differentiation between levels of interactivity and how people felt them.

Barkhuus, L. & Dey, A. (2003). Is Context-Aware Computing Taking Control Away from the User? Three Levels of Interactivity Examined, Proceedings of UBICOMP 2003, The 5th International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing, pp. 159-166. October 12-15, 2003.