Filtering by Category: Research

Some urban computing projects

Last week I attended an interesting event organized by the foresight group of the Geneva State. The whole day was about the digital cities of tomorrow with an interesting set of speakers. I've been mostly interested in all the projects that speakers presented to describe either weak signals of urban computing or critical perspectives on that topic. Instead of putting on-line notes transcriptions, the list of projects is maybe more important to get a global picture of the discussion (mostly taken from Christophe Guignard and Bruno Marzloff's presentations).

Diurnisme (Philippe Rahm) is an environment that physiologically creates the conditions of night during the day. To some extent, it tryes to introduce the night during the day (Photo: Adam Rzepka, Centre Pompidou).

Jour noir (Philippe Rahm) is a negative urban standard lamp, producing the night during the day, physically. The lamp emits an invisible and cold electromagnetic radiation, like that emitted by the night sky (Photo: Philippe Rahm).

Real room ( is an experimental architectural project for the Nestlé World Headquarters in Vevey (Switzerland) that insert computer device in offices which can diffuse temporalities and places, and interface light, sound, heat, humidity or information (instead of displaying images or printing documents on paper). It's actually informed by atomic clocks, luminosity, heat, pressure and humidity sensors, distributed in a regular framework across a space representing the entire globe. These "RealRoom(s)", connected permanently, directly recreate in an artificial but perceptible way, a global "terrestrial spatiality" fitting to the scale of Nestlé in 2005 (Photo:

City Wall is a large mutli-touch display installed in a central location in Helsinki which acts as a collaborative and playful interface for the everchanging media landscape of the city. It displays photos and videos which are continuously gathered in realtime from user-generated websites such as Flickr or YouTube.

Dash is collaborative GPS device: an internet-connected automobile navigation system that helps user to "know the best routes around traffic using up to the minute information provided by the Dash Driver Network", "find virtually anything—nearby or near your destination—using Yahoo! Local search"> and "Send an address from any computer right to your car with Send to Car. What is interesting here is the social navigation of such a tool, and of course that it might be relevant for pedestrians as well (see more elements here).

Bruno Marzloff also mentioned how Toulouse-based transport company Tisséo displays travellers' faces on subway screens or how Twitter is used by the BART both as a service system (e.g. receiving updates about delay) and a social space (e.g. people sending messages to each others).

Why do I blog this? this list is definitely a raw description of the projects that struck me as pertinent during this event; they cover a certain range of the urban computing spectrum. The first projects a re definitely more about interactive art whereas the others are a bit more utilitarian. In both cases, they exemplify interesting tendencies regarding urban computing with different level of scales.

Encouraging uses of location-aware systems

Reading (again and again) articles about location-awareness for a journal paper I am writing, I ran across "The Carrot Approach: Encouraging use of location systems" by Kieran Mansley, Alastair R. Beresford and David Scott which I found quite interesting. The paper addresses the lack of understanding about why location-aware applications can be useful and what factors can motivate people to use them, through a case study of AT&T's Bat system. The use of Bat they're interested in here is the one of the person-locator application or of context-aware paging. As they describe, the system is quite efficient as an indoor positioning provider. Accuracy and coverage are excellent but they noticed a "lack of genuinely useful applications and a strategy for their deployment". they developed a classification of the intended users of the location system (in their case, the staff and students within the lab) with the aim of targeting applications at the needs of specific social groups. Using the prisoner's dilemma approach, they show which ones are relevant.

What they found is that:

"We model the utility to an individual of an application by the formula Utility = AU2 + B where U is the number of participating users and A and B are constants. AU2 is the Metcalfe-effect and B the single-user payoff. Applications fall into one of three categories: Type I : those useful to isolated individuals (high B); Type II: those useful to small subgroups (high A, small set of users U ); and Type III: those only useful when the whole lab participates (high A, whole lab U ). Many traditional applications (e.g. the “person-locator”) are Type III applications; most of the applications we present here are either Type I or Type II. (...) We analysed the recent decline in Active Bat usage from a game-theoretic standpoint and argued that many existing location-aware Type III applications have fallen into disuse as a consequence of the well-known Prisoners’ Dilemma. We described how this trap could be avoided if Type I or Type II applications are provided which are of immediate use to individuals and small social groups. Furthermore, increased overall participation has an overwhelmingly positive effect as users of the location system receive a community benefit from increased take-up, both from being able to locate colleagues more reliably and from increased privacy. We claim this principle justifies the existence of applications that have no intrinsically useful purpose (such as games)."

Why do I blog this? quite relevant for current writings and talks about location-awareness in mobile social computing. The game-theory approach is original and brings interesting arguments to the table.

What's interesting IMO wrt to person-locator is this notion of

"from a game-theoretic standpoint, this application may be modelled by a multi-player prisoners’ dilemma. In real-life each person chooses whether to wear their bat or not whereas in the prisoners’ dilemma each prisoner chooses whether to co-operate with the authorities or not. Both wearing a Bat and co-operating have an associated (small) cost. If everyone co-operates (i.e. everyone wears their Bats) then the whole group receives a benefit. However, from the point of view of an individual it is always better not to co-operate (i.e. not wear their Bat) while secretly hoping that everyone else does; this is said to be the dominant strategy. It does not matter how great the benefit (i.e. the size of the coverage area) is; if all the players are rational then no-one co-operates and no-one wears their Bats. Therefore coverage area and applications like the “person-locator” cannot explain the difference in uptake between the LCE and AT&T. "

Mansley, K., Beresford, A.R. & Scott, D. (2004). The Carrot Approach: Encouraging use of location systems. In Proceedings of Ubiquitous Computing: 6th International Conference, Nottingham, UK, September 7-10, 2004, pp. 366-383.

Implications for Design: responsibilities and framing

In "Responsibilities and Implications: Further Thoughts on Ethnography and Design continues to elaborate on the use of ethnography in human-computer interaction and the "implications for design" issues he addressed at CHI2006 (see my notes here). In the CHI paper, he argued how the use of ethnographic investigation in HCI is often partial since it underestimated, misstated, or misconstrued the goals and mechanisms of ethnographic investigation. Which is problematic since researchers aims a deriving "implication for design" from these investigations. The DUX paper continues on that topic to show how ethnography is relevant but not in the bullet-point "short term requirements" way some use to think about. As he says, "the valuable material lies elsewhere" or "beyond the laundry list", which is described through 2 case studies about emotion and mobility.

Then what should be these implications for design (voluntarily skipping the examples, see the paper pls)?

"The implications for design, though, are not of the “requirements capture” variety. They set constraints upon design, certainly, but not in terms of operationalizable parameters or specific design space guidance. What they tend to do, in fact, is open up the design space rather than close it down, talking more to the role of design and of technology than to its shape. (...) A second observation about the implications is that they are derived not from the empirical aspects of ethnographic work but from its analytic aspects. That is, the ethnographic engagement is not one that figures people as potential users of technology, and looks to uncover facts about them that might be useful to technologists (or to marketers). Instead, ethnographic engagements with topics, people, and fieldsites are used to understand phenomena of importance to design, and the implications arise out of the analysis of these materials. (...) the theoretical contributions that the studies provide have a considerably longer shelf life, and a relevance that transcends particular technological moments.

Is it a cop-out to say that what these studies provide is a new framing for the questions rather than a specific set of design guidelines? Hardly.

In addition, his discussion about the responsibilities is also important:

"The engagement between ethnography and design must be just that – an engagement. Ethnography and ethnographic results are part of that engagement. (...) I’d argue that it is no more the ethnographer’s responsibility to speak to design within the context of each specific publication than it is the designer’s responsibility to speak likewise to ethnography. Rather, the responsibility for ethnographically grounded design results is a collective one.

Why do I blog this? This is a topic Paul Dourish will address at LIFT08 in Geneva. Beyond that, this article echoes a lot with both reviews I received from academic papers (criticisms towards implications for design that are too broad and not short term requirements) and what can be observed from designers' practices at the Media and Design Lab I joined 6 months ago.

Closer to my own research, I like the way he frames this notion of implication; and indeed ethnography can bring more than sort term recommendations as it can uncover motivations for action, needs and deeper human rationale. In my research about location-awareness, we explored the differences between self-disclosure of one's location and automatic positioning; in this case, the crux issue was not to oppose the two sort of interfaces but rather, to show how each of them was different and had different implications in terms of human motivations (for example, self-disclosure of one's location is linked to communication intentionality).

Dourish, P. 2007. Responsibilities and Implications: Further Thoughts on Ethnography and Design. Proc. ACM Conf. Designing for the User Experience DUX 2007

Wrestling with what the [mobile phone] platform actually is

Reading the notes taken from Raph Koster's thoughts at MIT’s Futures of Entertainment 2: Mobile Media, I ran across this:

"what’s kind of fascinating is seeing the wrestling with what the platform [mobile phone] actually is. (..) Broadcast? Input device? Truly interactive? Synchronous or asynchronous? (...) TV could have been far more interactive from an early stage, but it drifted into broadcast. The Internet could have been more about broadcast, but instead its DNA pushed it in a different direction. The reasons aren’t solely technological, I don’t think; some of it is network effects, some of it is about what businesses succeed early on. (...) Which makes me think that probably as we think of things like immersive gaming in the real world, ARGs, massively multiplayer geotagged environments, and virtual worlds on the phone, there may be a dedicated device that does it better. Most of these other examples have been of migrating capabilities to the devices. But the interesting stuff that will be the true core use of the devices will be the things that arise from the device — and it will be at its best when the other stuff isn’t there to serve as a distraction, in the way that the best GPSes don’t try to also be TVs but instead try to enhance the experience of geolocation."

Why do I blog this? in a sense, he summarized one of the main mobile application/location-based services question: "what is the platform".

Presentation at CISCO

Yesterday I visited one of the European Tech Center of Cisco to give a presentation about location-awareness and mobile social computing. Slides from my presentations can be found here (pdf, 10.5Mb). It's actually a reshuffled version of my Geoware deck. Thanks Jérome for this opportunity! Cisco

Although I do this presentation over and over again, I am always surprised by the discussion that follows. The fact that the context is often different trigger new questions about that topic. Some examples of what we discussed:

"Is "location" really important? Is it really about location? presence? Should it be combined with other information collected through sensors? How to create an added value sufficient enough to remove the privacy barrier? To reach a critical mass of users, aren't GPS devices company more advanced? Given that there is a less big variety of GPS devices (as opposed to phones) can they be considered as platform? For example could TomTom buddies be relevant? What about personal navigation assistant for pedestrians? Social software and location-awareness: can we use geolocation to refine social graphs?"

In the evening, I gave the same presentation at the Institut de Santé au Travail (thanks Yves!) where a totally different audience received the talk and discuss the implications rather from the ergonomic/human factor viewpoint.

From Locative Information to Urban Knowledge

(via) In, "From Locative Information to Urban Knowledge" (see in the the conference pre-proceedings), Viktor Bedö addresses a question very close to my research interests: How does information generated and shared through locative media and mobile communication technologies turn into knowledge?. The paper is about information visualization and how an organic metaphor (elaborated by Ben Fry) can be pertinent to represent information generated and shared via mobile communication technologies such as spatial annotation systems. Let's jump directly to the conclusion:

"What we can anticipate is that after reaching the critical volume (1), these community level patterns will have effects on the individual level: users will navigate using these patterns, make decisions based on these patterns, and contribute to them by posting their own information. The pattern emerging on the dynamic urban maps become urban knowledge based on locative information. The primal representation of urban knowledge will be on the map, the method of identifying and interpreting the patterns is looking at the map. It is important to note that there are no cues when inspecting the emerging patterns on the map and there are no masters telling us what to see as we deal with a new instrument showing a new quality. The metaphor of organism/organisation in this case does not transfer meaning, in the, but a way of seeing, that helps ideintifying, discovering the patterns of locative urban knowledge.

(1) The use of spatial annotation and other location avare social software has not reached the critical volume therefore we can not even anticipate by now how many messages are going to constitute a coherent pattern. Will it be fifty, four hundred, or two thousand?"

Why do I blog this? this is very close to something I wrote lately (as well as this blogpost) although it was not uniquely focused on spatial annotation system. However, I am not sure about the "critical volume" described by the author: it's definitely that a topic we discussed a lot with Fabien and Mauro. Will there really be a peak? How the success of certain applications could last over time?

Industrial design and ubiquitous computing

Are designers ready for ubiquitous computing?: a formative study is a very interesting short paper by Sara Ljungblad, Tobias Skog and Lalya Gaye that deals with the challenges industrial designers will face with ubiquitous technologies. The paper report a workshop they ran with designers, in which they presented their ubicomp prototyping platform and collected people's impressions. Although it's hard to generalize, what is relevant here is to look at what they learn in this context:

"A Designer is not A Researcher: The designers tended to have a goal-oriented, problem-solving approach to the context-aware technology, rather than the more exploratory approach that is common in research. The idea of developing applications for already existing objects by augmenting them post-hoc was not considered very appealing. (...) We feel that there is a significant difference between researchers and product designers when approaching context-aware technology. The designers were interested, but viewed Smart-Its as a collection of sensors belonging to an end-product, rather than something that could be used as a material during the design process, to explore and learn about “smart” products. This suggests that these designers were only interested in a conceptual understanding of the technology, not a hands-on understanding of it. The question is whether such conceptual knowledge really is enough when designing “smart” products."

Why do I blog this? because this sort of issues is very common and interesting to investigate. Of course this is very contextualized to their platform but there are interesting elements here.

Dark data to be set free

A very interesting article by Thomas Goetz in Wired entitled "Freeing the Dark Data of Failed Scientific Experiments". It's mostly about the publication bias: what is published in research paper is only results that are positive or which have dramatic outcomes. The other goes to the lab drawer but now some initiative aims at setting them free. What about the reasons to do so:

"For the past couple of years, there's been much talk about open access (...) Liberating dark data takes this ethos one step further. It also makes many scientists deeply uncomfortable, because it calls for them to reveal their "failures." But in this data-intensive age, those apparent dead ends could be more important than the breakthroughs. After all, some of today's most compelling research efforts aren't one-off studies that eke out statistically significant results, they're meta-studies — studies of studies — that crunch data from dozens of sources. (...) advocating the release of dark data is one thing, but it's quite another to actually collect it, juggling different formats and standards. And, of course, there's the issue of storage."

Why do I blog this? Great initiative and good material to do research! Hidden stuff is always intriguing anyway.

Beyond the data availability and the possibility to run meta studies, I am strongly interested in this sort of "dark" data, especially about things that failed. It's IMO a topic spot on the near future laboratory edges: documenting the failures, behavior, issues, artifacts that failed. We're currently considering a workshop about this in the field of ubicomp/the future of objects.

Criticizing Paul Virilio

In Panicsville: Paul Virilio and the Esthetic of Disaster, Nigel Thrift highlights the problematic tone of Virilio's work on modernity (his book City of Panic in particular). The author raises two issues: - Virilio's arguments are more jeremiads than an answer, which reminds me of Adam Greenfield statement that "nostalgia is for suckers" in his talk at PicNic 2007 (where he expressed that lamenting about the past of cities is not an answer). - The phenomenology of despair described by Virilio is not very well rooted in social or cultural research, as if the only evidence he was relying on were newspapers and books from other authors.

Some excerpts that I found interesting:

"Almost everything he says about the modern city would have to be seriously qualified or reconstructed or just plain retracted. (...) there is a veritable legion of careful empirical studies of information technology that very often show the polar opposite of what Virilio would have us believe. (...) each time he goes round the park, he exaggerates and this exaggeration is not just of the “well, this is an illustration of a general trend and should not be expected to play out equally everywhere,” or of the “well, take this as a warning of how things could become,” or of the “well, it won’t come to pass exactly like this but near to it” variety. It is systematic. And such systematic exaggeration is of more than mild concern. "

The sort of myth Thrift debunks here are for example:

"a common rule in this literature is “the more virtual the more real” (Woolgar 2002), that is, the introduction of new “virtual” technologies can actually stimulate more of the corresponding “real” activity. (...) The idea that increasing speed somehow has causality is an urban myth so deeply engrained in Western individuals’ idea of themselves and how they are that it is probably not dislodgeable – but that doesn’t mean that philosophers have to power it up."

Why do I blog this? Having read (and enjoyed) some books written by Paul Virilio, I was interested in these critiques. They actually echo my feelings about that author. Somehow, I have the same impression with all the books I have read in the same vein (mostly from french sociologist/thinkers/philosophers) such as Jacques Ellul, they are inspiring, they point to interesting issues but they're often exaggerating or hyperbolic ("forcer le trait"). And generally, it's because of the distance between the author and what happens down there. This is sometimes atrocious, when you read books from thinkers speculating about web2.0, television or video games and you definitely know that those persons are not using these technologies (some still call radio "TSF", the word employed 50 years ago in France).

Thrift, N. (2005). Panicsville: Paul Virilio and the Esthetic of Disaster, Cultural Politics, 1(3). 337-348.

Cognitive mapping of various means of communication in 1996

In The social representation of telecommunications, Leopoldina Fortunati and Anna Maria Manganelli explore "common knowledge of telecommunications". In a sense, they try to reconstruct how technologies of information and communication "have been metabolised in the system of social thought, and the way in which they have been integrated conceptually. Using Moscovici's frame of reference (social representations), they analyze data gathered from telephone survey carried out in 1996. Interviewees were asked to freely associate two terms with certain cue words: ‘telecommunications’, ‘fax’, ‘television’, ‘telephone’, ‘computer’, ‘mobile phone’, ‘radio’, ‘video-recorder’, ‘stereo’ and ‘newspapers’. Cluster analysis allowed them to represent the similarities between the communicative technologies (represented by the cue-words) through a dendrogram of similarities:

The authors conclude that:

"In conclusion, the analysis of the similarity between means of communication shows that in 1996 there already existed a scission between the real telecommunication technologies, that is, ‘fax, telephone, mobile phone and computer’, and technologies which were not telecommunication, such as mass media or means of reproduction of sounds and images. The first were based on technologies that carried circular communication, the second on uni-directional communication technologies. Furthermore, in the first cluster (not telecommunication), we must note the clear distinction between technologies that reproduce sounds and images and those that carry information. The position of the ‘radio’, assimilated as it was to ‘stereo’, was yet a further indication that this medium was experienced essentially as music.

From this first analysis what emerged is that the profiles of the different forms of telecommunication and the division and cooperation among them were reflected with clarity and precision in common knowledge."

Why do I blog this? I was looking for reference about representation of technologies an ran across this paper; found the methodology quite intriguing (there are lots of other results to check). What I found pertinent is the idea of having a a detailed description of the cognitive integration of the various means of communication. How would that be perceived now? with new forms of communication? with so-called "digital natives"?

Fortunati, L. & Manganelli, A.M. (2007).The social representation of telecommunications. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, pp. 1617-4909.

P&U computing: Special issue about movement-based interaction

The last issue of Personal and Ubiquitous Computing is devoted to movement-based interaction. The 7 papers address what is referred to by a plethora of terms such as "physical interaction, embodied interaction, graspable interfaces, tangible interfaces, embodied interfaces, physical computing and interactive spaces". As the editors put it:

"We start the issue with three papers that present lessons learned and perspectives gained from the design and evaluation of a number of concepts, prototypes and applications, all using a range of movements and tracking technologies to enable interaction. (...) These three papers should move the discipline forward by providing other researchers and practitioners with frameworks to bounce ideas against and concepts to describe and understand movement-based interaction. (...) We also selected four papers that we hope will further the understanding of movement-based interaction through their theoretical and methodological contributions by explicating different/new theoretical approaches and understandings, and extending the methods available to designers in this area."

Why do I blog this? material for current work about tangible interface in gaming contexts. More about this later, as soon as have time to go through them.

Eavesdropping as a characteristic

Just ran across that quote by Nigel Thrift (in this paper

"I have what I think is a pretty good test of whether a person is a social scientist or not: do they eavesdrop on a fairly regular basis on other people’s conversations on trains and planes, on buses, in the street, and so on? If they don’t, I suspect that they really want to be a philosopher or an architect – or both. The difference is crucial for me. One kind of work (mainly) involves trying to figure out what other people are thinking as they are doing. The other (mainly) involves thinking. They are not the same."

Why do I blog this? maybe it's a bit of a stereotype (especially towards architects) but I find that quote curiously exemplifies the empiricist versus speculative debate.

Design for the Location Revolution?

Reading Where Are You Now? Design for the Location Revolution on UX Matter this morning makes me wondering about the advancements in the location-based services area. Although I agree on the premise ("The true power of the mobile Web lies not merely in providing remote access to data, but in letting users view contextual information relating to location and interact with that information."), the rest is still a rehearsal of past arguments and examples:

"Mobile product innovator Apple showed in its Calamari iPhone ad how a person hungry for calamari can easily find a nearby seafood restaurant (...) Relative location data makes possible the first wave of mobile social networking applications—dodgeball,Loopt, and even the location plug-in for AOL Instant Messenger (AIM)—which inform users when friends or colleagues are in their vicinity. The value of this kind of communication is immediately apparent. I enjoy keeping up with friends and colleagues using LinkedIn or Facebook, but often wish I could have more personal interactions with people in my network rather than just relating in digital space."

Why do I blog this? I wonder about what will be the next generation of location-based services or how to improve the problems users face when employing place-tagging systems or buddy-finder. Although things have been achieved in the academia (and start-up projects), it's as if we had troubles going beyond the current state in gaming (it's all about treasure hunt and object collection), social computing (buddy finder suffer from lots of problem such as market fragmentation, low number of users, privacy tuning issues, etc) or navigation (the restaurant finder example never really took off). My point here is not to criticize this blogpost but rather to show that LBS innovation is VERY slow.

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.

Doing research

Doing research is facing this sort of email in the same hour:

"Email 1: Dear Mr. Nova, I have the pleasure to announce you that the Advisory Board of XXXXX has chosen your proposal ...

Email 2: Dear Dr. Nicolas Nova, We have received the reports from our advisors on your manuscript, "Blah Blah Blah", which you submitted to the Journal of XXXX XXXX. Based on the advice received, I feel that your manuscript could be reconsidered for publication should you be prepared to incorporate major revisions...."

Of course they're not directed towards the same publication but the effect is always curious.

Questioning the TomTom effect(s)

A quite interesting session at the Association of American Geographers Annual Conference: Situating Sat Nav: Questioning the TomTom Effect (transferred to me by Fabien). Organized by Chris Perkins and Martin Dodge, the session deals aims at questioning the social effects, cultural meanings and political economy of in-car satellite navigation:

"Comprehensive in-car satellite navigation (Sat Nav) systems have rapidly become affordable and ‘must-have’ mass-market accessories, advertised on television and the focus of ‘scare’ stories in the tabloid press. With their driver’s-eye position, dynamic maps and an authoritative voice telling you where and when to turn, these archetypal geographical gizmos depend on the ‘magic’ locational power of a cluster of unseen satellites and the global reach of corporations marketing the latest consumer fad. SatNav offers technologically sophisticated spatial data models of the world, but the technology quickly sinks into taken-for-granted everyday driving practices, such that its social and political significance is hard to assess. The gadgets themselves take space on the dashboard and windscreens, but also make new senses of space for the driver, well beyond the car. What exactly is the nature of this TomTom effect? "

Why do I blog this? it seems it's too late to submit something there but it connects with my interest in studying the user experience of location-aware technologies. My PhD research addressed the socio-cognitive implications of mutual-location awareness. How this connects to the present session? The results from my dissertation would be interesting to discuss in conjunction with features such as TomTom buddies that lets you track your friends on the road. A friend locator coupled to a car navigation systems? What's new? What are the constraints? What can be the impacts? etc. Perhaps that can help "questioning the TomTom effect".

PicNic Talk: pervasive gaming and pets

This morning, Julian Bleecker, Fabien Girardin, Dennis Crowley and myself participated in a panel called The Near Future of Pervasive Media Experience. Here is the annotated version of my slides from the PicNic talk (pdf, 9.5Mb):

The talk entitled "new interaction partners: perspectives on the pervasive media world for pets" was basically the proposition of bringing "new interaction partners" in the pervasive game model. A problem in that field is that designers actually took the technologies from ubicomp as well as the assumptions coming from that field: seamlessness, technology that is “pervasive” (everywhere, every moment)... BUT, and yes there’s a “but”, the world is not like that. The reality is a bit more like a pig farm: it’s dirty, messy, accidents happened, technology sometimes fails, interoperability fails, etc. and above all: there are other beings that humans and technological artifacts. If we think about with whom we have most of our playful interactions, it’s simple: the environment (parks, sport areas, etc) and animals. My previous work has focused on the environment, I am now interested in animals as a way to renew the visions of pervasive gaming. What about having “new interaction partners”, i.e. including new beings such as pets?

I then presented various examples that I already blogged here such as Augmented Animals by Auger-Loizeau, Wim van Eck's pacman with cockroaches, etc. as well as two projects I am doing with Julian Bleecker:

  • we have a dwarf on World of Warcraft that is played by a dog (sensors track its physical activities). So this little character is running around and it has a very basic grammar of interactions in the game. What is interesting here is to study the implications for participants. There will be a new type of characters, which won’t be played by a human nor by and Artificial Intelligence (Non-Playable Character)
  • A raddish toy meant to be employed by cats: when the cat touches the raddish, it sends a message on Twitter, when the owner sees it there, he/she ca reply and the toy would vibrate or glow. A two way relationship of some sort.

This talk was a little bit provocative and funny... meant to show that other sensations or desire could be mediated in a pervasive game. It’s not only about pets or even plants but also the weather, the environment, data feeds extracted from contextual events. The point is that to be rich and playful, pervasive gaming should benefit from other things than just human or computers actions.

Trans-media gaming

Given that I am at PicNic, the "cross-media" topic is everywhere (from talks to random people met on streets of Amsterdam). Being interested by that topic as well, it made me think of this pdf that stands on my desktop for ages: "Transmedial Interactions and Digital Games, actually a description of a workshop organized by Shaowen Bardzell, Vicky Wu, Jeffrey Bardzell and Nick Quagliara. Some excerpts that I found interesting:

"Transmedial access should not be confused with what is currently labeled as “cross-platform” games, where a particular game is developed for the console, PC, and mobile. Cross-platform games, are generally variants the same game, customized for a given set of user inputs, but they are not a single game experience accessible from multiple devices. For example, Prince of Persia: Warrior Within is available on Xbox, PC, and mobile phones, but they are three separate games, and a mobile phone user cannot access her or his Xbox version of the game from the morning train. Providing this ability to access and interact with a game anywhere, anytime is the primary goal of TMA, (...) Although any game with elements of persistence or community-driven content will benefit from transmedial interactions, persistent online worlds especially stand to benefit (...) Transmedial interactions offer an infinite variety of possibilities for game design, as the following examples illustrate: - A collectible-card game, such as Perplex City which introduce players in an alternate reality game. - A team-based alternate-reality simulation spread across diverse “stations,” - Both Nintendo’s and Sony’s dabblings with GameBoy-GameCube and PS3-PSP connectivity - A guild management tool, where increased connectivity leads to increased social networks and a richer, more realistic experience. (...) Beyond the games themselves are meta-game content, such as blogs, guild pages, and social network sites, strategy guides, mod sites, and so on. Most of this content is player-created and accessed through different mechanisms. Devices or interfaces that aggregate meta-game content in ways that help create coherent, if not seamless, game experiences represent another potential area for transmedial interactions to improve gaming."

Why do I blog this? this is material for a new research projects I am starting about digital/physical worlds interconnections. I am quite interested in how to augment games with new layers of interactions (both in mobile and fixed contexts). But, as opposed to certain arguments in this paper ("Time investment for players must be reduced to achieve the market’s growth potential, recapturing those who quit because of demanding commitments in real life, and attracting those who never even made the effort to begin."), I am more interested by the new forms of interactions that may appear than by market growth or filling every human's free time with content.

Seamful design: showing the accuracy of location predictions

Dearman, D., Varshavsky, A., de Lara, E., Truong, K.N. An Exploration of Location Error Estimation. To appear in the Proceedings of UBICOMP 2007: The 9th International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing (September 16-19, Innsbruck, Austria), 2007. The paper deals with location-aware computing and how location predictions often fails to report their accuracy. The authors propose to reveal the error of location prediction (in a very "seamful design" way) and evaluate different possibilities in a field study, showing significant benefit in revealing the error of location predictions.:

"Predicted Location. In the predicted location condition, we provided participant with the predicted location of herself and the poster

95% Confidence. In the 95% confidence condition, we provided participants with a region defined by a confidence ring, in which the application is 95% confident that the actual location is contained within the ring.

Customizable Confidence. In the customizable confidence condition, we provided participants (by default) with the same visualization as the 95% confidence condition; however, they could manipulate the confidence level of the ring.

Optimal Error. In the optimal error condition, we provided participants with a ring for each location (see Figure 3(e)) where the ring’s radius is defined by the true error of the location prediction."

What is very interesting here is the description of how users cope with the localization system and how they benefit from the presentation of the positioning error:

"Our results show that presenting an estimate of the positioning error provides a significant benefit. Fixed estimates of error (e.g., 95% confidence and customizable confidence) provided little additional benefit, but they do help confine the search area. The optimal error condition strongly and positively in- fluenced participants’ search strategies. Participants found all posters where the true error was small. When the true error was large, participants experienced the same problems for finding the posters as the participants in the other conditions. However, participants in the optimal condition could identify that the true error was large and differentiate between high and low true error, where as participants in all other conditions could not. "

Why do I blog this? because this field study is an interesting exemplification of seamful design, i.e. revealing the limits/shortcoming of a system to the users. Results are quite interesting as they express which sort of information can be valuable to the users.

Location-awareness to initiate mobile phone call

De Guzman, E., M. Sharmin, and B.P. Bailey. Should I Call Now? Understanding What Context is Considered When Deciding Whether to Initiate Remote Communication via Mobile Devices. Proceedings of Graphics Interface, 2007. This paper deals with the problem of disruptive phone calls (to the current task or social situation). The authors propose to provide callers with a an awareness display of the receiver's context (very similar to what Jyri described at Reboot 8.0, which became Jaiku). They report here the results of "a four week diary study of mobile phone usage, where users recorded what context information they considered when making a call, and what information they wished others had considered when receiving a call".

Results shows that the call initiation process would benefit from an awareness display system by giving access to more accurate context information that caller already consider (e.g., task status and physical availability) and encourage callers to consider additional context that they consider less often, but receivers deem important (e.g., social availability).

What is relevant in the paper is the implications for awareness display systems described in the conclusion. Among them, I was very interested by some of them:

"Provide more than location. Though our results show that both callers and receivers consider location, it is considered much less than other categories. For example, if a receiver is engaged in face-to-face conversation, results from our study indicate that it is more important to make the caller aware of the conversation itself than its location. Thus, though awareness displays should display location-based context, they should not rely on this alone. "

This is definitely close to my phd research, given that it highlights the importance of activity against information about location. This lead also to the description of different levels of granularity, which are of considerable importance in terms of user's appropriation of the location information:

"Consider granularity when collecting and presenting receiver context. When describing context information in the diary study, the granularity varied depending on the situation. For example, when inquiring about a receiver’s task status, some callers asked “Is he studying?” while others asked “Is he writing a paper?” In the first case, showing the receiver’s location (e.g., at the library or in a classroom) may be sufficient. However, the second case would require more detail such as what application is active on his desktop. An awareness display should thus be able to present varying levels of detail regarding the receiver’s context. "

Finaally, that advice is also of importance:

"Empower callers to make inferences based on multiple cues of a receiver’s context. Even as sensing technology becomes more accurate and capable of sensing more behavioral acts, there may always be a large gap between the low-level information that can be sensed and the high-level task or social situation of a receiver. Based on our results and experience gained from this study, we learned that awareness displays should be designed such that they provide callers with discrete cues of a receiver’s context, rather than trying to compute a single, holistic measure of “availability.”"

Why do I blog this? some good elements in this study that echoes with my phd research, surely to include in current thoughts about future projects on this topic.