Social Computing by Tom Erickson

An autoritative overview of Social computing and its relation to social media:

As humans we are fundamentally social creatures. For most people an ordinary day is filled with social interaction. We converse with our family and friends. We talk with our co-workers as we carry out our work. We engage in routine exchanges with familiar strangers at the bus stop and in the grocery store. This social interaction is not just talk: we make eye contact, nod our heads, wave our hands, and adjust our positions. Not only are we busy interacting, we are also remarkably sensitive to the behaviors of those around us. Our world is filled with social cues that provide grist for inferences, planning and action. We grow curious about a crowd that has gathered down the street. We decide not to stop at the store because the parking lot is jammed. We join in a standing ovation even though we didn’t enjoy the performance that much. Social interactions like these contribute to the meaning, interest and richness of our daily life.

More: interviews with Tom Erickson


Erickson, Thomas (2011): Social Computing. In: Soegaard, Mads and Dam, Rikke Friis (eds.). “Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction”. Available online at

MobileHCI 2011 report

Here are my notes of this year MobileHCI 2011. I presented the work we conducted last year on contextual applications with the UDSI team. The paper was titled: “Barriers and bridges in the adoption of mobile phone contextual services” – PDF:, SLIDES:

MobileHCI 2011 has been organized in Stockholm, Sweden by the SICS and by the MobileLife center. I was in the organizing committee. I chaired the design competition. This year we had 420 registered participants. We received around 270 submissions out of which 63 papers were chosen for presentation at the conference (23% acceptance rate). Best paper award was given to a work of Niels Henze titled: “100,000,000 Taps: Analysis and Improvement of Touch Performance in the Large”.

The keynote was given by Jeanna Kimbré (Sony Ericsson). She started her talk with the premise that form (hardware design) should reinforce function (software design). In her line of thinking form should follow function + fun. Therefore they do lots of research on materials and colors to find the most appealing combination for what they call aesthetic expression (a combination of user experience and design). They follow the 6D (design, develop, distill, discard, delight). They publish every year a 250 pages trends report because they are a global organization and they need to be on the same page.

On the first day, I presented Karen’s paper in the session “Understanding mobile phone use”. Tricia Wang from UCSD presented the paper titled “Ethnography of the telephone: changing uses of communication technologu in village life”. The study was conducted in isolated villages of Guatemala. They conducted a focused field work on communication technology because in these villages usually adult males leave the country to find a job in the States and to send back the money to their family. Cell phone signal coverage is poor and even if there was they probably could not afford the fares. They use call shops called “caseta telefonica”, locutorios. These are important places to make and receive phone calls. People in the villages do not have private phones in their homes and therefore use the casetas. People are called through loudspeakers so everybody knows about the phone calls they receive. People in some villages now use a telefono fijo that is an hybrid embedding GSM technology. This kind of phones are used by a third of the families. These are typically shared by 4 families. Understanding how communication technologies are used in this places is important because these remote villages like this one exists everywhere in the world. We need to understand the social conditions that underly the use of technology. Implications: 1- cost of mobility -> for most people in the world mobility comes with a cost; 2- intermediate technology -> older technology comes back into intermediate ways.

MATTHIAS BOHMER presented a paper titled “Falling asleep with facebook Angry bidrs and kindly / a large/scale study on mobile application usage.” They tried to answer the question: How do people use their applications on mobile phones? Their work relates to the paper by girardello and michahellis, 2009 on Appaware. However, while this looks only at applications installed and disinstalled, they also look at how these applications are used. They developed an app sensor that was embedded within a recommender application for smartphone applications. APPAZAR. Basic findings: typical user uses an app for about one hour per day. They also have usage per category. App usage correlates with circadian circle. They showed a table of probabilities of applications being used in specific times of the day. They also looked at transitions between applications. Implications: 1- menus should adapt to time, location, previously used apps; 2- app design should incorporate apps transition patterns; 3- app sensor can provide additional context information.

HENRIETTE CRAMER presented a paper titled: “Performing a check/in: emerging practices, norms and conflicts in in location.sharing using foursquare”. They focused on applications such as foursquare that use a check-in model. Why does it work? There is a semantic naming of places. There is a gamification aspect because you can get points for checkins. They tried to understand foursquare usage motivations and norms. There are utilitarian reasons to check in. Also, for social-connection & self-presentation. To learn about new people and to discover new places. 17% of the participants of the study did not share their check-in with others. Why? For future reference, to get discounts, to self-motivational tool, and to pass time. Some people self-impose some rules such as actually visiting the place and not just passing by. The system does not impose this limitation. Some users only friends their inner circle. They say they would not want to friend strangers and colleagues and their bossed but they actually have this people in their friends list. People adapt to their audience. Some content is acceptable in one network but it is not acceptable on another network. Some users invent virtual places to make inner jokes such as checking into a bridge over the road where most people get stuck in morning traffic. The game element also affect the real world perception.

JAIME TEEVAN conducted an interesting study that is relevant to our work on Mobile Information Needs. The paper was titled: “Location, Time & People in Mobile Local Search”, They conducted a survey on mobile local search with 929 microsoft employee. They asked questions in what was the last local search they conducted on mobile decide. People search while they are on the go. People plan to visit the POI fairly soon and want the poi to be fairly close. 63% of searches were conducted with another person. 24% of reasons to begin search involved another person. About half of searches are for generic places. In addition to users’ current location the users’ destination is also important. People often use search results immediately.

MOHIT JAIN presented a paper titled: “Exploring display techniques for mobile collaborative learning in developing regions.” Many times it happens that multiple children interact in front of a single display. The paper review previous literature on this theme. They designed collaborative games that could be deployed in mobile devices for developing regions. They redesigned a collaborative version of boggle. In the experiment they compared a single display with pico projector with a multiple display on mobile devices.

RONALD ECKER from BMW research presented a paper titled: “EcoChallenge: a race for efficiency.” Their goal was to encourage the drivr to have a more eco-friendly driving style without patronizing him/her. They describe the designing a location based driving challenge. The driver bahavior can influence efficiency up to 50%. They designed a community based and in-car system that allow the users to compete in a challenge to maintain the most efficient driving style.

COSMIN MUNTEANU focused on adult literacy. He presented a paper titled: “Showing off your mobile device: Adult literacty learnung in the classroom and beyond.” Nearly 9 million Canadian adults are at low literacy levels (1 or 2). Literacy levels have not changed over the past decade. They studied eleven participants in two classes over six months. They designed a mobile application to improve reading skills for adults. They application offered also the possibility to understand the meaning of words. They referred to the TAM (technology acceptance model).

In the afternoon I took part in the context session where I presented our work on contextual applications. BRIAN LIM presented a nice work on the “Design of an Itelligible Mobile Context-Aware Applications”. They started from the premise that if users do not understand how application works they end up misusing or abandoning them. The work he is focusing on is how to make applications intelligible. How to design an intelligible context-aware application for mobile social-awareness. They designed LAKSA a prototype they designed to answer this question and to test previous findings. They describe 4 design strategies for intelligibility. They run usability studies to test these 4 strategies.

JOEL FISHER presented a paper titled: “Investigating Episodes of Mobile phone Activitys indicators of opportune moments to deliver notifications.” They tried to use contextual information to find when was the best time to show a notification on a mobile phone. They tried to model breakpoints in cognitive tasks. Opportune moments for delivery lay at the breakpoints between subtasks. They designed an experiment to test the hypothesis. They designed an application on the android to popup the question related to the interruption.

Later, I attended a session on navigation and wayfinding. STEFANO BURIGAT presented a paper titled: ¨Pedestrian Navigation with Degraded GPS Signal: Investigating the Effects of Visualizing Position Uncertainty¨. The basic question they tried to answer was: “How can we support navigation when the GPS signal is degraded or not available?”. Their solution was to make the position uncertainty explicit, visualizing an estimate of the area where the user might be located. The area of uncertainty is centered on the last accurate position. They compute the size of the area of uncertainty base on the motion of the user. They display the area of uncertainty as a circular area or as a colored street network. They conducted an evaluation where they simulated a degrated GPS signal and presented the users with one of the visualization (either circular or street network). They found that street visualization required a smaller workload (NASA TLX) than the basic visualization.

The first session of Thursday afternoon was on text entry technology. PER OLA KRISTENSSON presented a paper titled: “A Versatile dataset for text entry evaluation based on genuine email”. Text entry methods were usually based on methods that asked people to type predefined sentences. Experiments should be reproducible. They propose to use the EXXON dataset. Many emails in this corpus have been marked as sent by a blackberry. From this corpus they extracted 2239 sentences or fragments. They manually reviewed them and fixed spelling mistakes and removed duplicate sentences or incomprehensible sentences. They compared this corpus with other datasets obtained through desktop pcs and found that emails written on a mobile devices are different because contains less letters, they are written in 1st person, and they contain questions. The impications is that we should use this corpus to test text entry on mobile devices.

SAURABH PANJWANI presented the paper: “Script-Agnostic Reflow of Text in Document Images”. Sometimes evectronic documents are available to users only in the form of document images (PDF bitmap). Screen width can hinder readability of text. With document images the user is forced to pan and scroll. Reflow tools exists but these works largely for english documents only. They rely on ocr (optical character recognition). Less than 15% of the wold speaks English natively. Increasingly books in such scripts are being digitized. Therefore they tried to answer the following question: “Can we build tools that can reflow non-english text without using OCR?” They designed a script-agnostic reflow for PDF documents and demonstrated the tool during the talk. Their method works for scripts that separate words by white spaces. They evaluated the technique with 4 languages: english, hindm hannadam and arabic.

KIMBERLY WEAVER presented an interesting paper titled: “Understanding information preview in email email processing”. The goal is to undertand the tradeoff between information preview in emails and workload. They asked participants had to triage their work email on a personal iphone. They were using their actual emails not corpus. They asked participant to repeat the task for a week. Each day they were using a different number of preview lines. The recorded the logs and they administered a questionnaire each day. From a log side they found that 3 lines are optimal, while use choice was on 2 lines.

YOUNGHEE JUNG presented an interesting paper titled: “Solving the Indian Text Input Puzzle”. In India there are 22 official languages in Constitution. 77 M English literate (< 10%) People in India they are not using their own language on mobile phones because these script languages are not supported on these phones. They aimed at designing a text input mechanisms that could minimize the learning curve and that could support all 22 languages. They designed the new input technology and this reduced dramatically the keypresses when compared to Panini and the Nokia ITU keypad.@JABBERER HTTP://YOUNGHEE.COM

The very same problem was tackled by ANIRUDHA JOSHI who presented a paper titled: “Devanagaru virtual keyboards for touchscreens mobile phones.” They designed a virtual keyboard that grouped vowels and consonants and that mapped them on the keyboard by frequency of use. Also, they applied a color code. They produced several designs and compared them.

JEFF PIERCE presented a paper titled: “Smart Phone use by non-mobile business users”. Mobile phones to produce information not just consuming information. People do less input of the information than consumption of the information. Device password and device limitations push people away from using mobile devices for their work. They did not observe any difference in terms of using a virtual vs. physical keyboard. People normally overestimate reading time, while they underestimate typing time. People normally think that doing tasks on mobile phones takes more time and effort. One of the implication of this work is that perhaps we can separate personal and business use through some sandboxing and ‘personas’ for devices.

Later I attended a session on the collaborative production of video. AUDUBON DOUGHERTHY presented a paper titled: “Live Streaming Mobile Video: Productions as civic engagement”. She works for the Comparative media study department, MIT. Their research question was the following: What kind of videos are actually being broadcast online through mobile devices. They studied Qik which is a smartphone app to broadcast video from the mobile. They assigned value tags to the videos found on the website to understand production trends. Thgey interviewed some of the top producers of videos in Qik. 11% of the video had personal values while the rest being personal videos. Civic videos were largerly generalistic. Users were largerly male. The average length of videos wer 7 minutes and 30 seconds while civic videos were 5 minutes longer in average. Sharing ideas with strangers was enough of a motivating factor to push users of Qik to produce their videos.

HELI VAATAJA presented a work titled: “Crowdsourced news reporting: supporting news content creations with mobile phones.” They focused on a hyperlocal community news. This is a local newspaper where readers send 20K pictures every year. At the moment, the journalists of the newspaper choose stories and then send MMS to volunteers/readers so that s/he can write a short article about the story and add some pictures on it. The best story that appears in the tabloid receive a prize. They are now looking at solutions to geolocate their readers to be able to assign them to stories that are also diverse in terms of coverage of the territory. They conducted a study with 9 participants. Most of them had stubmitted photos 2-3 times in last half a year. Their main motivation to participate was the incentive given. They conducted a study on SMS + location based assignments. They found several benefits for reporters and for the news room.

The final keynote was delivered by Adrian Cheok (university of Singapore and KEIO JP). His main argument was that we should move from informational communication to experiental communication. He showed a number of prototypes on experiental communication. E.g., giving hugs to your pet friends, hugging people at a distance, enriching paper communication. He showed examples of communication involving food printing. He also presented example related to sound and smell communication.

CHI 2011 report

CHI 2011 was held in Vancouver, CA on May 7-11 [1]. For those who do not know CHI, this is the premiere conference on human-computer interaction. This year there were over 3K attendees. The conference had over 6.9K authors that submitted 2.5K articles. Of these, 20% were accepted for presentation in the conference. The event had 16 tracks running in parallel with over 150 presentations every day. The keynote was delivered by Howard Rheingold (Smart Mob): it was about learning.

I attended the first three days of the conference and –as always– there were many papers that got my attention. What you are going to read next are some notes I took of papers that I found interesting. Particularly, I attended sessions on the following topics: research methods (mostly qualitative), telepresence, tagging, low-cost ICT for development, microblogging, user studies in developing regions, wireless networks, home automation, HCI for peace, location sharing, and low-cost phones.

On the first day, I attended a session on research methods, that got three honorable mentions. Of these I liked the presentation of Eric Baumer (Cornell) who conducted a study to compare activity theory and distributed cognition. His argument was that depending on the theory that you choose as researcher you can get results that are dramatically different. To prove the point, they conducted a fake study that was analyzed using both the AC theory and the DC theory. They discussed several points that help researchers choose the right research method. The other presentation I liked was that of Jens Riegelsberger and Audrey Yang (Google) who reported on methodological issues they identified while conducting field research across 9 locations. There were several things that worked well such as in-field pre analysis, cloud tools and templates used by the various teams to share data, and card-sorting at the basecamp. However, there were several things that did not work well, such as safety margins for logistics that were too short, and work load of field teams that was set too high. On the same session, Leah Findlater (HCIL, U Maryland) presented the Aligned Rank Transform for non-parametric Factorial Analysis [2]. Basically, error rates and user satisfactions are often measured with ordinal scales. Also, Error rates are often skewed towards zero and therefore we cannot analyze the data using a factorial ANOVA. The method they presented, called ART retain familiarity with the f-test and allow to conduct factorial analysis using ANOVA procedures on these situations. Unfortunately, they did not present the math behind, need to look at the paper.

In the afternoon, I attended the Designing for Democracy session. The first presentation did not fully fit in this session because it was about persuasive technology to promote ideal weight. It was presented by Victoria Schwanda (Cornell). They presented a system called Fit4Life that used sensor to monitor all the user was doing and to even listen to his conversations with the aim of persuading him/her to have a more active lifestyle. The system is NOT real. The created this design to provoke discussion on the limit that this kind of technology should have. The second presentation was delivered by Joan di Micco (IBM research), about how to engage citizens through visualizations of congressional legislation. She proposed 4 stages of engagement with government data: a. understanding, b. communication, c. interpretation, d. contribution. Their system was dealing with the first level. They used MALLET, a machine classifier to assign each part of a bill to a certain topic. They conducted analysis of usage patterns of power users vs. casual users. They also interviewed many of the casual users. Later, Moira Burke (CMU) presented Social Capital on Facebook, a longitudinal study on social capital based on kinds of facebook activities and individual differences. They run longitudinal surveys paired with facebook server logs. To measure casual relations between the variables they used a lagged dependent variable analysis. They found that lots of direct communication is associated with well-being. So, for social capital it is not enough to have friends in network. Benefits, come from interacting one-to-one with them. Similar findings were presented by Christian Yoder (U North Carolina). They found that status updates were not associated with an increase of social capital. This is mostly because these updates were not “talking” to anybody in particular.

Later on the same day, I attended the “tagging” session. One of the most interesting presentation was delivered by Michael Bernstein (MIT) who talked about “friendsourcing”. The whole concept was extremely related to the Social Tagging Revamped paper that we presented last year. Their basic premise was that some applications need specific information about you and can perform vey interesting forms of personalization. He described in particular Collabio, a facebook game that allows participants to tag each other with keywords that describe their interests and preferences. Using this information they could propel a number of services that are better tailored to people’s needs. He also listed a number of commercial services that were designed using the “social crowdsourcing” premise: GuessWho, FeedMe, Social Q&A (a specialized version of Quora), and Socialpedia. All in all, it was interesting to see that our idea of crowdsourcing is taking place and being incorporated into several commercial products. Michael has posted the paper and the slides of the presentation on his website [3].

On Tuesday, I attended the low-cost ICT for development session. Elba del Carmen (U Duisburg-Essen) and colleagues conducted surveys and field studies to understand how children appropriated the presence of mobile phones in rural classrooms in Panama. They lent the phones to the students for the duration of the study. Ruy Cervantes (U California Irvine) presented a study of how mexican schools used low-cost laptops. Their findings showed that the ecological infrastructure is key to support laptop-based education. Technology coordinators were extremely important to bring teachers up to speed and to administer the sharing of the resources. A strong human infrastructure was key to support change. Next, Gaurav Paruthi (MSR India) presented a study on how DVD players can be used as offline browsers for wikipedia. Their basic premise was that DVD players penetration rate was higher than PC penetration rate in India. Therefore they designed a distribution of wikipedia for DVD [4]. The menu and search could be done through the remote control of the television. They believe this is the cheapest way of distributing multimedia content in developing regions.

In the afternoon, I attended the session on microblogging behavior. Kate Starbird (U Colorado) presented a paper titled: “Voluntweeters: Self-Organizing by Digital Volunteers”. The released a microsyntax for twitter to help during the emergency situations. They studied how people used twitter during the quake in Haiti last year. Volunteers were retweeting, tweeting ushahidi reports, verifying information and putting people in contact with local coordinators. Volunteers did not know each other before the quake. Therefore they studied the emergence of the organization. Cathy Marshall (MSR) presented a study of people’s perception of ownership of user generated content. Who owns the tweets? What are the limits that people feel about media they did and did not create themselves? For many people is perfectly fine to take online content and re-use it for personal presentations and communications. Haewoon Kwak (KAIST) presented a study on the reasons why people unfollow others in social networks. Studying this kind of behavior is hard because social networks do not expose this kind of behavior. Therefore they scraped a dataset of 1.2M users in Korea and collected daily snapshots of follow networks and compared consecutive structures of this network. They found that people unfollow frequently in twitter, 43% of the time during the subsequent 2 months after following a peer, with an average 15 unfollow per person. The study reported a number of reasons for unfollowing a peer. A similar study was conducted by Funda Kivran-Swaine (Rutgers U) who focused on the impact of network structure on breaking ties in online social networks. They tried to understand what structural properties of the social network of nodes can predict the breaking up of ties in twitter. They used a huge dataset that was analyzed with multi-logistic regression. The model is reported in the paper. The more neighbors a dyad shared the less likely the breaking of the relationship. They also found that follow-back rate in twitter is a good indication of status in the SN.

Less related to this last group was the study presented by Jennifer Golback (U Maryland) on computing political preference among twitter followers. They used a list of congress members that are active on facebook. They also used a secondary source of information to understand how much liberal or conservative they are. They also intersect this information with news on online news sites. They found that people tend to follow politicians whose ideas reflect theirs. They are thinking about using this system to create a recommender system. They can use the same method to rate companies with their environmental score.

In the afternoon, I attended a session on user studies / ethnography in developing regions. Indrani Medhi (MSR India) presented a study on designing mobile interfaces for novice and low-literacy users. Deepti Kumar (IIT Madras) presented a study on how mobile payments are handled in India. The study focused on how people bargain and negotiate prices. Elisa Oreglia ( U California Irvine) describes information-sharing practices and ICT use in rural northern China. They found an abundance of information, and a scarce localization. There is an abundance of ict but under-utilization. They found a prevalence or oral information exchanges. Also, they found that information brockers are extremely important.

One last paper in the afternoon caught my attention. Barry Brown (U California San Diego) presented an interesting study on challenges and opportunities for field trial methods. The paper discusses methodological challenges in running user trials. They constructed a fake trial to examine how trial insights are dependent on the practices of investigators and participants. The best quote: “participants do not like your system, they like you!”.

On Wednesday, I attended the wireless networks session. Marshini Chetty (Georgia Tech) presented a paper on making network speeds visible. They designed Kermit a prototype [5], who visualize who is online, to allow personalization of the display, show the biggest bandwidth user, and show a history of bandwidth usage to make correlations. Participants in their interview showed that they had little understanding of what bandwidth is. They also showed to have little knowledge of how internet applications use bandwith. The tool seemed to help understanding who was consuming the internet in the household. Kermit also allowed them to control network usage in ways that participants were not used to.






Rhythms and plasticity: television temporality at home

Irani, L., Jeffries, R., and Knight, A. Rhythms and plasticity: television temporality at home. Personal Ubiquitous Comput. 14 (October 2010), 621–632. [PDF]


This work focuses on new temporalities of media consumption in the home as enabled by new media technologies. The authors conducted in-home interviews and diary study with 14 households over two weeks. They found many instances of the classic image of television temporality, namely families relaxing together in front of the television. They also found examples of time-shifting to adjust broadcasts to fit one’s agenda. However, they also found a range of complex temporal patterns that sit between these two extremes.

They found many instances of rhythmic television watching. These are subject to change and are negociated. When made visibles these are a source for social coordination. DVR technologies allowed people flexibility in the times they watched television.

They found that rhythms might span across households. However, while most of the previous literature focused on the synchronous nature of these social events, they found instances of watching television independently at individually convenient times that still sustained the rhythm of the collective discussion experiences.

They also found accounts of “plastic” television watching. Plastic time activities are the variable, ad hoc time that fits between or along with other activities. On Demoand cable television allowed users to browse lists of shows, find one that fit into one’s anticipated amount of time, and immediately begin watching. This kind of television would also allow users to skip not relevant or interesting content or to watch more episodes of a series of interest.

The study concludes with interesting and relevant design implications:

1) the design and support of temporal awareness may support the sociality of television. Design that support asymnchronous sociality might also support some users keep up with television shows.

2) on demand TV might support plastic time by having a selection of very short video segments;

3) recommender systems would benefit from sense of timing and social awareness and realizing that timing might be as important as the stories or genres presented.

An examination of daily information needs and sharing opportunities

Dearman, D., Kellar, M., and Truong, K. N. An examination of daily information needs and sharing opportunities. In Proceedings of the 2008 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work (New York, NY, USA, 2008), CSCW ’08, ACM, pp. 679–688. [PDF]


The main argument of this work is that context-sensitive information needs can be supported by individuals in the social network. The authors support the idea that many contextual needs require specialized knowledge that is often not available on the Internet.

Under this assumption they conducted a 4-weeks diary study in which a diverse group of participants recorded the information they needed or that they wanted to share. They collected 1290 entries that were analyzed using grounded theory affinity analysis. They grouped the needs into 9 main categories with relative subcategories. Participants were able to satisfy their needs 45.3% of the time. Participants satisfied their information need by asking someone, going to a location where the information was available, look the answer on the web and user other methods suchg as the GPS, paper documents, trial and error and other media.

By looking qualitatively at the answers they observed some interesting facts: The timeliness of the information was a key factor and also the trust relationship with the source of the answer was an higly quoted variable that participants took into account.

WishTree: share your wishes

The basic idea of the application is that you can formulate a wish and share it with people around you. The wish takes the form of a seed that you need to cultivate by giving enough water and light. Little by little the wish grows into a tree and it starts making flowers. People nearby can see your wish because it is planted at a geolocated position and can send you comments and encouraging messages to help you make you wish come true.

The concept of the app came out of the joint work that we did last summer with the UDSI team in Barcelona. I also like the idea because of my past work with the DigitalSeed [link] etc.

If you want to try out the app: WishTree

WishTree_1.png WishTree_2.png

Information needs and practices of active mobile internet users

Heimonen, T. Information needs and practices of active mobile internet users. In Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Mobile Technology, Application &#38; Systems (New York, NY, USA, 2009), Mobility ’09, ACM, pp. 50:1–50:8. [PDF]


The authors of this paper looked at the effect of dataplan on smartphones have on mobile information needs and poractices. The authors used a diary study with 8 participants over the course of two weeks. Participants were filling a web form where they were asked to answer a certain number of questions (where / when / what / how / did you find what you were looking for?). They used a strict definition of information needs: need for a piece of informationthat you cannot recall from memory or that is not immediately available to you and that you would likely spend few minutes attempting to solve it while mobile.

They classified with simple coding the information needs into 15 topical categories. They divided the needs into utilitarian (pragmatic) and hedonic (entertainment). Most of the needs, 45%, were addressed immediately. The majority of the users answered the needs through web search. Interestingly, they also found that the contributing reasonto the information need is not easily attributable to any environmental factor (33% of the times).

The paper also presents some nice implications for design, such as the use of communal knowledge to solve mobile search needs. Also, they suggested several techniques to take advantage of the user’s interaction to predict mobile information needs.

Design Competition at MobileHCI 2011: The Essence of Mobile Communication and Connectivity

The text of the design competition has been published on the MobileHCI’11 website (design brief below):

I would be grateful if you could spread the word around to colleagues who might be interested in academia and industry.

Design brief: The Essence of Mobile Communication and Connectivity

Mobile technology is very close to everyday lives, for more than half of the world’s population. It is reflected well by the fact that we hear about it very often. However designers, researchers, technologists and journalists alike tend to give too much highlights on what’s new, especially around high-end, so-called ‘Smart phones’. Arguably, smart phones embody the exciting future of mobile connectivity, but they may not reflect the reality of mobile connectivity for majority of users around the world for many years to come, due to affordability, infrastructure, total cost of ownership, and simply, user preference.

Overall, people’s behaviors around mobile communication devices have certainly changed over the past decades. People have experienced a considerable diversity of mobile phones, hence it is logical to assume that what people may consider as essential features of a mobile phone would have been diversified and changed as well.

Thereby we challenge contestants to define the essence of mobile communication and connectivity and demonstrate what, why and how to design it. Most importantly, contestants need to think about a mobile device that is not about extra new features but is rooted on the good design of its core essential functionalities and experience they will create. Perhaps we can think about a phone that uses the exact same hardware features of existing basic phones but with a completely redesigned user experience. Perhaps we can think about a phone that “pushes” some of its intelligence to the cloud. Or a phone that can be operated with voice and that does not require a display.

Context-aware computing applications

B. Schilit, N. Adams, and R. Want, “Context-aware computing applications,” in WMCSA ’94: Proceedings of the 1994 First Workshop on Mobile Computing Systems and Applications, (Washington, DC, USA), pp. 85–90, IEEE Computer Society, 1994. [PDF]


This paper describes software that reacts to an individual’s changing context. According to the authors, three important aspects of context are: where you are, who you are with, and what resources are nearby. Context includes different aspects of the physical environment around the user.

To investigate these topics they developed ParcTab, a small hand-held devices that uses infrared based cellular network for communication. The Tab acts as a graphics terminal and most of applications run on remote hosts.

Using this experimental environment, they describe four interaction mechanism:

  1. Proximate Selection, the located-objects that are nearby are emphasized or otherwise made easier to choose.
  2. Automatic Contextual Reconfiguration is the process of adding new components, removing existing components or altering the connections between components.
  3. Contextual Information and Commands happens when contextual information can produce different results accodring to the context in which they are issued.
  4. Context-Triggered Actions are sets of rules that specify how contex-aware systems should adapt.