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.

[1] http://www.chi2011.org/

[2] http://faculty.washington.edu/leahkf/pubs/CHI2011-wobbrock-AlignedRankTransform.pdf

[3] http://people.csail.mit.edu/msbernst/

[4] http://www.wikipediaondvd.com/site.php

[5] http://www.ic.gatech.edu/news/kermit-helps-households-monitor-and-manage-their-internet-speed

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