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Mobile Community Design
Research and design information for mobile community developers.

Sunday, February 29, 2004

How mobile we are

"Over the past two centuries, the distance travelled each day by the average person has grown by a factor of ten thousand. According to one estimate, an average person in 1800 traveled no more than about 50 meters each day. Many stayed within and around the home, or worked in the fields, and most of those who worked in the towns and cities lived there. There was little commuting back then. Nowadays we travel an average of 50 kilometers each day."

NEXUS - Small World and the Groundbreaking Science of Networks, 2002
Mark Buchanan

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Who does design?

When I started MCD I wanted to focus primarily on research papers. But I do have another dubious category for 'design resources'. So perhaps I'll do the occasional opinion on design methods or techniques. Maybe it'll even provoke a bit more discussion. (If you haven't already, join Tribe and check out the MCD tribe).

Wired has published a bit of eye-candy on how four 'designers' would 'redesign' the google interface. Actually, they say 'redo' which may in fact be more accurate.

I had an interesting discussion recently with the leader of a development project I was taking part in. We were discussing what 'design' meant. I pointed out that in a larger team you may have seperate roles for:

1) usability/HCI person
2) graphic designer
3) GUI programmer

All of them are doing 'design'. But they do very different things. The first person worries about usability testing, task analysis, scenario development, ensuring things are comprehensible to the user, etc. The second person worries about corporate image, aesthetics, consistent style, logos, etc. The third knows about code to make GUIs and may have a good idea of how widgets should be laid out. All of these people pull in slightly different directions and at times conflict. You could easily add a few more people into the mix such as ethnographers, software engineers, marketing people, IAs, domain experts, etc. There is some overlap in roles and expertise as would be expected. All of the roles are valued, but they need to balance each other out.

Perhaps I'm taking this google article a bit too seriously - but does anyone still believe that a graphic designer or an artist is really a good person to redesign one of the most heavily used interfaces in the world, by themselves? Furthermore, this isn't some interface that people toy with at an art gallery for amusement's sake - this is an interface that actually needs to perform a task for people. That task needs to get done quickly, efficiently, unconfusingly and predictably. In short - it needs to be usable.

Take a look at these proposed interfaces.
My analysis in order:
Unnecessary (or at least secondary) location information placed prominently.
Totally random information confusing you.
Graphics heavy pages more worried about brand than satisfying you quickly.
Magic google buttons with NO INTERFACE DEVICE. Need I say more?

How does all this relate to mobile devices and communities? Good question. Have a multidisciplinary team designing a mobile device and make sure a usability person has sufficient power to control the development process. Mobile device interfaces, and interfaces that are built to allow social networks to form need to be usable, as well as a few other variables, such as sociable.

via Tomalak's Realm

Activities and customization in mobile UIs

This paper provides an activity (not activity theory) based approach for structuring UI (user interface) designs for mobile computers. They also explore the concepts of zooming (an underused navigation method IMHO) and user-customization. The author views activities as being higher level processes which people complete through individual tasks. I'm not sure why the idea of tasks and sub-tasks wasn't sufficient, but here's a new term for it. The paper also advocates increasing the level of customizability to the point where users can practically create their own applications for specific tasks.

The two common arguments about customization:
it increases user freedom and flexibility, while reducing the need for the designer to predict user needs
it complicates the interface, reduces consistency, and places unnecessary cognitive load on the user

The answer is likely somewhere in the middle, but this paper is on the extreme end of "for". Given the fact that mobile users rapidly become experts at some functions given the heavy usage of the devices, they may have a point.

Activity-Based Mobile Interfaces, 2001
Towards a user model for Hybrids between Mobile Phones and PDAs
Staffan Björk
[Full-text pdf]

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Group awareness in piconets

This paper explores several issues including group awareness, group formation, naming schemes, trust and the use of context by bluetooth enabled devices.

Group awareness in Bluetooth, 2004
Jarmo Parkkinen, Kristiina Karvonen
[full-text pdf]

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

The quirks of using while mobile

Well, it's time MCD paid homage to Mizuko Ito. Her ethnographic studies of mobile usage are intriguing and methodologically creative. Her results read like a rich story of in-context social interactions mediated by mobile technologies. The glimpses into Japanese teen culture are illuminating.

"This last change of topic that she describes happens just as she is getting ready to get off the train. The change of topic is an indicator that the conversation has come to an end. She has enlisted a companion on her solitary bus ride, successfully filling dead time with small talk, ending it at precisely the moment when she arrived at her destination."

This diary study approach focuses on transitions between multiple communication methods, based on contextual variables such as being on a train, bus, or walking. It gives a good sense of the complexity of designing for the real lives of people.

Mobile phones, Japanese youth, and the re-placement of social contact, 2003
Mizuko Ito, Okabe Daisuke
[Full-text pdf]

ICEC 2004

3rd International Conference on Entertainment Computing

September 1-3, 2004, Eindhoven, The Netherlands
[Full paper deadline: March 20, 2004]

We invite you to participate at the prestigious 3rd International
Conference on Entertainment Computing under the auspices of the
International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP). Based on
the very successful first international workshop (IWEC 2002) and the
second international conference (ICEC 2003), the next ICEC 2004 has
been set up as an international forum to exchange experience and
knowledge among researchers and developers in the field of
entertainment computing. Different submission types are invited that
present scientific ideas or improvements to existing techniques in
the broad multi-disciplinary field of entertainment and edutainment

Among a long list of other topics, there are the following:

* Mobile Entertainment via e.g. Mobile Phones, PDAs etc
* Wearable Computers and Sensors for Entertainment

Some of the new networked games coming out for phones and wi-fi pdas are interesting examples of mobile communities.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Abstract visualization of social information

This is an excellent paper exploring how socially relevant information is transmitted and depicted by computer mediation. In particular it advocates the use of “social proxies” which are minimalist graphical representations of the online presence and activities of people. Lots of social cues are typically lost in computer-mediated communication environments. The symbolic displays shown convey this socially meaningful information in a reasonably compact manner which might be useful for mobile groups.

Social Translucence: Using Minimalist Visualizations of Social Activity to Support Collective Interaction, 2002
Thomas Erickson and Wendy A. Kellogg
[Full-text pdf]

Monday, February 16, 2004

Human considerations for a mobile world

A fascinating overview of current social responses to mobile phones has been published in advance of the ITU/MIC conference workshop on shaping the future of mobile information society. The paper has some great graphs showing adoption of the new technologies versus the old and examples of how companies are responding to camera phones. It also gives many examples of how people are adapting the technologies to social needs and how mobile devices are integrating with the sense of self. “I love my phone. It’s my friend” (Female, 32, teacher)

Lara Srivastava
[Full-text pdf]

Thanks to JohnC for the lead.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

From ethnography to design of mobiles

This paper takes a step towards connecting the results of ethnographic research with mobile device design and groupware development. They do an excellent job of using low-fidelity prototypes such as paper and medium-fidelity prototypes such as Flash to evaluate designs with users. However, it is still unclear how the recommendations of the ethnographic studies translate into concrete UI designs and why UI designs were chosen. For instance, a 3D graphical layout is chosen to represent contacts, which may be unusable to depict large groups. This paper is a great read for ideas about what tasks future mobile devices should support for users, but it still leaves some gaps to be explored in the design process.

Mobile Phones for the Next Generation: Device Designs for Teenagers, 2003
Sara Berg, Alex S. Taylor, Richard Harper
[Full-text pdf | unformatted html]

Sunday, February 08, 2004

How small displays affect web browsing

This study does a comparison of task performance while using large displays vs. small displays to interact with web content.

The related work section offers a good overview of other studies that examine how screen size affects reading speed. In this study, they found that "Users of the small screen were 50% less effective in completing tasks than the large screen subjects." The two resolutions tested were 1074x768 and 640x480, so one could argue that task performance would degrade still further at even lower resolutions (around 240 pixels or so) found on many pdas or phones.

There was a few interesting changes in behavior for small screens:
- Search was used twice as often
- Navigation patterns changed
- Scrolling increased

And they came up with some guidelines:
- Put less content on a page
- Provide easy access to search
- Put critical content near the top

The thing I found striking here was that such a relatively small screen size difference had so much impact on task performance and that screen size was changing user behavior. What if you used a small screen to access your favorite online community? Would you behave differently?

Improving Web Interaction on Small Displays, 1998
Matt Jones, Gary Marsden, Norliza Mohd-Nasir, Kevin Boone
[Full-text pdf]

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Electronic groups and social networks

Jenny Preece's intriguing book Online Communities: Designing Usability, Supporting Sociability references the following paper as a "must read" item for understanding how communities operate.

Barry Wellman takes a non-alarmist approach to looking at the impact of new technologies on communities. In large part he advocates the use of social network theory to map relationships between people and determine metrics to watch how they fluctuate. While not entirely objective, the method does bring academic rigor to what would otherwise be unjustifiable supposition.

Wellman argues that social networks in the western world are shifting to have the following properties:
1. domestic: from person's home instead of public places
2. private: operated by person instead of family
3. specialized: different ties for different resources
4. sparsely knit: most people not strongly connected
5. fragmented: members of multiple specialized communities

He also defines six characteristics of social networks:
1. density (degree of contact a member has with all other group members)
2. boundedness (proportion of network members ties that stay within the network boundaries)
3. range (size and diversity of network population)
4. exclusivity (degree of availability for communication to network members)
5. social control (degree to which external sources create, manage and control one's communications and contacts)
6. tie strength (degree of social closeness, voluntariness, multiplexity or breadth and possibly frequency of contact)

An Electronic Group Is Virtually A Social Network, 1996
Barry Wellman
[Full-text pdf]

Sunday, February 01, 2004

The Familiar Stranger

The folks over at Intel seem to be getting away from the development theory that all their new products should support increased use of their processors in the main pc, (such as the cool toys they make that use the pc to view and process its data) and instead are creating designs to imbed their chips in our environment. This device attaches to you or other places or people, and tells you when you're in places you've been before or when you're near familiar people, as well as a few other things.

The neat thing about this study is that it shows how we move, and how relationships exist between us and other people that we don't consciously recognize. We are part of groups we don't know about, and those groups have the potential to become communities. Although some of the scenarios are a bit doubtful, it's a great example of personalizing a place to your own needs and learning more about your environment and those around you via technologies you control.

The Familiar Stranger: Anxiety, Comfort, and Play in Public Places, 2003
Eric Paulos and Elizabeth Goodman
[Full-text pdf]