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

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Gossip in mobile lifestyles

This paper is liberally speculative about the patterns in gossip and the purpose of it, but it has some fascinating theories about what types of communication mobile phones are allowing us to do. In particular, the ability of gift-giving through the act of sending text messages and the ability for shy males to develop social skills by text are interesting side effects of the technology.

"Thanks to mobiles, we can now be in constant contact with a wide network of family and friends. We can gossip anytime, anywhere: the stresses and strains of work, traffic jams, tedious train journeys, supermarket queues and other frustrations of modern life can be instantly relieved by a bit of 'verbal grooming', by talk or text. "

Evolution, Alienation and Gossip, 2001
The role of mobile telecommunications in the 21st century
Kate Fox
[Full-text html]

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Hiding your wearable from the group

This paper is one of the first I've seen to directly address the social awkwardness of wearable computers. They have built an e-suit which uses several method of communicating with the person wearing it including LEDs, sewn in buttons, shoulder vibrators and LCD watches. They have identified 'social weight' as a variable which is defined as "the attenuation of social interaction that an item causes between its user and others." The authors have developed a way to estimate the social impact different devices have and are using this data to choose socially acceptable ways of interacting with the users. Of particular interest is their desire to mimic the appearance and interaction techniques of other commonly worn devices (e.g. a watch) in order to draw less attention to usage.

"To be successful, any usage of the e-SUIT should present itself as the user merely engaging technology familiar to the observer. For example, when the e-SUIT’s watch is used to display and navigate menu information it must appear to onlookers that the e-SUIT’s user is merely checking the time or responding to an alarm. Similarly, when the vibrotactile display formed by the pager motors presents information, or when the integrated keyboard is used, it should not appear that the user is interacting with any technology."

And I do love the acknowledgments section:
"The authors would like to acknowledge the assistance of Vina Brailsford for the lending of sewing equipment and practical tailoring advice."

Minimal Social Weight User Interactions for Wearable Computers in Business Suits, 2003
Aaron Toney, Barrie Mulley, Bruce H. Thomas, and Wayne Piekarski
[Full-text pdf]

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Using technology to create positive norms

This is a draft of a fascinating paper on current methods of maintaining norms in online communities. One of the conclusions the author comes to is that more research needs to be done on how the different systems are affecting behavior. The differences between hierarchical and heterarchical management systems are described and several case studies shown.

The paper discusses how reputations of individual users are being used to rate content and guide other people's reading habits. An interesting subset of that is automatically giving more credit to opinions from your friends than from people you don't know. Social networking mixed with generalized ratings.

These systems are explicitly designed to increase the sociability and usability of collaborative sites that often have thousands of users. The designs are intended to control and encourage certain behaviors and fit under the category of influential technologies. Just as our laws determine whether we live in a dictatorship or a democracy, and affect whether our group behavior is ethical, so too will the design of these systems be inherently political and value laden.

Be sure to check out the (almost entirely public) references list at the end.

Norm Maintenance in Online Communities: A Review of Moderation Regimes (draft), 2003
Derek Lackaff
[Full-text pdf | html]

Monday, March 22, 2004

Urban tapestries

The Urban Tapestries project in the UK is one of the forerunners creatively applying location data to everyday activities. Their research paper investigates a few of the challenges of location aware devices:
How does a user perceive location data?
How can location data help them satisfy their goals or accomplish tasks easier?
Is the loss of privacy offset by other advantages?

Another commercial project similar to this is tagandscan.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Group behavior using push-to-talk services

This paper is an excellent example of really thought provoking research that never makes it into journals and yet should be available to a wide audience.

A pre-existing friend group was given free unlimited use of push-to-talk cellular phones (similar to walkie-talkies) and allowed to develop their own social patterns and communication uses. The authors interpreted the findings using grounded-theory and have shown some of the weaknesses of the method. Despite the weaknesses of the study, the data is rich and the analysis of how affordances affect usage is illuminating. Particularly useful is the fact that different affordances can conflict and their examples of it. Here's a few of the conclusions:

Poor usability dramatically influences what communication happens and how much of it occurs:

"Participants used private connections much more
frequently than group connections, partly because the group mechanism was
cumbersome and partly to avoid annoying other participants"

"People sometimes relayed or requested information over the cellular radios that would probably not have been worth sharing using more heavyweight
mechanisms (analogous to effects reported for SMS relative to telephony (Ito,
2001)). For example, Erica said she would call people to ask questions which she
felt would not be appropriate with the phone.
Erica: “It’s really convenient with roommates. Cause you can ask em just stupid little questions, like, you know, ‘Where’s the extra toilet paper?’ or something.”"

It increased how available participants were:

"Overall, increased availability was tolerable largely because there was a
limited group of participants using the cellular radios, and therefore they were
available only to close friends. They contrasted this with mobile phones, which
they felt gave more people access to them."

Technology-mediated meetings resulted in more in-person meetings:

"they clearly articulated that both more frequent talk and
increased awareness were key factors in the increased visitations. More frequent
talk provided more openings to coordinate co-present activities, as well as being a
resource for learning that initiating such activities would be appropriate."

Lightweight devices require less attention:

"Kelly: “[T]here can be long pauses and nobody cares and so, phones are just so restrictive and
the fact that you have to pay attention so much.”

Media affordances of a mobile push-to-talk communication service, 2003
Allison Woodruff and Paul M. Aoki
[Full-text pdf]

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Effects of size on physically distributed groups

This paper compares differences in remote collaboration teams based on their size. It found that many of the differences between co-located small or large teams are also true for physically dispersed small or large teams.

"Compared to members of larger teams, we
found that members of smaller teams participated more
actively on the team, were more aware of the goals of the
team, were better acquainted with other team members’
personalities, work roles and willingness to communicate
and reported higher levels of rapport. We also found that
members of larger teams reported that their teams were
more conscientious in coordinating activities such as
preparing meeting agendas compared to responses from
smaller teams."

In general smaller teams seem to have a lot of advantages. All the data collected was self-reported via anonymous surveys. It would be interesting to see ethnographic observations to confirm this. I particularly like the section at the end of this paper that discusses weaknesses of the study - not all papers do this for some reason.

Effects of Team Size on Participation, Awareness, and Technology Choice in
Geographically Distributed Teams
, 2002
Erin Bradner, Gloria Mark, Tammie D. Hertel
[full-text pdf]

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Patterns of Group Usage

This is a technical proposal for an algorithm to find patterns in spatio-technical data. They propose the idea that buying behavior could be predicted from group identity, which could be determined by movement and proximity data.
This is not a usage-centered or design oriented paper, but it brings to light some interesting issues for those areas.

On Mining Group Patterns of Mobile Users, 2003
Yida Wang, Ee-Peng Lim, and San-Yih Hwang
[full-text pdf]

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Usability of mobile handsets

This paper takes a practical look at the perceived usability of mobile phones and distinguishes between the external interface, user interface and service interface. There's also a pretty funky tree showing a potential hierarchy for usability issues.

The Three Facets of Usability In Mobile Handsets, 2001
Pekka Ketola & Mika Röykkee
[Full-text pdf]

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Life in a car

This paper takes a sociological perspective on how the mobility provided by the car has changed the environment and social relations. I've recently taken an interest in human-machine symbiosis and how tools provide new affordances for the user. This paper addresses some of those issues:

"The car becomes an extension of the driver’s body, creating new subjectivities organized around the extraordinarily disciplined ‘driving body’ (see Freund 1993: 99; Hawkins 1986; Morse 1998).
A Californian city planner declared as early as 1930 that ‘it might be said that Southern Californians have added wheels to their anatomy’ (cited Flink 1988: 143).
The car can be thought of as an extension of the senses so that the car-driver can feel its very contours, shape and relationship to that beyond its metallic skin.
As Ihde describes: ‘The expert driver when parallel parking needs very little by way of visual clues to back himself into the small place – he “feels” the very extension of himself through the car as the car becomes a symbiotic extension of his own embodiedness’ (1974: 272).
An advert for the BMW 733i promised the ‘integration of man and machine…an almost total oneness with the car’ (quoted Hawkins 1986: 67)."

The car has some parallels to wearable computing devices in that it is mobile, becomes part of self-identity, is personalized, and affords new actions for the user.

The paper concludes that:
"Rather than trying to stifle mobility which has been the strategy until now, societies must draw on and harness the power of the democratic urge to be mobile, hybridised and inhabiting the iron cage of motorised modernity. "

Inhabiting the Car, 2003
John Urry
[Full-text pdf]