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

Monday, March 12, 2007

Thesis now available

Well, the Ph.D. thesis has finally gotten through the steps of completion, examination, acceptance, printing and final award. Phew! One of the more amusing stages of this was where the printing office wanted an encrypted, read-only PDF of the thesis made for transmission and storage. This is for a public thesis which one would hope is read as widely as possible with excerpts taken as needed. Also intriguing is the fact that the 3 paper copies of the thesis practically disappear within the university (the main copy you can find on the unlabeled bookshelf on the 3rd floor of the Electrical Engineering building with no check-out policy for the volumes). One wonders if new research actually gets read by anyone.

So, bypassing all that bureaucracy with a little grass-roots effort, I have made a simple normal (unencypted, able to copy excerpts) PDF and posted it here on my blog. This thesis deviates from the norm slightly in that it has embedded weblinks to most pictures. So the full-size versions of images in the text are available on a web site.

A few notes:

  • Yes, it does have two quotes from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in it.
  • It is 97,000 words, which is long by some standards and short by others.
  • This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.Creative Commons License

Download the entire thesis here:

Methods of Understanding and Designing For Mobile Communities


Society is increasingly on the move, mobile devices are commonly being used to coordinate group actions, and group communication features are rapidly being added to existing technologies. Despite this, little is known about how mobile groups act, or how communications technologies should be designed to augment existing behaviour. This is partially due to minimal research being done on the topic, but also to the lack of research methods available to study the topic with. Mobile groups are challenging to study because of frequent and long-duration movement, frequent distribution, and the rapidly changing environments they operate within. To address these issues, this research focuses on methodological issues surrounding the development of mobile devices for mobile groups and communities. More specifically it addresses backpackers, who are a relevant example of this type of community. The research primarily explores the convergence of computer supported cooperative work (CSCW) and the field of mobile device development. This enables the combination of emphasis on designing technologies for groups, social implications, mobile device design, and mobile settings.

Major research outcomes presented in this thesis lie in three areas: 1) methods, 2) technology designs, and 3) backpacker culture. Five studies of backpacker behaviour and requirements form the core of the research. The methods used are in-situ and exploratory, and apply both novel and existing techniques to the domain of backpackers and mobile groups.

Methods demonstrated in this research include: field trips for exploring mobile group behaviour and device usage, a social pairing exercise to explore social networks, contextual postcards to gain distributed feedback, and blog analysis which provides post-hoc diary data. Theoretical contributions include: observations on method triangulation, a taxonomy of mobility research, method templates to assist method usage, and identification of key categories leading to mobile group requirements. Design related outcomes include: 57 mobile tourism product ideas, a format for conveying product concepts, and a design for a wearable device to assist mobile researchers.

Our understanding of backpacker culture has also improved as a consequence of the research. It has also generated user requirements to aid mobile development, methods of visualising mobile groups and communities, and a listing of relevant design tensions. Additionally, the research has added to our understanding of how new technologies such as blogs, SMS and iPods are being used by backpackers and how mobile groups naturally communicate.