CHI 2012 in Austin, Texas – Paper/Talk Highlights!

Overall a great conference but I have to admit frustration at times. Given the huge number of multiple tracks there were lots of occasions where I wanted to be in 3 or 4 places at once! Alas this means I missed out on lots of great papers. Below are some of the papers/talks I attending that I felt were super interesting.

Below is a small list of papers I felt were most interesting/compelling.

Title: Appreciating plei-plei Around Mobiles: Playfulness in Rah Island
Ferreira & Höök
Pedro Ferreira and Kristina Höök conducted a 2-month field study to understand the ways in which mobiles made their way into an environment—Rah Island in Vanuatu—for the first time. The authors found that mobile phones in this remote island, a Melanesian nation in the South Pacific, were used in very playful means, despite very limited infrastructure and the inexpensive devices that were available. The fieldwork conducted by the authors took place on Rah Island where the first mobile tower began operating the day of the authors arrival. The authors gathered 50 pages of notes from ethnographic observations, 1300 pictures, 4 hours of video, conducted semi-structured interviews with 10 people and insights from an open assembly which most of the population attended. The authors discuss various types of play in their paper from game playing, playing with ringtones and wallpapers, playing within limited credit and most interesting playing with limited coverage. The authors provide very nice discussion of how people appropriate technologies, sometimes resulting in a redesign of these technologies. The authors conclude with an in-depth discussion of 3 goals that they believe should be added to future research agendas to fit within the settings of the people in Rah. These goals are: (1) Engaging intimately with the materials of inexpensive ICT, (2) Revisiting design recommendations for playfulness to ensure that they can travel/translate into other cultures and (3) Helping to alleviate existing tensions.

Title: A Hybrid Mass Participation Approach to Mobile Software Trials
Morrison et al.
Alistair Morrison from University of Glasgow presented insights from a mixed method/hybrid approach to carrying out field studies of mobile applications/prototypes. The authors describe problems in conducting (1) only lab-based/local studies or (2) only mass participation studies through app store deployments and instead propose a hybrid approach where a global software release is conducted alongside a concurrent local trial. The paper presents insights from an evaluation of mobile game application, created to explore the use of ad hoc peer-to-peer networking. Insights and lessons are reported from combining a small-scale local trial (11 users) with a ‘mass participation’ trial (over 10,000 users). The authors note some trends in the local trial that did not appear in the larger scale deployment, which would have led to misleading results if the application was evaluatedusing ‘traditional’ methods alone. The authors conclude with a nice set of guidelines for researchers working in this area.

Overall a very nice paper that shows that we need to conduct field studies both locally in small scale deployments and on a larger scale to gather insights at a more general level. What is interesting is the authors conclude that if conducting evaluations of social mobile applications, where some social groupings/ties are needed, then small-scale local studies are best given that such social groupings/ties are unlikely to form naturally in large-scale deployments. If you’re working on evaluations of mobile applications in-the-wild this paper is a must read.

Title: “Yours is Better!” Participant Response Bias in HCI
By Dell et al.
Very interesting paper which presents useful insights on the differences/biases introduced by HCI researchers when evaluating HCI systems. The authors present a case study of a mobile video player to show how such biases can be introduced. After conducting interviews of 450 users in Bangalore, India, the authors show how social and demographic factors can introduce significant biases in participant responses. For example, the authors show that participants were (1) 2.5x more likely to prefer the video player that they believe was developed by the HCI researcher, even when the alternative player was identical, (2) when the interviewer is a foreign researchers the bias towards the interviewers player increased to 5x and (3) in general respondents prefer the interviewers player even if it’s obviously inferior to the alternative. If you’re working in the field of HCI, especially with users in underprivileged / developing populations, this is a must read and shows that we need to pay a lot more attention to biases we are introducing as researchers whether intentional or not.

Title: How Do Couples Use CheekTouch over Phone Calls?
Park et al.
CheekTouch is an audio-tactile communication technique that transmits multi-finger touch gestures applied on a sender’s mobile phone to a receiver’s cheek in real time during a call. The system supports bidirectional gesture transmission/touch delivery as a form of communication while enabling the end-user to hold their phone as normal/in a natural way. The authors evaluate CheekTouch via a pair of prototypes used by four romantic couples in their twenties in a lab-based setting over a 5-day period. The paper discusses how CheekTouch affected the couples non-verbal and emotional communication. The results show that such audio-tactile communication supports persuading, conveying status, delivering information, emphasizing emotion/words, calling for attention, and being playful. Some of the gestures used by the couples including patting, drawing circles, stroking, etc.

Title: Determining the orientation of proximate mobile devices using their backside facing camera
Dearman et al.
Very nice paper reporting on the use of the back facing camera to determine the orientation of mobile devices within close proximity to one another. The authors implement their method as a service called Orienteer. The authors developed two applications to demonstrate how this orientation information can be used to support and enable novel interactions. The first application allows users to push content to another device by simply pointing the device in the same direction of the other device and instigating a simple flick-type gesture. The second application allows users to filter content based on the devices owner (in this case email filtering) by pointing the device toward a second device. A small evaluation of these applications showed how these types of interactions can be very compelling for end-users. This work is very relevant for anyone working on mobile applications that require easy means of grouping, interacting and engaging mobile users. I think it’s especially relevant for anyone interested in social mobile applications as such an approach could provide very simple means of mobile ad-hoc group creation and collaboration.

Title: Volley: Design Framework for Collaborative Animation
Wong & Zaragonza
The authors presented a case study describing the concept design of a prototype for online collaborative animation and offered a number of guidelines in how to engage social communities and simplify animation interfaces. Volley allows users share, edit and animate images. Overall a very fun talk with lots of video and demos of the prototype in action. The authors also presented a future concept for integrating the web app into the living room with the Microsoft XBOX Kinect. Here’s a video to show the prototype in action which I’m sure will bring a smile to most people’s faces!

For anyone working with social/collaborative systems/applications this is a nice paper to read.

There was also lots of nice works related to mobile search, e.g

  • Trajectory-Aware Mobile Search, Amini et al.
  • Characterizing Web Use on Smartphones, Tossell et al.
  • Understanding Mobile Q&A Usage: An Exploratory Study, Lee et al.