Posts Tagged ‘CHI2009’

April 18 2009

CHI Digest Vol 1 – alt.chi

by Hang

Below are some quick thoughts on some CHI papers which I didn’t get to see in person. These are solely the highly individualist opinions of the author and no warranty is expressed or implied:

Burn Your Memory Away: One-time Use Video Capture and Storage Device to Encourage Memory Appreciation

A typical MIT media lab presentation, neat concept, no technical depth. Use a double headed match to record and play a video, burn one side to record and then the other side to play. The interface constrains you to one playback per video which can add emotional significance to the video. You can send the half match to someone else as a gift. Sounds cute on first glance but I can imagine it being more frustrating that heartwarming. How do I know when I should view the video? Once I find out, I’ve already viewed it!

Designing for All Users — Including the Odd Users

Frustratingly interesting paper. My reaction was “intriguing, but so what”. Talks about a group of gadget freaks who have maintained the HP LX200, an obsolete handheld for 10 years. Good to promote more awareness that groups like this exist but what are we meant to do with the findings? Paper doesn’t deliver the punchline. Sure, it would be nice to develop for everyone but design is about tradeoffs and you can’t please everyone.

Dying, Death, and Mortality:  Towards Thanatosensitivity in HCI

Heard a lot of great things about this talk. Always interesting when the critical theorists wade into HCI. Unfortunately, also written like critical theory papers, bad memories welling up. Paper seemed too timid, setting up the groundwork without pushing forward with something provocative. Yes, we accept death is a majorly unexamined part of HCI. So now what? What do we do?

Productive Love: A New Approach for Designing Affective Technology

There has been little research done on blah blah… these alt.chi papers are starting to sound similar. Designing for productive love, great concept. Good setup, neat ideas. What I really would have liked is examples pulled from the real world. It’s hard to visualise it purely in hypotheticals. Read it if you’re in the space of evoking emotion in software (and shouldn’t all social software be in that space?)

Television on the Internet: New Practices, New Viewers

Telling us what we already know in a way that we never thought about. Television is being sliced, diced and consumed at will by us youngins. What does that mean for the social institution of television? Interviewed 13 teenagers about their television usage. Read it if you’re a new media junkie.

The Doctor as the Second Opinion and the Internet as the First

Telling us what we already know about health information in a way we never thought about. Same deal as the last paper.

Species-Appropriate Computer Mediated Interaction

Human Chicken Interaction… what the fuck?

Citedness, Uncitedness, and the Murky World Between

Started talking about something interesting (impact of HCI work) and then rapidly devolved into something less interesting (are CHI papers being cited?). Yeah, if you can get your paper into CHI, there’s a high likelyhood that people will read it (I’m proof). If you acknowledge this, there’s no real need to read the paper.

HCI for the Real World

Interesting paper on how ethics should be considered within HCI and as a designer. Worth a read for the intensely navel-gazy among us.

The luxury of thinking deeply

by Hang

One reflection of my time at CHI this year is the luxury that academics have on thinking deeply about a particular domain. In the startup/Web 2.0/corporate world, there’s a certain hummingbird like intensity in which people flit from topic to topic and apply only the lightest and most shallow analysis on everything they touch. There’s always more work to be done and new things that need to be grokked and so many of the people I meet are jack of all trades but master of none. Academics, by contrast, are expected to know one domain of knowledge well and, while it can lead them to becoming comically out of touch with how technology is being deployed and used in the real world, also gives them a perspective and history which is interesting to engage with.

The cause of this is understandable, thinking deeply is a luxury and often somewhat of a guilty pleasure. There’s always something pressing to be done or yet another domain that needs to be mastered. Yes, there’s a lot of criticism that academia becomes an ivory tower but I think there’s value in deliberately cultivating an environment in which you’re forced to think deeply.

However, one persistant criticism I have about academia is it’s failure to engage with the larger discourse that’s happening on the web. My first example of this was actually after my first CHI in 2006 in Montreal. At CHI, a young graduate student called Anand Agrawala presented a neat little system called BumpTop (it launched as a commercial product almost exactly 3 years later while I was at CHI 2009). After the conference, Anand put the BumpTop video online and it quickly became the #1 viewed video on youtube. Working in the field of tabletops at that time, I had some understanding of that space but, being a first year graduate student, I didn’t feel like I could adequately comment on it. But after looking at reams of commentary about the system from a variety of different sources, what I continually failed to see was the insightful and grounded critique I was used to seeing in Academia. Everyone commenting on it approached it from a complete vacuum, ignoring the important work that had gone before it and the hard won lessons of the field.

From that point, I’ve seen, time after time, interesting HCI systems make a larger splash within the general public but no voices of informed critique there to educate and contextualise the news. Part of the reason I made a commitment to blog about CHI this year was to help provide people access to this world of deep thinking that exists within the academic community and to make industry people aware of this immense, untapped resource. I don’t know what the solution to this bridge is or even if there is a solution. I’m certainly not the first or the last to bemoan the gulf between these two worlds. But I think, because this gulf exists, anyone willing to take advantage of it can often profit hugely.

April 10 2009

CHI 2009: Day 4 & Lab Tours

by Hang

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Well, CHI is finally over and it’s a bittersweet feeling. It’s been an overwhelming and overstimlating experience. The final day of CHI held a number of really cool talks:

Social software in the office

The area of enterprise social software is always one I’m always interested in so I was very excited about this session. The first talk was describing a study on blog reading and writing at HP labs. They did a series of semi-structured interviews with HP employees all around the company with a focus on the diversity of input. Everything for new employees to people who had been there for 30 years and across all different continents. The results highlight some of the benifits but also problems of blogging. I related to this paper a lot, finding out that other people had the same issues with blogging that I do. In particular, the lack of feedback was a huge disincentive to blog. When people did get feedback, it was from side channels, via email or in person. This seems to me an indication that something might be fundamentally broken with blog commenting and I’m going to have to do some more pondering on this.

The second talk was on how photo sharing is used on the IBM internal social network and I felt that the relentlessly cheery tone detracted from the insight in this presentation. The talk focused so much on how photo sharing had all these positive effects that it seemed like more of a sales pitch and I found myself wondering how valid the observations actually were. Sure, you can claim through interviews that viewing collegue’s photos increased connectedness but maybe it’s just a more socially acceptable way of wasting time now.

Next was a note on location and privacy by Microsoft Research. It happened to be scheduled at the same time as another location and privacy talk in another track and I was torn between which one I wanted to go to. In the end, I wish I had gone to the other one. The results of the study were basically that location information was not a factor in privacy. Was this because people genuinely don’t care about location or because the study design just didn’t elicit the right information?

The next talk was a great one on how different university groups maintain shared document repository spaces. The speaker made the analogy between shared document spaces and communal fridges where people are unwilling to throw out other people’s food. Unlike fridges though, documents don’t eventually rot and so any document space ends up overwhelmed with crud. It’s an interesting problem space to explore. I tried thinking about it for a while and it has me stumped. I wouldn’t have much of a clue as to how to fix such a problem.

Reflecting on Design, Textual Displays & CoCollage

I told a collegue last night “This may be ironic but I only recently realised I’m a very reflective person”. What I meant was that I didn’t realise how the level of reflection I found natural was so rare in other people. This session on reflective design was very interesting to me. The first talk I attended was on meta-principles of interaction design and I think the general feeling in the room was that there was something significant to unpack there but it was something that would take a much more careful reading of the paper and critical thought. Thus, I don’t think there’s much I can comment on about this talk.

The next talk was on using texture as an input modality for devices and I thought it was an interesting exploration. The authors showed why texture was an interesting input mechanism for different devices: It’s unobtrusive, static, easy to access and you can use it on the go. Examples of texture displays might be using the back of the phone to display whether there was a missed call/text message, augmenting doorknobs with weather information or keyboard rests which change texture 10 minutes before an appointment. While the technology is not there yet, the speaker went through a survey of several promising materials and, overall, I think he made a compelling case. It’ll be interesting to see how real designers end up using it.

Finally, I went to a talk by a local Seattle startup, Strands Inc on using public displays to enhance the community feeling of a coffeeshop in Seattle. They talked about how you could use technology as a tool to enhance connection and community feeling. I thought the tool and the talk were great but one persistant frustration I’ve had with academia is the hesitancy to talk frankly about sex. I asked a question about it and the presenter claimed that they didn’t see that as the primary motivation and I was welcome to look at their data but I have a hard time believing you could build a tool like this and not have it be used primarily for helping people get laid. Still, we’ll see…

Computer Mediated Communication, Industrial HCI & Aesthetics

In the final session of the conference, I jumped between a bunch of sessions.

By far my favourite talk of the day was on using computer mediated communication to enhance the “empty moments” between long distance intimate couples. The presenters did a lot of smart insight on just what is it drives the connection between long distance couples and how to design a tool to support rather than hurt that process. This talk was interesting to me because I had previously done some thinking on how intimate friends share vs ordinary friends and what we want to share only with our inner circle of 5 – 6 people. While we wanted to share excitement with our friends, with people we are intimate with, what adds to that emotional depth is the sharing of “empty moments” or moments in which nothing really exciting is going on. I would highly reccomend going back to the original paper for this one as it conveys the full context and nuance of what they found.

The next talk I went to was on making the analogy between our understanding of fire, temperature and heat and how it relates to our evolution now in HCI. Having embedded my HCI thinking in a historic context, I didn’t find anything too profound from this but I thought it was a valuable paper.

The final talk was on aesthetics vs usability and the results were so obvious I would have rather preferred he handed them out on 3×5 cards and let us get to something else.

Ending Keynote

It felt profound in a generic way. I was too tired to remember most of it.

Lab tours

The day after CHI, the three local labs, Google, IBM & Microsoft had an open house. I missed the Google one and I want to devote a full blog post to IBM and it’s social software research. The Microsoft tour was interesting because the Cambridge, Massachusetts office is still relatively new (there is also a Cambridge, England office which complicates things significantly). Probably the most interesting thing I got from the MS tour was their new Startup Labs. I think it’s a bold move by Microsoft and it’s an open question whether it’s even possible to bottle the “special sauce” that drives great startups but I’m going to be watching this project with great interest.

Reflections

I’m still trying to decompress and unpack all the information I’ve absorbed from CHI and I hope I’ll have the chance to write a summary post some time in the next few days. We’ll see how that goes.

April 9 2009

CHI 2009: Day 3

by Hang

Day 1

Day 2

About CHI:

Computer Human Interaction (CHI) is the premier academic conference every year for academic Human Computer Interaction researchers and for professional usability experts, user experience people and interaction designers who are doing cutting edge stuff. Every year, something like 3000 or so people descend for 4 days of often overwhelming talks, panels, demonstrations, video presentations, networking and, ideally, plenty of drinking. It’s considered somewhat of a taste maker and arbiter within this community. No one person can give a completely impartial view of CHI, most of the time, there’s literally about 14 different things going on at once. The most you can do is go to as much of the stuff that interests you as possible and hook into interesting conversation in the crowd.

Still, CHI is somewhat remote from the workaday world of people who are building just another web application or mobile app. The stuff talked about at CHI is often highly abstract and, quite frankly useless to professional developers and designers. Despite that, I love it. It’s a bunch of overwhelming smart people with an astonishingly diverse array of interests all talking about the stuff they’re passionate about with a mix of brilliant insight and hilarious naivety.

Day 3

Day 3 was a pretty tiring day for me and I was exhausted from the grind and overstimulation of this thing. Most of the talks were uninsipiring and I found myself drifting off a lot but there was one shining bright spot in all of it which was that I went to what I think was the best talk, not only of this CHI, but of any CHI I’ve ever been. So for this post, I’m going to focus primarily on just one talk.

Resonance on the Web: Web Dynamics and Revisitation Patterns

I wasn’t even originally planning to go to this talk. Living in the Seattle area and knowing most of the University of Washington HCI people, my general rule is that I want to reserve CHI time for non-UW talks. However, I had come to that session for an earlier talk I wanted to see and nothing else inspired me so I decided to stay and I was glad I did.

Many of the other talks that I’ve enjoyed at CHI have involved tightly scoping a problem and then coming up with a neat experimental method that probes the question in an effective manner. Eytan Adar’s talk on revisitation and dynamic content was something completely different; it was an exploration into a messy, complex and nuanced data set and an analysis of that dataset which cut through the thicket of noise to produce clear and interesting insight.

“Resonance on the web” is a continuation of some work presented last year at CHI on revisitation patterns on the web. Using an instrumented Microsoft Live toolbar, Eytan collected the usage patterns of 600,000 web users and measured how often they returned to different types of webpages. Some webpages showed short revisitation patterns, most people who return, return 5 minutes or so after their last visit. Others showed that people returned every 6 months or so. By analysing how people revisit a webpage, it was possible to infer what broad class of site it was.

The work presented this year was an extension of this which looks at what people are interested on a page based on revisitation patterns. I’m not going to be able to go into the full subtlety of the talk and I recommend you read the paper for the full details but the basic gist of it is simple:

Most webpages these days are dynamic content. Different elements of the page change, ads change upon every refresh, content changes once in a while, site navigation elements barely ever change. By analysing the same page over time, it’s possible to find which DOM elements change at what rates and then, by matching it to revisitation patterns, you can infer what content people are interested in keeping track of. For news sites like the New York Times, people are constantly refreshing to find the newest content. For shopping sites like Costco, people are mainly coming back to search for things so the navigation bar is the most relevant information. For sites like woot.com, people are mainly interested in the content.

What can you do with this data? Eytan presented two possible applications. One was automatic generation of a mobile site. Since we can infer what content is relevant to most people, we can extract just those elements out for mobile presentation. The other was in generating web snippets for search. Knowing what people are looking for once they’re on the site means you can give them a preview of that information in the summary for search results.

The beauty of this presentation wasn’t just in the results though, it was the entire process that was used to arrive at this understanding and, if there’s one paper you read from CHI this year, I recommend this one.

April 7 2009

CHI 2009: Day 2

by Hang

For information about day 1, see here

About CHI:

I’m not sure how many people reading this are familiar with the CHI conference so here is a quick overview. Computer Human Interaction (CHI) is the premier academic conference every year for academic Human Computer Interaction researchers and for professional usability experts, user experience people and interaction designers who are doing cutting edge stuff. Every year, something like 3000 or so people descend for 4 days of often overwhelming talks, panels, demonstrations, video presentations, networking and, ideally, plenty of drinking. It’s considered somewhat of a taste maker and arbiter within this community. No one person can give a completely impartial view of CHI, most of the time, there’s literally about 14 different things going on at once. The most you can do is go to as much of the stuff that interests you as possible and hook into interesting conversation in the crowd.

Still, CHI is somewhat remote from the workaday world of people who are building just another web application or mobile app. The stuff talked about at CHI is often highly abstract and, quite frankly useless to professional developers and designers. Despite that, I love it. It’s a bunch of overwhelming smart people with an astonishingly diverse array of interests all talking about the stuff they’re passionate about with a mix of brilliant insight and hilarious naivety.

Computer Mediated Communications

phew, there is much more social stuff this year than previous years and I’m glad CHI is finally turning into a place where the social people feel a bit more comfortable. The first talk in this session was a really excellent piece of work on deception on Instant Messaging and, specifically, what the author referred to as “Butler lies” aka, lies your butler would have told for you if you had one. They had a really nice piece of experimental methodology where they instrumented the Pidgin IM client and asked users to rate every single message they sent on a scale of 0 – 5 for deception. Overall, about 10% of all user messages involved some kind of deception and 2% were butler lies. People mainly used butler lies for providing a convenient fiction for exiting a conversation, pretending they had work to do or they were going to cook dinner.

I don’t know what real insight can be gleaned from this paper but I think it’s excellent in setting a context for talking about design that needs to accomodate deception and polite fictions. In particular, the idea of designing for narratives is one I think is particularly important and I’m glad I’m seeing more of that kind of talk within this community.

The second talk, I’m honesly baffled by and I don’t know how to interpret it, even now. So “In CMC we trust, the role of similarity” was an attempt to replicate the classic work on similarity and trustworthiness within a virtual setting. They had participants play essentially an iterated prisoner’s dilemma game with 5 minute chat sessions after every 5 rounds. They then compared similarity metrics of the chat and showed that most types of similarly were correlated with better co-operation but explicit talk about money or negative language lead to less trust.

There’s a umber of things with this studyt that make it tricky to interpret, one was the complex relationship between the game and “trust”. One of my collegues indicated to me that a lot of that could be similarly explained by trying to navigate different strategies and not about trust at all. By defining trust as as being about trustworthiness within a game,I think there was a competing desire between seeming similar to the other person and seeming like a reliable person.

Another thing I couldn’t really wrap my head around was the way they interpreted and coded the text data. It wasn’t clear to me exactly what the things they were measuring meant in terms of real world behaviours.

Finally, their data seemed to suggest that there were a bunch of confounding factors that make the results hard to interpret. The first chat session between users was only after the 5th game but it seemed to me at that time that people had already decided whether or not to trust the other person. What would have been really interesting but was not probed was what factors caused people to shift from a high trust to low trust condition and vice versa.

The final paper in the talk, I didn’t pay that much attention to. It involved some kind of interesting visualisation of showing who does how much talking in a group chat box which is an interesting idea but I felt like they didn’t develop it in any interesting way. The effect they were looking at was how quickly groups come to consensus when they have this indication and I didn’t feel like they asked a provoking enough question for me to stay engaged.

Scientometric analysis of CHI

This was a panel based on the analysis of previous CHI papers from the last 20 years. I thought the presented weaved an interesting story of various interesting things he found in the CHI data. Probably the most relevant and controversial being that a best paper nomination/award is essentially useless for predicting future impact and, with that, the implication that if the committee is useless at picking a best paper, is it really great at picking accepted papers? The panel then presented 4 different reactions to this work and I thought all of it was interesting and thoughtfully teased apart.

Social networking sites

The first talk for this was the one I’ve been most interested in for the entire conference. Moira Burke presented some work she did at an internship at facebook where they examined what motivated new users to share photos on facebook. She did both a quantitative study with the massive reams of facebook data she had access to and then sprinkled it with anecdotes from qualitative interviews. The results are what you expect from large data sets, low p-values but also reasonably low mean effect sizes. What will be really interesting to me is the next step of this research where they start moving some of this stuff into design and A/B testing.

The next work did essentially the same thing, except looking at what predicts helpfulness in reviews on amazon. Probably the most interesting thing from that is that recency has a significant effect, probably due to the design of amazon. One thing I didn’t think to ask during the talk is that that seems like a highly weird result given that every review was recent at some point. The only way I can see to explain this is explosive growth in the usage of reviews at amazon. Maybe I’m interpreting the data wrong…

The final piece of work was on tensions on facebook and negotiating different social spheres interacting on facebook. It ties in with a lot of my work on faceted identity and I think it did a good if unimaginative job at exploring some of these issues. Since I plan to be writing much more about this in a published form, I won’t bother to re-iterate my thoughts on faceted identity at this point.

The final section, like yesterday, held nothing of interest so I’ve been spending this time catching up with people and also writing this blog post. For those of you actually at CHI, the dub reception is 7:30 tonight at the Marriott Copley Place Hotel, 4th Floor Salon E. Looking forward to letting loose and partying a little.

April 6 2009

Chi 2009: Day 1

by Hang

It’s been a long day so far, I took the red eye from Seattle last night so I’ve been up for a total of 28.5 hours so far. Apologies if not everything is coherent.

About CHI:

I’m not sure how many people reading this are familiar with the CHI conference so here is a quick overview. Computer Human Interaction (CHI) is the premier academic conference every year for academic Human Computer Interaction researchers and for professional usability experts, user experience people and interaction designers who are doing cutting edge stuff. Every year, something like 3000 or so people descend for 4 days of often overwhelming talks, panels, demonstrations, video presentations, networking and, ideally, plenty of drinking. It’s considered somewhat of a taste maker and arbiter within this community. No one person can give a completely impartial view of CHI, most of the time, there’s literally about 14 different things going on at once. The most you can do is go to as much of the stuff that interests you as possible and hook into interesting conversation in the crowd.

Still, CHI is somewhat remote from the workaday world of people who are building just another web application or mobile app. The stuff talked about at CHI is often highly abstract and, quite frankly useless to professional developers and designers. Despite that, I love it. It’s a bunch of overwhelming smart people with an astonishingly diverse array of interests all talking about the stuff they’re passionate about with a mix of brilliant insight and hilarious naivety.

Keynote

The keynote was given by Judy Olson on Social Ergonomics and I had really high hopes for it as it was right in my area. I, personally, found it unneccesarily shallow but I kept on hearing from other people that they loved it so perhaps my perception was due to an overly familiar view of the work.

Judy talks about the idea of ergonomics and how it defines the relationship between the body and space and then she brings this metaphor to the social sphere. Stuff like proxemics tells us how to behave based on the distance people stand away from us, subtle social cues help us guide conversation and we judge attention based on gaze among other things. Pretty standard stuff so far and, while interesting, nothing overly challenging or difficult to work with. She then goes on to detail how such cues break down when we mess with the physics of real space: satellite delays in speech, video conferencing in which the other participant is both smaller and at  weird angle and poor audio causing people to lean into a teleconference.

My biggest disappointment with this talk, and note that this is purely my personal opinion and I think that the research she does is great, is that:

a) I thought ergonomics was an overly restrictive metaphor in this case and resulted in a rather literal translation from real to virtual space. Everything is conceptualised within the standard 3D framework that the human body is used to operating in. I think such an overly reductive approach misses the richness that comes from highly abstract forms of online communication. What are the ergonomics of a social graph or a asynchronous conversation over forums? I’m somewhat of a collector of metaphors for social design and social ergonomics strikes me as a rather poor one.

b) I felt that her work focused overly on rich, mediated face to face or simulated face to face interaction which is a very researchy kind of area but one I believe to be largely irrelevant when it comes to producing impactful designs in the field.

In the early days of HCI, there was this tendency to try and get computers to replicate the full richness of face to face interaction and, with it, came an implicit assumption that face to face interaction was the gold standard when it came to social behaviour. I’m not accusing Judy of that now, I think the field has moved somewhat past that phase now and tries to exploit the unique benefits of technology, but there is still a prejudice towards heavyweight, overly mediated interactions.

I think one subtle bias for this was that such systems were easy to evaluate and, thus, easy to publish for. You just use real face to face interaction as the control and then you can test how good your new system is compared to the control. Simple numbers, simple paper. But as I pointed out in my blog post on virtual worlds, the truth is that real life interaction really isn’t all that great and the true power of virtual interaction is to be blatantly better than real life interaction in certain ways and suffer from being poorer in others. The two modes of interaction are apples and oranges but to admit this means that you can’t perform simplistic analysis.

If we were to look at the true success stories of technology mediated interaction, they would be voice, text messaging, email, IM, forums, blogs, social networks etc. We love these forms precisely because they aren’t face to face interaction. You can perform them across space, perform them across time, strip the social nuance of phrases, deliberately add ambiguity, reply in your underwear, take time in constructing your thoughts and present a fictionalized version of yourself. All of this stuff is horrific if abused but awesome if used right.

Open source projects are probably one of the most well studied remote collaboration tasks and, in almost every single real life open source deployment, people reported that they loved having a constantly on ambient skype channel between sites as it greatly increased team cohesion but every time they experimented with video, they would shut it off in about 2 or 3 weeks. Now, the true HCI zealot would argue that this is because the technology and design of such systems is not advanced enough but I am skeptical about such faith.

Yes, video chat has it’s place and serious, rich co-located interaction of the style Judy Olson (and many other HCI researchers I know) have a place in communication but I think they are and will always remain a niche place and I would much rather the CHI community focus more on the complex social nuances of these seemingly simple and boring communiction mediums instead of building yet another technologically complicated remote co-located workspace that assumes the only reason we’re not remote co-locating is due to technology.

Phew, so that was Judy Olson’s talk. I have to say despite everything else, CHI is taking social stuff noticeably more seriously this year than it was last and I’m glad they’re finally on the social wave… 5 years after it had crested.

Creativity, challenges & opportunities in social computing

Call me old fashioned but I expect panels to actually panel for a significant period of time, not just present. Sure, give a 5 minute overview of your work but the reason we put you up there was to provide the spontaneous discovery of information that only back and forth conversation can provide. Of the 4 panel participants, only one actually stuck out in my mind and that was the Scratch project at MIT. I’ve not had time to explore it but I would definitely love to come back to this at some point and give it a thorough exploration.

One thing that was noted in the questioning was that the panel really didn’t talk about the “dark side” of social computing and I feel like the panel continually soft balled their way through that point, even while claiming to take it seriously.

Online Relationships

This was a great session with some really interesting material. The most outstanding talk of the bunch had to be Eric Gilbert’s on revisiting The Strength of Weak Ties work that the Grannaanbanana guy did way back int the 70′s and repackaging it smartly with interesting new data. Social scientists have been theorizing for many decades on what makes some relationships “strong” while others casual and have come up with several factors they think influence it. What Gilbert has done was ask 35 participants on facebook to rate the strength of their tie with each and every one of their facebook friends and see what facebook data can estimate the strength of such ties. He nicely seperates out bulk statistics such as how many blog posts and how many positive emotion words into larger, sociologically relevant categories like intimacy and reciprocity.

He then proceeds to perform a tight piece of statistical analysis which does a careful job of sifting through the data. Of the results I remember, R^2 was 0.5 and MAE was 10% but the most interesting one was that if the task was to simple many a binary distinction between strong and weak ties, the accuracy was 87%. What I wish he had talked about more was the outlier cases which completely confounded the regression model. He presented two but I think a few more would have really put that 87% in context. If a false match is 100 times worse than a correct match, then a 13% error rate stops looking so good.

Jilin Chen’s talk on the performance of recommendation systems was a neat little piece of experimentation but I thought it unfortunately just subtly missed the point. Chen’s work was on replicating the “People you may know” feature from facebook on the IBM internal social network site, beehive (I really have to talk more about IBM’s efforts in the social computing space because it’s really one of the greatest stories never told within the web 2.0 world). He experimented with 4 different algorithms for suggesting people and, my interpretation of his conclusion seemed to be, they all seemed roughly the same in quality but biased differently between recommending old and recommending new friends and that their fancy system resulted in the most friends added.

What seemed like the tragic waste for this study was the implicit assumption that more friends = better friends. I know from my personal experience that when facebook added their “people you may know” feature, I was horrified because the top 5 people on my list were people I was well aware were on facebook but I had no interest in friending. Sure enough, within the next 2 weeks, 3 of those 5 people had sent me friend requests and I was forced to deny a request for the first time in my facebook career. A look at quality rather than quantity of friend requests would have done this paper a lot of good.

The 3rd and 4th papers in this session were both notes so lightning 10 minute talks and I was honestly baffled by some of the results given.

A quick summary of “My Dating Site Thinks I’m a Loser” was that they wanted to evaluate how much people gamed a reccomender system that gave them bad results. They had two conditions: showing the user a picture of themselves or not and giving one reccomendation per 10 questions or 4 recommendations at the end. Oddly enough, putting in a picture turned out to be a major confounding factor. With the picture in, people gamed less for the 10 minute condition but without the picture, people gamed more. (as an aside, there’s a fascinating visual language to psychology 2×2 graphs which I only realised today. I’ll have to write about it sometime as people who see a a lot of psych studies can see two straight lines on a graph and instantly infer what and how is interesting about it). I have no idea what to make of this information, why would looking at your own picture lead to such a radical shift in behaviour?

Finally, was a paper on designing for forgiveness which I found odd and challenging to get a handle on. I understand that forgiveness is an interesting social topic and one I should be in theory interested in but it was presented in such an abstract manner and without any examples that I found myself unable to judge whether it was even an interesting take on the topic or not. Oh well, I guess I’ll read the paper for this one when I have the time.

Session 3

When I was looking through the program for the first two sessions, there were so many interesting talks I couldn’t make. There was fascinating stuff on privacy, navigation, security, trust and a whole bunch more that I so dearly wanted to go to but were in conflict with more important talks. I think the one I most wanted to see was a panel on how user experience can learn from food design, being a major major foodie and one who’s plugged into the food discourse, it pained me to miss it. But the third session, there was not a single paper I was dying to see. So I mainly spent that time getting some relaxed networking in, free from the vicious time constraints of 30 minute breaks.

Conclusions

Phew, blogging a conference takes a lot of time and I’m starting to understand why people prefer to twitter conferences instead. Still, I think it’s important to make the material in the CHI community relevant to a larger audience and also I think to provide one person’s interpretion on what can often seem like intimidating topics to the uninitiated. So often, I see people approach talks uncritically because they assume they know so little and the presenter so much. But once you’re willing to hold to your own opinions and defend them respectfully, regardless of the “eminence” of the author, you start to see the literature in a different light.

April 6 2009

Blogging CHI 2009

by Hang

I’ll be attending the CHI 2009 conference over the next 4 days and I’ll try my best to blog about my experience. This is my 3rd CHI and one that I didn’t decide to go to until just a few weeks ago. Right now, I’m in the main ballroom (really pretty btw) and listening to the standard ACM talk that’s at every CHI.

The CHI community is a funny one to me. I find it quite ironic that it’s a gathering of over 3000 technologists who are ostensibly interested in the new vistas of technology and interaction and yet it seems so old fashioned and not in touch with using these actual technologies. There seems to be some decent activity on twitter which is encouraging but I struggled to find any decent blog coverage of CHI last year so I’m going to be doing my best this year.

The keynote is about to start so I’ll end my first post here.

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