CHI 2014, highlights part 2

And, we’re back for another six-pack of things I found interesting [1] in CHI 2014 papers, continuing my last post.

I really enjoyed Jina Huh‘s talk about her paper with Wanda Pratt about “Weaving clinical expertise in online health communities” . Asking practitioners how they interpret peer-to-peer health conversations and how they might go about improving them was a good idea and although the answers were often “well, I’d do the things I’d do if I were working with them”, knowing what clinicians might need to know and thinking about mechanisms to learn them is smart [2].

The next four all came from a session on critical design, which is not normally in my wheelhouse but I had prior interests in Will Odom‘s paper because of the connections to Pensieve, so I took a chance that went well [3].

Melanie Feinberg‘s talk about her paper with Daniel Carter and Julia Bullard called “Always somewhere, never there: using critical design to understand database interactions”  [4] was a fun look at designing subversive navigation structures for a document collection to make commentary on both collections and taxonomies in general [5]. She’s a classification scholar and so expressed deep skepticism about folksonomies, but thinking about how to “read” subsets of a user-generated tag collection might be interesting design research along the lines she’s already on.

Jeff Bardzell presented a paper with Shaowen Bardzell and Erik Stolterman called “Reading critical designs: supporting reasoned interpretations of critical design” that might help those of us who are not steeped in critical design better-process critical analyses [6]. My outsider takeaway is their taxonomy of six high-level design featurs (topic, goal, form, etc.) crossed with four main flavors of critique (changing perspectives, reflectiveness, etc.) felt like a useful, relatively accessible tool for engaging (students) with critique [7].

Will Odom then talked about his ongoing work with memory, photographs, and slow technology from his (and several others’) paper “Designing for slowness, anticipation and re-visitation: a long term field study of the photobox“. Here some of the major effects about people’s move from frustration with lack of control to acceptance took several months to appear, and the idea that a slow technology like this might make things “special” is very cool. It would be interesting to probe both at the role of long deployments in CHI [8] and the design spaces in which slow/imperturbable technology might be most interesting [9].

Steve Whittaker gave the last talk on behalf of Corina Sas and co-authors of their paper “Generating Implications for Design through Design Research“. Unpacking the ways people think about design implications [10]–what they are, how they get made, whether they’re good–made me want to run off and look at all the design implications I’ve written [11] in the past. Maybe design implications are the personas of fieldwork and user studies: they should help you think about the rich awesomeness that went into generating them but in practice often feel a little two-dimensional.

Finally for today, an upstate New York shout out to Yang Wang from Syracuse talking about “A field trial of privacy nudges for Facebook” with folks from CMU. Although one, a post delay [12], is more about mitigating regret than privacy per se, the general plan of interfaces that help people reason about audiences, disclosure, and consequences feels solid [13]. Some people liked the interfaces and others didn’t, also fine–a feature that half the people can turn off and half of people benefit from is pretty awesome. And I found it generative, as their nudge of showing some audience members has a bunch of variations: chosen by user or computer, strong or weak ties, present or possible future contacts, etc.

And that’s all for now. Hope these were useful pointers and thoughts, and also that I finish the job later because my very favorite talk is still not listed. As before, feel free to share your own favorites; I always like hearing about good things.

— 30 —

[1] This was originally “liked most”, but I’m trying to give up on the superlative. There’s some cognitive difference between “Think of your fondest childhood memory” and “Think of a fond childhood memory”. One is a search task, and one is an invitation.

[2] Their goal of semi-automated moderation/support for conversation also directly ties to things the Cornell eRulemaking Initiative  is looking to do to support public discourse more generally.

[3] Going back to the Ron Burt story from last time, one of his suggestions was to regularly go to unfamiliar conferences. The nice thing about CHI is that you can get the same effect by just going to unfamiliar sessions.

[4] I also was amused that searching for “Melanie Texas Databases” while writing this got me directly to her homepage. Yay, Google.

[5] In post-talk conversation with Melanie, Danyel Fisher pointed out the “Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge” as a cool counterpoint to the idea of taxonomies of any kind being universal, which I will in turn pass on to you.

[6] One of the frustrations of not having a design background but teaching some design courses is that I’ve had trouble finding materials to support doing critique and peer review. This paper from a critical side and some of Scott Klemmer’s stuff for peer evaluation of design both seem useful.

[7] It felt so much like a design space that I wondered if with small changes it could be used as a framework for critiquing designs more generally.

[8] We don’t do enough longitudinal studies. Just sayin’.

[9] I vote for email. I’ve already turned off notifications, but I’ve regularly pondered using/writing a tool that adds delays to mail that I both send and receive (what would the world be like if email were the pace of postal mail?).

[10] Snarkily, “the things you have to add to make CHI reviewers happy”, as eloquently critiqued by Paul Dourish in his Implications for Design paper.

[11] Badly.

[12] And, we’re back to slow technologies.

[13] Some of which I hope to be doing soon with Natalie Bazarova and Janis Whitlock if our grant proposal goes through. They say the third time is a charm…

CHI 2014, some highlights

So, another CHI in the books. I was feeling more anti-social than usual [1] this time around [2], so I wound up going to more talks than normal in search of ideas [3]. This year was pretty fertile [4], so I’m glad I made the choice. In this post, I’ll share some of my favorites with very brief notes; in some perfect worlds I’ll write longer bits about the most generative ones later.

Allison Woodruff had a nice talk about her paper “Necessary, unpleasant, and disempowering: reputation management in the internet age“. What can people, and CHI, do about the problem and pain of other people posting negative information about you on the internet? Right now, not much, hence the title. [5]

Aaron Halfaker, R. Stuart Geiger, and Loren Terveen had a nice talk on their paper about a Wikipedia tool called “Snuggle: designing for efficient socialization and ideological critique“. I liked Aaron’s socio-technical argument about how Wikipedians’ perceptions of the problem of vandalism in 2007 became reified in tools such as Huggle in ways that had strong negative consequences for helping to educate and socialize newcomers. [6]

Frank Bentley talked about a TOCHI paper he and many others did, “Health Mashups: Presenting statistical patterns between wellbeing data and context in natural language to promote behavior change“. This was cool: find interesting significant correlations between different streams of logged or sensed data, present them to people in simple English (“On weekends you’re happier”), and invite them to reflect on what it means. [7]

This was immediately followed by Eun Choe et al.’s “Understanding Quantified Selfers’ Practices in Collecting and Exploring Personal Data“. Super-clever in using videos recorded at quantified self meetups as a qualitative data source and in focusing on extreme cases to gain insight, I learned that an amazing number of serious practitioners roll their own tools and visualizations to help them out here. [8]

I also liked Flavio Figueiredo et al.’s note “Does content determine information popularity in social media?: a case study of youtube videos’ content and their popularity” . It is one of several papers claiming that asking people about what they think other people might like could quickly generate predictions of ultimate popularity. It also asked this at three levels of analysis: individual liking, willingness to share with friends, and general expected popularity. [9]

I have a little conflict of interest because I advise Liz Murnane, but her paper with Scott Counts on “Unraveling abstinence and relapse: smoking cessation reflected in social media” was a nice contrast to the “mine everything” a-theoretical approach adopted by much quantitative social media research. She gave a strong talk about using domain knowledge and relevant theory to guide feature construction for detecting smoking cessation attempts, motivations, and outcomes in Twitter. There was a reasonable argument that this specific case could improve interventions and I hope to see more projects adopt the general mindset/method that it’s useful to know something about what you’re mining before you start grunging around. [10]

This is starting to be a pretty long post, so I’m going to stop there for now and leave the second half of the conference for a hopeful sequel. Hope this was useful; if you have your own favorites to share, happy to get pointers to them as well. [11]


[1] Technically, I’m almost always just a little anti-social in crowd situations; it took me a long time to get comfortable with conferences, and my first experience ended with me walking away from the reception hall crying because I couldn’t make myself go in and sit at a table with 9 strangers for dinner.

[2] This is part of a more pervasive feeling that I’ve gone to too many conferences and that there’s too much travel in the game, which I’ve talked about before.

[3] There’s a huge set of things you do at a conference; Michael Ernst has a brief guide.

[4] My own experience was that I got more out of talks than conversations early in my academic life (though, see [1]), but that the incremental value of talks has become a little smaller as you get older, especially if you hang out in your specialty, because you get exposed to less new stuff. Ron Burt did a CSCW 2013 keynote about going new places that followed from an earlier paper of his.

[5] My short form answer is that much of the problem is that you can find this stuff with search engines, so you might start with ranking algorithms that penalize negative information about people. This is one that would be worth a whole post about.

[6] The talk didn’t describe the use of Snuggle (here’s a link to the tool), and based on chatting with Aaron it’s in part because it’s been hard to get a critical mass of adopters. It’s hard to change hearts and minds.

[7] One other awesome thing about the talk was its explicit discussion of how lack of statistically significant differences in behavior did not mean that there weren’t cool things to learn. Too many papers have the opposite: statistically but not practically or interestingly significant results.

[8] It also highlighted the common first-timer’s mistake of tracking too much with not enough purpose; combined with the Bentley et al. paper, it highlights a key issue for supporting this kind of reflection: How might systems help people think about questions they’re interested in? As with Woodruff, this is a whole post (although Abi Sellen and Steve Whittaker have covered some of this ground already).

[9] Pointing out that social networks/diffusion research often ignores aspects of content when thinking about what’s likely to spread was a nice touch as well.

[10] I have pretty strong views on this, as you can tell.

[11] Self-promotion is okay if done tastefully.