CHI 2014 highlights, 3rd and final

And, finally, a wrap-up of my favorites [0] from CHI paper talks I attended, following up on Part 1 and Part 2. We probably don’t do enough to call attention to other good things and people in our community, so this is a modest attempt at that [1].

I’ll start with a quick nod to former co-conspirator Xuan Zhao and her paper with Si├ón Lindley about Curation through use: understanding the personal value of social media. At a high level, the talk put the paper at the intersection of the Many Faces of Facebook paper and some of Will Odom‘s stuff on digital possessions, but with a focus on the suitability of social media for personal archiving. I liked the “digital keepsake” with social media content exercise as a way to prime the pump, and some of the suggestions around identifying meaningfulness through use (a la Edit Wear and Read Wear [2]) felt fun. I also like the design implication to use social media content to help people build narratives for self and others [3]: instead of “see friendship”, you might “show friendship”.

Next up was a pair of papers that approached asking for help from friends and neighbors from very different value positions.

The first was Estimating the social costs of friendsourcing by Jeff Rzeszortarski and Merrie Morris. They note that asking for help can impose a burden on receivers and perhaps, via privacy concerns, on askers, then study how people balance those costs with the potential gains in social capital from asking and answering questions. The experimental design was plausible and the work related to parts of Munmun De Choudhury‘s presentation around seeking stigmatized health information online (with Merrie and Ryen White).

The second was my favorite talk at CHI, by Victoria Bellotti [4] on behalf of the authors of Towards community-centered support for peer-to-peer service exchange: rethinking the timebanking metaphor. She took a critical look at the idea that favors might be converted into time-based currencies to trade for later favors, suggesting that the metaphor misses the social meaning associated with doing favors [5] while highlighting largely-negative constructs such as debt. She then proposed a number of design vignettes for emphasizing social values of exchange in the most energetic, fun way I’ve seen in a CHI talk in a couple of years [6].

I found the contrast fascinating, and both papers were thoughtful and worked out. They were also in different sessions, so hopefully bringing them together here will encourage people in this space to read them on a long, lazy summer afternoon and think about how they come together.

I also enjoyed the talk about Alexandra Eveleigh and others’ paper about Designing for Dabblers and Deterring Drop-outs in Citizen Science [7]. The high-level story is that since participation in citizen science (and other peer production systems) follows a power law, much activity is in the tail, the “dabblers”. Thus, you might design to target them, rather than power users. To do this, they went out and asked both high and low contributors about their motivations for participating and came up with a fine set of design ideas that target infrequent contributors. I resonate with this goal — SuggestBot [8] was originally designed to help Wikipedia newbies do more useful work more easily. It was hard to actually get it in front of new editors (who often never return to log in or edit, and if they do, may not have known enough about Wikipedia software to see SuggestBot’s posts). The paper suggests that requests in the moment — to “tempt them to complete ‘just another page'” — may be more effective as a general strategy for engaging the infrequent [9].

Finally, Amy Voida‘s talk about Shared values/conflicting logics: working around e-government systems, a paper she did with several Irvine colleagues, gave me a couple of thoughts. First, the talk made clear that even when high-level values are shared between managers, designers, and workers around systems, the interpretations and instantiations of those values by the parties (“logics”) can lead to problems in practice. Not a totally new story [10] but it highlights the utility of design Processes [11] where communication might reduce the chance of this value drift. It also called out that designing for end user independence is not always appropriate. Even a perfectly capable user of the electronic application system might not be able to effectively get help from the government aid System. Instead of designing to reduce applicants’ reliance on workers, you could imagine a design that helps applicants and workers cooperate to complete applications, providing support for situations when applicants get stuck and really do need help from people who know how the System works.

That is pretty much it for the story of favorites, so let’s be done. But think about doing trip reports yourself and sharing them with the world. It’s good to recognize interesting work, useful for learning more about the community, smart for connecting to the people and work that you call out, and hopefully a service to other people who benefit from your experiences.


[0] This is a personal view based on my tastes and the pragmatics of session attendance; I’m sure there were lots of other cool things, while other people will have different papers that take them to their own happy places. Another reason for you to do your own trip reports.

[1] Which has the nice side effect of me learning about the community as I put it together.

[2] Still one of the most inspiring papers I’ve ever read.

[3] It’s somewhere between scrapbooking and a “social media mix tape”.

[4] Who, at the time I searched for her on Google Scholar, had exactly 9,000 citations. Soon she will be “over 9000“, as it were.

[5] As a borderline Aspergers kind of guy, when people come to me with problems, I also tend to focus on the problem, rather than the person and their needs around the problem. As you can imagine, this goes over great with my fiancee when she’s seeking support rather than solutions.

[6] Sadly, the paper didn’t have as many vignettes, very few visual. I wonder if there had been napkin sketch interfaces of the kind that were in the talk if it would have triggered “and so does it work?” reactions that system papers often get at CHI.

[7] It’s very cool that they tapped into this “dark matter” of infrequent contributors; we often only study the large, the successful, the vocal, the frequent.

[8] Google search results say “You’ve visited this page many times”. Indeed I have.

[9] Related to this, one of our goals at the CeRI project is to give people feedback about the comments they submit to public civic discussions while they write them, in order to improve quality and engagement.

[10] It reminded me of the idea of “work to rule” as a deliberate way to cause conflict.

[11] In the same way that I am about to use “system” to mean a technological artifact and “System” to refer to a set of concerns, people, and interactions around that artifact, here I am thinking something a little higher-level than the process of just designing the artifact. Maybe participatory design is more like it.

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