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Sometimes I Wish That It Would Rain Here

Saturday, April 25, 2015

CHI 2015 Conference Report

One nice(ish) thing about attending a conference on the other side of the world from where you live is that it gives you lots of time on the plane. In my case, it's something like 13 hours. To help the time pass, I'm writing some thoughts about things I saw at CHI this year.

I've grouped these under three loose themes: non-use and reflection; algorithms and computational analysis; critical considerations; and social computing.

One quick caveat: These are just a subset of the sessions I saw, so they probably reflect more my particular interests than any sort of representational cross section of the conference.
Read more »

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Monday, April 29, 2013

On Not Attending CHI

The ACM's CHI Conference, which is (arguably) one of the most significant in the fields where I do research, starts today in Paris. Despite having two papers there, I made the difficult decision not to attend. Here's why.

My wife and I are pregnant, and... we're expecting twins. As you might guess, I'm thrilled beyond description. Also, as it turns out, twins have a propensity for being born early. At a doctor's visit a few months ago, I asked how early. The date range the doctor gave for when they are likely to be born starts this week.

So, after numerous difficult conversations, I decided not to go to Paris. Chances are there would not have been any problems, but I just didn't want to risk missing the birth of my children.

If you're at CHI this week, be sure to check out my fantastic co-authors presenting our work, first in the Social Media Practices session on Thursday at 11 a.m., then in the Understanding Privacy session on Thursday at 2 p.m.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Call for Study Participants

Please forward and distribute widely (apologies for cross-posting).
Twitter-friendly link: http://bit.ly/Kv0zLq


Are you a political junkie? Addicted to the news? Is your browser's homepage the New York Times or Wall Street Journal? Or maybe it's the National Review Online or the Huffington Post? Ever wanted a deeper look at what's being said between the lines?

Or does the news bother you? Does politics turn you off? Do you find yourself ignoring any kind of discussion of political issues or news coverage? Do you feel like there's a level of depth that is lacking in most political discussions?

If you fit either of these descriptions, this study is for you. We've developed an online tool that helps you understand political news and discussions by visualizing patterns of language in them. We're currently looking for people who want to try out the tool and wouldn't mind talking with us about it. Plus, you'll be entered in a drawing for a $200 Amazon gift card.

If you're interested, please contact Eric Baumer: ericpsb@cornell.edu

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Friday, March 02, 2012

Highlights from CSCW 2012

Here's a quick summary of things that I thought were cool/interesting/noteworthy from CSCW this year.

DIST Workshop - Cool set of people, lots of great conversations about the interrelations among design, value, social influence, participation, and reflection. Check the list of papers and the working bibliography for more details.

Keynote - Amazing opening plenary by Yochai Benkler. Not only did he do a comprehensive survey of the research published CSCW this year, but he showed how it all fits together under an umbrella of understanding cooperative action. He specifically argued against the use of rational actor economic models that assume the individual will always act in her/his own best interest, and that this shift mirrors an intellectual evolution in multiple fields--economics, biology, politics, etc.--that's taken place over the last couple decades.

We Don't Need No Stinking Badges, Jones and Altadona - Study on the impact of adding badges to the Huffington Post's comment system. Looked at whether the presence of badges (of different types) led to more unique replies or longer comment threads. In general, badges had almost no major, i.e., statistically significant, impact. Nice example of a case where gamification was not particularly effective.

Lurking as Personal or Situational, Muller - Uses data from communities at IBM to test different theories about lurkers: binary (individual is a lurker or not), engagement (lurking is a form of engagement, so individual who lurks in many communities should also contribute in many communities), or social learning (individual starts off as a lurker then may become a contributor, a la Lave and Wenger's LPP). Results suggest that lurking is not a binary trait, but they also suggest that social learning does not happen. In general, people show up, contribute to a community at first, then either lurk or leave. Interesting finding that is contrary to previous theories, e.g., reader-to-leader.

Designing for Social Translucence, McDonald, Gokhman, Zachry - Paper about a system that analyzes interactions among wiki contributors (e.g., editing the same page, posting on each others' discussion pages) and visualizes those interactions to show something resembling social closeness. Couched in a theoretical approach that distinguishes between actions (different types of things that people do with and around one another) and levels of interpretation (looking at those interactions as either an instance, a series, or a structure). This paper has a lot going on, both technically and conceptually, and definitely merits a closer read through.

Gender and Wikipedia - I wasn't actually able to attend this panel, but I eavesdropped via the #cscw2012 Twitter stream. Super interesting stuff. Seems that different estimates put the gender balance of Wikipedia contributors somewhere between 80% and 90% male. Hence the panel's title: "Some of All Human Knowledge." One of the most interesting comments that made it to the tweet stream was that gender is not a binary, and that the discussion could benefit from considering more than just male and female. Awesome stuff.

Supporting Reflective Public Thought with ConsiderIt, Kriplean, Morgan, Freelon, Borning, Bennett - Presents the design of, and experience with, the ConsiderIt platform, deployed during the 2010 US election as the Seattle Living Voters Guide. Examines how articulation of arguments for and against a ballot measure can help facilitate reflection, and, in many cases, leads people to adopt less strong positions. I asked about how this might expand to an issues where more than two positions (i.e., not just a simple yes or no) were involved. He suggested that ConsiderIt is useful once the alternatives have been selected, but that other tools would better facilitate those stages of the decision process where alternatives were still being articulated. I also found myself wondering later the extent to which this represents deliberation. I'll believe that it's reflection, especially considering the ways that user took into account opposing arguments, but the connection to deliberation is a bit more tenuous for me. Great work, though, and always nice to see academic research that engages with the community.

There were lots of other great sessions and papers, including one that used video shadowing (i.e., basically stalking study participants) to understand how people blend multiple communication channels in their multi-device interactions, and one that examined information practices of punk rock subcultures (e.g., how do you find out about secret shows that are in the basements of private homes?). The closing plenary (.pptx) was also a tour de force in the history of the relationship between anthropology and ethnography. Altogether very interesting stuff.

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Wednesday, August 03, 2011

barking up the wrong (digital) tree

just saw this and I couldn't resist commenting.

apparently, DARPA is soliciting proposals for research that will help security and intelligence officials use social media (read: Facebook and Twitter) identify rebellious intent, predict mass public action, etc. OK, not a particularly new story, even if they are sinking $42 million into it.

what's interesting here is the implication, present in so much research on social media, that social media = reality. if it's on the internet, it must be true. for example, consider the 2004 Howard Dean primary campaign. Dean had a huge following on the internet, and, going into the Iowa caucus, many predicted him as the frontrunner. however, he ended up finishing a distant third and soon thereafter dropping out of the primaries (no doubt in part due to the media reaction to the Dean scream). what happened? the exuberance Dean's supporters showed online was not representative of the general voters in the Democratic party, or at least not those at the Iowa caucus. since these other voters were not part of the online political scene, it would have been hard for analysis of online content to determine that the Deaniacs were likely a minority.

granted, this is a bit of a simplification, and I'm choosing here to focus on a particular, limited portion of the account. the point, though, is that online furor and enthusiasm does not necessarily translate to impact and action. yes, there are certainly numerous interesting examples of being able to predict everything from election results to movie ratings based on social media content and activity, and the Pentagon seems to hope to expand this predictive power to issues of national security. however, it seems equally if not more important to attend to when, why, and how such predictions prove inaccurate, especially when we're talking about suspicions of political unrest or even terrorism.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

When the Implication Is Not to Design - Discussion

(cross-posted from my academic/professional site)

Last month, I presented a paper at CHI titled When the Implication Is Not to Design (Technology). This paper was intended primarily to facilitate a conversation, so my co-author and I are organizing a discussion on the sustainable-chi mailing list. We'd like to invite you to join the discussion. Below is a copy of the post starting the discussion.

Last month at CHI, there was a paper by myself and Six Silberman titled When the Implication Is Not to Design (Technology). The basic premise is that there are some situations where a technological intervention may not be the most appropriate. The paper provides specific ways of articulating when this may be the case, as well as practical recommendations for applying this perspective. Copies are available at http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1978942.1979275 or http://ericbaumer.com/publications/impl9-rev.pdf.

We would like to take this opportunity to solicit comments and critiques. This paper was intended first and foremost to be part of a conversation, and we believe that some of that conversation should happen here on the sustainable-chi list. We hope that members of the general HCI community will join us in this discussion.

~Eric and Six

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Monday, June 13, 2011

how many is too many?

"The earth is full." Or so the NYT writer suggests, citing a new book from Paul Gilding about "Why Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World," as well as work by the Global Footprint Network suggesting that current consumptive rates require 1.5 times the earth's resources (i.e., 1.5 earths) to be sustainable. there are two major points from this article on which I'd like to comment.

first, this excellent point:

We will realize, he predicts, that the consumer-driven growth model is broken and we have to move to a more happiness-driven growth model, based on people working less and owning less. “How many people,” Gilding asks, “lie on their death bed and say, ‘I wish I had worked harder or built more shareholder value,’ and how many say, ‘I wish I had gone to more ballgames, read more books to my kids, taken more walks?’ To do that, you need a growth model based on giving people more time to enjoy life, but with less stuff.”

right on. this is not the first commentary to suggest that the growth-based capitalist approach is simply not viable. I do appreciate, however, the suggestion of an alternative, an (economic) model based on happiness, or perhaps on joy or fulfillment. there are a couple challenges here, though.

first, happiness or (or self-actualization or what have you) are not easily measurable in a traditional quantifiable manner (gross national happiness meter not withstanding). this nice thing about money is that you can count it, and it's much harder to build a model, economic, or otherwise, based on something that's difficult (if not impossible) to count.

second, I appreciate the vision of a "happiness-driven growth model." even if it were clear what such a model looked like, I wonder, how do we get from here to there? that is, how do we effect the transition from a consumption-driven model to a happiness-driven model? visions are nice, but actionable incremental steps seem, at least to me, vital to any real social change.

third, I wonder about the ways in which knowledge, and wisdom and understand, about how to be happy (or joyful, etc.) gets passed on. while the article linked above seems to suggest that the change will come rapidly and wholly, I suspect this kind of a socio-cultural-economic shift may instead take many generations to occur. modern society has done a fantastic job of passing on certain types of knowledge, mostly those that can be explicated in writing (scientific, technical, academic, etc.). however, we're not as good, at least it seems to me, at passing on experiential, tacit, or lived knowledge. in some ways, this is reminiscent of Quinn's argument about takers and leavers, but I think it cuts very deeply to fundamental questions not only about how we know that we know what we know (i.e., epistemological questions, questions of knowledge production), but also questions about knowledge transference and understanding. perhaps, a change to a happiness-driven model might be predicated on a change that incorporates and appreciates multiple ways of knowing into modern society.

the second major point on which I'd like to comment is this question of the number of earths required to sustain current practices. it seems as if most work along these lines asks, essentially, given the number of people and our current ways of living, how many earths would it take to sustain us? when the answer is greater than one, the response is often that we should change our ways of living. that is almost certainly the case, but is it the whole story? is it possible that we should perhaps also entertain the notion that the reason we need more than one earth's worth of resources is because there are simply too many people for one earth? this is a very difficult (if not impossible) question to answer. however, sometimes answering the question is not as important as asking it, and I often wish that this question were asked more often.

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