Title: The Importance of social interaction: focusing user centered research for the Building as Media project
This paper addresses two important questions for pervasive computing. First, what methods can technology designers use to help guide them in developing useful technology? And second, what might such methods reveal when applied to an authentic setting? Specifically, this paper discusses a survey-based study that attempted to elicit potential areas of focus for designers who wanted to augment a research building that houses computing science researchers.
I find serious flaws with the study’s methodology. The authors discuss the significant contributions that ethnographic research has made to technology design, but then appear to dismiss any ethnographic-style research because it is too time-consuming. Instead, the authors conduct a voluntary web-based survey. There are a multitude of flaws with the survey. First, the survey was voluntary and hence there is no guarantee that the survey’s participants are representative of the general population. Second, it appears that a great majority of the survey participants are researchers. Does the building that the authors studies house only researchers? If not, the survey should include results from people with other roles who are also housed in the building. Survey results are dependent on self-report, and self-report has often been shown to be unreliable. (In fact, this is one argument for ethnographic research.) Finally, the questions did not appear to be well chosen, and the survey’s results reflected this.
The results of the survey offered very little novel insights into pervasive technology design. The authors discuss the affordances of different communication technologies; however, there have been many studies about such technologies’ affordances. For instance, email (Bellotti et al, CHI 2003; Whitaker and Sidner, CHI 1996), IM (Bradner et al, CSCW 2000; Grinter, CSCW 2002), and informal communication (Tullio, UIST 2002) have all been previously studied. Similarly, the authors also discuss the value of distance and collaboration, which has been extensively studied by the Olsons (see CREW lab pubs). The authors report that colleague/workgroup awareness is an important problem as well; this too has been studied (Huang and Mynatt, CHI 2003; Rounding and Greenberg, CSCW 2000).
In sum, the paper presented a flawed study that yielded results which have already been explored. Thus, this paper should not be accepted because it does not offer a strong contribution.