Ambient Visualisation of Social Network Activity

Social network, such as Facebook or Twitter, are an important factor in the communication between individuals of the so called digital natives generation. More and more often, they are used to exchange short bursts of thoughts are comments as a means of staying connected with each other.

The instant communication enabled by those social networks has however created a form of peer-group pressure to constantly check for updates. For example, has an informal get-together been announced or has somebody requested to become your friend? This emerging pressure can make people return to the computer more often than they want. This is why we find our colleagues regularly looking for new status updates in meetings, or on our parties we see it more often that our friends cannot resist to check their Facebook account.

One solution to this is notifying users when something important happened. Mobile phones as personal, ubiquitous, and always connected devices lend themselves as platform, as they are carried with the user most of the time. This, it is no surprise that our phone now not only notify about incoming short messages, but do the same for Twitter @mentions, Facebook message, or friend requests. However, these notifications may go unnoticed, too. Thus, instead of checking our Facebook & Twitter account, we keep looking at our mobile phone for notification items.

With AmbiTweet, we investigate conveying social network statuses by ambient displays. We use a live wallpaper showing a beautiful blue water.The wallpaper can be connected with a Twitter account and visualizes the level of activity in an ambient way. The higher the level of activity on this Twitter account, the brighter and the more busy the water becomes. This can be perceived even in the periphery of the field of vision. Thus, users can become aware of important activity without the need to focus the eyes on the phone.

Ambient displays, in general, have the advantage that they convey information in a continuous but unobtrusive way. They exploit the fact that the brain can process information pre-attentive, i.e. without generating apparent cognitive load. AmbiTweet therefore allows concentrating on a primary task while remaining aware of the level of activity on a social network account.

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Corporate Intranets – Infrastructures from the Internet’s past

Last week, in a staff meeting of my research institute, a discussion on the use of Web 2.0 technology came up. Reflecting on the discussions, I realized that actually the typical IT infrastructure we find in companies today has fallen years behind what we use in everyday life.

Today’s practices in companies

In enterprises a huge part of the work is to share information and thoughts, and to store and share documents. But what are the practices today?

  • To share information with the collages there are two ways: either writing a mail to the “everyone” list (don’t you dare!) or submitting it for the newsletter (how many people may actually take the time to read all of it?).
  • To share documents the most common practice in all projects I have witnessed so far is attaching them to a mail. This is a lot of fun, in particular if you have a tight quota and need to clear the inbox regularly. Within the company, documents can be stored and shared by putting them onto a server that is accessed as a network drive. To be able to find documents later an elaborate set of rules and directory templates has been created, which – in theory – tell you where to store your document.

Today’s practices on the internet

But if we take a look at the tools we use every day on the internet I wonder if we are not wasting a huge potential here

  • Google allows me to search the biggest pile of data mankind has ever created (Internet!) in the blink of an eye. But I cannot index my institute’s document server with Google Desktop, because the search index will be stored on Google server
  • Twitter and Facebook allow me to easily share information with others. But I cannot just use Facebook or Twitter to post a rant about something stupid in my company, because it may negatively affect the employer’s image
  • Dropbox helps me accessing documents from different computers and sharing them with others. I cannot just store a document in a shared Dropbox folder to provide my team with instant read/write access to it, since it may involve storing sensitive material on an external server

So, what tools are out there that can replace Google, Twitter, Facebook, and Dropbox but at the same time respect the companies’ need for privacy and security? How would it affect work if such tools were in place in the intranet already?

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