Sunday, April 27, 2008

Proposal for Final Project

Proposal for Final Project

This semester, I have been challenged by the process of translating ideas into visual metaphor. It is a new skill for me, and I feel that I've advanced significantly, though, at least in that I'm starting to ask the right questions about my thinking.

I was intrigued by some of the projects and sketches this semester that dealt with physicality-- Sohin's string idea comes to mind, as does What the World Eats, which Kate pointed out to us.

So, I thought for my final project, I'd consider exploring the process of how conceptual metaphors of social processes are built up by starting "from scratch"-- with actual physical data-- and then thinking about how to record it and how to metaphorically represent it.

I think by watching things physically accumulate and decay, I will be able to better understand how the same elements might function visualized and digitized.

This desire start with physical objects reminds me of those math manipulatives that kids like me were given to in elementary school when we didn't quite "get" math the first time around.

For example, instead of just recording everything I'd eaten for one day, I wonder how actually aggregating all that food, as in What the World Eats, would help me think about how to represent that data. The physical look of it, the way that physicality changes shape, size, weight as I consume it and create debris. This kind of aggregation could serve as the basis both a personal timeline and a data portrait.

Imagine what this food would look like after all the consumables have been consumed. What does the debris tells us about the passage of time? About the pairings of the foods? About the social nature of meals and eating?

But, as we talked about in the the data portraiture class, choosing how-- which data and how much of it-- to represent a subject is an important aspect of portraiture. I do not think that, in my case, that one week's worth of food would answer the kinds of questions I am most interested in.

The first thought was to create an aggregation space for everything-- everything that I used, interacted with, needed, wanted, consumed, would be trapped in the room.

That, of course, is too broad. At the same time, I wouldn't want to become so narrow that the physical data lost all saliency (no matter how beautiful that might be).

Tara Donovan, Untitled (toothpicks)

Phoebe Washburn, True, False, and Slightly Better

So, in thinking about the physical debris of my social interactions, I finally settled on what my boyfriend likes to refer to as "the heap."
(not my heap, but a heap)

Approximately once a week, I start with a clean room, all my clothes clean and "filed" into their proper closets and drawers. Then, the over the course of the week, a heap grows. I try on multiple items of clothes, discarding them for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they make me feel fat or otherwise ugly. Sometimes new inspiration leads me to choose a shirt of a different color. Sometimes I hear the weather forecast too late in the process.

The clothing heap is relevant to the sociable media focus of this course not just because it is an organically formed dataset in my life that may indicate the passage of time and/or serve as a data portrait, but because it represents the processes through which I present myself in public. This exploration could lead to further work in between understanding how other private/personal data (media consumption, etc.) is selected for public presentation.

In order to avoid the "brand name list" issue that we've talked about in class, I will physically tag each item, each time I try it on, according to emotional and situational data. What were the circumstances of the discard of the garment? Do those circumstances change for each item item from day to day? I might also keep running track of this data in digital format-- perhaps use or just a spreadsheet.

After a week, I will sort the garments according to the following (tentative) categories and take photographs of the resulting piles:
type of garment
color of garment
chronology of time tried on
number of times tried on
items eventually worn vs. not worn
number of times worn
situational emotional tags (reason not worn and other self-folkosonomical (selfsonomical? idiosyncratonomical?)categories that may emerge?)

The resulting photographs will provide an opening for a thinking about how that data can best be represented visually and metaphorically. I can then dump the data in a database and see what kinds of charts and graphs emerge computationally. A comparison and contrast between the computational results and the photographs (and my own experience of the physical data) will generate a new understanding of the tensions that emerge from mediation of social processes.

My own on-going research is mainly anthropological/qualitative/ethnographic, so this is also an interesting meditation on method. How is the real-time tagging different from the retrospective analysis? How is the physical manipulation different from the the computer-mediated recording? What affordances does each approach offer?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Augmented Interaction 1: Cities, Art and Phones

Communicating Spaces

1. As you read
Ling's paper, think about what a phone like device could be that is designed to be used among other people - rather than the private dialog intended by the current phone design. Describe or sketch it.

Much of Ling's dismay with the presence of mobile telephones hinges on the idea that it disturbs previously taken-for-granted notions of public behavior, both in terms of the overtly recognizable level of voice modulation and the related forced eaves dropping, and in the more subtle negotiations of two distinct social contexts.

When thinking of a phone-like device that is designed to be used by multiple people, the first question is whether or not that device would be used in public. Public devices, as Ling clearly shows, create different problems and affordances than private devices. If the device is to be used publicly, what is the purpose of it? In order for it to be a meaningful intervention rather than a disturbance, is seems as though there must be some need.

Would this device be voice-based? Most of the ideas I've had are text-based. Is there a way for multiple people to talk with each other at once via a device? Most of my experience with conference calls and 3-way calling (SO popular in elementary school!) has been less than promising.

I know, for example, that closed-circuit SMS systems are being development for organizing and mobilizing groups, particularly protesters and particularly for use in areas where cell phone coverage may be spotty. This serves a particular need, violates public norms only to the extent that the activity at hand requires norms, and in the case of protest, standard public behavior is subordinate to the ability to organize.

Is there a way to use a device to communicate with multiple people using a device, not disturb behavioral norms, and do more than broadcast? Is selective broadcasting a salient feature of this kind of medium?

One idea that comes to mind is a device-mediated people-matching service. People in a bar or other gathering place could selectively broadcast their information (reminiscent of A/S/L?) and their goal. Others, scanning this information, could identify themselves as interested. Pictures might identify whom among the crowd is who, perhaps at a limited level. As with, one might be able to ask questions before seeing a picture.

The communication device facilitates face-to-face interaction. It does not violate public norms because the people involved have the expectation of switching between two woven social contexts, and those social contexts inform and loop into each other. It provides an in-person interaction layered with metadata about the individuals involves and their goals.

2. Sketch or describe a interactive object, installation, informaion center, etc. that exists in a public space and allows people to interact with it via some communication technology (e.g. phones, SMS, bluetooth, etc) and/or vision. What space do you imagine such an entity? What is its function? What can people do with it? How does it change the nature of the space? This can be a practical implementation or an artistic installation, it can be designed to be helpful, entertaining or provocative. This is meant to get you thinking about these ideas, we'll be following up on this next week - don't worry about a polished sketch - I am much more interested in your ideas at the moment than a finished concept.

Every morning when I take the T into school, I collect two newspaper from the aggressive and charismatic men who hand them out at the foot of the escalator. I skim the content quickly, then, upon exiting the train, deposit both into a recycling bin.

One paper seems to be more self-conscious about its relationship to the T-- social events are presented on the subway map according to their stop, crimes that occur in stations are reported. The other paper seems to take "the internet" as its exemplar-- it labels short assorted columns "blogs" and indeed seems to excerpt much of its content from actual blogs.

This kind of content is telling-- the newspapers foster and mirror a kind of community made of up "T Riders." People-- especially those with long commutes or who move around a lot in one day-- spend a not unsignificant part of their day on the T. The first kind of news item serves as metadata about that experience.

The second kind of content speaks to another, possible conflicting aspect of the T riding experience. People wish they could spend their short jaunts being productive, or at least entertained. Checking in on RSS feeds is good model for this kind of desired experience. When I have a spare moment in between meetings or before class starts, I sometimes quickly check my RSS. I skim entries about fashion, politics, news, more idiosyncratic interests, say, one by a marketing anthropologist. The second kind of content tries to mimic what we would be doing if only we could get a wireless connection and didn't feel weird about whipping out our laptops. After all, it's awkward to set one up for a relatively short period of time, plus the T is thought to (and may well) be a dangerous place.

Subways have long represented an alternative world, one in which "Charlie" was lost, where secret gangs may roam. It's a catacomb, a meta-layer, an underworld, a sub way. These metaphors resemble those of the internet as a Gibson's cyberspace.

For the assignment, I was thinking about a closed-circuit intranet for T riders. The network could either be accessed via a blackberry or cell phone or via mounted keyboard and screen consoles. The blackberry model creates limits to access and the consoles would be expensive and likely vandalized.

The model that first comes to mind is Craigslist. Classifieds would be useful, but probably only if they could be someone saved or transmitted to a permanent space. Personals, though they might be frowned upon by the MBTA, would probably be popular. Certainly, Missed Connections are almost a native form. Craigslist also has vibrant discussion forum communities on a variety of topics.
Some zones might be password protected-- a kids' section, say. Or, perhaps a company with a lot of commuters might create an employees-only area.

Would a meta-layer of information reduce crime by increasing self-policing? Is a message board a panopticon?

We often notice, if we keep a regular schedule, that we seem to see the same people, who Goffman calls "intimate strangers" everyday. Interest-based message boards would create a different variety of intimate strangers-- people whose interests you share, whose opinions you know, but whom you may never see. It would be interesting to see how people negotiate issues of anonymity and identity.
Perhaps a hierarchy would develop of users who are frequent (or longer) riders who are more fully able to participate in the mediated world of the T. Perhaps groups would arrange meet-ups.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Data portraits / depicting people

Concrete and Abstract Portraits

Create two portraits of a single person. One portrait should be representational, based on the physical appearance of the subject. And one should be based on data about or produced by the subject.

A Good Waitress

Portrait #1
"Thursday Night Cleanup"

Portrait #2
"Thursday Night Sales and Tips"

Number indicate total tips, in dollars.
Font size of sales increases based on cost of item. $5 = 10 pt.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Response 5 - Varieties of Portraiture

What is a portrait?

The relationship between the participants in a portraits-- the subject, the artist, and the audience-- is largely dependent on the context for both the creation and viewing of the portrait and the intended function of the portrait.

According to Brilliant and Shearer, portraits serve both literal and abstract functions, personal and documentary, aesthetic and scientific. In each function, the relationship between portrait participants shifts appropriately. This can also run backwards-- if the relationship between the participants shift, the function of the photograph can change.

For example, this video tells the story of a photo album created by a Nazi officer at Auschwitz. It primarily documents leisure time-- the officers and their female "helpers" vacationing at lodge just outside of the death camp. Many of the photographs qualify as "portraits."

Karl Höcker, the SS officer who owned the album, shows up on almost every page of photographs, but rarely appears in historical records. Because of this previous lack of records, he was not convicted of conspiracy to commit mass murder and served only 7 years for other, less severe war crimes. Today, Höcker's self-portraits are being used by forensic anthropologists to determine his identity in another photograph of the "selection" process at Auschwitz, and thus, his guilt. As Höcker's photographs travel through time and context, their function and the relationship among those pictured in them and those viewing them has changes dramatically. Indeed, if Höcker were alive today, this would change things in an additional way because they would might be used as evidence in a capital trial in addition to historical inquiry.

The need for literal representation in portrait is dependent on to the extent to which the portraits function calls for legibility. A genomic portrait used for scientific purposes must be more overtly legible than a genomic portrait used for conceptual or aesthetic ones. In the case of propagandist portraits, those possessing information that makes the widely illegible legible may be empowered. But, in the case of the Chapmans's series below, those looking for explicit representation are probably missing the point.

All portraiture is interactive in some way. It is usually the collaboration of at least three actors in order to exist as a portrait. But increased, more overt interactivity creates the opportunity for remix and recontextualization. Any image may be used for purposes other than the original function. The level of least-interactivity, a static, untouchable image by the reinterpreted in the mind of the viewer. As demonstrated by the blogs in my second example below, greater interactivity provides for greater ease of appropriation and circulation of these new curatorial visions.

An interactive medium makes the viewer part of the context for understanding the portrait in that it elicits information about the viewers. The blogs below show original portrait sitters, but they also reflect the blogger and the blog readership. What does it mean that one blog has a lot of comments whereas the other does not? Do the commentors seem to be the blogger's personal friends? How do they react to the contents of the blog and the portraits themselves? In this way, the more information is collected about viewers, the more the portrait demonstrate what Shearer calls "occasionality" and the more it functions as a historical document. (This is just one aspect of what happens when viewed things begin to collect information about viewers.)

"Portrait of Andrea Rose (No. 118)" by Jake and Dinos Chapman from Painting for Pleasure and Profit: A Piece of Site-specific Performance-based Body Art in Oil, Canvas and Wood

During the five days of the 2006 Frieze Art Fair in London, brothers Jake and Dinos Chapman set-up a temporary "studio" and painting the portrait of anyone who was willing to pay a fee. Most of the portraits did looked only vaguely humanoid and usually bore only idiosyncratic or subjective likeness to the sitter. The above painting is portrait of Andrea Rose, who is portrayed elsewhere in text as:
Andrea Rose is the Director of Visual Arts at the British Council. She is a Trustee of the Whitechapel Art Gallery, the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Newcastle-Gateshead, as well as being the British Commissioner for the International Venice Biennale of Art and Architecture. She was awarded an OBE in 1998 for services to British Art. In 2001 she became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

My boyfriend, who went to Frieze that year, saw a young boy from (as he remembers it) an obviously wealthy, art-collecting family pose for a portrait. The result, as he recounts it, was a painting of "a fly on a pile of shit."

The 125 portraits generated at Frieze were then shown as part of a survey of the Chapmans's art at Tate Liverpool. The paintings were hung in an installation that depicted a fake artist studio, with peeling wallpaper, bad lighting, and creaking floorboards. According to the curator, this was intended to "create an ironic image of what one expects an artist's lifestyle and their practice to be. [...] This image of the artist as a tortured soul makes us question these flimsy presumptions. They are also poking fun at themselves."

This portrait series evoke a playfully/ironically antagonistic relationship between the artist, the sitter/patron, and the larger art world. It can also be read as turning the art fair into a "county fair," where people can be to have their caricature made. This reading interrogates the spectacle of the art world as well the notion of artist-as-gifted-genius. At the same time, the Chapman brother's enfant terrible behavior reinforces their special and privileged position as artists who can insult their patrons and still be admired in spite of (or because of) this behavior.

"Awful" Portraits
from "The Awful World of Glamor Portraits" from

from "Bad Portraits" from
Both of these kinds of portraiture-- glamor shots and tattoos-- are interesting forms in themselves.

The first form represents a have-it-yourself form of fashion photography that morphed into a genre unto itself. A speculative historical argument-- By the 1980s and 1990s, when glamor shots photos were in their heyday, most people knew enough about photography to understand that images of models were manipulated by makeup, good lighting, and photo retouching (see more recent Dove campaign that trades on this sense). The glamor shot offers individuals the opportunity to get the "model" treatment. But, as we can see, the glamor shot does not make every woman into a model look-alike. Indeed, everything about the glamor shot-- the pose, the clothing choice, the materiality of the actual printed photograph-- can only look like exactly what it is.

The second form, the tattoo portrait, is (like several of the portraits mentioned in the reading) is a copy of another portraits. In this case, the images is both intentionally and unintentionally manipulated. The two example above have different functions determined by the relationship of the patron (tattooee) to the sitter. The "In Loving Memory" image of the bride seems to be part of the commemoration/memorial tradition. It bears an even more intimate relationship to the patron than the miniatures that acts as a proxies for the sitter mentioned by Shearer. The other example seems to function as more of avatar signifying the patron while augmenting his body with commentary.

However, I am just as interested in the self-portrait painted by each of these bloggers by the act of collecting this photographs. Both bloggers use the word "awful" to describe what their subject matter. The tattoo blogger is only interested in the technique of tattooing. "One of the most unfortunate tattoos that you can have is a badly done portrait," she writes, "and sadly there are a lot of them out there." Of the memorial portrait, she writes, "This is my favorite bad portrait. It's shark-zombie-bride. I feel so sorry for the guy who got this. Again, note the teeth." The implications of calling a memorial image a "shark-zombie-bride" do not seem to be an issue. The glamor shot blogger displays a tension between what is embarrassing and what is desirable.

Both sets of assemblage and commentary serve to recontextualize the portraits as caricature, as Brilliant puts it, "expressing itself in the deformation of the likeness" while creating a more flattering data-based image of the blogger, who knows better than the original patrons/sitters.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Response 4: Time and History

Personal Timeline Project

Take 2 photographs that each depict a object or scene that shows the traces of time.

This is a table that's being used as a message/brainstorm board for one of the project in CMS. Over time, some of the post-its have lost their sticky power and have fallen to the floor. How long does it take for a post-it to lose its stick? How long have the faulty ones been on the floor? What does it mean that no one has yet picked them up? Though it's not legible in the picture, the four vertically lined up yellow post-its read "Please Do Not Touch." One reason why I chose this image is because it reminded me of some of the living conversation spaces we've talked and read about already this semester.

I got a pedicure last week. I swear, this looked really hot when I first got it. In any case, I've tired to zoom in on the paint job to avoid offending anyone who might be squeamish about feet. They're not always the most alluring body part. I love pedicures, but they are so transient and so expensive. During the winter, they are a particularly egregious luxury. But, I had the opportunity to see my sister and we decided to do it together. Getting your nails done is as much about passing time-- to be out (leisure time spend away from home, as Robison and Godbey put it), socializing without eating or drinking anything-- as it is about having a durable result. The moment I put on a closed toe shoe, the blue design was messed up. The next day, I touched it up (poorly, as visible in close-up but not from a standard view). In following days, the paint chipped even more. Soon, I will have to remove the paint and, probably, replace it with a non-professional coat.

Personal Timeline

On Saturday night, I had one of my typical bouts of insomnia. I usually waste time all day trying to get started on an important, necessary task (cleaning, reading, writing) and then only start to feel alert when it is time to go to sleep. I could just become nocturnal, but then I would miss my morning meetings and everything else that occurs during daylight hours in Eastern Standard Time.

When I have insomnia, I become overfocused on the narrative of insomnia. I become consumed with trying to fall asleep as if in a (self-defeating) race against the coming daylight. I check the time and the alarm over and over, try perhaps too hard to do things that will make me fall asleep, even wake myself up because I remember that I'm supposed to be having trouble falling asleep. This time, even my dreams were about "beating the clock."

I never really know whether I've lost as much sleep as I think I have. I can remember slipping into dreams, but I have no real way of knowing how long I was asleep for. It possible that I actually don't have insomnia, just that I recall my waking times more vividly than my sleeping times. I have used colors (yellow for awake, green for maybe asleep, purple for asleep) to indicate the fallibility of perception. The timeline only pretends to be somewhat linear but is instead a jumbled progression of thought and thoughts disguised as actions.

Here is the representation.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Response 3: Mapping Conversations

Sketching Conversation

Write a short essay about what elements Bonvillain discusses apply to online interaction and which do not.

While I was reading Bonvillain, it occurred to be that people who write fiction well are masters of reading and recreating communicative interactions. Believable dialog in fictions tells us more about that person speaking than what they thought they were conveying. A character's ability to take turns, use repair mechanisms, defer to authority appropriately, allow other to save face, and navigate other structural properties of conversation tells us as much about a them as anything else the author may more overtly signal.

Online, we all take the role of authoring our own dialog. Often, we mimic communication interactions from in-person interaction. This is why, in a text message, we are likely employ ritualized exit strategies such as those Bonvillain describes on page 106 and why we often vary the speed of text messaging to create a comfortable conversational rhythm.

One thing not often seen online is repetition to signal participation and familiarity, although you will often see poster on message board "quote" previous posts. This is mostly for clarity. Clarity is often an issue in off-line communications. We must often be overly polite and face-saving when giving directives in e-mail in order to avoid appear brusque.

Online, there are different norms across communities, but whether they are posting or Macrochan or Metafilter, a user is likely to scolded (obscenely or snarkily as the case may be) if they violate the conversational postulates of the community. In many settings, the postulates of quantity, quality, relation, and manner apply. Online, relevance is especially important.

Although Macrochan and other image boards would hardly be considered "polite" spaces, they function largely on issues of face, both in the desire to be approved of my the community. They are deeply aware of what constitutes FTAs in the "real world" and many of the jokes are dependent on understanding a complex series of iterations based on FTAs.

If we violate the norms of the community we are participating in, we, as Bonvillain describes, signal or acknowledge these deviations. "Sorry to hijack this thread," we write. And, like the Malagasies Bonvillain describes who are reluctant to give information lest it leads to consequences, we are very explicit the limits of our knowledge, "IANAL," we write, "but..."

Draw an abstract representation of an observed conversation

Recently, I had an opportunity to engage in and observe conversation among strangers on a bus. With my eyes closed, in the dark, in sinus medicined haze, I could hear different voices. Sometimes it was easy to determine that people were talking on their cell phones, or to their neighbor. It was usually possible to determine, using some of the cues Bonvillain describes. Sometimes only only conversant would be audible.

Sometimes it was possible to determine where in the bus people were sitting, but sometimes the voices seemed completely disembodied. The disembodied voices behind me felt like sparkling stars, each glowing in the darkness behind me.

The voices popped up like a whack-a-mole that moved at typically slow but varied pace. Some moles were constantly popping up (people using their cell phones to talk the entire bus ride). Some would pop up every 20 minutes or so, accompanied by a neighbor, then disappear.

I wrote down a short conversation that I heard on the bus as an example. In this sketch, the conversation is represented on a black background to signify the feeling of disembodiment that I, as the observer, experienced, in part because I could not see the speakers. The speakers may also felt something similar, as they were strangers sitting side-by-side (in the row behind me) in the dark, only able to partially turn towards each other.

Each snippet of dialog is encased in a square filled with stars, which points to the modular nature of each remark. The vertical axis represents time. The horizontal axis represents invasiveness and cooperation. Conversations in the middle of the sketch are neutral and participated in equally by both parties. When one party seemed to want to end the conversation, their dialog retreats to their respective sides.

First Part
Second Part

Draw an abstract representation of an observed online conversation

There are at least 11 participants in the conversation, but only 6 make more than one utterance. The thread has 33 posts but 567 views, so we can infer that there are some people reading and not participating.

Sketch 1

The original poster asks a question, gives context to that question, and offers alternative solutions. The purpose of the main conversation is to answer that question and give commentary about the context and the alternative answers. There are multiple conversations going on, with one central disagreement emerging. The follow sketch show the topics being discussed in each post, with the main participants involved in the disagreement identified. Red lines signify disagreements, black lines agreement.

Sketch 2

The focus of the conversation shifts over time. An off-topic conversation become dominant for a bit, before another, slightly less off-topic conversation takes over, this one involving the original poster, and the thread peters out. The final off-topic conversation serves as what Bonvillain calls an "exit technique", as the community seems to have little more to offer to offer the original poster. It is also a face-saving strategy to close with an off-topic conversation related to the original poster. This sketch shows the evolution of content.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Response 2: Legibility and Abstraction

Interaction Space Design

1. Describe one example of legibility in the physical world

My alarm clock time setting controls are perhaps not the most legible example of their species. There is no way to manual or quick/easy switch between AM and PM. Only a mysterious, tiny dot on the display distinguishes one from the other, and I have found that the dot, though it means PM on my alarm clock, usually means AM on models with a similar design. Another mysterious dot designates that the alarm has been activated. Because I usually set the alarm at night, I have to remember that two dots means that the alarm has been set. However, if I set the alarm after midnight, which is quite frequently, I should expect only one dot.

The function of the "snooze bar" is more intuitive. Its size and shape make it read as "slappable." After a certain number of slaps, however, it permanently turns off the alarm. After at least five years with the same clock, I am not yet sure how many slaps that is.

When it misfires, as Norman might have predicted, I blame myself. My schema of "alarm clock" associates it it with productivity, responsibility, and simplicity, which makes it hard to blame poor design for the malfunction. If asked, though, I am unlikely to admit that I secretly think that poor interaction with my alarm clock is my fault. Like Norman's "Tom," I am likely to describe the ways in which the design of the clock made my unfortunate inputs inevitable.

I certainly blame others when they complain of alarm clock malfunction, as Norman might also have predicted. I been surprised enough times by a mis-set alarm, I have formed a faulty mental model that naively ascribes some kind of mysticism--divination of mysterious dots-- to correct execution. This causes anxiety. Even when I think I have set it correctly, I sometimes wake up throughout the night with the urge to rechecking it again and again. My boyfriend, perhaps also feeling that use of my alarm clock requires some sort of talent, often refuses to set it.

The sound of the alarm on my alarm clock is highly legible. A few years ago, I had a friend whose car door, when left ajar, played the same melody as my alarm clock (interesting how I perceive the door as "playing the melody"), and every time I heard it, I shuddered. The sound of the alarm melody is so closely aligned with successful implementation of the "wake up" goal that it is as unbearable in any other context as it is in the original. Indeed, unbearability, at least in that it motivates me to move from a sleeping state to a waking ones, is essential to my mental model of how an alarm clock works.

2. Design a new conversational interface

I designed Study Date, a conversational interface for two people in an intimate relationship who are separated by distance. All of last semester, my boyfriend and I were in a long-distance relationship. To compensate for our physical distance, we felt the need to communicated constantly. Sometimes, though, it was fatiguing and overly time-consuming to talk, text, or IM so much. I wished for a way to feel togetherness without the need for constant talk. When when we lived together, we'd often hang out in the same room, separately reading or using a computer or watching TV, only sometimes looking up to share a thought. I approached this assignment with this idea-- is it possible to create a conversational interface that metaphorically feels like just being there while taking advantage of the technological capacities that move us, as Hollan and Stornetta put it, beyond being there?

Study Date is a private, intimate space. It connects the desktop and activity of two people and uses the graphical presence inspired Chat Circles to remind each user of the presence of the other even when they are not overtly conversing. It also provides a way to discretely "get up" from the shared space to look at something a user would not want to share.

The computer desktop, and particularly, the internet browser, is a zone of private activity. In most cases, we would feel awkward if our personal recreational internet activity were shared on a public screen. Even if an audience sees our desktop for a moment when plug in to make a presentation, we feel exposed. Being able to see what another person is doing, watch their cursor move around, is an intense expression of trust and intimacy. It also allows users to share and point out aspects of what they're individually engaged in, whether a YouTube video or a passage from required reading.

StudyDate takes advantage of some of the features of the Chat Circles series including circles to graphically represent users. Although this was initially designed, at least in part, to transform "lurkers" in "audience," it functions perfectly in StudyDate, which depends on the metaphorically physical presence of others. As in Chat Circles, the circles enlarge when a user types a message, and then shrink in size over time, mostly as an alert the other user who may be engrossed in the primary task. It also uses the history time-line function to review conversations.

Most of the time, the user sees predominately their own desktop, large enough to read and work in with ease. The partner's desktop is visible, but is small and ghosted. The user can see their partner's cursor moving around, and their screen changing, but it is not legible enough to be distracting. When user moves their circle over to their partner's zone, the partner's screen becomes large and clear, and they can see what they are looking at but can't control or interact. This may be used to share something, or just when someone feels like taking a break. The user can see the circle enter into their zone.

If a user needs to hide their desktop from their partner so that they can work on confidential work documents, for example, they can "get up" from the intimate space by moving their circle into the top quadrant of the screen. The experience remains somewhat intimate, however, as the users can still communicate and remain "present." It would be interesting to test this StudyDate to see how users react when the other "gets up."

In StudyDate, the circles react when they bump into each other. Whether the act is a bump, a nudge, or a nuzzle is up for contextual interpretation. My guess is that in this case, it is unlikely to be considered an aggressive act.