Elegant technologies for complex lives
Socio-Digital Systems (SDS) aims to use an understanding of human values to help to change the technological landscape in the 21st century. Beyond making us all more productive and efficient, we ask how we can build technology to help us be more expressive, creative, and reflective in our daily lives.
Our group considers a broad range of human values, aims to understand their complexity, and puts them front and centre in technology development. An important aspect of this endeavour is the construction of new technologies that, in turn, we ourselves can shape. In so doing, we may create new ways that help us to actively realise our aspirations and desires, to engage with or disconnect from the world around us, to remember our past or to forget it, to connect with others or disengage from them. Important here are technologies which ultimately make our lives richer, and which offer us choice and flexibility in the things that we do.
SDS does this through the bringing together of social science, design and computer science. We believe that by understanding human values, we open up a space of new technological possibilities that stretches the boundaries of current conceptions of human-computer interaction.
Socio-Digital Systems is one of four groups in the Computer-Mediated Living research area at Microsoft Research Cambridge.
This group develops its work through themes that represent interlocking sets of social and technical concerns. Currently, SDS is investigating the following.
Theme: Beyond Search
When we think of the experiences that search engines are designed to support, criteria such as speed and efficiency instantly come to mind. However, one of our main interests is in how Web use is intertwined with daily life, and understanding the activities in which search engines play a role. Within this larger, human-centred context, we find that the richness of Web use, and the activities in which search features, point to many other human values to design for in addition to fast, relevant search. More...
Theme: Interacting without Touching
Through our bodily relationship and actions with objects, places, and each other, we are able to express and create a rich variety of meaning. Gestures, movement trajectories, spatial positioning, and proximity are all means through which we communicate, interpret, and control our world. With the emergence of ever more sophisticated sensing techniques we are able to interact in new ways with the digital world without touch. These new mechanisms open up opportunities for exploring new genres of experiences and applications in a variety of new contexts where touch-based interactions alone may neither be possible, desirable, or as engaging. The important concerns for this theme are to understand the properties, challenges, and social consequences of touchless body-based interactions and how to design experiences with these mechanisms that achieve value and meaning for people in everyday contexts. More...
Theme: Human-centred System Architectures
Recent technological advances in computing are allowing massive redesign of processing, storage, and network capabilities and architectures. All of this is often encapsulated in the term cloud computing. These changes often seem distant from human affairs. Indeed, when someone posts to their social network, when they create and store a Microsoft Word file, or when they take and send digital images from their mobile phones, it is rare that they think of the cloud as they do it. People may not even care where the file in question resides. They might not care that it is a file. But sometimes these computational issues do matter to them. When someone hands over a digital picture, say, they may want that digital object, that file, to really move from their own device to another’s. They are giving it; they are not giving another rights to access it, to go to the cloud and view it. When they delete a digital file they might really want that file to cease to exist; they don’t want to find that others have copied it and made it their own. This theme is investigating how the design of computer architectures in the cloud and elsewhere can be altered to more effectively bind the social and the computational together, making them allies rather than distinct, separate phenomena. More...
Theme: [Big] Data Studies
Data is all the buzz. It's being seen in everything and found everywhere. From the human genome to our personal tweets, from the vastness of the universe to our planetary ecosystems, we're imagining just about anything can be subject to the analytical tools of a new data science. But what are the consequences of this vision of a data-rich world for those of us on the street; what impact, if any, does it have on our everyday experiences and with the things that matter most to us. Here, we aim to reflect on the rise of (big) data and investigate what it does mean for us, and what it could come to mean. More...
View PAST THEMES.
Projects are specific pieces of work that we've researched and built. They often fit into one of the themes, described above.
Project: Five Modes of Web Use
Most tools for searching the web are built around the idea of purposeful or task-driven web use, where people seek out the answers to questions they have, or gather information for a particular information need. Our fieldwork suggests that while this purposeful use is obviously an important aspect of web use, there are four other modes in which people engage with the web. These are opportunistic use, in which web use s a form of past time, orienting, where users browse a routine set of sites to ‘warm up’ for the day, respite, where users flick to certain sites as a way of breaking from other activities, and lean-back, where the web becomes a conduit for media such as radio, video or games. These modes were developed from qualitative analyses of user behaviour, but we are currently using visualisations of user logs, and developing ways of inferring mode from user behaviour, in collaboration with the Machine Learning group.
Project: Domesticating Search
Designing web-connected technologies for home life raises a number of questions regarding the material landscape of the home, the relationships between household members, and the links between home and other spheres, such as work. As part of a design exploration of how to design web-connected artefacts specifically for the home, we have developed a number of concepts in collaboration with Aalto University's School of Arts, Design and Architecture. These include Tokens, which brings the web into the physical landscape of the home through the use of tangible handles to web content; Hole in Space, which creates a live connection from the home to a remote place that family members wish to feel connected to; and Manhattan, which displays local events around a household as a tangible interface.
Within HCI, time is treated in various ways. It can be quantified and measured, indicating speed, efficiency, or delay. Alternatively, it can be positioned as an experiential aspect of everyday life, with recent efforts in HCI focusing on how we might design slow technologies, or design for the busyness that is inherent to modern life. Through a recent study of a timeline creation tool, Project Greenwich, and in an upcoming CHI 2013 workshop, we are attempting to unpack these different ways of thinking about time, drawing a distinction between time as experienced, and time as counted by a ticking clock or measured by a computer algorithm.
Project: Touchless Interaction in Surgical Settings
Surgery is increasingly reliant on medical imaging to “look” inside the body with minimal physical invasion. However, a surgeon’s interaction with images is constrained by their need to maintain sterility. Re-scrubbing is time consuming, and instructing others to manipulate equipment interferes with a surgeon’s interpretation of the images. Working with two partner hospitals, we are developing two systems for manipulating image data. One is in partnership with vascular surgeons at Guy’s and St. Thomas’ hospital in London, and the other with neurosurgeons at Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge. Both systems support surgeons to manipulate 3D renderings in ways which are sensitive to their existing practices and teamwork. This study is funded by MS Connections in collaboration with the Computer Vision group and Lancaster University. View Project Page with Machine Learning and Planning group.
Project: Technology and the Modern Wedding
A wedding is arguably one of the most transformative and meaning-laden events in an individual’s life. Weddings can be incredibly rich spaces for exploration due to the unique ways that social, psychological, and material processes unfold amidst powerful cultural traditions. This major life event is increasingly transformed by technologies for preparing, capturing, and remembering the ritual. We are studying how people use technology in relationship to their weddings, and identifying ways that novel technologies could potentially contribute to the human values underpinning this event. Understanding how technology is transforming weddings, and marriages more generally, is a critical part of developing a more holistic research and design framework for technology’s evolving role across the life course.
View PAST PROJECTS.
- John Downs, Nicolas Villar, James Scott, Sian Lindley, John Helmes, and Gavin Smyth, A Small Space for Playful Messaging in the Workplace: Designing and Deploying Picco, in Proceedings of the 2014 ACM conference on Designing Interactive Systems, ACM, 21 June 2014
- Jung-Joo Lee, Siân Lindley, Salu Ylirisku, Giulio Jacucci, Tim Regan, and Marcus Nurminen, Domestic appropriations of tokens to the web, in Proceedings of the 2014 ACM conference on Designing Interactive Systems , ACM, June 2014
- Catherine C. Marshall and Sian Lindley, Searching for Myself: Motivations and Strategies for Self-Search, in Proceedings of CHI 2014, ACM, May 2014
- William T. Odom, Abigail J. Sellen, Richard Banks, David S. Kirk, Tim Regan, Mark Selby, Jodi L. Forlizzi, and John Zimmerman, Designing for Slowness, Anticipation and Re-visitation: A Long Term Field Study of the Photobox, in Proceedings of the 32Nd Annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, ACM, New York, NY, USA, April 2014
- Xuan Zhao and Siân Lindley, Curation through use: Understanding the personal value of social media, in Proceedings of the 2014 SIGCHI conference on Human Factors in computing systems (CHI 2014), ACM, April 2014
- Michael Massimi, Richard Harper, and Abigail Sellen, "Real, but Glossy" - Technology and the Pursuit of Magic in Modern Weddings, in Proc. CSCW 2014, ACM, 2014
- Michael Massimi, Jackie L. Bender, Holly O. Witteman, and Osman H. Ahmed, Life transitions and online health communities: reflecting on adoption, use, and disengagement, in Proc. CSCW 2014, ACM, 2014
- Michael Massimi and Carman Neustaedter, An Exploratory Survey of Video Chat Usage During Major Life Events, in Proc. DIS 2014, ACM, 2014
- Robert Douglas Ferguson, Michael Massimi, Emily Anne Crist, and Karyn Anne Moffatt, Craving, creating, and constructing comfort: insights and opportunities for technology in hospice, in Proc. CSCW 2014, ACM, 2014
- Richard Harper, Christian Bird, Thomas Zimmermann, and Brendan Murphy, Dwelling in Software: Aspects of the felt-life of engineers in large software projects, in Proceedings of the 13th European Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work (ECSCW '13), Springer, September 2013
- Siân Lindley, Xiang Cao, John Helmes, Richard Morris, and Sam Meek, Towards a tool for design ideation: Insights from use of SketchStorm, in Proceedings of the 27th BCS conference on Human Computer Interaction, British Computer Society, September 2013
- R.Harper, L.Hamill, and N.Gilbert, Modelling Digital Habitus: The relationship between the internet and the density and duration of friendship ties, no. MSR-TR-2013-67, June 2013
- Siân Lindley, Catherine C. Marshall, Richard Banks, Abigail Sellen, and Tim Regan, Rethinking the web as a personal archive, in Proceedings of the 2013 international conference on World Wide Web (WWW 2013), International World Wide Web Conference, May 2013
- Elizabeth Thiry, Siân Lindley, Richard Banks, and Tim Regan, Authoring personal histories: Exploring the timeline as a framework for meaning making, in Proceedings of the 2013 SIGCHI conference on Human Factors in computing systems (CHI 2013), ACM, April 2013
- Salu Ylirisku, Siân Lindley, Giulio Jacucci, Richard Banks, Craig Stewart, Abigail Sellen, Richard Harper, and Tim Regan, Designing web-connected physical artefacts for the ‘aesthetic’ of the home, in Proceedings of the 2013 SIGCHI conference on Human Factors in computing systems (CHI 2013), ACM, April 2013
Issue 4 of our free magazine is all about Digital Possession
Each issue of "Things We've Learnt About..." summarises the work of the Socio-Digital Systems team around a specific theme. Issue 4 is all about DIGITAL POSSESSION. It's packed full of insights and ideas that explore how we think about the digital things we own, all presented in way that we hope is interesting, insightful and inspirational. And most importantly, succinct. Get it here!
Trust, Computing and Society
The latest book from Socio-Digital Systems is Trust, Computing and Society, (Harper, Ed). This set of essays explores the question of trust in computing from technical, socio-philosophical, and design perspectives.
Reviews: 'Timely, nuanced and refreshing'; 'successful, thought-provoking, timely'.
Being Human Report
Socio-Digital Systems, along with 40 or so of the world's best HCI researchers, have put together a report for anyone interested in the ramifications of our digital future and in ways society must adjust to the technological changes to come.
Recent Press Coverage
- We Need Technology to Help Us Remember the Future, Wired, January 2013, featuring comments by Abigail Sellen.
- In Defense of the Power of Paper, New York Times, September 2012. An article on the power of paper featuring Richard Harper.
- The Thinking Digital Interviews: Richard Banks, May 2013. An interview prior to Richard's presentation at Thinking Digital 2012.
- Using touchless interaction in surgery, May 2012: A piece in New Scientist about our joint project with the Machine Learning Group here at the lab, as well as St. Thomas' hospital, and Lancaster University.
- A piece on the BBC News about the touchless surgery system, described above, in use in vascular surgery, May 2012.
- An interview with Abigail Sellen on lifelogging on CBC radio's show Spark in Jan 2012.
- Richard Banks' book The Future of Looking Back is out and is getting great reviews!
- An excellent review of Richard Harper's book Texture, from MIT Press. The book won the Association of Internet Researchers award for best book of 2011.
- Richard Harper on communications overload. Full page in the Observer, Nov. 2010.
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The Socio-Digital Systems group are always looking for interns and Post-docs. For more information, visit Microsoft Research Careers.
MSR also funds PhD scholarships - in computer science primarily but in all the social sciences and humanities. Currently, the Socio-Digital Systems group is working with Professor Constantine Sandis, author of The Things We Do and Why We Do Them, on the philosophy of communication. Applicants for a PhD in that subject should apply here.