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IBM Cambridge Research Center

  Project: C+B Seen

Primary Researchers: Paul Moody, Jonathan Feinberg

A Collaborative User Experience Project:

When you work in the same physical location with others, you have a great deal of information about their activity that can help you communicate, collaborate, and coordinate your activities with theirs. For example, you want to stop by and chat with Sue in the office across the hall, but you see that she's on the phone, so you wait until she hangs up. Or maybe you've noticed that your teammate is rereading a document over and over; you suspect that although he is trying to understand the material, he isn't getting it, and you offer to explain it to him.

How would similar awareness on-line affect communication and collaboration? C+B Seen explores that question through a simple prototype that uses Instant Messaging awareness, blogging, and real-time social networking that goes far beyond what is available today. C+B Seen makes visible the current number of chat sessions a person is involved in, as well as the applications and documents that he or she has opened while using C+B Seen. The person's current keyboard or mouse activity level provides additional awareness information. Awareness also extends to past activity; the prototype introduces the Rearview mirror, a row of pictures that reveals who the person has been chatting with recently. And even when users have logged off C+B Seen, it continues to give you this awareness information about their activities. In an effort to be sensitive to people's need for privacy, C+B Seen lets users control the type and level of detail that is exposed.

In the figure below, the Rearview mirror along the top shows the people youhave chatted with recently. The darker the picture, the more recent the communication. Selecting Paul Moody from the buddy list brings up his photo, a mini-blog with his status message, and his phone number. The color of his name (green) indicates that he is on line. Hovering over the chat icon (the green bubble) shows the three people who Paul is in chats with. The keyboard and mouse and application indicators are to the right of the chat indicator. Hovering over them reveals the documents and applications, respectively, that Paul is using. Paul's Rearview mirror, at the bottom, shows whom he has chatted with recently. Hovering over a picture in the mirror, brings up the person's name. Clicking on a photo brings up detailed information about that person -- including their Rearview mirror and activity information -- even if he or she isn't in your buddy list.

C+B Seen provides a wealth of awareness information about co-workers.

This expanded awareness of a person's interaction with other people, documents, and activities has the potential to make it easier to accomplish a common task. Imagine this scenario -- Rob was expecting to return to the office after meeting with a customer, but instead he goes directly home because his son is sick. He asks his assistant to post a note to his C+B Seen mini-blog that he will be working from home for the rest of the day so that others know where he is. When Rob gets home, he activates C+B Seen and updates his status in the mini-blog indicating that he's home now. Rob needs to find out from his teammate Bill if the supplies they need for tomorrow's group meeting have come in. He can see that Bill is not active -- Bill's mini-blog says that he'll be out for an early afternoon meeting -- probably where he is now. A quick look at Bill's Rearview mirror tells Rob that Bill had been exchanging email and chats with several people during the past of couple hours. While Rob recognizes many of the faces, there is one that he's not familiar with. So he hovers over the picture and discovers that it's Janice Dinsmore. He recognizes her name from emails about the supplies -- she works in Shipping and Receiving. Rob starts a chat with Janice and learns that the supplies have come in and that Bill will pick them up later that afternoon.

We expect the real-world use of the C+B Seen prototype to help us answer a number of questions: What are the privacy issues; for example, how much information about their activities do people feel comfortable sharing? How far back should recent history go to be useful (a few hours, a day, several days)? What impact will this increased awareness have on collaborative behavior?