Back to the NordiCHI – the ’06 edition

It is difficult to summarise the experience I had this year at the NordiCHI06, but I think the underlying theme was the challenge represented by emergent uses of constellations of technologies, that go beyond the capabilities of a UCD approach, in the way we are used to think about it. This underlying theme was touched in the first and the last keynotes of NordiCHI, respectively from Susanne Bødker and Jonathan Grudin.

The 'auditoriet' at Oslo Congress Centrum

The enlightening keynote of Bødker explores the dialectics between two generations (‘waves’) of HCI technologies and research. Second wave HCI begins with the introduction of second wave technologies (i.e. the development of the STAR interface, its document-centric metaphors and all that followed). Second wave HCI therefore deals with graphical user interfaces, work-based practices and places its locus of attention on the context of use.

The third wave HCI is different because it is connected to the introduction of pervasive (i.e. mobile devices) and ubiquitous (i.e. intelligent environments) devices. Therefore, third wave HCI looks more at mobile and home interactions with technologies and it is mainly interested on pleasure and emotion of usage.

Bødker is concerned with the lack of real interest in user involvement from the third wave HCI and suggests a dialectic reconciliation (a synthesis) between the two approaches. With its focus on the home, on leisure, emotion etc. the third wave specifically seems to want to separate these types of activities from rationally-bounded work activities, which were the focus of the second wave. Bødker argues that we need to design technologies and services that cross these boundaries and that allow a mediation between these two worlds.

The main concept behind this key note is indeed ‘multi-mediation’, which refers to the emergent aspects of using multiple artefacts across different contexts, work and leisure. HCI should never design single, monolithic devices or systems but technology that must be seen and used in relation to many other devices, applications and systems. ‘Webs-of technology’ are used to describe ubiquitous interaction as a process of negotiation between the users and the technology, focussing on the availability of technology and interpretability of services. The concept of multi-mediation has its roots into activity theory and semiotics and connects the communicative and instrumental aspects of technology usage. Bødker notes that third wave technologies should support learning experience and reflectivity and lead to the re-configurability of technology in the hands of human actors.

The third and last keynote was from Jonathan Grudin, Microsoft Research and dealt with the increasing trend towards lightweight technologies for Knowledge Management (KM). How this challenge will be addressed by HCI? It was the opinion of the speaker – and mine as well – that HCI didn’t deal yet with the implications of the emergent, combined usage of these tools (i.e. weblogs, wikis, RSS).

Grudin compared this situation to the first ’80, when HCI practitioners failed to recognise the big change coming from the diffusion of GUIs (Xerox Star, Mac) which made Command Line Interfaces rapidly obsolete.

Grudin identified three issues with current KM appraoches that might be addressed by these technologies.

  1. Capturing and sharing knowledge with document repositories just didn’t work. Private weblogs are being increasingly used for business purpose. Employees are starting to communicate with colleagues, customers and other parties outside of the enterprise. Wiki are good for multiple authorships, but can be demanding in the longer term. Wiks have proved to be effective for definite, fixed-term projects, where clearly defined roles already exist.
  2. While ontology-based approaches have failed in capturing the structure of knowledge, folksonomies can provide a bottom-up alternative approach.
  3. Expert locators have failed to provide as well a mechanism for exchanging knowledge inside of organisations. People are afraid of asking to an expert, and experts are unwilling of being disturbed each day by questions concerning their work. People are just looking for someone who knows ‘a bit more’ then them. Social networking tool could be an alternative approach.

There were many other interesting things of course in the course of the conference, and NordiCHI , in my opinon, effectively supports an on-going dialogue between design practices and HCI research.

I am looking forward to NordiCHI08, in Sweden…

Credits: The pictures in this article have been posted on FlickR by ‘xt1’