Using Information: New Technologies, Ways & Means

A blog for people interested in contributing to the HICSS-40 minitrack on Using Information: New Technologies...

Friday, August 25, 2006

HICSS 39 Trip Report

Joi Ito gave an engaging plenary talk on emerging technologies and practices around intellectual property, focusing on film and music and how the industries are not responding well to the digital change.

Dan Russell gave a talk focused mainly on studies at IBM Almaden, followed by interesting data from studies since he joined Google. (Dan has also worked at PARC and Apple and mentioned a recent talk at PARC describing different research lab cultures.) At IBM he studied how people quickly skim large numbers of documents under time pressure using paper and online tools. After two IBM tools fared worse than paper, they did careful video analyses to understand why and built a new prototype that did much better (for what seem plausible reasons). The search experiments at Google found patterns in eye-movement data and user behavior, for example in response to small differences in duration of returning a page even at short intervals and moderate variability in such durations. (Incidentally, IBM pension plan changes announced last week will affect longer-term employees after two years; some might be easily recruited then if not now.)

Other speakers of interest included Charles House, an Intel Research Director of 10 years following 30 doing the same at HP, a very engaging speaker with insights into RTC whose team (including Cynthia Pickering who spoke at MS last year) is tackling asynchronous interaction with my favorite innovation of 2005, the “asynchronous meeting”; danah boyd, who attended Social Computing Symposia here, now a Yahoo employee and SIMS grad student, who spoke on analyses of Friendster data and sent me nice as-yet unpublished papers on blogging and tagging; Annie Tat, a Calgary grad student with a very nice 3D visualization tool for MSN Messenger repositories; and, for anyone working on disaster modeling and response planning, John Linebarger, an impressively knowledgeable fellow from Sandia who after interesting work is being moved to work on semantic nets, gave a clear and thoughtful talk.

Alan Dennis described qualitative studies of IM use by execs and high-level managers in a distributed high tech and pharmaceutical companies (think, for example, Cisco). Behaviors are consistent with those in some MS managerial meetings, but more widespread and formal in less collocated settings. For example, job interviews and contract negotiations are held exclusively by phone in many highly distributed groups. From the perspective of the candidate or contractor, there is one interviewer, but several people are listening and IMing questions to the person talking. Partly driven by necessity, it seems efficient. Another paper by Dennis carefully analyzed when people approach other people for information or knowledge, looking at many possible contextual correlates. For example, is the information present in a formal company document repository? To Dennis’s surprise that made no difference (my paper focused on the general inadequacies of such repositories, and I cited this as supporting evidence when giving my talk).

One fascinating session comprised three skillful talks on “the dark side of knowledge management.” None were very technological but all had clear implications for technology design and use. Two included frameworks and numerous examples and will require reading the papers to fully assess. The other looked at legal and behavioral issues around organizational ownership of knowledge in employee heads – some surprising legal case history and evolving practices.

Microsoft Research participation included Danyel Fisher’s visualization paper that won a Best Paper award, Tammara Coombs Turner’s paper on technical newsgroup communities, Shelly Farnham’s paper on Wallop, and my paper on emerging technologies and knowledge management. There was heavy participation from IBM Watson HCI people, UW Information School (eight faculty and some students), and others.

Sessions I attended that were perhaps most interesting for revealing the intensity of research in the areas were on Open Source and cross-cultural differences in team dynamics.

Odds-and-ends: An e-government session covering identity card practice and plans in Europe, and a proposal for a semantic web e-government portal for Europe that drew a sharp response; an MIS paper on the “new frontier” of affective aspects of design driven by online consumerism, again recapitulating the course that CHI took for commercial software.

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