Temporal and Social Structures of Collaboration

One of the insights to come out of the information seeking project is the central role played by temporal rhythms in coordinating collaborative work. Temporal rhythms are repeated patterns to the temporal organization of work. Rhythms can operate on many scales. For students and teachers, lectures have a rhythm to them, but so do entire classes, quarters, academic years, and programs of study. These rhythms create expectations that allow people to anticipate and arrange for work in the future, and so help collaborators to coordinate their work. However, traditional interactive systems present information out of context, making it hard for us to relate that information to the people we work with or to the rhythms of work in which it is caught up.

One current project is looking at ways to address this problem. We are attemptitng to capture social and temporal structures in everyday activity, and to make these structures part of the standard user experience. As an example, imagine that I'm working on a paper with some colleagues in the UK. As it draws closer to the time of day when they will no longer be responsive to email, my socially-aware filesystem gradually changes the color of the icons for the files that are part of that collaboration; and when the deadline gets very close, the icons grow larger and start to vibrate, to indicate that there is pressing activity to be carried out. Doing something like this involves relating the information I'm working with to social structures (the set of relevant people) and temporal structures (the daily or weekly schedule of our interactions.)

Currently, we're building infrastructure technologies to gather social and temporal information automatically, and models which will allow us to process this information and make appropriate inferences from it. We're also beginning to work on interfaces that can embody this information and exploit it for everyday interaction.

This work is being carried out with Madhu Reddy and Danyel Fisher. Some more details are available here.

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