November 1, 2006

Recently in ACM's Ubiquity & Interactions

From Ubiquity (all OA):

  • AI Re-Emerging as Research in Complex Systems by Kemal A. Delic, Umeshwar Dayal. Yet another renaming of the AI field to something that sounds less impossible?
  • Ubiquity Interviews USC'S Dr. Alice Parker
    UBIQUITY: And that seems like a good place to end the interview. Is there anything else you might like to say to our readers?

    PARKER: Well, I think the great frontier is software and applications at this point, and not technology, even though the technology is very exciting. I look at the demand for complex software systems that we're going to be required to produce, and I'm awestruck by how difficult it's going to be to produce these systems and have them be reliable and fail-safe and just generally safe. So, I think that's the looming frontier and one that technologists have often ignored. They've said, "Oh, yes, software -- that's over there somewhere." I think some of the technologists are going to need to focus on software and applications to figure out how can we best support the software enterprise, because it's a critical one and it's one that is very difficult to envision proceeding the same direction it's been going. Things are getting larger and more complex and harder and harder to construct so that they function in a fail-safe manner. That's the true frontier.

  • Books without Boundaries: A Brief Tour of the System-wide Print Book Collection by Brian F. Lavoie and Roger C. Schonfeld
    As the digital transformation reshapes the nature of print collections, these and many other issues will require the attention of librarians and other decision makers. As we learn how the system-wide collection contextualizes local collections, we might be able to develop new strategies for print-collection management that reflect system-wide, rather than purely local, considerations. The observations and findings discussed in this paper are only a first step in this direction, but we hope they may set direction for discussions about the future of print books in the digital age.
    Pretty good article, with a lot of sensible things to say about the long term future of print & ebooks in academic environments.

From Interactions, the one of usability testing sample sizes seems especially relevant (all req sub):

  • Fresh: pushing the envelope: Whither the web? by Fred Sampson
    We hear calls for innovation so often, and from so many sources, that the word is in danger of losing meaning. Innovation does not happen in a vacuum. Innovation feeds on shared knowledge and experience, collaboration, interactions. Even Isaac Newton (borrowing from earlier writers) acknowledged the sources of his inspiration when he said, "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." The new Web, the new Internet, helps us not only to stand on the shoulders of giants, but to find more and more giants, and to become giants ourselves.

    All this innovation is going to affect how we develop and distribute information. From the perspective of an information developer (you might know us as technical writers), findability and delivery are just as important as the content: Facts that can't be found are useless. If the younger users of our information expect content in small chunks, we should be prepared to deliver information that way. I shudder to think of the challenges of delivering software-installation instructions via cell-phone text message, but that might well be a useful delivery option, providing exactly what the user needs, exactly where and when the user needs it. Or maybe we'll provide instruction by podcast, updated by RSS subscription, and put task-oriented instruction in your ear. Or, at the risk of being lost among the ordinary and profane, we might provide tutorials in video posted to (Shudder again.)

  • Forum: under development: How do you manage your contacts if you can't read or write? by Jan Chipchase
    The mobile phone enables personal, convenient synchronous and asynchronous communication—in essence allowing its users' communication to transcend time and space, at a time and in a context of his or her choosing. It is therefore unsurprising that with these almost superhuman characteristics, many people consider their mobile phone to be one of the essential objects to carry when leaving home. These benefits (and associated costs) apply equally to an urban city dweller in London and a rural farmer in Bangladesh.
    An important thought. The web is great, technology is great, but masses of humanity are just left by the wayside.

  • Sample sizes for usability tests: mostly math, not magic by James R. Lewis
    Why do we keep talking about appropriate sample sizes for usability tests?

    Perhaps the most important factor is the economics of usability testing. For many practitioners, usability tests are fairly expensive events, with much of the expense in the variable cost of the number of participants observed (which includes cost of participants, cost of observers, cost of lab, and limited time to obtain data to provide to developers in a timely fashion). Excessive sampling is always wasteful of resources [9], but when the cost of an additional sample (in usability testing, an additional participant) is high, it is very important that the benefit of additional sampling outweighs the cost.

    Another factor is the wide range of test and evaluation situations that fall under the umbrella of usability testing. Usability testing includes three key components: representative participants, representative tasks, and representative environments, with participants' activities monitored by one or more observers [2]. Within this framework, however, usability tests have wide variation in method and motivation. They can be formal or informal, think-aloud or not, use low-fidelity prototypes or working systems. They can have a primary focus on task-level measurements (summative testing) or problem discovery (formative testing). This latter distinction is very important, as it determines the appropriate general approach to sample-size estimation for usability tests.

  • Bridge the gap: Toward a common ground: practice and research in HCI by Avi Parush
    There is indeed a gap between research and practice in HCI. Primarily, practitioners express difficulties in benefiting from research. It was proposed here that there are different types of research in HCI, and those types were delineated as a taxonomy. The ability to utilize and benefit from any of the research types depends on how a practitioner defines his practical problem as a research question. The abstraction of the question on different levels can lead one to search and find potentially beneficial research that can be applied in the practical arena.

  • People: fast forward: SeniorCHI: the geezers are coming! by Aaron Marcus
    What do seniors want and need from human-computer interaction and communication? What are the long-term effects on them with mobile/computing devices? How late in their lives can and should we expose them to the latest technology?


    As we all grow older, the time to begin thinking about user interfaces for the elderly becomes an issue to which all can relate. Perhaps that portends a boom time for SeniorCHI. We shall soon see.

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