Two Places at Once: A Twinned Media Space

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See also Amy's Bibliography and timeline

Background and Motivation

Media Spaces typically connect distance-separated people through always on video. However, it demands that everyone not only runs the media space, but that they are willing to spend the time/personal cost/equipment etc. to have that distant person 'in your face'. Yet consider the case of a telecommuter. I'll use myself as an example. I work at home at least two days a week, and need to talk to students, visitors, etc. Currently, I use instant messaging and Community Bar to connect to the people I need to. Yet this demands that all others in iLab include me in their IM list (and that they use my IM of preference, which is google talk), or that they subscribe to Community Bar and keep it on their display. This is clearly heavyweight, and in fact only a sub-group are willing to do this.

But... I have a physical office at the University. Instead of people connecting to me electronically through their space/computer, why shouldn't I just 'twin' my presence by connecting myself to my distant office? That way, people can come to my office to talk to me (as if I were physically there). if I wanted to get in touch with them, I could send a 'come see me' email.


To make this work, we need several things.

  • an always on video connection. This is not a problem. We can use Mark Watson's new UDP shared dictionary to create a reasonable quality video link. We can also use off the shelf software.
  • A good audio link. Also can use off the shelf software, e.g., Google Talk
  • A way to control the door. I should be able to open my door when I come in, and close it when I 'leave'. This may require throwing some money at a motor on the door plus a switch activated by phidgets.
  • A way to mediate information flow. Its silly to send full video/audio when no one is in my office (there are also privacy concernes). What we need is a way to detect things like 'knocks' and 'entrances' to my office, and as part of that create an interface to facilitate greeting. This requires redesigning my physical office as a context aware environment.


  • I'm not sure if this has been done before. Carl Gutwin has a system where he puts a monitor on his door, but its not for telecommuning (I think). Still, we need to check.
  • Because of instrumenting, a field study of this is tough. I would be one obvious (and willing) example, but I think we would want to do this for a totally removed person with a strong desire to stay in touch.


I think this is a fun project, with lots of opportunity for thinking about design, phidgets, distributed communication, video, etc. Doable in a modest amount of time.