CPSC 601.56a Media Spaces and Casual Interaction

Note: this course was last taught in winter 1998, and thus excludes more recent work. Still, it offers a variety of good papers on this topic (see below) that should serve as a start to your research into this area.


The course deals with advanced topics in human computer interaction. The actual topic changes year by year. In 1999, the course investigated media spaces and casual interaction. This is a reading and project course, with regular one-on-one meetings scheduled between the student and the instructor. The student studied the literature on media spaces, including behavioural foundations (i.e. the role of casual interaction), the tradeoffs between awareness, privacy and distractions, and current media space technologies. The student identified opportunities for further research in this area, and solved a substantial problem.


  1. An annotated bibliography of Media Spaces and related topics (15%) due Jan 29
    This report, constructed as a web site, will deliver a list of key papers relevant to media spaces, each annotated with a brief (one paragraph) summary. The list must be accompanied by the collection of papers, where the collection will become a major resource for later projects. Note that the list may include related topics: e.g., ambient displays.
  2. An overview of Media Spaces, and identification of a research problem (30%) due Feb 17
    This report, done in the form of a thesis chapter, introduces and provides background to media spaces. At the very least, it should a) summarize the behavioural foundations, b) categorize and survey existing approaches; c) indicate outstanding problems; d) identify at least one good opportunity for further research in this area, and frame that opportunity as a research problem to be solved.
  3. Design and Implementation of an ambient display that provides awareness of a small team (40%) Prototype due Feb 17; final system last day of class
    The student will design and implement an ambient display that provides one person with awareness of several other team members. The deliverable will be a functional system installed in several offices, as well as a short report --- a critique --- of the system (between 6 - 8 CHI format pages max). If time permits, early usage experiences should be included. The particulars are as follows:
    1. A short presentation will be made early in this project describing the motivation and requirements for a design, as well as sketches/prototypes of competing designs. (Prototypes may be mock-ups).
    2. An awareness server will be built to collect and deliver awareness data (probably using GroupKit)
    3. One or more ambient displays will be designed to provide background awareness information about other's activities. Preferably, these will be physical devices rather than traditional computer displays.
    4. One or more sensors will capture and deliver information about other people's activities in their offices.
  4. Research Proposal (15%) due last day of class
    The student must produce a short research proposal (e.g., 6 - 8 CHI format pages max) on media spaces and casual interaction, suitable for pursuing as an MSc thesis. The proposal must include:
    • background, motivation, and a description of the general research problem
    • a narrowing in onto a specific research problem
    • a succintly phrased research question
    • a description of how the question will be answered (i.e., methodology)
    • a description of how one will know that the question has answered by the methodology

With permission from the instructor, the student may negotiate the details of the various deliverables to fit his/her evolving understanding and interests in the area.


The dates below are for the deliverables. The student is responsible for discussing with the instructor each component as it is being developed.

  • Assignment #1 - January 29, 1998
  • Assignment #2 - February 17, 1998
  • Assignment #3 Part 1 - Presentation of sketch/prototype: February 17, 1998
  • Assignment #3 Part 2 - Delivery of implemented system/report: Last day of class
  • Assignment #4 - Last day of class

Reading List - compiled/annotated by Saul Greenberg and Kevin Baker

Background Sociology

When we look around at work, informal communications play a dominant role in both achieving business goals and developing social relationships. These interactions are lightweight, spontaneous and easy to initiate. Physical proximity helps to facilitate this operation by providing high quality communication, convenient access to others, thereby allowing frequent, informal, spontaneous interactions to take place. However, with spatial separation between distributed individuals the opportunities for these interactions are no longer possible. Efforts (as we will see later) have been pursued to attempt to use technological mediums to overcome this barrier. First, a deep understanding of the nature of collaborative work relationships, specifically informal communications, must be obtained. These articles provide an overview of the basics of informal communications.

  • Kraut, R., Egido, C., and Galegher, J. (1988) Patterns of Contact and Communication in Scientific Research Collaboration Remote Communications. Proceedings of ACM CSCW'88 Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, pp.1-12
  • Galegher, J. and Kraut, R. (1990) Technology for Intellectual Teamwork: Perspectives on Research and Design. pp.1-20, in Intellectual Teamwork, LEA Press.
  • Kraut, R., Fish, R., Root, R., and Chalfonte, B. (1990) Informal Communication in Organizations: Form, Function and Technology. pp.287-314.
  • Whittaker, S., Frohlich, D., and Daly-Jones, O. (1994) Informal Workplace Communication: What is it like and how might we support it? Proceedings of ACM CHI'94 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp.131-137.

Video-based Technologies

In face-to-face visits in an office setting, contact initiation is established by approaching an office and establishing eye contact with the occupant. Also, we use visual cues to allow us to interpret an interruption without an explicit explanation. These verbal and visual interruptions occur naturally in face-to-face interactions. Similarly, technological mediums must support the pre-interaction coordination that allows remote collaboration to find opportune times to contact each other and easily initiate spontaneous lightweight interactions. For this reason, some researchers find that video is a requirement for initiating informal contact and sustaining communications. "Media spaces" are systems designed to use audio, video, and other media to create a shared "spaces" in which distributed work groups can operate smoothly and conveniently. These papers discuss the behavioural foundations behind informal communication, systems that afford casual interaction, and problems with them. These systems are used for social browsing for casual interaction and determining the availability/whereabouts for directed encounters.


The following articles provide an overview of the role of video for distributed collaboration.

  • Isaacs, E. and Tang, J. (1993) What video can and can't do for collaboration a case study. Proceedings of the ACM conference on Multimedia '93, pp.199-206.
  • Nowaczyk, R., Thomas, T., and White, D. (1991) The influence of video in desktop computer interactions. Conference proceedings on Organizational computing systems, pp.106-116.

Media Space

SCL developed Media Space in "an attempt to force the boundaries of social place to extend beyond the boundaries of physical space".

  • The Portland Experience: A report on a distributed research group. Olson and Bly (1991) in Greenberg, S. (1991) Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Groupware, Academic Press, pp. 81-97.

Cruiser and VideoWindow

Bellcore’s CRUISER and VideoWindow attempts to allow users to socially browse a virtual world. Researchers were interested in the ability to attain frequency, expressiveness, and interactivity of informal communication through visual communication.

  • Root, R. (1988) Design of a Multi-Media Vehicle for Social Browsing. Proceedings of ACM CSCW'88 Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, pp.25-38.
  • Fish, R., Kraut, R., Root, R., and Rice, R. (1992) Evaluating Video as a Technology for Informal Communication. Proceedings of ACM CHI'92 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp.37-48, May 3-7.


VideoWindow from Bellcore attempts to provide a shared space for a distributed community through a large screen with full duplex teleconferencing capability. The idea is to simulate face-to-face interactions by providing a high quality interaction without participants requiring explicit actions to initiate a conversation.

  • The VideoWindow System in Informal Communications Shared Video Spaces / Robert S. Fish / Robert E. Kraut / Barbara L. Chalfonte Proceedings of ACM CSCW'90 Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work 1990 p.1-11


Montage from SunSoft looks to help collaborators find opportunities to interact with each other through video glances.

  • Tang, J. and Rua, M. (1994) Montage: Providing Teleproximity for Distributed Groups. Proceedings of ACM CHI'94 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, v.1 pp.37-43.
  • Tang, J. , Isaacs, E., and Rua, M. (1994) Supporting Distributed Groups with a Montage of Lightweight Interactions. Proceedings of ACM CSCW'94 Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, pp.23-34.


Xerox PARC developed Portholes as a media space to support an awareness of what activities are occurring in an attempt to help initiate informal communications between participants that are not co-located.

  • Dourish, P. and Bly, S. (1992) Portholes: Supporting Awareness in a Distributed Work Group. Proceedings of ACM CHI'92 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp.541-547, May 3-7.


This media space attempts to support the full range of shared work, allow privacy, and provide a seamless transition between people, technologies and the everyday world through the use of audio-video equipment.

  • Gaver, W., Moran, T., MacLean, A., Lovstrand, L., Dourish, P., Carter, K., and Buxton, W. (1992) Realizing a Video Environment: EuroPARC's RAVE System. Proceedings of ACM CHI'92 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp.27-35, May 3-7.


The CAVECAT media space system focuses its attention on the opening phases of making contact.

  • Mantei, M., Baecker, R., Sellen, A., Buxton, W., Milligan, T., and Wellman, B. (1991) Experiences in the use of a media space. Proceedings of ACM CHI'91 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp. 203-208, April 28-May 2.

Polyscope and Vrooms

Polyscope attempts to provide shared awareness through video images. Whereas, Vrooms uses video-audio connections to support casual communications.

  • Borning, A., and Travers, M. (1991) Experiences in the use of a media space. Proceedings of ACM CHI'91 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp. 13-19, April 28-May 2.

Audio-Based Technologies

Almost all media spaces have used video and audio together. One obviously important aspect of a shared space is the ability to see other inhabitants of the space. This has lead to the widespread work on the use of video in media spaces. However, relatively little is known about relationship between the audio and the development of a useful and usable social space. These articles look at the ability to hear other participants in a virtual space Audio by itself, if usable, would be attractive because of its lower complexity and cost and its ability to address some of the problems with privacy.

  • Smith, I. and Hudson, S. Low distrurbance Audio for Awareness and Privacy in Media Space Applications. Internal Report.
  • Mynatt, E., Back, M., Want, R., Baer, M., and Ellis, J. (1998) Designing Audio Aura. Proceedings of ACM CHI 98 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, v.1 pp.566-573.


This media space is studied to see if audio by itself is suitable for shared media systems.

  • Ackerman, M., Hindus, D., Mainwaring,S., and Starr, B. (1997) Hanging on the 'Wire: A Field Study of an Audio-Only Media Space. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction, v.4 n.1 pp.39-66 .
  • Hindus, D., Ackerman, M., Mainwaring, S., and Starr, B. (1996) Thunderwire: a field study of an audio-only media space. Proceedings of the ACM 1996 conference on on Computer supported cooperative work, pp.238-247.

Virtual Reality Technologies

In place of the traditional audio and video tools for supporting distributed collaboration, there has been a growing interest in the development of cooperative applications using shared virtual environments. These "Collaborative Virtual Environments" or CVEs utilize virtual spaces in order to support cooperation by placing users within a shared virtual space. These environments seek to provide a greater degree of social interaction than media spaces.

  • Reynard, G., Benford, S., Greenhalgh, C., and Heath, C. (1998) Awareness Driven Video Quality of Service in Collaborative Virtual Environments. Proceedings of ACM CHI’98 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, v.1 pp.464-471.
  • Spellman, P., Mosier, J., Deus, L., and Carlson, J. (1997) Collaborative Virtual Workspace. Proceedings of the international ACM SIGGROUP conference on Supporting group work, pp.197-203.
  • Benford, S., Greenhalgh, C., and Lloyd, D. (1997) Crowded collaborative virtual environments. Proceedings of ACM CHI'97 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp.59-66, March 22-27.

Designing CVEs

This article discusses some key issues with respect to the design of CVEs such as the means of representing the real world in the virtual world.

  • Benford, S., Snowdon, D., Colebourne, A., O'Brien, J., and Rodden, T. (1997) Informing the design of collaborative virtual environments. Proceedings of the international ACM SIGGROUP conference on Supporting group work, pp.71-80.

User embodiment

Given the role of our bodies in everyday communications, the ability to embody users in the virtual environment should assist collaboration among distributed users. This would involve having all participants directly visible to themselves and to others through a process of direct and sufficiently rich embodiment.

  • Benford, S., Bowers, J., Fahlen, L., Greenhalgh, C., and Snowdon, D. (1995) User Embodiment in Collaborative Virtual Environments. Proceedings of ACM CHI'95 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, v.1 pp.242-249.


This system provides a desktop meeting environment for informal interactions.

  • Nakanishi, H., Yoshida, C., Nishimura, T., and Ishida, T. (1996) FreeWalk: Supporting Casual Meetings in a Network. Proceedings of Computer Supported Cooperative Work ‘96, pp.308-314.

Minimalist Technologies

These two systems, TELEFREEK and Peepholes, look to provide informal awareness through means other than displaying video as done with existing media spaces. The first article provides a review against many of the aforemetioned video-based technologies and their attempts to support informal communications.

  • Cockburn, A. and Greenberg, S. (1993) Making Contact: Getting the Group Communicating with Groupware. Conference on Organizational Computing Systems, pp.31-41.
  • Greenberg, S. (1996) Peepholes: Low Cost Awareness of One's Community SHORT PAPERS: Supporting Awareness of Others in Groupware (Short Papers Suite). Proceedings of ACM CHI 96 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, v.2 pp.206-207.

Web Technologies

Pretty much everybody that has a computer has access to the World Wide Web. Therefore, developing collaborative applications with World Wide Web Shell allows for their distribution to geographically-separated users on diverse computing platforms.

World Wide Web Shell

The advantage of using the WWW Shell for Collaborative applications include portability, rapid prototyping and its distribution, and information sharing. Disadvantages include statelessness, server initiated interactions, and missing widgets.

  • Girgensohn, A., Lee, A., and Schlueter, K. (1996) Experiences in Developing Collaborative Applications using the World Wide Web. "Shell". Hypertext 1996.

Awareness on the Web

This article argues that in order to support collaboration across the WWW, we need to develop open protocols for awareness.

  • Palfreyman, K. and Rodden, T. (1996) A Protocol for User Awareness on the World Wide Web Protocols for Groupware. Proceedings of ACM CSCW'96 Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, pp.130-139.

Locator Technologies and Databases

In order to promote awareness, research has looked at the use of Active Badges. These are small badges worn by staff that continually transmit each member’s location at the work site. A central database collects an identity code, the room location, and the current time. Applications, like the following, can then make use of that information.


A personal diary can be built by reconstructing collaborative episodes that occur during the day. Events such as meetings can be automatically noted along with their location.

  • Newman, W., Eldridge, M., and Lamming. (1991) Pepys: Generating autobiographies by automatic tracking. Proceedings of the European Conference of Computer Supported Cooperative Work (ECSCW’91), pp175-188, Sept 25-27.


One can browse a database of past, present and future events and "event daemons" can provide automatic notification of events within the database. This would help to increase awareness by improving the dissemination of information in a work community.

  • Lovstrand, L. (1991) Being selectively aware with the Khronica system. Proceedings of the European Conference of Computer Supported Cooperative Work (ECSCW’91), pp. 265-277, Sept 25-27.

Active Badge

People in an office environment wear badges that transmit signals providing information about their location.

  • Want, R., Hopper, A., Falcao, V., and Gibbons, J. (1992) The Active Badge Location System Practice and Experience. ACM Transactions on Information Systems, v.10 n.1 pp.91-102.

Ubiquitous Media

Ubiquitous Media takes the notion of media spaces one step further – it represents an approach to design that is in contrast to today’s multimedia computers where all functionality is bundled into a single device, located at a single location, and operated by a single individual. Ubiquitous Media, on the other hand, uses a number of different devices, each designed and located to support a particular task or set of tasks. The goal of Ubiquitous Media is not to make new applications run in the existing appliance, or box but to completely redesign the box, or better yet, make it disappear into the ecology of our living space altogether. Media spaces can be thought of as the video counterpart of ubiquitous computing. Two main attributes of Ubiquitous Media are:

  1. Ubiquity: interactions are not channeled through a single workstation.
  2. Transparency: this technology is non-intrusive and is as invisible and as integrated into the general ecology of the home or work place.

The point is not that one cannot see (hear or touch) the technology; rather, that its presence does not intrude into the environment of the workplace. Once the physical space is filled with multiple devices, the issue arises on how to transfer information between them in an intuitive and direct way and how to interact with them.

  • Buxton, W. Ubiquitous Media and the Active Office. (1995) Ubiquitous Video, Nikkei Electronics, 3.27 (no. 632), pp.187-196.
  • Buxton, W. (1997). Living in Augmented Reality: Ubiquitous Media and Reactive Environments. In K. Finn, A. Sellen & S. Wilber (Eds.). Video Mediated Communication. Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum, pp. 363-384. An earlier version of this chapter also appears in Proceedings of Imagina '95, pp.215-229.
  • Buxton, W. (1996). Absorbing and Squeezing Out: On Sponges and Ubiquitous Media. Proceedings of the International Broadcasting Symposium, November 13-16, Tokyo, 91-96.
  • Narine, T., Leganchuk, A., Mantei, M. & Buxton, W. (1997). Collaboration awareness and its use to consolidate a disperse group. Proccedings of Interact '97, Sydney, Austrailia, Juy, 1997.
  • Sellen, A., Buxton, W. & Arnott, J. (1992). Using spatial cues to improve videoconferencing. Proceedings of ACM CHI'92 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp. 651-652, May 3-7. Videotape in CHI '92 Video Proceedings.
  • Yamaashi, K., Cooperstock, J., Narine, T. & Buxton, W. (1996). Beating the limitations of camera monitor mediated telepresence with extra eyes. Proceedings of ACM CHI'96 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp. 50-57.
  • Hindus, D., Schmandt, C., and Horner, C. (1993) Capturing, Structuring, and Representing Ubiquitous Audio. ACM Transactions on Information Systems, v.11, n.4, pp.376-400.
  • Demers, A. (1994) Research issues in ubiquitous computing. Proceedings of the thirteenth annual ACM symposium on Principles of distributed computing, pp.2-8.

Tangible Bits and Ambient Media

Interactions between people and cyberspace is largely confined to the traditional GUI sitting on our desktops. Tangible Bits allows users to "grasp & manipulate" bits by the coupling the bits with everyday physical objects and architectural surfaces. Subconsciously people are constantly receiving various information from the periphery without attending to it explicitly; therfore, Tangible Bits also enables users to be aware of background bits at the periphery of human perception through ambient display media in an augmented space. The goal of Tangible Bits is to bridge the gap between both cyberspace and the physical environment, as well as the foreground and background of human activities. The following papers describe the concepts of Tangible Bits and Ambient Media and systems that were developed to support them.

  • Ishii, H., and Ullmer, B. (1997) Tangible Bits: Towards Seamless Interfaces between People, Bits and Atoms. Proceedings of ACM CHI’97 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp. 234-241, March 22-27.
  • Gorbet, M., Orth, M., and Ishii, H. (1998) Triangles: Tangible Interface for Manipulation and Exploration of Digital Information Topography. Proceedings of ACM CHI’98 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp. 49-56, April 18-23.
  • Underkoffler, J., and Ishii, H. (1998) Illuminating Light: An Optical Design Tool with a Luminous-Tangible Interface. Proceedings of ACM CHI’98 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp. 542-549, April 18-23.
  • Dahley, A., Wisneski, C., and Ishii, H. (1998) Water Lamp amd Pinwheels: Ambient Projection of Digital Information into Architectual Space. Proceedings of ACM CHI’98 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp. 269-270, April 18-23.
  • Dodge, C. (1997) The Bed: A Medium for Intimate Communication. Proceedings of ACM CHI’97 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp. 371-372, March 22-27.

Privacy Issues

Regardless if we are talking about ubiquitous media or media spaces, personal privacy is a critical aspect of these systems. There is a trade-off between privacy and awareness. Providing too much awareness of other people’s activities and availability may seem intrusive. However, too little awareness may result in inadvertent invasions of privacy. The aim is to provide awareness without crossing the line into intrusiveness. Similarly, there is a trade-off between awareness and disturbances. The more information one receives about others, the more aware one can be of them. However, this information then also has greater potential for disruption of "real work", either by direct interruption, or by consuming resources needed elsewhere. If collaborative applications are to be successful, it is essential that means are provided for allowing people to control the extent to which they are accessible.

  • Harper, R. Why people do and don't wear active badges: A case study. CSCW, 4(4), pp. 297-318
  • Hudson, S. and Smith, I. (1996) Techniques for Addressing Fundamental Privacy and Disruption Tradeoffs in Awareness Support Systems. Proceedings of ACM CSCW'96 Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, pp. 248-257.
  • Lee, A., Schlueter, K., and Girgensohn, A. (1997) Sensing Activity in Video Images SHORT TALKS: Virtual Communities and Virtual Reality. Proceedings of ACM CHI’97 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, v.2 pp. 319-320
  • Lee, A., Girgensohn, A., and Schlueter, K. (1997) NYNEX Portholes: Initial User Reactions and Redesign Implications. GROUP'97: International Conference on Supporting Group Work, pp. 385-394.
  • Kling, R., Hopper, A., and Katz, J. (1992) Controversies about Privacy and Open Information in CSCW Panels. Proceedings of ACM CSCW'92 Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, page 15.
  • Bellotti, V. and Sellen, A. (1993) Design for Privacy in Ubiquitous Computing Environments. Proceedings of the Third European Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, pp.77-92.
  • Belloti, V. (1996) What You Don't Know Can Hurt You: Privacy in Collaborative Computing. Proceedings of the HCI'96 Conference on People and Computers XI, pp.241-261.
  • Dourish, P., Adler, A., Bellotti, V., and Henderson, A. (1996) Your Place or Mine? Learning from Long-Term Use of Audio-Video Communication. Computer Supported Cooperative Work, v.5 n.1 pp.33-62 .
  • Dourish, P. (1993) Culture and Control in a Media Space. Proceedings of the Third European Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, pp.125-137.

Other sources

The papers above are mostly older ones; there are many new papers on the topic.

  • Video-Mediated Communication Computers, Cognition, and Work / Kathleen E. Finn / Abigail J. Sellen / Sylvia B. Wilbur 1997 p.584 Lawrence Erlbaum Associates ISBN 0-8058-2288-7 [cloth]
  • Look in my office library: I have lots of books/proceedings on CSCW that may have related articles
  • Check the web site: www.hcibib.org --- this HCI bibliography has lots of articles (try doing a search on privacy), with many accessible on-line if you are an ACM Digital Library member.
  • Look at the work on ambient displays (by Hiroshi Ishii), as its relevant to this topic.
  • Ask me for the recent work by Hideaki Kuzuoka and myself, the red light/green light system (SIGCHI Bulletin) and the apple awareness server.