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Notes on the project on Group spatial coordination

Stephen W. Draper

Possible titles

  • Group spatial coordination
  • Digital support for group coordination in public spaces

    The problem addressed is that when people go as a group to a public place, keeping track of the others so as to maintain the group conflicts with giving attention to the surroundings which is the point of the trip in the first place. This applies in malls, museums, Buchanan St., Grizedale sculpture forest, a department store. What is wanted is a more convenient way of keeping track of all the members of the group when wanted, without having to keep so close together and spend such a large part of one's attention on it. A measure of total success for an advanced system is whether it allows group members to be out of sight for long periods, but to link up again as soon as they wish.

    Intuitively, a cord of weak elastic linking everyone would be the thing; and indeed, kindegartens sometimes get the children to hold on to a long rope to get that effect. However in public places such cords quickly interfere with other people there. Possible digital technologies might include:

    Kinds of group:

    Initial field studies could ask organisers of each target site how many and what kind of problems occur of people losing other group members. But I suspect that this is an example of something that most people manage OK, but would adopt something that made it much more effortless.

    This is probably analogous to (is there mileage in analysing this?) animals calling in herds or forests to keep in touch.

    Last points

    Probably this is a great demo/application, perhaps even the "killer app", of active badges: something they could clearly do, that might be really useful as it focusses on occasions where people want to make a much higher than usual density of enquiries, and where mobile/wearable output is required rather than a workstation display.

    Many small variations to explore: different methods of sensing; of display and information delivery; of how to measure benefit. Explore whether to design it as supplying peripheral awareness, or supporting active queries, or even active messages (you push your button and it tells the others to come and find you).

    But if successful, in the longer term could be added to almost any "wired" environment. E.g. built into audio wands in museums, into PDA museum guides, etc. etc. and offered as an add-on service. It can expand into wider digitally supported environmental awareness (i.e. one's own group, where the crowds of other visitors are, official guides/janitors shown, ....). Extend it to a facility for helping people meet each other by arrangement: instead of saying "under the clock", you wait anywhere until their symbol appears on your display, and then you go towards where it says they are. Could try applying it to meetings in an organisation / dept. (is X coming / on their way?).

    How would I do it?

    How would I do it if I had private resources?

  • I'm convinced from discussing it that this is going to be important: i.e. the need doesn't need research, just the methods for supporting it, and the ways the need appears currently.
  • Firstly, I'd do some small interview studies with DIFFERENT possible users: e.g. parents with young children, couples in shops, those with mobile phones (would they need anything else?), etc. Also, with "managers" of possible target sites to ask about relevant problems with their clients they have seen.
  • Also firstly, I'd play in the lab/local dept. with alternative methods for delivering it: PDAs, etc. Some would turn out so bad that no one wanted to take them out of the lab.
  • The rest, secondly, I'd install in my first test site: a museum, mall, other public space. And start observations of use.

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