Here is a script for a talk that I gave at the Finnish Pavilion at the Shanghai Expo in an event organized by Helsinki Education and Research Area (HERA). It presents a summary of research that we have been coducting over the past few years in this area.
Talk: Ubiquitous and Social Media
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.
I want to talk to you today about how the concepts such as “publishing”, “social interaction”, “participation”, “mobile and ubiquitous”meet and how their combinations are rapidly evolving and changing how we define “media”. I do this by illustrating these trends and showing some research highlights from our research institute in Finland.
Helsinki Institute for Information Technology (HIIT) is a joint research unit of Aalto University and University of Helsinki, which are two largest and most prominent universities in Finland. HIIT has an inter-disciplinary approach that combines different scientific backgrounds. It is a place where computer science meets natural, behavioral and social sciences, as well as design and art. HIIT has the goal of being one of the leading European IT research institutes. Our lines of work cover areas such as mobile interaction, user-created media, future Internet architecture and technologies, data analysis, and probabilistic modeling.
At HIIT, I lead a research programme entitled Network Society, which pioneers and develops human-centric, ubiquitous information and communication technology based on understanding of needs and practices in our everyday life and our social relationships. The four research groups that mainly contribute to this work are Ubiquitous Interaction, Self-Made Media, Digital Content Communities and Empirical Law and Economy.
Looking from the media perspective, the traditional roles of media customers, such as reader of a newspaper, a book or a magazine, watcher of television and movies, listener of music recordings and radio, user of media services, and consumer of media content; are complemented with new, more socially active roles of storyteller, player, participant, developer, and producer.
Trendstream has produced an infographic that illustrates a global map of how Internet users in different countries are adopting social technologies differently. The size of the disc represents the Internet user population in a country. The arcs visualize the number of photo uploaders, video sharers, members on social networking sites, active bloggers, and microbloggers.
Based on this analysis, it is clear that the social media is already a massive phenomena: Hundreds of millions of people are participating, creating and sharing every day. It is also interesting to note that, although internationally best-known social media services such as Facebook and YouTube are coming from the USA, the Social Web participation in absolute numbers is the largest in China.
It is not at all new that media use is strongly social. Most forms of media include some component of social interaction. For example,traditional way of watching television was that families and friends gathered around a television set to watch the same programme together.
This somewhat idealized picture of domestic television use does not hold true that well today. The amount of media available is rapidly growing, partially because of platforms that enable social media, and we face the reality of media abundance and problems of information overflow. Media is everywhere and there is more and more of it. It is increasingly ubiquitous in our everyday life.
All different forms of media fight for one of most important human scarce resources: attention. The ubiquitous and social nature of modern media almost forces us to become media multitaskers, to follow several unrelated streams of information simultaneously to cope with the information overload. Some use this as a survival strategy, some do it purely because it makes them feel more in tune with events and more connected with other people. However, there are several studies that suggest that we are not very good at this type of media multitasking. Recent work by Professor Clifford Nass from Stanford University shows that the so-called “high multitaskers” think that they are very adept in following and responding to multiple media simultaneously, but in fact perform much poorer than low multitaskers.
Digital screen technology and related interaction techniques that allow participation are rapidly developing. We see large displays all around us in shopping malls, airports and as road signs. In the future, big interactive public displays can change how public spaces look and feel like. HIIT has been a pioneer in multitouch technology for many simultaneous participants and large displays, resulting in prototypes such as Citywall that has been used in the city-centre of Helsinki for browsing pictures related to the city that people are taking and sharing on the Social Web sites like Flickr. This research has also resulted in a spin-off company called Multitouch, which specializes in modular displays that can be stacked to form large displays of any size required.
This video shows our latest research prototype, which will be installed in a big jazz music festival in Finland this summer. Our research explores different types of multitouch interaction paradigms. We believe that this is an enabler of content creation and multimodal communication, and facilitates direct social interaction between people in that physical space. Bubble metaphor is used for content creation, content browsing or just for playing around with friends and family merging playful interaction and utility.
Another example of a rapidly changing area of media is snapshot photography. The “always available” nature of digital cameras and camera phones has meant that the volume of pictures taken and shared has exploded in the past ten years. Our research in this track starting from collaboration with UC Berkeley on automated picture content analysis, from which we moved on to facilitating easy and instant sharing of photos with friends, and helping to create a commercial service that has become one of the most popular sites in sharing photos in Finland.
However, our research shows that the actual uses for snapshot photography, such as constructing an image of one’s self and family relations have not changed much. The technology has evolved and become arguably much better, but the underlying social need for snapshot photos has fundamentally remained the same.
One important technological change is the possibility of mobile devices in sensing the context of the user. We have pioneered this area of research with an open software platform for smartphones called ContextPhone that allowed access to different types of data captured by a mobile phone, which then enabled new forms of context-aware applications like this prototype called ContextContacts developed in 2005. This in turn was commercialized in a spin-off called Jaiku that was later bought by Google. In addition to automatically shared context data, such as user’s location, Jaiku was extensively used for publishing short textual status updates. This service started the microblogging phenomena together with other services like Twitter.
We have analysed the content of few first years data of Jaiku usage, showing how this type of a service is mostly used by people to communicate about the ordinary events in their lives and make them visible to others, as illustrated by these examples and statistics about content categories of Jaiku messages with current activities and most recent experiences providing the content for social interaction.
It is also clear that these new forms of communication services can play other, more crucial societal roles. This picture depicts a traditional process of news gathering and publishing, as done by the professional news journalists, and how there is typically several hours of lag between a newsworthy event and first news being published. Now, compare it with the influence of Twitter microblogging, which allows anyone to post the news as they happen, and reporters follow Twitter feeds while they work on the story. The benefits of this immediate news publishing process have been most evident with recent catastrophic events, such as the Haiti earthquake.
There are also other options for interaction mechanisms with mobile devices than speaking, typing text and taking pictures and video such as demonstrated by this research prototype from HIIT called AtWink, which uses a pen and paper interface, connects it with a smartphone and allows people to share their written notes over the internet.
We have also identified four different forms of Mobile Spatial Interaction: the magic wand, the smart lens, the virtual peephole, and the sixth sense. Theses illustrate different ways in which the mobile interaction device is used for pointing at things or augmenting our senses.
To give an example, HIIT is coordinating a European project called BeAware, which has created a solution to motivate and empower citizens to become active energy consumers, by offering them the opportunity to raise awareness of their own power consumption in real time. Our system called Energy Life includes a mobile phone application and an ambient interface that makes use of the home lighting and lamps as a means to communicate with the user. This example shows how novel uses of mobile interaction and the practical goal of everyday energy saving can meet in interesting ways.
One topic of common interest to provider of ubiquitous and social media services is what is their revenue model, how do they make money? A surprising development in this area has been the rise of virtual consumption, i.e. purchase and sale of artificially scarce digital goods. Versions of this business model structure have been implemented in various types of social interaction services and games. This business model has really thrived in Asian countries, but is also the main business model of Habbo, which is an online service originated from Finland and used by more than 150 million children and teenagers all around the world. At HIIT, we have formed a website called Virtual Economy Research Network that specializes in topics related to virtual goods and economies.
In most research areas that I introduced, one underlying and crucial topic is privacy. This has been a key topic ever since the collection of personal data has increased in ICT services, but seems to be even more strategically important as illustrated by these recent examples from US-based services: Google’s Buzz and Facebook’s changes in privacy setting management. We are more and more exposed in social ways by these modern tools. There also seems to be a strong social driver to make our lives more public. Our researchers at HIIT are interested to help people better manage this tension and balance their everyday needs for privacy and publicity.
Final example that combines several aspects of our work is a large Aalto University project called Sizzle - Ubiquitous Social Media for Urban Communities. We have created an open experimentation environment for testing mobile social media services. We have currently a testbed of thousands of users and hundreds of potential developers on different campuses of Aalto University. We expect also to launch Sizzle trials in the near future in Berkeley, Nairobi and Beijing. One topic of particular interest for us is privacy/publicity management in different
In summary, I would like to conclude that the Internet is at its most powerful as a social media relying on active participation of Internet users in content-creation and service development. Social Web expands currently rapidly to mobile devices and I expect this to be one of the main future drivers for the mobile industry. Intensified collection and analysis of sensor data, context data, usage data will result in significantly more complex issues with privacy.
Thank you for your interest.