Today was supposed to be my "course" day, where I attend a class that focuses on one topic for the entire day (9:00am-6:00pm). The topic I selected was "The Usability Engineering Lifecycle," which at the time seemed to be more interesting than it sounds. About 60 minutes into the course three things were obvious to me:
- The presenter was trying to sell us her new book about the usability lifecycle.
- The material, while well organized, boiled down to common sense knowledge on how the development cycle of interfaces should ideally progress.
- There was no way in hell that I would waste my day missing what could be some very cool papers in the other sessions.
Ninety minutes into the course we had our first break and I made a dash for freedom.
I am glad that I left that course because I caught some very interesting papers. I am not going to parse through the entire day, but here are a few that caught my attention:
- Alone Together? Exploring the Social Dynamics of Massive Multiplayer Online Games
A thorough examination of how time is spent by players in World of Warcraft (currently over 6 million active accounts). Interesting notes about spikes in game usage (such as the large increase leading up to level 40, when users can own a "mount" that is used to ride around the game world). Read more on PARC's blog.
- Interweaving Mobile Games With Everyday Life
Study on how individuals were able to fit a mobile game, called Yoshi's Game, around their everyday lives. The game has players shuttling food between plantations and Yoshi's (small furry animals). The game uses existing infrastructure (personal wireless routers) as either plantations (secured wireless networks) or as Yoshi's (unsecured wireless networks). No data is transmitted over these wireless routers - they just act as physical location markers in the "real" world. Pretty cool concept.
- Designing for the Opportunities and Risks of Staging Digital Experiences in Public Settings
The paper presented Uncle Roy All Around You, by far the coolest mixed-reality game I have heard about since the I Love Bees phenomenon of 2004. Unlike the national audience that I Love Bees captured, Uncle Roy only ensnares a dozen or so players at a time. But it takes those players through an alternate reality of espionage and adventure in public places, where the player isn't sure who is playing the game and who is not. Read more in this New Scientist article.
- TinyMotion: Camera Phone Based Interaction Methods
This is one project that I am really looking forward to seeing in the market. TinyMotion is a software tool that runs on camera-phones; it essentially converts a camera (any camera, technically) into a virtual mouse. You can do such interesting things as tilt and swivel your phone to scroll through menus, draw text or images (though, in practice, writing text in this manner is cumbersome), or play some pretty cool games. All this using a flick of the wrist. It can act like an accelerometer, but without the need for additional hardware. Very cool.
- Z-agon: Mobile Multi-Display Browser Cube
Pictured on the right, Z-agon cubes are devices with a video display on each of it's six sides. As you rotate the cube the images on each side can remain the same or change based on the cube's movements (so that it you can scroll over a much larger virtual landscape). While these cubes have a "wow" factor, I believe that in their current form they are not practical. At least one improvement that I think should be made: make it a two-sided device. The user could still flip it over on any of the four edges to follow a continuous virtual canvas, but without the need for 4 additional screens (so the product is cheaper and lighter) and it would fit more easily into your pocket.
[note: This post has been backdated to correspond with the date of the events described]