TOCHI Article Alert: Diminished Control in Crowdsourcing: An Investigation of Crowdworker Multitasking Behavior

Diminished Control in Crowdsourcing: An Investigation of Crowdworker Multitasking Behavior

This sixth, and final, contribution in this jam-packed issue of TOCHI investigates the complexities of crowdworkers who (much like the rest of us, sadly enough) typically cannot spend even 5 minutes (and probably far less if they happen to be an Editor-in-Chief) on any task without getting distracted, or interrupted, by something else.

Yet, as the authors of this article point out, the presence of naturalistic interruptions in crowdwork, in completely uncontrolled settings outside of the laboratory environment, presents both challenges and opportunities.

The challenge, of course, is rather obvious: if crowdworkers are attending to other tasks, they are most pointedly not attending to their crowdsourced task, which may be a source of undesired variability (if not outright poor performance) in experimental results. The authors therefore set out to see if they can detect, and possibly mitigate, such interruptions.

The opportunity is less obvious, but arguably even more important. The effect of naturally occurring interruptions—as opposed to those artificially imposed by laboratory settings—has received surprisingly little attention in the literature, presumably because such naturally occurring interruptions are deviously difficult to elicit, and study.

The article makes great progress on both fronts, illustrating in detail how crowdworker inattention can be detected, and even limited through appropriate interventions, while also illustrating how the presence of interruptions and distractions in the real world allows for naturalistic study of these behaviors, turning a supposed “nuisance” into the object of study.

It’s a clever turnabout by the authors, and I learned a great deal about this space by reading the article.

But I must admit—

I do find it vaguely disturbing that such is the state of modernity, that it has proven necessary for the term crowdworker to creep into the English language in the first place … but then again, perhaps I am bit too familiar with science-fictional tropes for my own good (grin).



TOCHI Article Alert: Design and Usability of Interactive User Profiles for Online Health Communities

Design and Usability of Interactive User Profiles for Online Health Communities

This work takes an in-depth look at how people in on-line communities can tap the rich sources of expertise and compassion represented by other community members who are facing (or have surmounted) similar health challenges.

The effort is lent especially noteworthy resonance, and depth, and practical impact, by the authors’ partnership with, a web site that serves as a resource and social network for cancer patients (and their caregivers).

Such connections are vital for patients—who are rarely medical experts themselves—when they are suddenly forced to navigate challenging health issues where the mentoring and support of “someone like me” can have a major impact.

But first the patient must actually find, and engage with, precisely the right person in such a community, which is where the design of Health Interest Profiles come into play. The authors therefore consider, in depth, key considerations for the design of such profiles, which surface the topics and activity related to other members in such communities.

Along the way, the authors surface many great insights that lend a greater appreciation of the difficulties this poses, while also naturally leading one to envision interesting new hybrid designs that might pave the way for further progress on this important problem.



TOCHI Article Alert: Target Acquisition vs. Expressive Motion — Dynamic Pitch Warping for Intonation Correction

Target Acquisition vs. Expressive Motion: Dynamic Pitch Warping for Intonation Correction

This article concerns techniques for the dynamic correction of pitch during production of continuous sounds on digital musical instruments, driven by stylus input on a tablet in this particular case.

While at first blush this might sound very far from the issues typically of concern for input devices, the authors do an excellent job of relating this problem to issues typically encountered when pointing in graphical user interfaces, relating it to techniques such as Expanding Widgets (in visual space) and Sticky Icons (in the motor space), for example.

Through a series of algorithm explorations and studies, this contribution illustrates how a dynamic corrections influence both the accurate production of notes, which is one concern, as well as free-form expressivity (such as vibrato, ligato, and glissandro) in the manner in which the notes are produced, which is a second—and often competing—concern in musical performance (if not for input devices in general).

The results are convincing, and intriguing—such as the authors’ suggestion that their dynamic correction could be applied to the beautification of ink strokes, a thought that indeed had occurred to me, as well, as I read this article (perhaps unsurprisingly so, given my longstanding interesting in pen computing).

The authors also note that the technique is available under a freeware license, and has been implemented in the Cantor Digitalis—which won first place in a recent musical instrument competition.




TOCHI Article Alert: SlideSpace: Heuristic Design of a Hybrid Presentation Medium

SlideSpace: Heuristic Design of a Hybrid Presentation Medium

This article presents a systematic deconstruction, and reconstruction, of presentation authoring based on a scholarly and incisive analysis of the design space of presentation systems, leading up to the design of a presentation tool known as SlideSpace.

The SlideSpace system offers many strengths and complementary properties to existing presentation tools, whether derived from the prevalent metaphor of slides or that of the canvas, because indeed it offers an intriguing hybrid of the two (while also strongly supporting elements of a third, the stage metaphor, where visual elements enter and exit the screen, often with well-crafted animations).

User feedback made clear that SlideSpace is especially well suited to more formal, businesslike presentations where the clear big-picture and hierarchical structure imposed by an outline view brings significant value, but what I perhaps found the most thought-provoking was the way in which the work suggests a rich design space of hybrid presentation systems.

Indeed, I found myself wondering if one could go in a different direction from the same core analyses, and contemplate other styles of hybrid presentation tool that might (for instance) reverse the formal and structured nature of the presentations afforded by SlideSpace, to perhaps cater to more freeform and informal ‘talks’ or collaborative sessions.

Whether or not this is a good idea, the general principles and heuristics articulated by this TOCHI article could certainly go a long way in informing such a venture, if not even more intriguing visions for ‘The Presentation of the Future.’



The Editor’s Spotlight, Part 2 — TOCHI Issue 23:3 — Mobile Phones as Amplifiers of Social Inequality among Rural Kenyan Women


Mobile Phones as Amplifiers of Social Inequality among Rural Kenyan Women

This short but extremely incisive article offers a remarkable shot across the bow of (at times overly) optimistic technologists, such as myself, who typically operate under the worldview—(which if we are being charitable amounts to an unquestioned assumption; or if less so, then nothing but an unsupportable myth)—that the technologies we work so hard to create are always positive forces for change in the world.

Yet in this case, as the authors of this article so meticulously document, the mobile phone itself can in fact serve as a massive amplifier of injustice, and impoverishment, and other social inequalities that are prevalent in many (and especially in the more rural) corners of the globe.

Aspects of this perspective will perhaps come as no surprise to those working in the Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICTD) sub-discipline of our field. Such insights are presaged by some of Toyama’s work, for example, who pointedly noted that technology “tends to amplify existing social inequalities”—a law of amplification driven by the unequal motivations and capabilities (as forms the focus in this particular article) between rural Kenyan women and the powerful corporations that control the mobile networks in the country, and design the services (often in ways that glaringly elevate their own interests above those of their impoverished customers).

And it is in the unpacking, and illustration, and spelling-out of the insidious technological challenge of addressing these differential motivations and capabilities that this TOCHI paper shines.

The authors report in considerable depth on a series of field studies which were undertaken in rural Kenya—challenging studies which, by their very nature, are not ‘controlled’ or ‘repeatable’—yet are rich with ethnographic detail and design insights nonetheless.

This, in my view, is a must-read TOCHI article that can, and should, give us all pause as to the advisability of some (or perhaps many, or even most) of the interventions that our technological fancies would lead us to undertake.

What exactly to do about this is a very difficult problem, but without first surfacing such challenges and making them apparent, we cannot even take the first steps towards designing a better world for all persons—and particularly for the under-represented and the marginalized among us, as opposed to the highly profitable (and at times seemingly unscrupulous) corporations that would so readily take advantage of people through carrier lock-in and other such questionable practices.


Susan Wyche, Nightingale Simiyu, and Martha Othieno. 2016. Mobile Phones as Amplifiers of Social Inequality among Rural Kenyan Women. ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum. Interact. 23, 3, Article 14  (June 2016), 19 pages.



The Editor’s Spotlight, Part 1 — TOCHI Issue 23:3 — Predicting Team Performance from Thin Slices of Conflict

TOCHI Issue 23:3 is now fully available on the ACM Digital Library.

And in my editorial remarks for this month, I felt compelled, once again, to Spotlight two key contributions in this latest and greatest issue, the first of which is as follows:



Predicting Team Performance From Thin Slices Of Conflict

The balance of positive to negative affect during episodes of marital conflict has been found to be highly indicative—even years in advance—of functional marriages (as opposed to dysfunctional ones). This is a well-established result.

Indeed, the finding has been extended to dyads engaged in negotiation, or in pair programming, for example.

But it has remained unclear if the significance of affect applies to groups more generally.

Or even under the reasonable presumption that it probably does, this has still left unresolved the tricky question of how to study it, and how to elicit ‘thin-slices’ of conflict (e.g. a frank, 15-minute discussion of difficulties plaguing a team project) in a practical manner that is amenable to further analysis, scientific and otherwise.

Thanks to the pioneering efforts of this TOCHI article—including a novel methodology for the elicitation of conflict from small groups—the predictive power of an overabundance of negative affect (contempt, criticism, defensiveness, etc.) relative to positive expressions (interest, humor, validation, and so forth) has been convincingly demonstrated, for the first time, as highly predictive in terms of the long-term success of teams (of up to 4 individuals) engaged in design activities.

While the slices of conflict are thin, the analysis (and insights thus derived) are deep, and indeed were highly predictive of the teams’ success up to 6 months in advance.

The author presents two in-depth studies, the first of which had the participants self-assess their affect by watching a recording of their own conflict session and setting a dial to indicate their real-time feelings (a continuous value from very negative, to neutral, to very positive).

The second study followed up the first with an objective measure of affect, derived from extremely thorough video analysis of each individual’s affect (including detailed capture of all utterances, and facial expressions, and body language). While a smaller sample, coupled with the first study the general pattern of findings is convincing.

The potential applications of this work, its methodology, and its findings are many.

To cite just one example, the author notes that, broadly speaking, the design of groupware and CSCW applications have tended to focus on the support of task-oriented processes—as opposed to the socio-emotional processes of the team.

This may be a critical mistake.

While some baseline of support for the group’s actual tasks and work is (of course) necessary (as articulated by the coordination theory of Malone & Crowston, for example), the findings of this new TOCHI study argue strongly that it is the coordination of affect, as opposed to that of the tasks, that is the key defining characteristic of success in team endeavors.


Malte Jung. 2016. Coupling Interactions and Performance: Predicting Team Performance from Thin Slices of Conflict. ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum. Interact. 23, 3, Article 18 (June 2016), 36 pages.