Workshop theme

In the last decade there has been numerous attempts to reach beyond the “talking heads” and the 16:9 paradigms [1] in video-mediated interaction. The most elaborate solutions have integrated heavy hardware in spaces where users benefit from how activity and social space are brought together through design, yet in very costly interiors [2]. More recently, new standards for web-based communication (WebRTC, HTML5) facilitate a representation of participants and activity space, simply via a web interface, with the help of a webcam and computer. Currently, a range of web applications for mediated interaction target technical maturation (e.g. automatic bandwidth reduction, switching microphone on/off through sound detection algorithms, adding additional tools for cooperative tasks, etc.), however, multi-party interaction, and in particular naturalness [3], and immersion and engagement, may also benefit from spatial, social and shared activity features in one seamless (virtual) space. Ongoing design research specifically addresses the fusion of spatial connectedness (a term describing how well users perceive that real space is integrated with virtual space) and social connectedness (how well users perceive social dynamics/cues and their relationship with others in mediated space during interaction) [4]. The workshop seeks to explore the seamless merging of spaces, social interaction and shared activities in virtual workspaces, in order to discuss how this may enhance the experience of (social) presence, naturalness, immersion and engagement and social connectedness.

Research context

Over twenty-five years have passed since Bill Buxton and his colleagues [5] used architectural spaces as a reference for the Hydra studies in which they showed the importance of spatial cues and design as a prerequisite for presence in shared ‘person spaces’ and remote collaboration. They challenged media, as a new field, to achieve what architecture as a mature discipline already does: support physical proximity by activity-based design. Activities are central to the experience of social connectedness, of engaged relationships with others as well, addressed by Goffman as Interaction rituals (recurring activities that are the building blocks of our social habits, and can have varying frequencies of occurrence) [6, 7] and by Clark as shared activities and grounding (social dynamics and cues needed in interaction) [8]. Today, the field of presence is arguably mature – nevertheless still lacks in adequate terminology to also discuss how spatial connectedness and the experience of proximity and activity benefit and support the social connectedness. Spatial connectedness indicates that architectural design is as important in mediated environments as in real spaces for human interaction. In architecture, spatial features such as proximity, visibility and layout may stimulate interaction and collaboration [9]. Architectural design equally creates spatial dividers, walls and barriers by e.g. geographically separating offices or domestic environments, seeking to harbor privacy, security, but also (social) exclusion and loneliness [10, 11, 12]. Equally, in shared mediated spaces, the individual experience of presence is negotiated as part of a process to establish trust and confirmation from the remote party/parties [13, 14, 15]. An ongoing construction of a sense of place is informed by a series of spatial and social cues, i.e. ‘reality tests’ carried out by participants, who seek fast, consistent and reliable confirmation that the interaction can be trusted – in which case they can temporarily agree to suspend their judgment in favor of a ‘willing suspension of disbelief’. In a broader context, social connectedness is a layered construct that describes how people relate and connect with one another in society and social groups [12]. Of relevance to the current study is that social connectedness develops over time through ‘interaction rituals’ [6, 7] (regular moments of contact and shared activities), provided that grounding (social cues) and correct social dynamics are in place [8]. The linking factor between spatial and social connectedness is the ambition to design mediated spaces that support and enhance trust-building processes and secure this common ground and interaction rituals.

We have identified three main developments in technology creating the challenges we meet in HCI design. Firstly the introduction and market penetration of low cost microcontrollers, sensors and actuators (e.g. Arduino [16]), radio beacons [17], now embedded in different products, on ourselves, in our clothing (wearables) in and outside our houses, in our cars, etc. Secondly, standardization work in network technologies and emerging industry standards (often open standards) and information exchange protocols supporting the communication of different kinds of data ranging from sensor data to real time video streams between devices, applications and services embedded in environments. WebRTC/HTML and other new networking protocols further support easy media stream exchange and combinations of data with software applications enabling users to control features in local (as well as remote) and virtual spaces. In short, web-based service development becomes more contextual and adaptive. Thirdly, the emergence of networked systems, applications and services support data exchange, manipulation and visualisation in real time through new visualization and interaction means [4]. Progressions in the areas above express the boundaries between the physical and virtual world are dissolving. The goal is, through open development methods, to empower users to actively control and interact with and in the environment in a contextually relevant manner, allowing them to share a combination of on-site and remote uses and experiences of virtual and physical artefacts, and spaces. This workshop addresses the increasing call for designers to design physical equivalents of virtual artefacts (and virtual of the physical), merging the physical and the virtual even further. The new ways to interact with information, objects, people and our surroundings thus provides new challenges for HCI designers and calls for interdisciplinary research, new conceptual tools and methodologies to adequately design and represent content in ways that are meaningful and contribute quality of experience to users in various contexts.

An example: SharedSpaces

The SharedSpaces design prototype (Figure 1) has been developed by the workshop organisers as part of ongoing research which seeks to create a seamless mediated space for social interaction and shared activity by integrating live and/or stored media streams combined with software applications (e.g. physical sensors and actuators) that can provide live feedback and empower users to actively control features in local (as well as remote) and virtual spaces.

SharedSpacesFigure 1. The SharedSpaces design prototype. Top left: An interior with green screen and participant. The other screenshots show how several participants in different locations appear side by side in SharedSpaces, see for example this YouTube movie [18].

SharedSpaces is an example of innovative WebRTC services increasingly available, inviting users to seamlessly move between real and virtual spaces using a range of previously separated media channels. It adds a spatial quality of experience by representing the users side by side in a shared virtual space. It offers a fun, novel and aesthetically appealing approach by engaging users in multiple locations to manipulate their real-time video-streams, thereby co-creating a shared space, using spatial features to fit their contextual needs. It supports social dynamics by allowing users to draw and paint together and to move and resize video streams. Further, it enhances grounding and social cues by merging video-streams and space, representing users as if they were in the same space. Standard and easily available equipment is used. Recent user studies show that a seamless integration of space, social dynamics and shared activity benefits the experience of presence, naturalness, immersion/engagement and social connectedness. Our ongoing design research specifically addresses the fusion of spatial connectedness (a term describing how well users perceive that real space is integrated with virtual space) and social connectedness (how well users perceive social dynamics/cues and their relationship with others in mediated space during interaction).