«Askus: Amplifying Mobile Actions Shin'ichi Konomi1,2, Niwat Thepvilojanapong1, Ryohei Suzuki3, Susanna Pirttikangas4, Kaoru Sezaki2, and Yoshito ...»
To appear in the Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference on Pervasive
Computing (Pervasive 2009), Nara, Japan, May 11-14, 2009. Springer, Berlin.
Askus: Amplifying Mobile Actions
Shin'ichi Konomi1,2, Niwat Thepvilojanapong1, Ryohei Suzuki3,
Susanna Pirttikangas4, Kaoru Sezaki2, and Yoshito Tobe1
School of Science and Technology for Future Life, Tokyo Denki University,
and JST/CREST, Tokyo 101-8457, Japan
Center for Spatial Information Science, University of Tokyo, Chiba 277-8568, Japan Institute of Industrial Science, University of Tokyo, Tokyo 153-8505, Japan Department of Electrical and Information Engineering, University of Oulu, Finland Abstract. Information sharing has undeniably become ubiquitous in the Internet age. The global village created on the Internet provides people with instant access to information and news on events occurring in a remote area, including access to video content on websites such as YouTube. Thus, the Internet has helped us overcome barriers to information. However, we cannot conceive an event happening in a remote area and respond to it with relevant actions in a real-time fashion. To overcome this problem, we propose a system called Askus, a mobile platform for supporting networked actions. Askus facilitates an extension of the conceivable space and action by including humans in the loop. In Askus, a person s request is transmitted to a suitable person who will then act in accordance with the request at a remote site. Based on a diary study that led to detailed understanding about mobile assistance needs in everyday life, we developed the Askus platform and implemented the PC-based and mobile phone-based prototypes. We also present the results from our preliminary field trial.
1 Introduction Today, a large number of people interact and share information through various media such as blogs, wikis, social networking services, video sharing sites (e.g., YouTube), and folksonomy-based services. The Web 2.0 phenomenon has shown that the World Wide Web is no longer limited to being a platform for a passive consumption of information. Rather, it is now a networked medium that can amplify  a host of practices such as peer-to-peer interaction, participation, and community action.
Mobile and pervasive computing could, in a manner similar to that of Web 2.0, provide a platform for active social practices. Existing trends of mobile phone usage suggest the possibility of using mobile computing as a platform for networked actions.
For example, in his discussion of smart mobs, Rheingold  describes the use of mobile text messaging in collective activism in the Philippines while Ito and Okabe  describe keitai communication practices in Japan; these examples suggest that mobile phones can be used to quickly organize significant collective action, and to connect strangers as well as friends.
Despite the ubiquity of wireless network access, we can easily imagine situations in which physical constraints could be frustrating. Consider the following examples: a participant of an academic conference cannot be physically present at all the interesting sessions that are being conducted simultaneously, it is not easy for travelers on a subway platform to locate the least-crowded car before the train arrives at the station, urbanites cannot operate the up/down arrow buttons outside an elevator until they walk up to the elevator door. These examples bring to the fore the challenge in integrating a user s physical and social contexts with the digital media s capability in order to connect people and spaces across physical boundaries.
In this paper, we propose an integrated mobile platform for supporting collective actions and information capture called Askus. This platform allows users to request friends and strangers in a relevant geographic area to capture information or perform other lightweight actions using mobile devices. In order to better understand how a technology like Askus can be integrated with our everyday life, we first discuss our diary study that had suggested the importance of awareness and privacy. The Askus platform considers these factors by the provision of a task matching protocol that incorporates location, time, and the users current and historical characteristics.
We have implemented two prototypes of the Askus platform. The first prototype was an experimental system that operates on location-aware mobile computers. The second prototype was designed for scalability and consequently, operates on mobile phones. We tested this mobile-phone-based prototype with the aid of 20 users in the central area of Tokyo to examine user experiences, which led to our discussions on the issues related to the tool design for supporting lightweight mobile actions.
2 Amplification of Mobile Actions
2.1 Theoretical Framework Distributed Cognition can provide a theoretical framework for understanding socially distributed, embodied, and contextually embedded human actions in a mobile environment. Distribution can take place among people, between human minds and artifacts, or as an integration of both these dimensions of distribution . This framework emphasizes the importance of the observation of human activity in the wild and the analysis of distributions of cognitive processes .
According to McLuhan s theory , all the people from different levels of society would be connected through technology, that is, the extensions of a man. The advances of technology could enable us to form a distributed computing awareness without a centralized control center. Here, the people on the streets are acting as nodes in this awareness, much like the Borg  in the famous Star Trek series. To design a medium for networked mobile actions, we must understand how the medium shapes and controls the scale and form of human action [18,p.9], therefore, we carried out both a diary study and a field trial so as to understand not only current practices but also how the medium can change practices.
A graceful human-human communication is indispensable in socially coordinated distributed actions and information capture. Social Translucence  is an approach that can be used to support digitally mediated social activities by considering visibility, awareness, and accountability. In mobile and pervasive systems, social information can be made visible in both physical and digital spaces; this introduces the additional challenge of integrating interactions in the physical and digital spaces.
Finally, we are not only concerned with the manner in which people accomplish tasks efficiently but also with the meaningfulness of their experiences. To understand the impact of mobile tools on collective practices in a broader context, we need to consider the roles of place and space in collaborative environments , and also the manner in which mobile tools produce alternative spatialities .
2.2 Preliminary Diary Study
There are very few studies that have focused on the need for and the requirements of mobile assistance in everyday life. However, an in-depth analysis of such needs and requirements is indispensable for an informed design of mobile tools that support mutual assistance among users who may or may not be co-located. Therefore, we undertook a preliminary diary study to explore the patterns in which urban adults could meaningfully use networking tools to obtain mobile assistance. Our diary study focused on the social aspects of mobile action needs, which complement the existing studies on mobile information needs , and daily information needs and shares .
Method. In order to achieve a comprehensive capture of the in-situ needs and requirements, we combined an hourly experience sampling method and a diary study.
We recruited 11 male undergraduate/graduate students whose ages ranged between 19 and 30 (mean: 22.5, SD: 2.94) and asked them to maintain an hourly diary for a day.
This participant pool reflects the fact that young adults in their twenties use mobile internet the most in Japan . The objective of this extensive hourly study that lasted for a day was to inform the design of Askus. We expect that future, in-depth investigations into various population segments will complement and extend the limits of our preliminary study that was based on this specific pool. We requested the participants to record a diary entry whenever an event occurred. An event can be something that happens in the world around them or in their minds. The diary entry was to include the event description, time, place, co-present people, busyness, and the participant s feelings along with anything they wanted to ask or state. A drawback of diary studies is that the participants may forget to record diary entries or be selective with their reporting. In order to overcome this drawback, we asked the participants to record an entry at the beginning of each hour. To capture daily lives of urban adults, which can potentially be dynamic and eventful, we leaned toward frequent reporting.
Participants used the alarm clock functionality of their mobile phones so as to not forget the hourly reporting task. In addition, we asked the participants to record a diary entry even when they were not mobile since they would possibly want to interact with people who may be mobile at the time. We told participants that they did not have to record a diary entry while they were asleep, and that they were allowed to write none when there was nothing to report. Finally, we conducted a short survey and an interview1. In the interviews, we asked participants for clarification of any unclear entries, and how they might use a mobile phone-based tool for sending requests to relevant friends and strangers.
In each diary entry, participants recorded a relevant event along with additional
information to answer the following eight questions2:
1. Where are you?
2. Who is around you?
3. What do you want to say to some people around you? Who are they?
4. What do you want to say to some people at a remote location? Who are they?
5. What do you want to request of some people around you? Who are they?
6. What do you want to request of some people at a remote location? Who are they?
7. How busy are you?
8. What is your mood?
We coded the data from questions 3-6 into 12 categories according to the following
(1) Physical distance: close or remote (2) Social relation: friends, strangers, or anyone Content type: requests for action3, requests for information/data, or non-request (3) messages such as greetings and comments Results. Our study generated 321 diary entries with an average of 29.2 entries per person (min 23, max: 35, SD: 3.92). Participants articulated 240 messages in response
to questions 3-6, with an average of 21.8 messages per person (min: 7, max: 63, SD:
17.6). These 240 messages included 119 (50%) requests for actions, 33 (14%) requests for information/data, and 88 (37%) non-request messages. This suggests that many of the participants requests could not be addressed by merely improving information access. The frequencies of the types of messages, physical distances and social relations are shown in Table 1. Participants were able to record diary entries hourly; however, participants comments suggested that they felt it rather demanding to record and entry every hour.
One of the largest message categories was requests for actions sent to nearby friends (18%). These messages may be requests to a specified friend, to any one of a group of nearby friends, or to a whole group, such as Please be quiet (to a friend), Can [any one of] you return the keys? (to fellow students), and Let s hurry up [and finish the meeting soon] (to a group of meeting participants). A related 1 Each interview lasted for an hour except for a half-hour interview with a participant who had to leave urgently (10.5 hours in total).
2 The original questions were posed in Japanese, and they, as well as any diary entries, have been translated into English for the paper.
3 Requests that cannot be satisfied by merely providing information. They often ask for responses that involve physical efforts to go, make, find, buy, bring, wait, stop, call, etc.
category is requests for information/data from nearby friends (2.5%). For example, one of the participants wanted to obtain information about how much progress his colleagues had made on their research project. Such requests were often directly prompted by ongoing conversations and interactions with friends.
The other largest category was non-request messages to nearby friends (18%).
These are greetings, thanks, comments, complaints, and other messages, such as Thanks for the meal (to a friend), It is hot in this room, isn t it? (to a colleague), and Is it really my turn [to wash the dishes]? (to a younger brother). Although these messages are not requests, some of them could have the effect of influencing other people s actions. Non-request messages to remote friends (10%) were a similar assortment of greetings, thanks, comments, complaints, etc. These messages were often written when participants were not involved in interactions with nearby people.
The third largest category was requests for actions directed to remote friends (15%).
These are requests to do something at a remote site, to join the requester and help with something, or to do something in the future, such as Please turn on the heater (to a mother), Please turn on a PC (to a colleague), Please keep the house unlocked (to parents), Come here, I d like to play a game with you (to a friend), and Please take care of my part-time job tomorrow (to a fellow part-time worker). These requests were often prompted when participants needed to physically access remote people, things, and places; desired help from experts who had the knowledge and skills to accomplish difficult tasks; or were not interacting with nearby people. A related category is requests for information/data from remote friends (2.5%), including messages such as Do you want me to turn the lights off? (to colleagues who were out for a quick meal when a participant was leaving the office).