Root, R.W. (1988). Design of a multi-media vehicle for social browsing. Bell Communication Research. Retrieved from http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=62269
The research paper began with introducing the need for interpersonal communications and informal social relationships: Workers are reported to significantly decrease in satisfaction when they are removed from their coworkers, and therefore, a need to overcome the effects of physical separation was seen as necessary.
The purpose of this article was to present a new approach in using computer-mediated communication technology to essentially create a virtual environment that promotes social interaction in separate workplaces. The concept of the design was to provide easy, convenient access to other people through multi-media communication tools.
To accomplish this task, CRUISER was created as a model for an interface to this virtual social environment. The following were assumed to be available:
1) Desktop full-motion video communications
2) High-quality full-duplex audio
3) A switched multimedia network under local computer control
4) Integration of video images and computer-generated graphics.
Using CRUISER, a virtual world would be visible within the user interface, displaying a 2D floorplan that represents a virtual hallway. From their desktop, users can “walk” down this hallway and pass by offices. Users then have the option of stopping at a location to communicate with an occupant of said office or meeting area.
Once connected to an office, the user’s interface would be shown the interior of the occupant’s office (and vice versa), using the integrated video camera within the room, and the two users would be able to communicate with each other with the full-duplex audio. Due to the existence of the virtual world, spacial proximity is eliminated, connecting users that could possibly be worlds apart into a single accessible space.
CRUISER was a prototype under construction at the time this article was written, and much of the research went into finding the need to overcome the effects of physical separation in the workplace and validating why the product was necessary.
At that time, the most important trial implementation of a virtual-world system, however, was that conducted by Xerox Corporation between two laboratory sites in Palo Alto, CA, and Portland, OR. Preliminary data from the usage of connectivity indicated that 70% of interactions were described to be “drop-in,” where users would “pass” by an office and stop by to talk momentarily. Also, roughly 1/3 of all interactions were social in nature, the rest being technical.
The experiment of the virtual-world system was eventually terminated but demonstrates the potential for reducing the social effects of distance through multimedia communication technology.
Before reading the article, I had thought that I would be learning about the way in which a multimedia tool for social browsing on the web was being designed, not the features given to a virtual workplace to promote social interactions. Even the abstract discussed the use of a “social interface” and multimedia used at a desktop workstation, which led me to believe it was related to social media usage at someone’s desk at work. I think that this is an interesting topic, although not a point of view I have ever thought about examining. At the point in time when this was done, I believe that they were very much limited by the technology that was present at that time, but would be intrigued to hear how this research evolved and what has been accomplished. Is “social browsing” important to users in this sense today? And is this most effective within the workplace or would should it be applied elsewhere?
The biggest thing I probably took from this article was the concept of “spatial proximity” and that users are more satisfied with social interactions in a workplace than without. I might look more into the application of social media on the web to overcome spatial proximity or the feeling of being isolated. How effectively does social media or social network sites bridge this gap?