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VI.6 Nov.-Dec. 1999
Page: 12
Digital Citation

Maypole highlights


Authors:
Verena Giller, Manfred Tscheligi, Reinhard Sefelin, Anu Mäkelä, Aapo Puskala, Kristiina Karvonen, Victor Joseph

What do family members do when they have a simple, efficient instrument for sending one another digital pictures? What will they use it for? The Maypole team developed four prototype wireless devices to make this possible and subjected them to an extensive user trial.

Figure. The prototype of the cellular "communicator" was an equipment-filled backpack, plus a small handset with a straightforward user interface.

Four youngsters (aged 10 to 12) from a scouting club in Helsinki, Finland, tried out the devices for 4 weeks. A family from Vienna, Austria, with four children aged 8 to 15 and a grandmother, tested the prototypes for 3 weeks. Before, during and after the field trials, Maypole’s researchers interviewed the users individually and in groups. In order to focus the interviews, they studied the messages that were sent. At first, the users snapped mostly inanimate objects just to get the hang of the controls. Gradually they started sending visual messages to one another—chitchat in the form of pictures.

Figure. Two teenage boys are playing hooky. As they hang around the downtown mall, a girl catches their eye. They take aim, click the shutter, and send the picture to their more diligent classmates at school. Maybe they paste a message on it: “something to get you through math class.”

A youthful do-it-yourselfer had a little accident with a hammer. The Finnish boy sent his friends a picture of his purple thumb. The prototype was used to communicate emotions, moods, and jokes—an angry frown, the dog rolling over, or "Julle loves Emma" in a childish scrawl.

But the uses could also be quite functional. One boy wanted to give his friend hints on playing a computer game. It was hard to explain on the phone, so he sent a screen snapshot. Picture communication proved to be a welcome addition to written and spoken exchanges.

Been to a good concert? Send a photo of the band. Add a text message—"you should have been here!" However, the prototype did not have a text facility. In the interviews held after the trial period, the users indicated that they wanted to send text messages and audio clips together with pictures. That would make the context of the picture clearer. They would also like to have some way of manipulating the images, such as changing the background.

Another interesting finding of the user study was that the ability to send and receive digital images changes people’s perception of photography. The users were familiar with vacation and special occasion snapshots. But they used the prototype mainly for recording subjects from daily life and sending meaningful images to one another.

Figure. Grandmother lives some way off. The children are not able to visit often, and she sees her grandchildren even less. She could phone but prefers to send a picture message. A picture of her garden, reprocessed into a digital watercolor, appears directly on her daughter’s screen. "My latest painting, darlings," she writes.

A snapshot and a joke is a pleasant way of telling someone that you are thinking of him. It might be a picture of your football team to keep Pop up to date, or a step by step account of your home redecorating saga. The picture comes in on the screen but doesn’t intrude. You glance at it and smile, or you are reassured. Our study showed that people used the prototype mainly for emotional rather than casual exchanges.

But isn’t it too complicated? The youngest children (under 10 years old) and the older woman in Vienna had the most difficulty at first. After a little practice, however, everyone was able to get the hang of the system, the researchers found. The Austrian Grandmother was the most prolific user of all after only 4 weeks. Now she understood why her grandchildren loved playing with computer toys, she explained in the post-study interview.

Authors

Verena Giller, Manfred Tscheligi, and Reinhard Sefelin, Center for Usability Research and Engineering, Vienna, Austria. Anu Mäkelä, Aapo Puskala, and Kristiina Karvonen, Helsinki University of Technology, Helsinki, Finland. The user trials were part of the Maypole project.

Translation: Victor Joseph

Figures

UF1AUF1BFigure. The prototype of the cellular "communicator" was an equipment-filled backpack, plus a small handset with a straightforward user interface.

UF2Figure. Two teenage boys are playing hooky. As they hang around the downtown mall, a girl catches their eye. They take aim, click the shutter, and send the picture to their more diligent classmates at school. Maybe they paste a message on it: “something to get you through math class.”

UF3AUF3BFigure. Grandmother lives some way off. The children are not able to visit often, and she sees her grandchildren even less. She could phone but prefers to send a picture message. A picture of her garden, reprocessed into a digital watercolor, appears directly on her daughter’s screen. "My latest painting, darlings," she writes.

©1999 ACM  1072-5220/99/1100  $5.00

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