XXVIII.2 March - April 2021
Page: 70
Digital Citation

The historical CHI video project: Bringing 1983–2002 treasures to the ACM DL and YouTube

Catherine Plaisant, Nat DeMenthon

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I still remember the first time I (Catherine) saw the video of "Put That There" demoed by Chris Schmandt. I had just finished my industrial engineering thesis on using voice recognition to help people with severe motor disability control devices around them, so I knew a lot about voice recognition. Even so, my eyes grew wide when I saw how it could be combined with gestures and very large displays—things I didn't know anything about.

back to top  Insights


Video provides such a vivid way to tell a story about novel technology. Photos and detailed descriptions may be helpful, but no one short of a literary genius can adequately describe with written words the sound of early voice synthesis, the first gestures used, the responsiveness of these pioneer systems, or the calmness of their users. Except for a live demonstration from the authors, videos are the closest thing to experiencing the interfaces developed by inspired HCI researchers. Scenarios of the future can be captured using Wizard of Oz techniques and clever editing, and videos can include snippets of live design sessions or clearly document users' struggles and successes.

Published papers are the core product of academic research, but videos bring HCI contributions to life and make them more accessible to the public. The integration of video in the ACM Digital Library enables us as a research community to build a live archive of the history of our field.

back to top  Preserving and Making Available Early Sigchi Videos

Having submitted several CHI videos in the 1990s and been CHI video chair in 1996, I knew that the CHI conference had a long history of producing videos (Figure 1), but I could find nothing in the ACM Digital Library. VHS tapes have a limited lifespan; it was time to preserve the entire collection of early CHI videos.

Figure 1. Photo of a VHS tape, made of black plastic and rectangular. Figure 1. A VHS tape from CHI '99 includes the Video Technical Program and video figures of papers.

Some videos could certainly be unearthed if you had the right Internet sleuthing skills. The Open Video Project—the first video digital library, a 1998 project led by Gary Marchionini at the University of North Carolina—included most of the early CHI videos. Personal online collections, such as those of Nicolas Roussel at Inria or from Delft University of Technology, were also useful, but they were only partial collections. At any moment, every one of them could stop working. The videos were originally published by ACM, so it made sense to archive them in the ACM Digital Library (ACM DL), which is very likely to remain supported by our research community in the future.

Working with ACM, Nat and I have taken steps for two years to preserve all the early CHI Video Technical Programs. ACM is slowly adding them to the Digital Library, and the SIGCHI video team is adding them to the SIGCHI YouTube channel. We hope that this new collection of important historical videos will help you find relevant early work and inspiration for new designs, as well as gain an appreciation of the importance of the early contributions of CHI researchers and inspire you to write about the history of your field.

Below we provide a bit of history, describe our process, and summarize lessons learned for researchers and future teams leading preservation efforts.

back to top  A Bit of History About the Chi Videos

One of the things I discovered when we started this project was that even the first CHI conference in 1983 had a Technical Video Program. Sara Bly was the first film and videotape chair. The way video was handled varied from year to year, but here is the example of 1992.

We typically prepared our videos by hiring a professional cameraman, who recorded us beside our computers: We gave an introduction and then presented the demonstration. At this point we mailed a physical tape to the video chairs, who compiled a review tape for the video committee that selected videos to publish. ACM produced a VHS tape with multiple segments. At the conference, the videos ran in a loop in a dedicated room; they could also be viewed on TV in the conference hotel rooms. Conference registrants had the option to preorder copies of the VHS tape, and ACM made the tapes available for purchase after the conference in NTSC format, plus PAL and SECAM for international viewers.

In 1996, when I was video chair, we started giving the videos to all registrants, thereby widening their reach. Short video figures were also introduced as supplements to full papers. Starting in 2002, those video figures have been included in the DVD proceedings and are now a central part of the supplemental materials. Around 2013, a new form of video program appeared with the CHI Video Showcase.

Aside from the 20 years of technical video programs, additional videos were also published. The most important one is "All the Widgets" from 1990, a two-hour review edited by Brad Myers—frequent video contributor and CHI video chair in 1990 and 1992. It features new and historical videos representing the diversity of interactive components (i.e., widgets) found in computer interfaces. Finally, the 1987 Interactive Theater, 1988 Art Program, and 1992 Special Video Program were also published as SIGGRAPH Video Review (SVR) tapes and will eventually be available. Early tapes were published as issues of SVR (Figure 2). Then in 1995, SIGCHI started publishing videotapes independently, until the last VHS tape in 2002.

Figure 2. Paper cover of one of the tapes, showing a conference logo and the table of content of the tape. Figure 2. Photo of the CHI '90 Technical Video Program. From 1983 to 1994, the videos were published as issues of the SIGGRAPH Video Review.

back to top  How the Tapes Were Used

The CHI videos were used extensively for teaching, and by researchers and practitioners to stay up to date. Some videos played a major role in patent litigation. For example, the CHI '92 video "Touchscreen Toggle Design" was cited as prior art when Samsung contested the Apple patent for the "Slide to Unlock" touchscreen slider that unlocked the early iPhone.

Watching the videos required the use of a VHS tape player—but at the time, everyone had one at home and in classrooms. Before laptops, we gave talks using overhead transparencies and a set of pre-queued videotapes.

back to top  Examples of What You can See

The tapes do not contain a complete record of all the HCI research [1,2,3] but do represent a fairly extensive survey. Sometimes work that preceded the CHI conference was retrospectively included. For example, "All the Widgets" from 1990 includes a 1968 recording of Doug Engelbart demonstrating editing using a device he invented called a mouse, among many other important innovations. CHI '83 videos included Xerox's Smalltalk from the 1970s and "Put That There" from 1982, along with Apple's Lisa interface, released in 1983. Still, the bulk of the videos illustrate work published shortly after it was conducted. For example, we see pioneering use of virtual reality demonstrated by NASA's VIEW, along with the DataGlove (CHI '87). Cathy Wolf and colleagues demonstrate Paper-like Interfaces at CHI '89. Interactive visualization is represented by early prototypes of Dynamic Queries (CHI '92) and Treemap. The way we read newspapers today is envisioned in Roger Fidler's CHI '95 video.

Watching the videos (Figure 3), I smiled at the researchers' youthful faces and abundant hair. I laughed so hard watching Marilyn Mantei's (now Tremaine) CHI '90 video showing how users had trouble discovering how to use a mouse—27 years after it was invented (in 1963) and six years after it was widely popularized by the Apple Macintosh in 1984. I was reminded how companies like Xerox, IBM, Bellcore, and Bell Labs were strong contributors to the conference's scientific content. In the videos we can see the amazing creativity of HCI researchers, opening the field up to new topics, from collaborative work and usable voice interaction to virtual reality and digital jewelry. Not only do we get a demo, but also we often get a glimpse of the context in which the work was conducted. As years progress, we can appreciate the expanding diversity of topics and participants. Women were always present from the beginning, which is one thing that attracted me to the field of human-computer interaction.

Figure 3. Collage of ten screenshots taken from the videos, showing one or more people in each screenshot, looking at the camera. Figure 3. A) Ivan Sutherland's first interactive 3D modeling (shown in a CHI '83 video); B) Robert Spence demonstrating focus + context (CHI '83); C) Cathy Wolf explaining paper-like interfaces (CHI '89); D) Doug Engelbart editing text with voice and a mouse, from 1968 in the "All the Widgets" survey (CHI '90); E) Catherine Plaisant demonstrating touchscreen toggles (CHI '91); F) Stu Card, Jock Mackinlay, and George Robertson at Xerox PARC (CHI '91); G) Haruo Noma manipulating a Palmtop Display (CHI '96); H) Hiroshi Ishii in his Ambient Room (CHI '98); I) Junestrand et al. discussing Future Home Environments (CHI '99); and J) Allison Druin's kidsteam designing PETS (CHI '99).

A small percentage of authors could not be reached to provide permission, and a few companies (e.g., Apple) declined to give permission for those historical videos, so consult our project website (http://ter.ps/chivideos) to see if those videos are available elsewhere.

back to top  Copyright and Access Issues

The copyright of the videos from 1983 to 2002 was retained by the authors, which must have been the central reason why they were never made available in the ACM Digital Library (ACM DL). To lift that barrier, Nat and I had to track down all the authors to ask them for permission to post their videos in the ACM DL. It is unclear why ACM decided not to acquire the rights—possibly, that was deemed too complex or unnecessary at the time. The important role of video digital libraries may not have been foreseen even in 1991, when the World Wide Web made its debut.

Starting in 1991, a one- or two-page abstract was published in the proceedings to accompany the videos. Those abstracts from the proceedings were added to the ACM DL a long time ago, and the newly digitized videos are being added as supplementary material to the abstracts (even though the reverse is true). Unfortunately, the videos prior to 1991 do not have a paper abstract, so they have been entirely absent from the ACM DL, as if erased from history. This also makes it more difficult for ACM to add the videos, so it will take additional time for those videos to be posted. For that reason, the SIGCHI video team is posting the videos on the SIGCHI YouTube channel.

back to top  Getting Permission from Authors

The most challenging part of this project was obtaining permission from roughly 400 authors, all the way back to 1983. In the case of roughly one-third of the videos, Catherine knew an author—so there was a good lead. Even when it was difficult to trace retired researchers, it was fun to reconnect with old friends. For another third, Web searches helped us track one of the authors' personal or work pages. The scientific libraries offered some clues to what topics the authors had been researching later in life, or where they worked. LinkedIn was extremely useful, especially because I had numerous CHI connections. In a few rare cases, we found people through Facebook, or because they had recently posted their own video on YouTube or Vimeo. Finding authors who changed names when they married was tricky. People-search tools often mention relatives' names, which unlocked a couple of those hard cases. In the case of an author with no identifiable Web presence, we sent postcards to our best guess at a personal address found through white pages directories. Finally, we reached out to companies like Xerox, Apple, or IBM to ask the company to give permission or sign for missing authors. Some puzzles remain unsolved. For example, Bellcore was acquired by Telecordia, which was later acquired by Ericsson, but no one was confident about owning the copyright of the Bellcore videos, so those videos cannot be posted.

back to top  Lessons Learned

Below, we summarize a short set of lessons learned for researchers and for teams leading future video preservation efforts.

For researchers:

  • Record videos of your prototypes. Most prototypes stop running after a few years because software versions become outdated or hardware platforms change.
  • Submit videos as supplementary materials to your papers. We believe that it is the best way to preserve interactive systems and processes, and ensure long-term access.
  • Consider including segments documenting your design process, and real users using the interfaces. Scenes showing authors or the context of use also provide historical background for future generations of researchers and historians.
  • Write about the history of your area of research—and cite CHI videos.

For teams leading future preservation efforts:

  • We chose to archive the tapes in the ACM DL because this is where the videos were published originally. Other archives may also be appropriate, such as the Internet Archive.
  • Contacting authors to request permission is difficult and time-consuming, but we succeeded in collecting more than 90 percent of the permissions. This task is best done by a senior researcher with existing ties to the community and good social media connections. Emails sent by an assistant are more likely to be ignored. Our early emails were long, and included links and attached forms. They resembled spam emails, so most were ignored. We recommend first establishing contact with a short personal email or a LinkedIn message, then sending the rest later (which could be done by an assistant). We were told to let authors fill in the copyright forms, but half of the forms came back only partially filled. We highly recommend pre-filling the forms; it will save time.
  • We collected photos of artifacts and prepared a table of contents. They live on our website, but we hope to see them in the ACM DL in the future.
  • It took months to get the videos digitized by professionals and more than a year to contact all authors. Tracking authors is a series of puzzles that can be exciting, but following up endlessly is frustrating and was conducted in successive waves. Fortunately, Nat could spread her effort over the length of the project. It may take up to a year for the videos to be posted by ACM. The pandemic has further slowed the process.
  • We used a large spreadsheet with all the metadata and notes about every lead and contact with authors.
  • A small budget from SIGCHI covered the digitization cost and Nat's hours to prepare materials, email authors, review and split tapes, fix problems, and so on. Catherine volunteered her time. The cost of professional captioning of the YouTube versions was also covered by ACM.
  • We used the professional services of an archival video company (www.georgeblood.com) to guarantee the best possible video quality. The improvement over earlier digital versions, however, was limited. Digitized VHS tapes of screen recordings will always be somewhat low quality. The audio explanations of what is being shown on the screen are thus all the more critical.
  • To locate the videos, Saul Greenberg helped us with a solid catalog of CHI videos. Brad Myers lent his precious collection of early videos, complementing the tapes on my shelf. A couple of issues of the SIGGRAPH Video Review were missing, but we obtained them from Dana Plepys in mp4 form. Finally, the Open Video Project saved us when we realized no one could find issue 65 from CHI '90.
  • We asked two professional vendors to digitize one tape. Then colleagues and friends did a blind comparison of those two versions and the existing version from the Open Video. The differences were subtle, but one vendor stood out and was selected. A few tapes exhibited age-related problems, so we located other copies to digitize.
  • We documented our process so others could learn from our experience.

back to top  Conclusion

We hope that this collection of historical CHI videos will help others track down related work that is relevant to today's research and inspire new designs. We hope it will also convince you to write about the history of your field [4] and gain an appreciation for the contributions of CHI researchers to the design of systems and applications you use every day. In addition, we hope that telling this story will encourage others to initiate other preservation efforts, record oral histories from pioneers of our field [5], or invent new ways to study interaction history [6].

back to top  Acknowledgments

We want to thank Loren Terveen and Helena Mentis for seeing the importance and timeliness of this project. At ACM, we thank Ashley Cozzi, Barbara Ryan, Craig Rodkin, and Anna Lacson. Many people helped us with corporate or institutional permissions: John Richards, Stu Card, Raj Minhas, David Suski, Alexandra Kahn, Brian Amento, Shiz Kobara, Michael Kuniavsky, Brian Johnson, Andrew Harrington, and many more were contacted directly by the authors. We also thank Brad Myers, Dana Plepys, and Gary Marchionini for providing the videos we didn't have, Saul Greenberg for early guidance, and Ben Shneiderman for his encouragement and leads to locate authors. Finally we thank Kashyap Todi and Ayman Shamma for bringing the videos to YouTube.

The saddest moments were when we realized that colleagues had passed away. This article is dedicated to them: Edith Ackerman, Gaetano Borriello, Steve Gano, Soren Lenman, Barry Mathis, Greg Nelson, Ken Pier, Paul Rankin, Steve Roth, Joe Rutledge, Warren Teitelman, and Cathy Wolf.

back to top  References

1. Myers, B.A. A brief history of human computer interaction technology, ACM Interactions 5, 2 (1998), 44–54.

2. Pew, R.W. Evolution of human-computer interaction: From Memex to Bluetooth and beyond. In The Human-Computer Interaction Handbook: Fundamentals, Evolving Technologies and Emerging Applications. CRC press, 2002, 1–17.

3. Grudin, J., From Tool to Partner: The Evolution of Human-Computer Interaction. Synthesis Lectures on Human-Centered Interaction 10, 1 (2017), i–183.

4. Shneiderman, B. Revisiting the astonishing growth of human–computer interaction research. IEEE Computer 50, 10 (2017), 8–11.

5. Shneiderman, B. Encounters with HCI Pioneers: A Personal History and Photo Journal. Morgan & Claypool, 2019.

6. Interaction Museum; http://hci-museum.lri.fr/

back to top  Authors

Catherine Plaisant is a senior research scientist at the Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory of the University of Maryland, and INRIA international chair. She has written more than 200 technical publications (and produced many CHI videos), and has co-authored with Ben Shneiderman the 4th through 6th editions of Designing the User Interface. She has been a member of the CHI Academy since 2015 and received the SIGCHI Lifetime Service Award in 2020. plaisant@umd.edu

Nat DeMenthon is a second-year human-computer interaction master's student in the iSchool at the University of Maryland. She graduated from VCUarts in 2017 with a degree in communication arts. She focuses primarily on design with and for youth, and has a background in making artwork for children's educational game companies. natalied@umd.edu

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