Research Interests & History

I am a research scientist interested in the design and use of technologies that support communication and connection. My work centres on the social. I study and design what I call ‘C’ technologies and situations: settings that encourage and elaborate community, communication, collaboration, coordination, consensus, competition, compassion, creativity.… In all cases, I am intrigued by the artful ways that people adopt and adapt technologies into their everyday lives.

Although I like to design interactive applications and study specific technologies in use, I am interested in looking more broadly at the emerging digital media, Internet “ethnoscapes”, a term I borrow from Arjun Appadurai. The term refers to the fluid, shifting landscape of people and groups — passersby, tourists, immigrants, exiles that we encounter as we connect to social sites and use social media.

Having worked in Japan, the US and the UK, I take a centri-cultural approach–that is, I am curious about the ways in which social technologies and social media are created, consumed, adopted and adapted in different cultures and social settings.

Influences on my work include psychology, sociology, anthropology, cultural studies, urban studies and film studies. If I were to take a keyword approach to the kinds of areas I am interested in, I would say my professional interests include: applied psychology; Artificial Intelligence; computer mediated communication (CMC); computer supported cooperative/collaborative work (CSCW); design science; design methodologies including design ethnography, qualitative and quantitative research methods; digital memory and archive; human centered design; human computer interaction (HCI); interactive technology design; media spaces; mobile, augmented and virtual reality; mobile computing; social media; social software; social platforms; usable security; user experience (UX); ubiquitous computing; and usable security.

The Recent Past

Until June 2012, I was a Principal Research Scientist at Yahoo! Research in Santa Clara, CA, where I founded, staffed and managed the Internet Experiences Group. A multidisciplinary team with members expert in human computer interaction, computer science, multimedia, experimental/cognitive/social psychology, sociology and anthropology, the group’s charter was to create innovative Internet experiences and develop new methods for design and evaluation of Internet technologies. The group was responsible for a great number of products, prototypes, patents, academic papers and presentations; for more on those please see my publications/patents/presentations, and/or those of team members who include (David) Ayman Shamma, M. Cameron Jones, Bob Moore, Judd Antin, Vidhya Navalpakkam and Marco de Sa. I was also responsible for establishing number of academic research collaborations where research resulted in academic publication and also transitioned to prototypes and/or product recommendations; collaborators include Sara Owsley Sood (Pomona College), Katherine Isbister (New York Polytechnic & New York University), Coye Cheshire and Nancy Van House (University of California at Berkeley), David MacDonald (University of Washington), Jeffrey Bardzell and  Shaowen Bardzell (University of Indiana at Bloomington) and Steve Benford (University of Nottingham, UK).

Projects included addressing cultural differences in access control decision making in the sharing of personal media; impression management between online and offline contexts; methodologies for mobile augmented reality design; innovations in eyetracking methodologies; social sharing of multimedia content; online trust and reputation management; designing mechanisms to surface profanity in user generated content; gamification mechanisms; social search; and visual salience and website design. Ethnographic studies conducted included: online dating; contemporary news consumption; consumption of and resistance to online advertising; webcasting; consideration of everyday concerns regarding personalization; everyday information seeking in craft and cooking; and the influence of mobile technologies and location based services on people’s shopping behaviors.

The Further Past

Until September of 2006, I worked at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), where I had two strands of research: sociotechnical studies of software engineering practice (drawing on my previous work on informal collaborative technologies) and usable security. With regard to the former, the focus was on social and technical aspects of software engineering, characterizing the ways in which formal and informal tools are used by teams of software engineers. The work was aimed toward the design of tools for collaborative prototyping, participatory design and agile software engineering. Following detailed analysis of existing tools and practices, deliverables included recommendations for participatory design activities centered on the introduction of new sociotechnical practices within organizations, and design space elaboration for specific new collaborative tools and applications. For the latter, usable security, people’s everyday security practices were investigated through interviews and observation. Working with colleagues Diana Smetters and Les Nelson, I worked on the development of models and prototypes for access control through smart tags.

Prior to joining PARC in 2004, I worked at FX Palo Alto Laboratory (FXPAL) for 7.5 years. At FXPAL I was the founder and leader of the Social Computing Research group. The research focus of the group was the design, deployment and evaluation of technologies that facilitate human-human communication, coordination and collaboration. We developed a number of products and design prototypes that pushed technical boundaries while exploring social practices. In addition to designing technologies, our work within the group was to reflect on alternative methodologies for the design of collaboration technologies, with a special focus on using field work for design and evaluation. In addition to accepted papers and presentations at conferences, our work on digital community bulletin boards was commended in the Association of Computing Machinery’s (ACM) Design Awards at the Designing Interactive Systems (DIS) conference in 2004.

Prior to joining FXPAL, and following my Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge, I taught and researched in the U.K. at the University of Nottingham in the Departments of Psychology, Computer Science and the Graduate Institute of Information Technology. My teaching areas were Cognitive Psychology, Applied Psychology and Human Factors, with a special focus on Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW). My main research focus at Nottingham was implicit and explicit cognitive processes and the implications thereof for the design of computer interfaces and virtual environments. While at Nottingham, I also studied film, and took part in courses on critical theory and architecture.

The Foundation

I have a PhD from the University of Cambridge in Cognitive Science. For this work I studied how people establish and use mental models of complex interactive technologies. Following theories of device learning drawn from cognitive psychology, I built several simulations of human reasoning and problem solving in SOAR, a cognitive architecture. These simulations modeled the development of expertise is a constrained domain (solving complex mathematical problems using a reverse polish notation calculator). Comparisons between people’s performance and that of the simulations over time led to recommendations for the design of situated and social learning models within architectures like SOAR.

Prior to my PhD, I gained a BSC in Experimental Psychology and an MSC in Knowledge Based Systems from Sussex University in the UK. Research activities in this period ranged from designing and developing online tutoring systems, designing text-based interactive games and testing neuropsychological models of human learning and of schizophrenia.