Interaction in the Wild: Wireless Networking & Mobile Computing

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As the previous section has illustrated, mobile computing and wireless networking

are two components that enable the Interaction Society. These two

technologies make us more or less independent of the current location. With

wireless and mobile technologies we can bring the technology along and

communicate with anyone, from any desired location, no matter if you are sitting

in your office or gone hiking “in the wild.”

Although wireless networking and mobile computing are often related, they are

not identical as Table 1 illustrates. In this 2× 2 matrix we see a distinction

Figure 5. The Spot-me device (left) and a screenshot of the social radar


between fixed wireless and mobile wireless. Even notebooks computers, or

laptops, are sometimes wired. For example, if a traveler plugs a notebook

computer into the telephone jack in a hotel room, he or she has mobility without

a wireless network (Tanenbaum, 2002).

On the other hand, some wireless computers are not mobile. An important

example is a company that owns an older building lacking network cabling, and

which wants to connect its computers without having workmen put in cable

ducts to wire the building which also might be a much more expansive solution

(Tanenbaum, 2002).

In summary, the wireless technologies make us more independent in that we can

now unplug the wires to our machines. Also, the fact that our computers are

now quite small, lightweight and movable (i.e., mobile) enable us to bring our

computers along wherever we want to go.

A good example of a combination of mobile computing and wireless networking

is the mobile phone. The mobile phone is in fact a small mobile computer

(i.e., a carry on mobile computational device) with a wireless network

connection. Today, the mobile phone has evolved into a quite personal device

and, as such, it comes in a lot of different forms with different functionality.

However, although the form of the mobile phone and some added functionality

might vary a lot from one phone to another (for an example of the difference in

Table 1. Mobile vs. wireless diagram (based on Tanenbaum, 2002)

Figure 6. Three Nokia mobile phones (left) and three Ericsson mobile

phones (right)


No Yes


No Desktop computers in


A notebook computer

used in a hotel room

Yes Networks in older,

unwired buildings

Portable office; PDA

for store inventory

the shape of modern mobile phones see Figure 6), they are all built to support

one fundamental human activity, i.e., human-to-human interaction.

Applications for Interaction or Interaction Software

It is not solely the wireless networks, the Internet infrastructure, or the mobile

interaction devices that enable the Interaction Society. Another important

enabling component for the Interaction Society is the wide adoption of various

new applications for interaction or “interaction software.”

Already in the early 1990s people started to, on a widespread basis, use

computers to support their everyday communication needs. The most common

application for Internet communication around 1994-95 was email, which is

still the most widespread channel for Internet communication today, 10 years

later3. Besides email, it was quite common, and still is, to discuss issues and

interact over the Internet via Newsgroups, various kinds of discussion forums,

as postings on public virtual bulletin boards, or via different kinds of open chat


A couple of years later, or more precisely in 1996, the first instant messaging

system called ICQ (“I Seek You”) was released4. With this piece of software

installed, people can send short messages to each other in a peer-to-peer


The ICQ client had, and still has, one big difference from the email systems. The

design of ICQ was centered around the buddy list, i.e., a dynamic contacts list

that continuously and synchronously shows who is currently online, whereas the

email system was centered around the list of messages sent and received and

ways of storing messages in different folders, etc.

Another central aspect of ICQ was that since it was focused on maintaining

social contacts and the focus was set on the persons and the maintaining of the

person’s social network rather then on the messages per se a typical ICQ

session typically includes many short messages (almost like post-it notes) sent

back and forth between two persons in a chat-like fashion (i.e., almost

synchronous interaction) rather then being like email conversations where

people sometimes send several pages long messages. In fact, already in 1994

a research project at AT&T Labs Research conducted some experiments with

a system called TeleNotes (Whittaker et al., 1997) that was designed to

support brief ICQ-like interactions over a network across any geographical


The original idea behind ICQ was quit simple, but totally in line with the central

claim in this book, i.e., that one of the foremost things that people want to do

with the technology today is to communicate with one another. As stated on the

ICQ website:

“ICQ Inc., the successor of Mirabilis Ltd. was created when

America Online acquired all Mirabilis’ assets on June 1998.

Mirabilis was founded in July 1996 when four young Israeli avid

computer users established a new Internet company. Yair Goldfinger

(26,Chief Technology Officer), Arik Vardi (27,Chief Executive

Officer), Sefi Vigiser (25,President), and Amnon Amir (24, currently

studying), created the company in order to introduce a new

way of communication over the Internet. They observed the fast

deployment of the World Wide Web which was propelled by the

mounting popularity of surfing and browsing, and watched the

growing number of people interacting with web servers. They

realized, however, that something more profound was evolving

under the surface. Millions of people have been connected to one

huge world wide network — the Internet. They noticed that those

people were connected — but not interconnected. They realized

that if one missing component would be added, all these people, in

addition to interacting with web servers, would be able to

interact with each other. The missing link was the technology

which would enable the Internet users to locate each other online

on the Internet, and to create peer-to-peer communication channels,

in a straight forward, easy, and simple manner. They pioneered

this technology, that way opening a whole new industry.”


Nowadays, and in line with the development of not only the Internet infrastructure,

but also the mobile phone network, people are also provided with mobile

access to ICQ and similar instant messaging systems to meet the communication

demands from today’s mobile users. Today, ICQ can be run on not only

stationary and laptop computers, but also on PDAs and even on mobile phones

using WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) or SMS. Figure 7 shows three

different ways of accessing ICQ.

Of course, people also still communicate frequently using less sophisticated

software than ICQ. Today, several million SMS (Short Message Service) text

messages are sent everyday worldwide, and people have also during the recent

year started to adopt the new format MMS to send short texts, sound clips, and

digital photos to each other using their mobile phones with tiny built-in digital


Another promising area for online communication is IP telephony over the new

Internet protocol IPv6. With IP telephony people can have voice communication

across IP telephones, ordinary analog telephones, mobile phones and PCs

equipped with IP telephony software and a headset.

A special form of IP telephony has just recently been available in the last year,

i.e., IP telephony over the Internet using true P2P (peer-to-peer) technology.

With this system persons can communicate in full duplex voice mode with each

other independent of any central administration of the system. The system for

this new kind of IP telephony is a freeware program called Skype and was

released in 2003. Although it has only been around for a year it has already

more than 7 million users worldwide. Skype is a free and simple software that

Figure 7. The three pictures illustrate three different ways of accessing

ICQ (The first picture (left) shows the PC ICQ Lite client. The screenshot

shows the buddylist in the middle of the interface where the user can easily

see who is currently online and easily send them short messages by just

clicking on a contact in the list. The second picture (middle) shows the

mobile phone (WAP) interface to ICQ. Finally, the last picture (right)

shows a mobile device (i.e., a Motorola chat phone) where the user can

communicate with other ICQ users using simple SMS commands.)

will enable its users to make free phone calls from their PC anywhere in the

world (see Figure 8). Skype was created by the people who developed KaZaA

( and it uses innovative P2P (peer-to-peer) Internet technology

to connect the Skype users worldwide.

Besides this P2P trend there are also a lot of research efforts taken in several

new directions to support new forms of human interaction. For instance, there

is some interesting research going on to design, e.g., persistent conversation

systems (e.g., Erickson et al., 1999; Smith & Fiore, 2001), interaction initiation

support (e.g., Wiberg, 2002), stranger interaction support (e.g., Reingold,

2003) and various kinds of awareness systems (e.g., Gutwin & Greenberg,

1996, 1998), and, e.g., ambient displays for informal social events (e.g., Ishii

et al., 1998; Mankoff et al., 2003).

Figure 8. Three screenshots of the Skype IP telephone PC client (The first

screenshot (left) shows a buddy list where the green icons indicating whom

else that is currently online. If the user wants to make a phone call to

someone else that is currently online (e.g., to call Pamela) he or she can

simply click on that person in the buddy list to initiate a call (middle).

During the call (right) the user can communicate via voice and when the

user wants to end the call he/she can simply push the red hang up icon.)

New Interaction Modalities

Another component that has played an important role in enabling the Interaction

Society is new ways of interacting with these new devices and software

available, and new ways of putting the technology to use, i.e., new interaction

modalities. The most common of these new interaction modalities is the ability

to bring the technology along, i.e., the mobility of the technology. This has been

possible due to development of better batteries, small graphical displays, tiny

microprocessors, and small low-power hard disks. Another important factors

in relation to these mobile devices including PDAs and mobile phones is the

development of new input devices such as the touch sensitive display and the

stylus pen for handwritten input.

Also, the possibility to now bring the technology along without occupying our

hands is an emerging area under the name “wearable computing” where the

basic idea is that instead of carry the devices in our hands it should be worn in,

e.g., our clothes, on our back, on our shoulders or even on our head.

In line with this recent “wearable computing” trend there has been some

interesting research conducted with a specific focus on what philosophical

questions that this new technology realm touches upon (see, e.g., Dourish,

2001; Fällman, 2004; Lund, 2003). Amongst the most popular ideas right now

is that this trend towards wearable computing, and also efforts made at realizing

so-called ”tangible interfaces” (e.g., Ishii & Ullmer, 1997; Brave et al., 1998)

is something that very actively and directly involves not only our heads and our

fingers but our whole human bodies in our interaction with and via computers.

Further on this computing paradigm, where our bodies get more involved and

where the augmentation of our experiences has been pinpointed as a central

aspect of this phenomenon, some researchers (e.g., Dourish, 2001; Fällman,

2004) have argued that this might be best understood and approached from a

phenomenological perspective. All these efforts made on involving our whole

bodies (and not just our heads) in our interactions with and via computers have

recently been labeled by Dourish (2001) as “embodied interaction.”

Another important part of the development of new interaction modalities is all

the efforts taken to make our computers visually disappear into the surrounding;

disappear and offload our perception and let us focus on the issues and

activities we want to focus on instead of forcing us to focus on the technology

per se whenever we need computer support. Here, important research has

recently been conducted on how to design new interaction systems based on

embedded technology, the ubiquitous computing ideal and pervasive comput16

ing paradigm, and current ideas about so-called ambient intelligence where,

e.g., peripheral displays have been designed to support informal communication

(e.g., Mankoff, 2003). One fundamental idea behind this “hide the

computer” ideal has so far been to explore how various kinds of sensors (e.g.,

touch sensors, light sensors, accelerometers, etc), agents, and other contextawareness

technologies (e.g., GPS positioning, WLAN triangulation, etc.) can

be used in the design of new interaction technologies.

New Interaction Networks: Local (Spontaneous)