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Monday, September 21, 2009

Probes: More Contextual Awareness

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I've spoken quite openly about the importance of context lately, but I've yet to cover the tools required to do the deed. Today, I will cover a couple of them, starting with context-aware experience sampling.

This idea was proposed back in 1993 at CHI outlining the need of non-intrusive, contextually rich collection methods such as GPS tracking with multimedia (Intille, 2003). Following these studies, we've seen expansions in the design of decision theory and further development of the experience sampling methodologies (ESM).

However, the problem with cultural probes, a common ESM, is the fact that they are... well, a pain in the ass. Disruptive in nature, costly to implement, and irritatingly long in duration to analyze, researchers felt the need to dive further and improve our methods.

This came in the form of expansion of the experience sampling types. 1) Random probes (probes that appear at random times), 2) Uncertainty probes (a predictive model made to embrace uncertain situations), 3) Decision-theoretic probes (DT) (another predictive model that kicks in when it feels it's most valued), and 4) Decision-theoretic dynamic probes (DT-dyna) (an extension of DT that catches changes in context).

All of this in a mouthful is acknowledging of the cost of interruption. People don't like being bugged, let alone asked to give up information about their daily routine. Hence, a means of collecting user-data without imposing "annoyance" is an important factor in any data collection methodology. And while the methods aren't perfect, they continue to show great promise. It's just up to us to develop one that works within the context of the human psyche, along with its annoyances.

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