Scent: Mobile Application as Catalyst of Social Interaction


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This is the presentation and note for Mobile HCI 2006 in Helsinki, Finland. Scent was a project for Nokia Research Centre, 2002-2003.
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  • Hello, my name is Younghee Jung. I used to live in Helsinki, for 5 years - it’s great to be back! Scent is the name of a prototype application we created in 2003.
    // This is the presentation and note for Mobile HCI 2006 in Helsinki, Finland.
    // Scent was a project for Nokia Research Centre, 2002-2003.
    // Contact: /
    // Presentation template created by Paul Seymour
  • Before we start, I would like to first give you a little bit of context of our work.
    The work for Scent started back in 2002, and there has been already lots of development since then. We also published other related work that was done after this. So you may recognize some of the presentations we gave before. Or you probably have heard something about mobile social software.
  • For those of you who have never crossed paths with me on those venues, I would like to show you a very short animation.
    // Note added in 2014: Nokia Sensor was a downloadable application for Symbian phones launched in 2005, but Nokia stopped supporting it in 2008. In the first year after launch (2005), it was downloaded more than 1 million copies, particularly popular in Italy and middle eastern countries.
  • You probably got some idea about what we call ‘social proximity interaction’. But please remember that it’s NOT the same one that I will be talking about. Today I will explain the very first research project that we carried on in the area of social proximity interaction. It’s quite a long story, so I will focus mainly on giving you an overview of our journey.
  • How did we get started with this and why? I was in Nokia Research Center at the time, in a team called ‘concept design’. We were often asked to explore new domain areas either to understand a new phenomenon better, or to scout new ideas that have business potentials. In the summer of 2002, we were asked to look at how people ‘manage’ things in their lives, particularly in the perspective of ubiquitous computing. We collected ideas that were lingering around in the company and in academia. To give you a flavour, one of them was the famous idea of intelligent refridgerator that can alert the user, or automatically place the order to the nearest grocery if you ran out of milk.
  • Well, in fact the document got longer and longer and we were drowning in the list of ideas. We started to derive the big themes in the domain according to the target groups of different lifestyles. At the time, the growing social phenomenon was ‘extended single lifestyle’ - so we studied singles in Tampere, Helsinki, and London. From the study, we found that aspects of managing social connections were the most prominent findings.
  • we observed people were skillfully mixing various communication tools which suit their needs and social relationships. As with the life stage, meeting new people as well as maintaining the existing ones were very important yet always left people with the impression that they could do something better. of course, with the use of mobile texting and email in particular, some admitted that their pattern of making new acquaintances was changing - which had to do with the feeling of confidence that they were more in control of how they contacted and were contacted by others.
  • furthermore we could observe the following market trends. communication that is beyond direct and purposeful information exchange, thanks to digital tools enabling various forms of communication. social networking was a hot topic - from friendster to linked in. the internet community was starting to experiment with the potential of the social capital. and with high mobile phone adoption, a growing number of people had access to their personal digital data and tool all the time.
  • the conventional perception was such that mobile phones are for connecting with those who are NOT with you at the time. so one design exploration theme we coined together after the studies was this: what would be roles of personal digital mobile devices in the social scene where people are physically close to each other?
  • we created some stories and illustrated them to communicate with internal stakeholders, and used them also as stimulus material for focus groups.
  • although I cannot quantify the reaction, those scenarios sparked up lots of discussions and questions. we saw this area clearly as one that we lack understandings on, yet we could not see how we could gather deeper understandings on it merely based on speculations and imaginations without the first hand experience in the actual social environment.
  • therefore we decided to continue our research project. in order to understand this domain area, it was quite clear that we wanted to provide people with some direct experiences, hopefully in an environment that they breathed and lived. we wanted to understand not only the motivations but also patterns of emergent use and adoption. so we started our design exploration work, with the aim of creating a high fidelity prototype application that reflected diverse aspects of social interaction.
  • our bible for the design therefore was erving goffman’s presentation of self in everyday life. we believed enhancing the social experience not replacing. therefore we came up with these building blocks for our design. I will go through these one by one, and briefly introduce how these aspects were implemented in the scent concept prototype.
  • there are many many reasons why you would like to engage in social interaction, with whom, and also why you would use a digital tool for such situations. in an ongoing face-to-face interaction, you may want to use a tool to discover a new aspect of your social connections, or simply to play a social game. when you meet a new acquaintance, you may wish you had a good topic as ice-breaking conversation. if you are in an environment surrounded by many unacquainted people, you may want to identify who would be a suitable person you can bond with. This influenced our technology selection of using Bluetooth - as it could support all of these situations.
  • to give you a very brief snapshot, this is how it worked for scent. the metaphor of the scent was to communicate the fact that it’s proximate yet did not rely on any ‘wired’ connection.
    at the time of our study, the first bluetooth-enabled smart phone by Nokia became available on the market - Nokia 7650. by scanning the environment with Bluetooth, which covered a range of up to 10m, user was able to see all those who have Bluetooth active - regardless whether they have Scent running or not. user could send the application itself through the mobile phone if they saw someone using Bluetooth but not running Scent.
  • identification and identity expression is the fundamental facilitator of any mediated interaction. by ‘identification’, I mean the very mechanism that other people in the usage community can recognize and remember the user by. these are the actual screenshots of images people used in Scent, which we managed to capture during the study. some used very recognizable, personal picture. Some used very cryptic images. During the interview, we did notice that some of these cryptic images are personally identifiable ones if you know the user well or if you see it in certain contexts. the other part of this is more to do with pure self-expression, which by nature is changeable more often to reflect user’s current interest or activity. we called it ‘guestbook welcome page’. some people were more keen on coordinating these two images to be the same as shown in this example, while the others preferred to use different images.
  • another important building block was to create the reason for continued interaction, in a way that can also contribute to the creation of the internal social dynamics of the user community. in many ways, why do we dress nicely, or not too sloppy as you could be? I bet you’re either expecting compliments, or avoiding negative image of you. we thought that this is also a tool to add another dimension to the personal identity that user herself creates. as we say “you know someone better by looking at her friends”.
    ///// there we also had a mechanism to limit those who were allowed to write on my guestbook to only those who have ‘interacted with me’.
  • another building block was the original communication tool that worked based on the proximity presence.
    if you take current phone calls or text messaging, we need to know the phone number to call. and we are using our telephone conversation mostly for the social relationships that are previously established. we thought having a communication system that worked seamlessly based on the personal identification and co-presence within the application. this is crucial for the practical benefit of using mediated comm tool.
    // by now, you’d think - if people are nearby, why cant you just walk up to say things? well, because perhaps you’re shy, or because the place is too noisy or crowded. or perhaps you are in a context where its not allowed to talk but its kind of silly to send text messages through the network as you’re really sitting close. it could be also a way to keep in touch with your ‘party friends’ - those who are never in your phonebook as you have no reason to contact them outside the context of being in the same place.
  • we also noted that discovering common attributes would be one of motivations for certain social relationships, to use this tool. why? because common attributes are sometimes the lubricant to establish new relationships, or an extra spice to existing ones. who do we know in common or what do we like in common? such knowledge could also promote sharing. or the total opposite - identifying undesirable contacts to avoid. right now, I would be happy to avoid anyone who knows my colleagues as I had to sneak out of a company meeting for giving this presentation.
    another important point to make here is that we thought this discovery of common attributes should be based on the comparison of the personal data that people have built up on their device. there are many reasons for this - first people do not have to make extra effort to participate the interaction through this tool. also it raises the awareness of the personal data that we accumulate in the device. we would have loved to utilize personal data such as music, but the only universally used ‘personal data’ in mobile phones at the time was phonebook. so we shaped up the design to match that.
  • another behavior we often do in the social scene is to exchange tokens that other people would remember me by. in some countries it is a very established and highly ritualized.
    // in the picture is my japanese colleague exchanging business cards with someone she met. they are actually quite clumsy as they lived too long abroad, like not bowing.
  • on this note, our building block was co-creating and exchanging social memorabilia together with the social contact you found. again, this is one of the probably most important motivations to use Scent for a long time. as you already saw today, we designed this ‘token of interaction’ with the metaphor of a card. when exchanged, this was automatically saved on both parties’ devices. why is this important? from a very practical view point, you can remember this person’s name and possibly a face or little something about the person. another potential practical benefit was that this saved ‘card’ provided short cuts for further future interactions, like sending messages or checking guestbook.
    /// we even had the ambition to utilize this ‘token’ as a key to allow someone to leave a comment on the guestbook.
  • lastly but not least, we had to be careful about how we allow people to control the way Scent worked that is suitable for their social need and notion of privacy. first of all, you can turn the application off and that automatically meant not participating.
    /// for those who do want to participate, we provided first, ‘hide names’ functionality for comparison of phonebook data. in fact some people were using scent quite actively without using any of the phonebook content used in the comparison. it always produced 0 common acquaintance but she was only interested in collecting the ‘cards’ anyway. the other one was controlling visibility for those who are quite open and willing to allow others to see the common attributes without having to ask for permission. this would also suit well if user’s using the tool in environments where he or she has to actively network and feel safe in doing so.
  • so far, I covered the 7 building blocks that were basis for our design. to remind you why we were doing all of this - it was to build a prototype application to put to the user trial to learn about the nature of proximity social interaction. here are some very condensed bits of the findings from the user study. please refer to the paper for more details, particularly the statistical data, as I will mainly (if time allows) cover the user quotes that highlight the motivations of use here.
  • I was quite young and energetic at the time - we did so much given the project budget and time. we revised the prototype once based on our findings from the friendly pilot test despite the fact I was referred to as a bitch from hell since i was so strict. but to enable voluntary and large-scale participation, even though we were building prototype, we tried to eliminate any major usability issues and get the metaphors right within our capacity. We created an automatic application log that tracked who and how people were using the application so that we could identify active users and early quitters. we recruited a control group who we interviewed before and after the use. but otherwise all participation was done voluntarily through our Intranet page we created. that’s partly the reason why we don’t have so many screenshots from users’ phones. we interviewed a selected number of early quitters and active users. and finally conducted online questionnaire. a lot of this was possible because we had the corporate phonebook that anyone can access, and the fact that Nokia pays our mobile phone bills. About 600 users log data was utilized in the analysis.
  • while the log data does not show it, we identified a few typical usage patterns emerged based on interviews and online questionnaire. the most common use was to check presence of other users nearby. its not only fulfilling the curiosity, but its also very easy to do - you don’t have to be proactive about contacting others. second, the actual interaction of exchanging cards was quite often done in a setting where user was with close colleagues, or new colleagues in meetings. third, it was often observed that the act of using Scent became a broader group activity rather than 1-to-1. during the trial period, we had some corporate summer events. reportedly the transport to the event venue, most people in the bus eventually started using and playing with Scent. fourth, we had this little unique sound that overrode the message alert tone in the phone. so it produced this whistle ‘xx’ when bluetooth messages were exchanged through scent. it was also reported that people heard many whistles in meetings and presentation events across the room.
  • Now I will walk you through some of the selected user quotes according to the motivations of use.
    and this is probably the most general description that summarizes the perception participants formed during the trial, especially the active users.
  • interviewees generalized their perception of scent as a tool for getting acquainted with new people. some described it as match making tool. was considered suitable for initial steps of getting to know someone. it was also considered not so serious.
  • self expression was the crucial part of the use motivation.
  • social curiosity, which is a flipside of the self expression was essentially the core of the scent use.
  • interviewees also mentioned that their perception about the mobile phone in general was influenced after using Scent.
  • and some also mentioned about the strange feeling that other people can access some part of their phone, which used to be a very personal space.
  • and that relates to the privacy concerns and strategies. obviously some of the early quitters were those who did not feel comfortable using it at all. to contrast - there were very little concerns from the active users and they had developed particular strategies in coping with them. some were using Scent without the phone book data at all. Some chose to use it in certain contexts only.
  • That concludes the motivation part. We unveiled quite many aspects of the dynamics of the proximity social interaction after the study. we noted that the self-expression aspects were the most important starting point of this, so we launched another study called DigiDress, using the similar method and tools as we developed for Scent. and these two studies eventually lead to the design of Nokia Sensor application. based on the model of social proximity interaction we derived from Scent trial, we had good ideas what to focus on as the first product on the market. you may want to talk to other Nokia people how they saw this, but to me the most valuable effect of scent, apart from understanding the domain area itself was to form the shared experience with others in the company. while we consider intra-company wide study as the limitation of the study, we as teams established certain level of common understanding on the topic through the first hand experience.
  • // This is the presentation and note for Mobile HCI 2006 in Helsinki, Finland. Scent is a project for Nokia Research Centre.
    // Contact: /
  • there would be many ways in categorizing aspects of proximate social interaction. two dimensions I quite like are these: in the horizontal axis, we have the degree of social involvement. how much do you want people to get involved with each other passively or proactively? I usually like watching people, but I am too shy to actually go and ask them questions unless I am drunk. on the vertical axis, we have the degree of openness, with regard to whether you would involve a pre-determined set of individuals or open for anyone who have a compatible tool.
    ////// while these were not really available in the market at the time of our research, we plotted here some existing application or service as examples. Jabberwocky, the concept from Intel research enabled user to discover the familiar strangers, without providing much tool for direct interaction. proxidating on the other quadrant is an explicit dating ‘tool’ that allowed user to create a profile which included identifying user’s gender. while profiles can be exchanged and you can discover new interaction ‘partners’, this was branded and focused on those who have a very specific purpose of social interaction in mind.
    // This is the presentation and note for Mobile HCI 2006 in Helsinki, Finland. Scent is a project for Nokia Research Centre.
    // Contact: /
  • our aim was to create a prototype application that could be general enough in the sense that it could be used in as many types of social relationships and situations without bias as possible. quite easy to say.
    // This is the presentation and note for Mobile HCI 2006 in Helsinki, Finland. Scent is a project for Nokia Research Centre.
    // Contact: /
  • Scent: Mobile Application as Catalyst of Social Interaction

    1. 1. 20 200© 6 Nokia Location Matters / 2006-08-09 6. Creating and exchanging social memorabilia