Using Availability Indicators to Enhance Context-Aware Family Communication Applications

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Nagel, Kristine Susanne
Abowd, Gregory D.
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Family conversation between homes is difficult to initiate at mutually agreeable times as neither participant has exact knowledge of the other's activities or intentions. Whether calling to plan an important family gathering or simply to connect with family members, the question is: Is now a good time to call? People expect friends and family to learn their activity patterns and to minimize interruptions when calling. Can technology provide awareness cues to the caller, even prior to the initiation of the call? This research focuses on sampling the everyday activities of home life to determine environmental factors, which may serve as an indicator for availability. These external factors may be effective for identifying household routines of availability and useful in determining when to initiate conversation across homes. Several workplace studies have shown a person's interruptibility can be reliably assessed and modeled from specific environmental cues; this work looks for similar predictive power in the home. Copresence, location, and activity in the home were investigated as correlates to availability and for their effectiveness within the social protocol of family conversation. These studies indicate there are activities that can be sensed, either in real-time or over some time span, that correlate to self-reported availability. However, the type and amount of information shared is dependent upon individual preferences, social accessibility, and patterns of activities. This research shows friends and family can improve their predictions of when to call if provided additional context, and suggests that abstract representations of either routines or explicit availability status is sufficient and may be preferred by providers. Availability prediction is feasible in the home and useful to those outside the home, but the level of detail to provide in particular situations needs further study. This work has implications for the development of groupware systems, the automatic sensing of activity to deal with interruption, and activity recognition in the home.
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