Just returned yesterday from the Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) conference, which took place in gorgeous Banff, Alberta. Here’s a brief summary of cool stuff presented there:
The Social Side of Software Development Workshop – One of the highlights for me, since this is my area. Several people here were doing cool research using Social Network Analysis – Daniela Damian from the University of Victoria, Masao Ohira from the Nara Institute of Science and Technology, Cleidson de Souza from the Universidade Federal do Para. Flore Barcellini presented a visualization of interactions in the Python development mailing list, Suzanne Soroczak studied why project managers shun MS Project in favour of spreadsheets, Sadat Shami had an ethnographic study of collaboration between developers and academics, and Birgit Krogstie was exploring instant messaging in for software development collaboration.
There were more than thirty people in the workshop, all with very exciting projects. I won’t describe them all here, but if you’re interested you can take a look at the workshop proceedings. Steve and I presented a position paper on distributed cognition in software engineering research, and got great feedback from the participants.
The CSCW conference itself – CSCW is a strange community. Some talks were not about computers, some were not about support, others were not about cooperation, and some were not about work. CSCW seems like a misnomer, then, for research that is really about the interaction among people through any kind of technology – from the ways airplane pilots use paper notes, to how World of Warcraft players form in guilds and throw virtual parties with conga lines.
The community seems to be aware of this, and is apparently going through some sort of identity crisis. Some CSCW veterans had a very bizarre panel in which they wondered about the level of success or failure of the community, about why were they not involved in the revolutionary development of the Internet (the ultimate CSCW endeavour), and whether these are the best times ever for CSCW or, alternatively, the conference should close shop. Bill Buxton, who gave a great closing plenary talk, compared the existential angst of CSCWers with that of Canadians (which can’t seem to describe themselves without mentioning Americans).
There were some very good ideas, papers, posters, and demos, but I have to say that the quality was uneven. The research methods of some projects, and the relevance of some posters, were questionable. I guess this goes with the territory of conferences this size, but it’s still unfortunate.
The Toronto people – There were a lot of people from the University of Toronto with cool projects. Some of them: Chris Collins presented a translator that avoids the clumsiness of current automatic translators by offering several alternatives, as a lattice, to the reader –when it’s ready it may really help chatters with no language in common. Danielle Lottridge had a nice proposal to visualize the frequency and length of communications between intimate pairs as the rings of a tree. Abhishek Ranjan has a project to improve videoconferencing by inferring what should cameras be focusing on. Mike Wu presented part of his work on using technology to help people with Alzheimer.
All in all, a good conference where I got a chance to meet and talk to people that I look up to. Looking forward to the next one!