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Of more general interest: [Apple HI Alumni page] [Interaction Design Patterns page] [Social Computing]

Tom Erickson's Home Page

Note: I am no longer actively maintaining this page.

You should be automatically re-directed to my new site in a few seconds, but if not go to http://www.visi.com/~snowfall/

The face that crashed a Japanese face recognition system (it assumed that hair lines are located over the eyes -- those pesky cultural assumptions will get you every time!)

About Me

I'm a designer and researcher in the Social Computing Group at IBM's T. J. Watson Research Center in New York. I've been at IBM since June '97; before that I spent nine years in Apple's research group. My research focus is on designing systems that make it possible for large groups of people to interact coherently and productively over networks.

More generally, I am interested in topics such as genre theory, pattern languages, urban design, real and virtual communities, everyday routines and rituals, ethnography, geography and the sense of place, and the sociology of human-human interaction, all of which inform my approach to systems design. I write quite a lot, and you'll find most of my writing here from unpublished essays, to paper drafts (see Additions List, below), to publications.

If you're looking for something short to read, you might enjoy my recent essay Some Problems with the Notion of Context-Aware Computing, or the forthcoming Social Translucence: Designing Social Infrastructures that Make Collective Activity Visible.

Bon Mots

After I first used the Mac, I had a dream in which I would walk up to people, touch them, and they'd turn black. Then I could talk to them. --anon.

What made Wells a true visionary was not so much his ability to predict so many of the technological marvels of the late twentieth century, but his prescience in setting them in a world where men were still wearing neckties. --Geoffroy Nunberg

Sorry. I don't understand the word sorry. --Computer error message.

Press Enter to Exit. --Computer 'help' message

Plans are worthless, planning is invaluable. --Dwight Eisenhower

I can't understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I'm frightened of the old ones. --John Cage

Q: So, has success changed you?
A: Yeah, it's changed me. You know how when you're eating pistachios and you find one that's hard to get the shell open? Well, I don't bother with them anymore. --Bob Weir

Change History

October 2004
* Paper: Behind the Help Desk: Evolution of a Knowledge Management System in a Large Organization, by Halverson, Erickson and Ackerman [pdf].This paper, with Christine Halverson and Mark Ackerman, describes the evolution of a knowledge management system (by which we mean a system comprised of both social and technical components) for producing FAQs. The paper examines how shifts in management, organizational structure, incentives, software technologies, and other factors affected the development of thesystem, and provides an analysis of how such systems are often designed by bricolage.
* Paper: Erickson, T. Towards a Toolkit for Interaction Design: Thoughts on Theory and Method. This is a chapter, written earlier this year, for the book Foundations of Interaction Design: The First Ivrea Conference (ed. S. Bagnara and G. Crampton-Smith.), currently in preparation or in press. It provides a definition of interaction design, and weighs in about the role of theory in interaction design, and whether 'second hand' theory is problematic.
May 2004
* Paper: This is an paper that provides an overview of my work on designing visualizations of social activity in online spaces. It begins with a summary of some of the empirical work that launched me on this path, briefly summarizes the Babble work, and concludes with a number of design prototypes, including a couple which haven't been published elsewhere before (the conference call proxy, and the building proxy). See Designing Online Collaborative Environments: Social Visualizations as Shared Resources.
* For those interested in CMC, I have added download links for the papers from the now-in-its-sixth year, Persistent Conversation minitrack.
February 2004
* Short Paper: A short paper on the experience of conducting interviews over IM: Interviewing Over Instant Messaging, by Voida, Mynatt, Erickson and Kellogg to appear at CHI 2004.
* Short Essay: A 400 word essay on cultural differences, and their sometimes surprising manifestation.
* CFP: Call for participation for the 2005 Minitrack on Persistent Conversations at HICSS (deadeline for abstracts is in April, for papers is in June): See http://www.pliant.org/personal/Tom_Erickson/HICSS38pc.html
* Paper: The final version of the paper onTask Proxies that will appear at CHI 2004: "A Social Proxy for Distributed Tasks: Design and Evaluation of a Working Prototype" [pdf]
November 2003
* Paper: The penultimate draft of a paper on Task Proxies -- "A Social Proxy for Distributed Tasks: Design and Evaluation of a Working Prototype" -- to appear at CHI 2004. => replaced with final version, see February 2004 (above).
* Paper: A draft of the latest paper on Loops, still looking for a publication venue. [pdf]
* Other: As usual, the AHA page (link in header) has a few updates which are posted as they arrive.
August 2003
* Paper: A nearly final draft of a new paper, "What Counts as Success? Rhythmic Patterns of use in a Persistent Chat Environment" [pdf], to appear at Group 2003.
* Other.: A few updates to the patterns and AHA pages (links in header)
January 2003
Two short papers and one long one:
1. "In a Glass Darkly: Reflections on the Construction and Co-Evolution of Object and Personal Identity" [pdf], by Ian Simmonds and myself. [Updated 4 Feb 2003] Note: This is a first draft and pretty rough (version 3 of February 4). Abstract: "We analyze the co-construction of identity - of objects, collections, people and institutions - by collectors of early American glass. We define intrinsic and extrinsic features of identity; and we discuss the social and institutional mechanisms involved in establishing and vetting identity, as well as pathologies that result from their failure."
2. "Silence, Murmurs and Applause: Reflections on Expressions of Collections" [pdf]. A 4-page position paper submitted to the workshop on "Subtle Expressivity in Characters and Robots," which tries to argue that groups may be said to have analogs of facial expressions in their collective behavior (e.g. applause) and discussing how to design 'expressions' for online groups.
3. "Designing Social Visualizations: Six Claims" [pdf]. A two page paper that lays out six non-obvious claims about how to design visualizations of online social activity.
June 2002
* Patterns: A new version of the Interaction Design Patterns page, with a paper by Sally Fincher , two pattern sets and two papers from David Martin and his colleague, and an update of Martijn Van Welie's Amsterdam patterns collection.
* Discourse Architectures Workshop. A page that provides access to most of the position papers for the CHI 2002 Discourse Architectures workshop, and an addition (with hopefully a few more pending) to the Interaction Design Patterns page.
April 2002
Two new papers this month:
* A substantially new version of a paper on Loops, the web-based succsessor to the Babble system, The Design of Loops: A Web-Based Environment forPersistent Conversation and Community, currently available only as pdf.
* And a chapter for the second edition of the Höök, Benyon and Munroe Social Navigation book that is a good summary (up to the advent of Loops) of our work and thinking: Social Translucence: Using Minimalist Visualizations of Social Activity to Support Collective Interaction-- currently available only as pdf.
February 2002
Social Computing Group Website. My group at IBM (The Social Computing Group) now has an external web site that provides an introduction to Social Computing and a nice tour of our projects. See http://www.research.ibm.com/SocialComputing/  
January 2002
AHA. The yearly round of updates to the AHA (Apple HI Alumni) page has resulted in a substantially changed directory; probably a few more updates are in store.   Final updates have been made to the information page for the Fourth Annual Workshop and Minitrack on Persistent Conversation.  
December 2001
A Call for Participation for a workshop at CHI 2002: "Discourse Architectures: Designing and Visualizing Computer Mediated Conversation."   An almost final version of: Social Translucence: Designing Social Infrastructures that Make Collective Activity Visible, also available in pdf. This will appear in CACM sometime in 2002, and presents prototypes of social proxies for on-line auctions, lines (aka queues), and lectures.  
November 2001
Two things this month: Social Translucence: Designing Social Infrastructures that Make Collective Activity Visible [pdf only]: Replaced -- See December 2001, above.   Loops: Designing a Web-Based Environment for Persistent, Semi-Structured Conversation [pdf only]: A rejected CHI paper that describes our current work on Loops, the successor to Babble.  
October 2001
The Knowledge Management Puzzle: Human and Social Factors in Knowledge Management. An article that has just appeared in the IBM Systems Journal. Also available as a pdf.  
August 2001
Some papers finished over the last few months:
1. "Ask Not for Whom the Cell Phone Tolls: Some Problems with the Notion of Context-Aware Computing" ­ an short essay that will appear in CACM in a few months. Also available as a pdf.
2. "Knowledge Communities: Online Environments for Supporting Knowledge Management and its Social Context" ­ A chapter describing the social approach to knowledge management that is one of the rationales behind the Babble work. Also available as a pdf.
3. "Dealing with Community Data: A Report on the CSCW 2000 Workshop." 4. "Here and There, Now and Then: A Teleworker’s Reflections on Workplace." This is a position paper for "WORK/PLACE: Mobile technologies and the emergence of the new workplace" (ECSCW 2001) that describes some of my experiences as a teleworker, and poses, but does not resolve, issues having to do with just what a workplace is. Starts of with a bit doggerel, if you like that sort of thing... Also available as a pdf.    
February 2001
A short (2-page) paper -- The Design of the 'Babble' Timeline: A Social Proxy for Visualizing Group Activity over Time -- that will appear in the CHI '01 Proceedings.  
December 2000
A new version of "Theory, Theory".  
November 2000
1. A position paper for the CSCW '00 Workshop on Dealing with Community Data: "Putting the There There: Visualizing Community Data" (pdf only)
2. And, brand new, is my poem, "Theory, Theory", which , as one reader has remarked, is "probably the only time that ontology and ethnomethodology have ever been rhymed."
3. The AHA page (Apple HI Alumni) has received about two dozen updates in the last month.  
June 2000
Lingua Francas for Design: Sacred Places and Pattern Languages, by Thomas Erickson. A paper to appear at the DIS 2000 conference, that replaces the similarly named paper posted in March.  
March 2000
The Need for a Lingua Franca for Design: From Sacred Places to Pattern Languages. A paper submitted to the DIS 2000 conference; some overlap with the January 2000 position paper, but much more comprehensive. SEE JUNE 2000...  
February 2000
The Call for Participation for the Third Annual Workshop and Minitrack on Persistent Conversation, part of the Digital Documents track of the Thirty-Fourth Hawaii International Conference on Systems Science, Maui, January 3-6, 20001.   And, just so folks don't forget, updates of the AHA (Apple Human Interface Alumni) page and the Interaction Design Patterns home page.  
January 2000
Pattern Languages as Languages. A position paper for the CHI 2000 workshop on Pattern Languages for Interaction Design.  
December 1999
A new paper to appear in the HICSS 2000 Proceedings: Making Sense of Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC): Conversations as Genres; CMC Systems as Genre Ecologies.  
August 1999
A new paper to appear in the 2000 issue of TOCHI: Social Translucence: An Approach to Designing Systems that Mesh with Social Processes This provides more of the rationale behind, and the future of, the 'Babble' or 'Loops' work described in the CHI '99 and ECSCW '99 papers.  
July 1999
The papers from my minitrack on "persistent conversation" are now available on line as a special issue of the Journal of Computer Mediated Communication.  
April 17, 1999
The final version of a paper for ECSCW '99: The Adoption and Use of Babble: A Field Study of Chat in the Workplace. This is a study of the adoption (or not) of the Babble system (see 1/16/99 entry below) by six different workgroups at IBM.  
March 15, 1999
CFP for the Second Workshop and Minitrack on Persistent Conversation at the HICSS conference.   A short position paper for a CHI 99 Workshop on On-Line Communities.   Many updates to the Apple HI Alumi page (note: this is frequently updated, not just when signaled here). Many various small changes elsewhere.  
January 16, 1999
Final version of paper for CHI 99 replaces previous draft. The paper -- Socially Translucent Systems: Social Proxies, Persistent Conversation, and the Design of Babble -- describes a new type of CMC system (known, variously, as "Loops" or "Babble"). Of special interest is the use of a social proxy, a minimalist, visual representation of a conversation's participants and their actions with respect to the conversation.   Also a version of a short workshop paper for the CSCW '98 workshop on "Designing Virtual Communities for Work," describing the use of Babble: Babble: Supporting Conversation in the Workplace.  
September 28, 1998
The final version of my latest paper on digital genre: "Rhyme and Punishment: The Creation and Enforcement of Conventions in an On-Line Participatory Limerick Genre." To appear in the Proceedings of the Thirtysecond Annual Hawai'i International Conference on Systems Science, January 1999. (Replaces the draft of June 6, 1998.)
February 19, 1998
Persistent Conversation: Discourse as Document. This is a Call for Papers for a mini-track on "persistent conversation." This is part of the Digital Documents Track at the 32 Annual Hawai'i International Conference on Systems Science.  
February 2, 1998
The first edition of The Interaction Design Patterns Page, a set of resources for those interested in the application of pattern languages to interaction design.  
January 13, 1998
A reworking of the previously posted essay into a two page paper which has been submitted to [and now rejected by] CHI '98: Genre Theory as a Tool for Analyzing Network-Mediated Interaction: The Case of the Collective Limericks. This is a quick read; at some point there will be a much longer version of this paper which actually adequately explains genre theory, its applications, and analyzes the Limerick example in considerably more detail. In the meantime, those interested in genre theory will need to see the paper: Virtual Community as Participatory Genre.   There is also a new version of the AHA (Apple Human-Interface Alumni) Community Web page, now nearing sixty members. It is frequently updated, and I don't usually mention those updates in this list.  
December 15, 1997
A short essay for a workshop, which I had fun writing and perhaps you'll have fun reading. It's an analysis of a seemingly trivial network mediated activity, the collective creation of limericks: 'A man whose hair was bright orange' (This will be turning into a more formal paper; it is another facet of the digital genre work...[[See 'Rhyme and Punishment under the 6/7/98 entry, above]]).  
December 11, 1997
A new version of the AHA (Apple Human-Interface Alumni) Community Web page.  
October 2, 1997
The final version of the Report of the CHI '97 Workshop on Pattern Languages for Interaction Design.  
September 15, 1997
Additions beget additions. Here are two other essays on my telecommuting experience: On the Experience of Remote Meetings, and Some Notes on Telework.    
September 13, 1997
Release 5 of this site. New versions of most pages -- only the papers are unchanged. The things that are newest are the final version of the patterns chapter, the patterns workshop report, and some essays for more general audiences: Tom's Hawaii Story (pure fun), After the Fire (nature writing), and Work and Spirit (Telecommuting).

[Tom's Home Page]
Professional] [Life, Fun, &c] [Tell Me...]
Bookmarks] [Publications List] <and many papers and essays>

Of more general interest: [Apple HI Alumni page] [Interaction Design Patterns page] [Social Computing]

Maintained by snowfall@acm.org