On March 5th 2015, I successfully defended my Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D) thesis titled “An Activity-Centric Approach to Configuration Work in Distributed Interaction” which I submitted on November 30th, 2014.
The widespread introduction of new types of computing devices, such as smartphones, tablet computers, large interactive displays or even wearable devices, has led to setups in which users are interacting with a rich ecology of devices. These new device ecologies have the potential to introduce a whole new set of cross-device and cross-user interactions as well as to support seamless distributed workspaces that facilitate coordination and communication with other users. Because of the distributed nature of this paradigm, there is an intrinsic difficulty and overhead in managing and using these kind of complex device ecologies, which I refer to as configuration work. It is the effort required to set up, manage, communicate, understand and use information, applications and services that are distributed over all devices in use and people involved. Because current devices and their containing software are still document- and application-centric, they fail to capture and support the rich activities and context in which they are being used. This leaves users without a stable concept for cross-device information management, forcing them to perform a large amount of manual configuration work.
In this dissertation, I explore an activity-centric approach to configuration work in distributed interaction. The central goal of this dissertation is to develop and apply concepts and ideas from Activity-Centric Computing to distributed interaction. Using the triangulation approach, I explore these concepts on a conceptual, empirical and technological level and present a framework and use cases for designing activitycentric configurations in multi-device information systems. The dissertation presents two major contributions:
First, I introduce the term configuration work as an abstract analytical unit that describes and captures the problems and challenges of distributed interaction. Using both empirical data and related work, I argue that configuration work is composed of: curation work, task resumption lag, mobility work, physical handling and articulation work. Using configuration work as a problem description, I operationalize Activity Theory and Activity-Centric Computing to mitigate and reduce configuration work in distributed interaction. By allowing users to interact with computational representations of their real-world activities, creating complex multi-user device ecologies and switching between cross-device information configurations will be more efficient, more effective and provide better support for users’ mental model about a multi-user and multi-device environment. Using activity configuration as a central concept, I introduce a framework that describes how digital representations of human activity can be distributed, fragmented and used across multiple devices and users.
Second, I present a technical infrastructure and four applications that apply the concepts of activity configuration. The infrastructure is a general purpose platform for the design, development and deployment of distributed activitycentric systems. The infrastructure simplifies the development of activity-centric systems as it presents complex distributed computing processes and services into high level activity system abstractions. Using this infrastructure and conceptual framework, I describe four fully working applications that explore multi-device interactions in two specific domains: office work and hospital work. The systems are evaluated and tested with end-users in a number of lab and field studies.
Professor Susanne Bødker, Aarhus University
Professor Aaron Quigley, University of St Andrews
Associate Professor Thomas Pederson, IT University of Copenhagen
Professor Jakob E. Bardram (supervisor)