Conversation Votes


Tony Bergstrom


Conversation Votes is a visualization to create new back-channels in conversation and augment collocated interaction. This expands the idea of a social mirror , a reflection of interaction, to incorporate direct user feedback in the form of anonymous voting. By capturing user input, the mirror becomes more demonstrative of context as participants add their interpretation into the visualization. The end result produces a visualization to provide a more accurate reflection of interaction and create flags of salient moments in conversation.


Conversation Votes

Conversation Votes seeks to provide a back-channel of communication to al participants and listeners in a conversation. Using anonymous votes as that back-channel, we give a voice to participants who might not want to speak up as it draws attention to themselves rather than to the current speaker.

The target audience for this visualization would be a debate, discussion, or meeting: conditions where there may be conflict of opinions and it's valuable to know if the listeners support or oppose the speaker.


Conversation Votes monitors the audio streams of 4 participants sitting at the Voting table. Comparing the input of the various microphones, the current speaker is determined and indicated in the visualization by a color assigned to that participant.

As time progresses, the visualization builds a visual history of conversation as a stream of individual moments. Patterns of speech, dominance, and other characteristics can be seen by looking at this history.


Each Person at the table has a button with which to augment the conversation. The button is small and can be hidden in the hand and pressed indiscreetly if desired. Pressing the button increases the size of the current audio representation for all to see; a vote is also indicated by annotation with a dot. Voting becomes a back-channel that might be used to highlight a point, archive a conversation, indicate approval of the speaker, etc.

Conversation Votes

Future Applications

Aside from our initial testing environment of 4 person collocated conversation, we hope to expand the Conversation Votes mechanism to a number of different settings. Opening the voting audience to not just the speaker, we can allow a much larger participation and indicator for the speakers. In a lecture or a political debate where the audience numbers in the hundreds or thousands, everyone cannot participant. Conversation Votes would allow a way to better gauge the masses. Teleconferencing provides another opportunity for Conversation Votes. In a teleconference, there is 1 stream of audio to hear, but no visual cues. One person can talk and be understood at a time, leaving out most of the participants. The anonymous cues allow all participants to remain active in the conversation, without interrupting the flow of conversation.


Tony Bergstrom and Karrie Karahalios. Vote and Be heard: Adding Back-Channel Signals into Social Mirrors. INTERACT 2009 PDF

Tony Bergstrom and Karrie Karahalios. Visualizing Co-located Conversation Feedback. IEEE TableTop2007. PDF

Tony Bergstrom and Karrie Karahalios. Conversation Votes: Enabling Anonymous Cues. Extended Abstracts of CHI 2007. PDF