Social Spaces Group

Portal Frame

Tony Bergstrom and Karrie G. Karahalios. Communicating More than Nothing. CHI 2006.

Tony Bergstrom

Strong social connections play an important role in a person's life. When distance comes between two people, be it a mile or a thousand miles, the connection is harder to foster. The difficulty in maintaining a presence in another's life increases as less interaction occurs between individuals. However, common means of communication such as telephone, emails, and instant messages require a larger degree of active communication. Portal Frame reduces the load of active communication while still maintaining a vicarious connection between two individuals.

As distance becomes an easier and easier hurdle to overcome with communication, people communicate increasingly on their cell phones and via computers. Many of these means demand immediate attention such as phones and generally instant messages. Even supposedly asynchronous means like email can come with expectations of quick responses. The problem with these means is that they often intrude into the current context whereas a co-located individual can be more aware of the environment.

The level of expectation to foster a cherished social connection (relatives back home, a friend that moved away, long distance relationships, etc) requires a great deal of effort to maintain the same level of communication. Essentially, both individuals simply want to remain a part of each other's lives. People are curious what their friends and relatives are doing (there are a large number of away message addicts out there), and sending a message is often the only way to remain connected.

The Frame System:
Essentially, Portal Frame provides a picture of one's daily life. By relying on the metaphor of the frame, we utilize the known interaction of a frame. Frames hold pictures that are used to make visible friends and loved ones. People like to have pictures to remind themselves of others they don't always see. However, these pictures are static and don't always represent the true nature of the individual pictured.

Portal Frame focuses on this discontinuity. By dynamically selecting the most "appropriate" image, Portal Frame not only updates and matures with the individual, but it also provides a glimpse into the activity of life.

Selecting the image is done based on context sensors. Currently, we are only using GPS data but this can be extended in a variety of ways (time, speed of travel, proximity of friends, known locations, current weather, etc). The remote user also provides a set of initial images to indicate activities such as at work, in downtown Champaign, sleeping, in Hawaii, or any other image that might be appropriate. The granularity one wishes to share is left solely to the user. The remote user goes about his or her business. If the user notes that the picture is not indicative of current activity, he or she can set the appropriate image manually. This is used as an example to train the machine learner responsible for picture arbitration. Presently the system uses a simple, area-enclosure based, hypothesis.

The individual local to the frame sees the selected image. Touching the picture allows one to sketch upon the frame. This allows the local individual to make the remote individual aware that one is paying attention. The remote user is not made aware of this sketch by any alert, the system is designed to support low maintenance interaction. When the remote user checks for sketches, he or she will see the sketch upon the image it was drawn.

portal frame

What this system is and is not:
The Portal Frame system is not designed to be a surveillance tool. It allows the individual to mold and shape the visible image. One can choose to display standard portrait-type image, provide surrounding environment photograph, or display one's own artistic interpretation of life at the moment. It then becomes a type of evolving self-portrait.

Portal Frame allows separated individuals to be aware of each other and their lives. When the only thing one wants is to know what's going on, the Portal Frame sates this curiosity. It strengthens the feeling of involvement that each feels in the other's life. Simply providing the Portal makes a statement, but utilizing and interpreting the photos provides a much more substantial connection.