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User Studies and User Behavior

February 25, 2011

Next up: User studies: careful observation of archival practices reveal some surprising things about user behavior. To the session notes: Allons-y!

CTRL-S is Poor Archival Practice
Devin Becker (University of Idaho) Collier Nogues (University of California, Irvine)

Did a study of writers via online, open ended survey, about 100 people responded. Writers serve as a sort of focusing agent for the field: increased value assigned to digital files by writers themselves and by archival community. 75% of the respondents were poets, 77% had published one or more books.

Why is this an important issue? Because people don’t save earlier drafts of their works. So you can’t see earlier drafts/versions like you can in, say, the Ernest Hemingway Collection at the JFK Library.

53% claimed to save over their files primarily, but only about 20% always did this. 35% saved drafts all in one file. 9% only saved drafts as printouts and have only one digital file.

Only 8% work exclusively digitally; most work in both paper and digital formats. Many have very strong views about what points of their workflow they use digital versus physical to do their work. “There is really no feeling of management whatsoever when it comes down to it.” People save things everywhere (not surprising to archivists).

Only 7% admitted to never backing up their files. Over 70% said they backup at least monthly. However, this backup is not always done really well. Most backup on external hard drives.

Implications
Benign neglect does seem to be these writers’ basic curatorial mode. People have a fear that electronic files all look alike unlike manuscript drafts. Anxiety about confusing files because they look the same. Writers are more anxious about the management of their files than they are about losing their files.

Recommendations for Archivists
Don’t meddle too much with writers’ files
Meddle a little: 80% would be interested in receiving information about recommended digital archiving practices
Propose: Writers’ Digital Preservation Awareness Week (Why don’t writers just participate in ALA’s Preservation Week? It’s coming up–April 24-30)

File Folders on Computers in Personal Digital Archiving
Hong Zhang (University of Illinois)

Talking about filing systems people use on their computers, can be seen as organic archives created by people. More hard drives coming to archives with lots of digital files. How do we decipher these files?

Methodology: multiple case studies with 12 participants, two rounds of interviews,m disk scan, re-finding tasks observations (part of Zhang’s dissertation work)

How do people archive their files?
Explicitly indicate archives folders via folder names, for example: “archive”
Implicitly indicate archives folders via dating folders, for example
Keeping the original structure when archiving because used to the structure and no motivation to change it when archiving because won’t be using the information again

Relationships among files may be complicated and important or almost non-existent. This is an important idea to remember when trying to appraisal, process, and archive personal digital collections.

Gmail is a Storyworld
Jason Zalinger (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute)

We are all digital storytellers, historians, curators, etc. of our own lives. We are very good at capturing personal data, but we are not good at helping people make sense of it all. We are not good at encouraging people to explore their archives for self-reflection. When Gmail changes the interface, it changes your storyworld. Thousands of clues to our life stories are sitting in our archives.

User study: conducted six interviews, 3 male, 3 female, highly educated, ages 27-39, 3 via audio recording, 3 via IM, asked about their archives and about stories.

Findings and Design Recommendations

  • A Label Named “Forget”: everything a person wants to forget, but wants to archive. Design Recommendation: Forget & Remember labels built into Gmail. Pop-up message years later to read message and see if want to delete
  • Digital Regret: send emails that you regret later. Design Recommendation: Gmail has the “Undo” send button already. Gmail’s Mail Goggles makes you solve math problems in order to send emails (aka friends don’t let friends email drunk). Wants “Sleep On It”: sends email to your archive and then pop-up lets you re-read your email before sending it the next morning.
  • Characters: Conversation View (email threaded conversations). Design Recommendations: Storyfox would format your conversation thread to a Google Doc formatted to look like a screenplay or as a comic strip (Geomic)
  • How do you know what is meaningful? Design Recommendation: Gmail Meaning Labeler (crowdsourcing)
  • Design Recommendation from Interviewees: word clouds for email

Note: design recommendations are at the conceptual stage and Zalinger hasn’t created them.

Cognitively Motivated Lifelog Software
Aiden Doherty, Cathal Gurrin, Alan F. Smeaton (CLARITY: Centre for Sensor Web Technologies, Dublin City University)

People have talked about personal life archives for years. People have taken this further and created weird technologies to capture their life. However, the researchers use wearable sensors: SenseCam is a Microsoft Research Prototype, now the Vicon Revue: contains a camera and various sensors, GPS, Bluetooth and takes about 5,500 photos per day. Researchers have their own smartphone App: integrates all sensors, can connect to external capture devices, and uploads to a server in real-time.

What is an e-memory archive?
“We use sensors to capture and understand life activities.” Lots of information via the information captured by the sensors. (That’s a lot of data to mine) Don’t record audio because people stopped talking to the researchers. 4.5 years= around 7 million photos.

In one year: 12,500 events or moments, 20 million accelerometer and temperature and compass readings, 2.3 million GPS points, 25,000 unique Bluetooth encounters (wow!)

Want to build search engines for these e-memory archives because visuals are powerful memory clues. Great for remembering different parts of one’s life. Make search engines based on cognitive science. Biomimicry of how human mind stores and organizes memory to model for the search engines. (wow, again) Can determine unique events and moments out of the mundane and then finally display in the browser.

Applying 12 years of video/image search experiences showed many different axes of retrieval for information. Designed initial browser 4 years ago, larger images are more important, and some search functionalities. Then designed a new browser with more flexible search options. Newer browser is much better at finding events, but still at 2 minutes for retrieval. Need to think of new ways to tackle challenge of efficient and fast searching.

Take away: Users are idiosyncratic in their use and creation of digital files. This is not surprising, but kind of sad, for archivists–it means a lot of work to decipher the information when it comes to the archives. (Yay for job security, though.) Lots of data being created and need ways to search and display it visually. Very interesting session, especially the information about lifelog search engines.

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