Posted by: clare on: May 20, 2012
It’s 8 days since I stumbled — jetlagged, sleep-deprived and brimming over with ideas — back home to Newcastle. This week involved a lot of playing catch-up with the day job (and indeed my life outside of work!), but what better time than a Sunday afternoon to step back and reflect on CHI 2012?
The conference was beyond my expectations. This was my first CHI, and I’m used to conferences of 100 – 250 people, not 2500: I went in expecting, to an extent, to be lost in an anonymous crowd. I was travelling with colleagues, and looking forward to catching up with old friends from Eindhoven and Southampton, but that aside didn’t expect familiar faces — how wrong I was!
Of course, although it’s my first CHI, HCI is a central research interest of mine, and I’ve attended plenty of related events over the years: only last year I found myself at MobileHCI, DESIRE’11, and the Tiree Tech Wave. I ran into people from all of these events (and from elsewhere again) at CHI — I was really pleased, in fact, by how many friendly faces I ran into.
As well as old friends, there were new: in particular, I had some fantastic conversations with Elizabeth Buie about making HCI research accessible to industry, and some inspiring conversations with Dan Andrews about creativity and storytelling in HCI. Elizabeth was kind enough to introduce me to Ben Shneiderman, which was super cool — not least as I had a question for him about a couple of papers he recently published. Lastly, although we didn’t meet in person, CHInosaur‘s twitter feed certainly livened things up for me…
So: old people, new people. What else?
Generally, I didn’t get as much out of the paper sessions as I’d hoped. There were exceptions of course (Pierce on undesign and Reinecke’s culturally-adaptive interfaces spring to mind), but in general I found engaging with talks a little bit tough. That said, I found the panels and SIGs generally pretty fantastic — particularly Max Wilson‘s SIG on replicating research and the Fail Whale panel on lessons from deviance and failure in social computing.
Forgive me a brief aside on the Fail Whale panel: this was really excellent. There were four key topics — theft, anonymity, deviance and polarization/homophily. Given the time constraints (not to mention the depth and breadth of these topics), there was of course only so far we could go with each one, but the discussion was lively, balanced and insightful. Particularly intriguing to me was the discussion of the circumstances in which vandals and trolls can be good for online communities — thinking here about creativity, humour, quality control. For instance, it apparently isn’t unusual for people who end up involved in the Wikipedia community to start out as vandals.
I have a few small CHI regrets. I went into the conference muttering to myself that I should make sure to take a break around the third day. I got enthused and engaged and — by the middle of day four – exhausted, having forgotten until that point my resolve. Whoops. I also never managed to catch up with Ernest Edmonds and Linda Candy, both awesome people that I hung out with at DESIRE’11. Boo!
Speaking of regret: I saw a few tweets about sexism at CHI. I was never in the sessions that prompted these tweets, and twitter was sufficiently busy (with over 1000 #chi2012 tweets a day!) that I didn’t manage to follow that conversation properly. Did anyone blog this? What’s going down?
CHI and Web Science
It is inevitable, given my twin interests in HCI and Web Science, that I’m primed to spot WebSci themes at CHI (and vice versa). There were plenty: from the Fail Whale panel examining social computing, to Reinecke’s culturally-adaptive interfaces, to work on how people handle relationships online, and how we construe possession of digital artefacts in the cloud. Of course, many CHI talks had nothing to do with WebSci, but there was no shortage of crossover. This shall, of course, inform my WebSci’12 talk on WebSci and HCI.
Generally, CHI’12 was a really positive experience for me, particularly in terms of the community. It’s a biiiiiig conference — I can imagine it would be rather intimidating to a fresh-faced newbie to the field, for all the approachability of the people there. 16 parallel tracks struck me as insane (I’m used to 2 or 3) but are in this context standard. Still: what is the CHI community? 2500 people is a helluva a lot, and there are clearly a bunch of sub-communities. How does communication work across those? Is CHI stable, or set to split into its constituent parts?
I’m plotting two more CHI-related posts: I want to explore Max’s RepliCHI panel, and the ongoing work on making HCI research accessible to industry. Watch, as they say, this space.