Computer Mediated Communication

During my PhD I also worked on two projects related to my broader interest in Computer Mediated Communication. Both of these projects were undertaken in conjunction with Dr Ryan Kelly.

In recent years, much personal communication has moved from the real world into digital form. But while the Internet is often associated with the decline in physical communication, it also provides opportunities to exchange paper-based ephemera in new, exciting ways.

In the first project we wanted to explore this phenomenon through Postcrossing, an online system that facilitates the sending of non-digital postcards among random strangers. Users, known as ‘Postcrossers’, are provided with addresses and send a postcard to each address. Once a card has been received and registered with Postcrossing, the sender then becomes eligible to receive cards from other random postcrossers around the world. Thus, rather than directly exchanging cards, users enjoy one-way ‘crossings’ and only ever interact once.

We wanted to understand what motivated participation in Postcrossing while also exploring what users valued about postcards. Our initial aim was to derive implications and ideas for the design of future communication tools. In the future we hope to examine other issues including sustainability, negative experiences, time, reciprocity, and cultural differences in postcard exchange.

We demonstrated Postcrossing on the 13th June at the ACM DIS 2012 conference in Newcastle. Postcrossing is created and maintained by Paulo Magalhães and we are grateful for his support and enthusiasm for our research. We are proud to be ambassadors for the project. Our research was undertaken with his blessing.

In the second project we wanted to explore the meaning of Christmas cards. Christmas is the time of year when people reaffirm social connections through the medium of Christmas cards. Although much communication in the modern age is conducted via electronic means, many people continue to send and receive paper-based cards during the festive season. With a view to understanding practices surrounding the use of digital and paper-based media, we wanted to explore the use of paper-based and electronic Christmas cards among a sample of university students. This was subsequently followed up with a series of interviews with a broader population group. In doing so, we identified a number of practices regarding Christmas cards, examining what people do, why they do it, and what they value about both paper and electronic cards. Our analysis leads to a number of design challenges for the development of electronic alternatives to paper-based cards. The research has been published at CHI.