Current work

Taming Lifelogs

As people continue to adopt technology-based self-tracking devices and applications, questions arise about how personal informatics tools can better support self-tracker goals. Thus far, improvements to our capabilities for sensing and collecting data have vastly outpaced self-trackers' abilities to make sense of this data.

In this project, we examine self-trackers' goals and how technology can better support them. Thus far, we have designed cuts — a subset of collected data with some shared feature — and corresponding visualizations. Combinations of cuts and visualizations offer more actionable feedback than many curent lifelog visualizations, but more work is needed to determine which cuts make sense for which goals, users, and contexts, and how and when to best present them. This project is supported by the National Science Foundation under award NSF IIS #1553167 and the University of Washington under an Innovation Research award.

Many people also turn to experts — such as their family physician — to help them understand, interpret, and act on their personal informatics data. Unfortunately, few consumer applications are designed for this use, and so people commonly report frustrating experiences with shared intepretation. In a project funded by the Agency for Health Research Quality (1R21HS023654), colleagues and I are studying current practices, and ways to improve them, for sharing lifelog data for two chronic conditions: overweight/obesity and irritable bowel syndrome.

Social Software for Wellness

We are building and deploying a series of social software applications designed to support various aspects of wellness. This will help us learn more about best practices for adding social dimensions to these applications. This project is funded by Intel, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the University of Michigan Rackham Graduate School.

Our first application is Three Good Things. Participants in the Three Good Things positive psychology exercise (see Seligman et al 2005) list three positive events each day - big or small - and reflect on the reasons they occurred. This exercise has been shown to increase happiness and decrease symptoms of depression. We've created a Facebook app to support this exercise.


Past projects

BALANCE: Enhancing Diversity in News and Opinion Aggregators

Aggregators such as Digg, Reddit, and Google News rely on ratings and links to select and present subsets of the large quantity of news and opinion items generated each day. The goals of this research are to: 1) form alternative measures of diversity for result sets; 2) develop algorithms for selecting result sets that jointly optimize for diversity and popularity; 3) assess the impacts of alternative selection and presentation methods on people's willingness to use an aggregation service, their exposure to diverse opinions, and the size of their argument repertoires. The results of the project will provide a better understanding of alternative notions of what it means for a set of items to be diverse, and the range of reactions that different people have to varying levels and presentations of diversity. This project was funded by NSF grant #IIS-0916099.


Byproducts of this work:

Online Political Discussions in Non-Political Spaces

Political theorists have articulated normative ideals for political deliberation. Theorists argue that democracy flourishes in societies where political discussion is frequent and frequently approaches these deliberative ideals: such societies will make better collective choice on important matters at all levels of government, and those choices will have greater public legitimacy.

I hypothesize that, although political discussion is less frequent in spaces where people have connected for non-political reasons, when it does occur the political discussion may be closer to deliberative ideals. People who have come together for a non-political reason may have diverse political views, and because they have existing relationships to protect, they may more open to other viewpoints and more willing to do the hard work of formulating their own opinions in ways that they think will appeal to others who do not fully share their own political outlook.

The Prevalence of Political Discourse in Non-Political Blogs.” SA Munson, P Resnick. ICWSM 2011.

SI Display

Working with Paul Resnick and Emily Rosengren, I built a public display system for the School of Information. Community members can address posts to the display using their Twitter accounts. The display is currently running at the School of Information, and SI Master's student Morgan Keys is working on releasing an open source version of the software.

Thanks and Tweets: Comparing Two Public Displays.” SA Munson, E Rosengren, P Resnick. CSCW 2011: 331-340.

Wikis as a next generation FAQ

This work examines the interrelationship of collaborative authoring software (Wikis) and discussion software (forums, mailing lists, etc) in support communities. Wikis allow for knowledge generated by community members to be aggregated and accessed more efficiently than newsgroup or mailing list archives. Initial work included collection of best practices from one community that uses both wiki and email list channels. Furnishing medical support communities with Wikis allows us observe how these communities adopt, populate, and maintain these tools. View the project site.

In a third setting, I examined use of a workgroup wiki in the enterprise. Workgroups can struggle with remembering past projects and sharing this information with other groups in the organization. In a case study of the deployment of MediaWiki as a publishing tool for building organizational memory, group members' motivation to document past projects increased. A browsable collection of past projects allowed for discovery of past work, building the reputation of individuals and the workgroup, and development of transactive memory within the workgroup. The “anyone can edit” feature, frequently touted as the main benefit of wikis, had both benefits and drawbacks in this implementation.

altVerto: Using interventions and community experiences to promote alternative transportation

We apply best practices in persuasive technology to increase use of alternative transportation. Our specific product idea resulted from analysis of contextual interviews and participant observation. For this product, we have completed paper and high fidelity prototypes as well as a field trial of our system. We are currently evaluating the feasibility of a broader field trial. This work won first place CHI 2007 student design competition. Project site.

altVerto: Using interventions and community experiences to promote alternative transportation. Gukeisen, M; Kleymeer, P; Hutchful, D; Munson, SA. (2007). Extended Abstracts of CHI 2007, San Jose, CA.

Internet Meetups and Community

Members of many websites that have forums or comment sections organize get-togethers, most commonly called meetups, with other members. These gatherings run against the trend, observed by Robert Putnam and others, of declining participation in community organizations such as bowling leagues, PTAs, VFW, and Kiwanis. Participation in this type of organization may indeed be slipping, but at least some people are participating in something else. The website meetups are as rich for their participants as the activities described by Putnam; they produce social capital among their members, and are ultimately an example of the ways in which the Internet enhances or even becomes community. The ties formed between website members and meetup participants can fit within a definition of community proposed by Wellman: "networks of interpersonal ties that provide sociability, support, information, a sense of belonging, and social identity." Separation of the idea of community from physically bounded neighborhoods and towns is also consistent with Wellman's idea of a "liberated community" and emerging models of network sociality and elective sociality, in which people are held together in social networks by their personal choices rather than pre-given relationships such as location or interest.

Internet Meetups and Community. Munson, SA. (2006). 2006 Greater Boston Anthropology Consortium Student Conference, Wellesley, Massachusetts.

Maytag: A multi-staged approach to identifying complex events in textual data

We present a novel application of NLP and text mining to the analysis of financial documents. In particular, we describe an implemented prototype, Maytag, which combines information extraction and subject classification tools in an interactive exploratory framework. We present experimental results on their performance, as tailored to the financial domain, and some forward-looking extensions to the approach that enables users to specify classifications on the fly.

Maytag: A multi-staged approach to identifying complex events in textual data. Chang, C; Ferro, L; Gibson, J; Hitzeman, J; Lubar, S; Palmer, J; Munson, SA; Vilain, M; and Wellner, B. (2006). Conference of the European Chapter for Computational Linguistics, Trento, Italy.

Undergrad & masters projects