VIS 2016 – Pre-conference

This is the first time I’m attending VIS, the visualisation conference. We discussed with Romain of blogging on our  experience, here is a personal account, we might post a more structured summary in the near future.

I’ll start with the pre-conference activities. Then will publish a post per day.

The conference really starts on a Tuesday, with Sunday and Monday dedicated to workshops and tutorials. With Romain, Charles Perin, Jeremy Boy and Jean-Daniel Fekete, we are organizing the LIVVIL workshop on Sunday.

Day -2: Friday

We left Lyon on Friday morning. We finalized the workshop plan on the plane from Lyon to Amsterdam, handled last minute things, drafted the workshop introduction presentation.

Compared to other workshops I’ve organized in which only people who submitted papers participated, VIS workshops are open to anyone. As organizers we have no idea how many people will attend. This makes it super challenging to structure the workshop, especially the interactive parts. Discussing only between authors and organizers, is one thing, but involving people who might just drop by for a bit is particularly difficult. So we planned various activities depending on the number of attendees.

The flight was during the day so we also got work/personal stuff done, and worked on a template for blogging during the week.

At arrival I met with Pierre and Yannick who were flying from Paris, we took a cab together to Baltimore and had diner together.

Day -1: Saturday

We booked an awesome airbnb at the edge of Baltimore’s safe area (still less than 15 minutes of walking distance from the conference venue). So my first interaction with a Baltimorean was with a crazy person knocking on the door at 4 in the morning 🎉. To keep up with the spirit I checked some of the Wire places in the morning.

In the afternoon we wrapped-up the workshop organization with Romain, finished the slides. Defined discussion points, and outlined next steps. I was in charge of managing the first panel so I also re-read the papers, and outlined a set of questions, and sketched an introduction to the papers. We also registered, checked the workshop room, and looked for a place to host the post-workshop lunch so that we could have more informal discussions.

Some videos

Noisy neighbors led me to catch up on videos I had bookmarked in the past few months :


Thoughts on Facebook Slingshot

Facebook’s answer to Snapshat, Slingshot, was released yesterday. The take on instant photo and video sharing is interesting with a strong direction towards increasing engagement in communication. For those who missed the principle Slingshot let’s you send photos (or videos) to contacts, to see the photo your contact should send one back. As with Snapchat the photos are deleted once they been seen.

As it happens, I’ve been supervising  Chloé Manceau‘s research thesis on multi-device communication and engagement. Chloé comes from the Information Architecture Masters in Lyon. She started by interviewing 8 people from teenagers to highly connected professionals. The main take away from these interviews was that engagement in communication was not binary (engaged or not). And thus that engagement does not mean instantaneous reply, but rather sustained exchanges. Based on these insights she designed a dual system to develop sustainable forms of engagement : A multi-device dashboard inviting to get back in touch with people whose conversations are “hanging”. And Missive, a messaging service with once a day delivery.

Chloé is defending today, thesis and videos are upcoming.

Observing and understanding usage at a distance

While preparing a post on Big Data for HCI, I started exploring tools for gathering usage data on the Web. There are a lot more tools than I imagined so I won’t list them all. Here is an quick attempt at categorizing them.

Descriptive tools

Descriptive tools give insights on users’ behaviors but do not enable to engage with them. They mostly focus on general stats and support some kind of user segmentation, but it’s mostly about broad quantitative insights.

Site analytics : Tools like Google Analytics and many others. Analytics are rather marketing oriented, but I talked to some startup developers who hooked Google Analytics to their mobile app to know which features were used and which were not.

Page centric analytics : More specialized tools like click trackers generate heatmaps and reports based on mouse events.

Controlled experiments

More widely known as A/B testing, web based controlled experiments have been used for the past 10 years but are increasingly popular. A/B testing enables to run controlled experiments to improve websites or mobile apps often focusing on a specific design point measure with a specific metric (conversion rate, money users spend, etc). An article explaining how to set up experiments (pdf), back in 2005 Jakob Nielsen wrote an article on the limits of the exercise. Google uses this (too?) widely which led some of its top designers to quit in response.

A/B testing tools include Google Web Optimizer, unbounce which specializes in landing pages, and many more. There is also a number of emerging tools for mobile apps such as Facebook‘s one.

Remote usability testing

Remote tests : Unlike A/B testing, remote usability tools enable to study at a distance how a (small) number of users are executing a specific task, often measured in terms of time and errors, sometimes with post-hoc defriefing. 

Remote walkthrough : tools like Ethnio support remote recruiting. You can then organize usability sessions by walking users through a task or interviewing them with a variety of tools.

Lightweight tests : a variety of tools support quick data gathering. For instance by asking for rapid feedback or asking what visitors remember after being exposed to a screenshot or mockup for 5 seconds,

Expert feedback :  designers ask for the feedback of colleagues/experts. Most often the feedback seems to be on screenshots so still pretty limited.


Nothing original here, just surveys served over the web…

Research on the topic

If you know of papers discussing the methodology of running studies (not only controlled experiments) over the distance, leave a comment or send me a ref via twitter @aurelient. Another post will cover research projects once I have enough material.

On massive surveillance, talks from CCC and more

In this first video from mid-december, Bruce Schneier and Eben Moglen discuss a post-Snowden Internet:

In Protect and Infect – part 2, Jacob Appelbaum presented at CCC the work published in Der Spiegel

Last talk is more related to HCI, Michael Brennan asks how to HCI methods can be used to design tools that normal people can actually use. Beyond the Tech: Building Internet Freedom Tools for Real People :

Meta-data of 30 years of CHI articles

CHI’14 results are out, for those who feel melancholic and would like to look at the evolution of CHI over time, here is the data from 1982 to 2013*. It’s not super clean but hopefully you can start to play with it. If you find errors send me an email.

There is a csv file per year, with a row per paper. Each paper has the following properties: “conference”, “year”, “doi”, “title”, “citationCount”, “download6weeks”, “download12months”, “downloadAll”, “keywords”, “pageNumber”, “authors (name, affilitiation)”

An example: “CHI”, “83”, “”, “Design principles for human-computer interfaces”, “23 “, “28”, “149”, “2,842”, “command and control languages; languages; software psychology”, “10”, “81100063003, Donald A. Norman, Department of Psychology and Institute for Cognitive Science C-015, University of California, San Diego; “

Citation and downloads counts come from the ACM DL (fetched over the past 3 days).

If you find the data useful, I’d would be nice to let me know what you used it for, and if you’re interested in the data from another conference, drop me a line.


* I’m an ACM member believing that I’m doing a public service by gathering and publishing articles’ meta-data. If you believe otherwise, send me an email.**

** “But anyone who says that there is money to be made in a stash of ACADEMIC ARTICLES is either an idiot or a liar” Laurence Lessig