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Awareness Services and systems - towards Theory and Realisation


ASTRA is a short assessment project that shall research awareness systems and services that are used for social purposes. Social awareness systems help people stay in touch through peripheral awareness of each other. Compared to telephony and video conferencing, awareness systems offer low effort and non-intrusive communication throughout the day. The state of the art is limited to non-functional prototypes without corresponding advances in theory development. The assessment project aims to establish whether such systems serve real and not imaginary user needs, through limited implementation and testing. It will test social presence as the appropriate theoretical framework for these systems and gain a first understanding of requirements for middleware and interactive devices to support awareness services.

ASTRA investigates awareness systems and services for social purposes (e.g. to help geographically separated but closely related people to stay in touch). The aim of the project is to:- provide a proof of concept for an awareness service, connecting a homebound to a mobile user.- verify the appropriateness of mediated social presence as a phenomenon for characterising long term and low-pace asynchronous communication activities, and- to verify that user social needs can be served by this class of systems to complement existing means of communication. The latter aim is set as the success criterion for the project. Up to now, the usefulness and value of such systems to people has only been hypothesised. The project success amounts to providing concrete evidence of people seeing value in awareness services and wanting to adopt them.

The project shall carry out the following tasks:
1. Review of relevant research results from the i3 (e.g. PRESENCE) and Disappearing Computer (e.g. SHAPE, INTERLIVING) initiatives of the IST programme. The aim of this review is to avoid duplication of effort and position the contribution of ASTRA within this array of research projects;
2. Initial user needs analysis and technology review will be conducted resulting in a scenario and concept development activity that will take place in a 2-day workshop involving project partners (only);
3. Development (at the level of a working prototype) of one homebound interactive applications and one mobile that will make use of supporting middleware for implementing the selected scenario;
4. Development instruments for repeated measurements of social presence and the effect on the sense of 'staying in touch' brought about through the prolonged use of the system;
5. Medium term user trial (approximately a week long per user). This will combine laboratory analysis of the homebound device and field trial of the mobile device. It will compare the use of the awareness service by a household compared to simply using telephony (static or mobile);
6. Documentation of results.

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