Monday, May 12, 2008

Gestural Voting System, A Public Interface

Over the last two weeks, I thought a lot about an appropriate public interface that would allow people to engage in a meaningful dialog in a common space. After toying with animated web pages, RFID tag systems, and a postsecret-like public installation, I realized that I needed to simplify things and design a more simple system for people to suggest questions, and playfully answer them with their bodies.

Consider the following scenario: we are all going to attend a conference on sustainability. We want to include a surveying system would allow for everyone to contribute to a sustainable questions base, answer other peoples questions, and afterwards be able see the overall aggregate of the public responses.

This idea was inspired by a book called "The Wisdom of the Crowds" by James Surowiecki. In the book, New Yorker columnist James Surowiecki explores a deceptively simple idea: "that has profound implications: large groups of people are smarter than an elite few, no matter how brilliant—better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future." (from the random house description)

A second inspiration for this project is Mickey McManus of MAYA design firm a creative design consultancy and brainstorming firm Pittsburgh on the phone last month, and was very grateful for his advice and guidance regarding realistic systems for creative group innovation. He makes note of their theory of Average Innovation, which involves taking an aggregate average of the overall response of an innovation group.

At a conference gathering where people go to meet each other and solve domain specific problems, many important questions are not asked for political or social reasons. But if a system were available that allowed for the collective cataloging of peoples thoughts opinions to be presented anonymously and democratically it would satisfy many of the criteria of a successful brainstorming session.

The System:
There would be 3 stages in the system, Registration (collecting questions for the crowd), Public Interface (simple gesture based voting by people attending the conference), and a Follow-Up System (results, both public and private).

Step 1. Collecting the Questions
During registration each attendee enters one question with a number of options for viewers to choose from in the a public lobby. This gives people the freedom to anonymously ask a question of the public that they care about, contributing to the content of the installation, and eventually getting an answer back.

Selectricity has an open API under development so that "programmers and hackers may want to use Selectricity from within their own site or to embed Selectricity functional into their own system. Selectricity makes that simple with a featureful API and the ability to 'embed' elections."

I love their design and system, and have hacked it a little bit here to show how simple it would be for people to contribute questions:

Step 2: Public Installation
The video below this paragraph shows my working prototype for how the interface for gestural voting would work in the space. Ideally, the projection would be much larger, and accommodate more than one person, but I was able to hack up this version in Processing over the course of a few days. The participants would know that their question is embedded, and hopefully each person would answer a few questions in the space, by raising their right or left hand.

Artists like Camille Utterback, Scott Snibbe, Zack Lieberman, Golan Levin, and David Rokeby all use the body as the primary interface to digital content. Scott Snibbe notes in a 2006 inteview with Roberto Simanowski of Brown that, "Once I began showing in museums, I realized that the primary way anyone engages with art is by approaching it with their whole body. I then aspired to create artwork that is engaged entirely this way – by walking and moving through an “aware” space that responds to you." His notion is that first we engage the body, and then our minds. For me, gestural voting is reminiscent of classroom polls from my childhood where the teacher would ask us to raise our right hand if we understood, and our left if we didn't.

Step 3. Viewing the Results
Again, using an internal version of Selectricity's results matrix - there would be two levels of results feedback. First, each attendee would receive an e-mail with a link to the results during the conference. This would be a private e-mail. Second, anonymous results with all the questions published would be available to everyone - and would act as an overall survey of issues pertinent to the occasion, democratically surveying everyone in a playful way.

The Gestural Voting System satisfies a number of challenges I have been struggling with when trying to design a interactive social installation. It allows for creative generation of content by the people who will use the system, simple physical interaction with the public installation, and and a comprehensive results interface. The balance between public and private is satisfied by each stage - I envision the system adding a layer of depth to a conference or social gathering that would compliment the event and even serve as a platform for further engagement around key issues for the group.

Addendum: Features and Suggestions Notes
Suggestions for Improvement by Judith & Others:

A) More degrees of choice, utilizing the spectrum of choices from Selectricity.
B) Having the Background respond to each question answered - to come alive and reward engagement.
C) Adding an affective surveying element to the voting system that would say things like "Are you enjoying this survey?". This could help normalize the results - if people are self conscious or not.
D) Add Icons to help with hand raising for first time users.
E) Think about the appropriate installation space, if more than one user could use it at the same time than a line would not form behind the piece.
F) Would you want to show an aggregate after people answer the questions as a way of providing feedback in the public installation?

On Mon, May 12, 2008 at 9:17 PM, alyssa wright wrote:
Hi Seth,
The project looks really good, though of course I'm partial to any selectricity development. If you're interested in working further with selectricity you can always talk to Mako (if you haven't already) or myself. We're doing work on ways of visualizing the votes, and your physicality makes perfect sense. One thing of note, that you might have realized already. . . but the algorithms behind selectricity are best for questions where there is preference. Yes/no questions aren't the best use of selectricity, though it can definitely work in that capacity. So a question like "do you recycle?" might have more variagated results if it was a question like: "what do you think is the most important items to recycle?'" and then options like 1) paper 2) plastic 3) food 4) glass 5) nothing (or something like that.)

Hope that's helpful. And hope you are well,

Hi Alyssa,

Thanks so much for the feedback on this - I'd like to add a feature to
the system which would allow degrees of feedback or one of 5 movements
through subtle uses of the hands. I agree with that suggestion.

Also - yes I'd love to be a beta tester for the API if Mako is open to
that - perhaps you could forward my proposal to him? I'm so impressed
with the work you guys did on that...

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