Ahhh, social network status updates. How would we know what breathtakingly exciting (or mind-numbingly boring) activities our friends and family are up to from one moment to the next without them? And if you sometimes find it’s a chore just reading these missives, spare a thought for those people writing them. But soon, by combining networking and messaging platforms with emerging ambient intelligence systems that use sensors and smart objects to create awareness of users’ whereabouts and activities, such status updates and other social information could be generated automatically.
The idea is proposed by a team of European researchers working on a project called Awareness services and systems-towards theory and realization (ASTRA), which explores the concept of pervasive awareness where awareness information is automatically generated as a result of personal/home devices exchanging information about the user semi-autonomously.
Users of a social networking platform based on the ASTRA approach, for example, would rarely have to post status updates manually to let their family know what they are doing or where they are. Surrounded by smart objects and sensors in their home or office, the system continually updates their status information, automatically telling friends that they are unavailable to receive a phone call while they are busy cooking or that they do not want to be disturbed during a business meeting.
“Not only is this information generated automatically, depending on the criteria set by each user, but it does not have to be displayed on a computer screen or in any other distracting way,” explains Achilles Kameas, a senior researcher at the Research Academic Computer Technology Institute (raCTI) of Patras, Greece who coordinated the project. “In a smart home or office environment the system could let users know if someone is available for a phone call or not simply by changing the color of the frame of a photo of them.”
The researchers developed their approach based on the so-called focus-nimbus model to determine what information is shared and what is received by different people in a social network. In this context, a person’s nimbus consists of the type, amount and detail of information they want to share with others, while their focus contains the type and amount of information they choose to receive from others, including their reaction to the person’s nimbus.
The ASTRA software architecture allows both criteria to be defined through a rule-based system that governs what information is shared, in what way and with whom. A husband and wife, for example, may each want to know when the other gets home, but a mother may only want to be informed when her daughter returns, not the reverse.
Different applications, defined by each user or community of users, allow for a wide variety of scenarios, from simple event alerts, to supporting more complex, community-wide situations. According to Kameas, creating such apps is a relatively straightforward process, particularly for tech-savvy young people who are accustomed to modifying and adding features to their MySpace or Facebook pages. However, the researchers are currently working on a new interface to make the process even easier.
If you’re anything like me you’ll have had alarm bells going off in the privacy concerns area of your brain, with thoughts "pervasive awareness" sounds a lot like "invasive awareness." But the researchers emphasize that their system is similar to Facebook and other online services in that users can choose how much information they share and with whom. However, to meet user privacy concerns, the researchers are planning to launch a follow-up initiative for adaptive pervasive awareness systems based on the notion of a trustworthy personal “bubble” that ensures privacy.
Consumer electronics manufacturer Philips and mobile operator Telenor have conducted trials of the ASTRA technology, with Phillips testing it in its prototype HomeLab smart home. At the same time, the researchers are developing ASTRA-based applications for existing social networking platforms.
Via ICT Results
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