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From Scatterbrained to Focused: UI Support for Today’s Crazed Info Worker Mary Czerwinski, Principal Researcher Manager, VIBE, Microsoft Research Overview Background Studies Diary study Large display findings Information worker productivity

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from scatterbrained to focused ui support for today s crazed info worker

From Scatterbrained to Focused: UI Support for Today’s Crazed Info Worker

Mary Czerwinski, Principal Researcher

Manager, VIBE, Microsoft Research

  • Background Studies
    • Diary study
    • Large display findings
  • Information worker productivity
  • Programmer productivity and business intelligence
  • Future directions
diary study motivation
Diary Study: Motivation
  • Hypothesis: Current software does not support multitasking well
    • How bad/universal is the problem?
  • Seek SW design ideas…
    • Research shows users developing workaround strategies
    • Interruptions research shows harmful effects of incoming notifications on current task
    • Memory for To Do’s poor, undersupported
    • Need to better understand task switching and multitasking
  • 10 multitasking users recruited
  • An excel spreadsheet was used as a diary “template” to be filled out each day
  • Diaries emailed back to me each evening
  • Participants instructed to write down every “task switch”
    • how hard to switch, # of docs required, # of interrupts experienced, task time, anything forgotten, notes, etc.
task frequencies breakdown
Task Frequencies Breakdown

Indicative of Difficulty Tracking Tasks

“Returned to” Tasks from this group

discussion of findings
Discussion of Findings
  • During a given week, KWs task shift an awful lot (avg. 10 task shifts a day)
  • Long-term projects are more complex shifts
    • Lengthier (11.25% of the week), more documents, interrupts, “returns”
    • Rated significantly harder to return to
  • Negative influence of interrupts on multitask performance and memory well known
  • Passage of time also takes its toll
  • What designs will help?
general design ideas from participants
General Design Ideas from Participants
  • Smarter, adjustable To Do list tracking & alarming
    • In the projects versus just in Calendar
    • Consider sticky notes for partial / future tasks
  • Auto-categorization of email and files
  • Better reminders for things forgotten
    • Track events we know about and visualize them, or rely on user manual tagging
  • Better user adaptivity
    • e.g., knowing what kinds of paste operations a user typically performs and automating them
focus on returned to tasks
Focus on Returned to Tasks
  • Elapsed time spanned hours to days
  • Maintaining desktop state isn’t always the answer
    • Often, users said they were waiting on info from other people or places (web, server)—prospective reminders needed here
    • Info came in via phone, email, web, or personal contacts (better app integration needed here)
    • But reminding about task context and info assembly / layout was a key problem identified
about the same time large display findings
About the same time…Large Display Findings
  • Started exploring how user behavior changes as displays increase in size and resolution
  • Found that users were significantly more productive when performing knowledge work (multitasking, task switching) with large displays
  • Less window management=less cognitive load
  • But still needed help with task management
tools for task management

Color Plate 1. Scalable Fabric showing the representation of three tasks as clusters of windows, and a single window being dragged from the focus area into the periphery.

Tools for Task Management
  • GroupBar joins related items in the taskbar, remembers spatial layouts of tasks (Smith et al., 2003)
    • Desktop “snapshots”
    • Can “rehydrate” tasks with the press of a button
  • Scalable Fabric and VibeLog (AVI 2004)
    • Over 5000 downloads of SF
    • Logging of task activity
new iworker productivity solutions
New iWorker Productivity Solutions
  • Task Tracking
  • Event logging: StatusWriter
  • Dev team navigation tracking
  • FacetMap and FaThumb
  • Sensing and adapting
swish semantic analysis of window titles and switching history

Swish: Semantic Analysis of Window Titles and Switching History

Nuria Oliver, Greg Smith, Chintan Thakkar, Arun Surendran

automatic window clustering
Automatic Window Clustering
  • Goal:
    • Assist users in managing their tasks
  • Assumption:
    • Windows belonging to the same task share some common features that can be identified from data
  • In SWISH we explore:
    • Title-based clustering (“Re: Dad, get me Potter-6” & “Amazon: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” )
    • Behavior-based (switching history) clustering (Looking into the MSDN Library while coding in Visual Studio)

Top 3


A few exemplary titles




Cluster 1




Cluster 2




Cluster 3

  • GroupBar
    • Automatic or semi-automatic clustering
    • Automatic keyword extraction  labels for the groups
  • Implicit Query:
    • Display relevant information to the current window
  • Automatic Window Clean-up Application
    • Users open dozens of Explorer windows, and are too lazy to kill them
    • Collapse unused, unrelated windows to a single cluster
    • Provide an option after a timeout, to kill all together
  • Automatic status report writer
  • View time spent by app/doc
  • View by day, week, month, etc.
status writer continued
Status Writer Continued
  • Can also view by day
  • Exports text info to Excel for further analysis
  • Future version to include
    • Calendar
    • Tagging
    • SWISH++
clipping lists and change borders peripheral information display

Clipping Lists and Change BordersPeripheral Information Display

Tara Matthews, Mary Czerwinski, George Robertson, and Desney Tan

why would abstraction in peripheral information help
Why Would Abstraction in Peripheral Information Help?
  • Imagine…
    • You are balancing 5 tasks
    • You have 18 windows open on your desktop
    • You are waiting on the next draft of a paper, code to be checked in to CVS, and an email
  • You want to know

…when should you switch back to a task?

…when you switch tasks, what were you working on?

…when new info arrives, can you safely ignore it?

study of proposed solutions clipping lists and change borders
Study of Proposed Solutions:Clipping Lists and Change Borders
  • Compare interfaces w/ varying types of abstraction
    • All interfaces based on Scalable Fabric (SF)
  • Abstraction types:
    • Change detection
    • Semantic content extraction
  • 4 interfaces:
baseline scalable fabric
Baseline: Scalable Fabric
  • Tasks as piles
  • Windows shrunken
change borders
Change Borders
  • Adds red borders around windows changing content
  • Border turns green when change is complete
clipping lists
Clipping Lists
  • Extracts window content
  • Two ways to select content
    • Default: title bar
    • User WinCut
    • Future: AI
  • Goal of selection:
    • Help w/ recognition, resumption timing, and flow
clipping lists change borders
Clipping Lists + Change Borders
  • Extracts window content
  • Adds green highlight to task boundary & windows that have changed
study results
Study Results
  • Semantic content extraction (Clipping Lists)
    • Is more effective than both change detection and scaling
    • Significantly benefits:
      • Task flow
      • Resumption timing
      • Reacquisition
programmer productivity team tracks
Programmer Productivity: Team Tracks
  • We have observed devs struggling with unfamiliar code
    • Inefficient navigation to find task-relevant code
    • Misleading results of text searches
    • Disorientation from too much navigation, too many open files, interruptions
    • [DeLine, Khella, Czerwinski, Robertson SoftVis ’05], [Ko, Aung, Myers ICSE ’05]
  • Team Tracks guides code exploration
    • Records the team’s code navigation during development
    • Mines that data to prune the working set and guide navigation
evaluating team tracks
Evaluating Team Tracks
  • Study 1: Does nav frequency indicate importance?
    • Setup: Four programming tasks, then ratings questionnaire and quiz
    • Dependent measures: code paths, task completion, ratings, quiz scores
    • Hypothesis: Navigation frequency correlates to importance rating [reported at SoftVis ’05]
  • Study 2: Does Team Tracks improve productivity?
    • Use Team Tracks with Group 1’s navigation data
    • Same set up and dependent measures
    • Hypothesis: Team Tracks improves task completions and quiz scores
navigation frequency does correlate with importance ratings
Navigation frequency does correlate with importance ratings
  • Pearson product moment correlation, r=0.79, p<0.01
team tracks does improve task completion rates and quiz scores
Team Tracks does improve task completion rates and quiz scores
  • Improved task completion rates
    • All completed tasks 1 and 2
    • Task 3 (localized code): 1 / 7 without, 3 / 9 with Team Tracks
    • Task 4 (dispersed code): 1 / 7 without, 7 / 9 with Team Tracks
  • Group 2 quiz scores significantly higher t(16)=-2.04, p<.03
    • IE 8.0 team deployment ethnography next
    • Added annotations and other features


A Facet-based Interface for Mobile Search

Amy K. Karlson (U of Maryland), George Robertson, Daniel C. Robbins, Mary Czerwinski, Greg Smith

VIBE Group

Microsoft Research

fathumb overview video

Current Query

Search Terms


Facet Navigation


Standard keypad

FaThumb: Overview + Video
  • Keypad is least-common-denominator
    • Cell-phone
    • Remote control
    • ATM
    • Number key-pad
  • Typing text is hard
  • Let users browse data attributes taxonomy (facets)
  • HealthGear
  • Brain-computer interaction
future directions
Future Directions
  • Information worker productivity
    • Intelligent summaries and visualizations of tasks
  • IR & Info Vis
    • FacetMap
    • FaThumb on SmartPhone
    • Info vis toolkit prototype in January
    • Rich desktop search client
  • Interaction techniques
    • Adaptive UI: study predictability
    • Other, step-based UIs
  • Sensing
    • HealthGear: whole new line of research and networking to be done
    • BCI: actually use it while running real applications