WYS, WIS, What We See Together

I recently found out that the acronym soup of the Computer Human Interaction ([w:CHI]) cauldron has been stewing the WYSIWIS (‘what you see is what I see’) concept for sometime now. I’ve been doing anonymous reviews of papers for CHI2006 and stumbled across the acronym and it got me to thinking about WYSIWIS for presence awareness in mobile and pervasive contexts.

A quick bargain basement search of the ACM Library Digital Portal reveals that it floated to the surface of the publication stack, at least in the ACM world, around 1986 or 1987 within the CSCW crowd. The first paper to mention it in its title that I found was in 1987, with the reformatory sounding WYSIWIS revised: early experiences with multiuser interfaces by a gang of Xerox PARC researchers (pre-Fuji) including Stefix, Bobrow, Foster, Lanning and Tatar. The abstract reads thus:

WYSIWIS (What You See Is What I See) is a foundational abstraction for multiuser interfaces that expresses many of the characteristics of a chalkboard in face-to-face meetings. In its strictest interpretation, it means that everyone can also see the same written information and also see where anyone else is pointing. In our attempts to build software support for collaboration in meetings, we have discovered that WYSIWIS is crucial, yet too inflexible when strictly enforced. This paper is about the design issues and choices that arose in our first generation of meeting tools based on WYSIWIS. Several examples of multiuser interfaces that start from this abstraction are presented. These tools illustrate that there are inherent conflicts between the needs of a group and the needs of individuals, since user interfaces compete for the same display space and meeting time. To help minimize the effect of these conflicts, constraints were relaxed along four key dimensions of WYSIWIS: display space, time of display, subgroup population, and congruence of view. Meeting tools must be designed to support the changing needs of information sharing during process transitions, as subgroups are formed and dissolved, as individuals shift their focus of activity, and as the group shifts from multiple parallel activities to a single focused activity and back again.

Why do I blog this? One aspect of presence awareness that I find compelling is the ability to indicate state, or mood or location in non-verbal ways. This isn’t news for anyone likely reading this, but the paper I was reviewing indicates a number of approaches to turning WYSIWIS into a kind of sociable presence awareness framework that has some exciting implications for maintaining social cohesion and creating some cool ways to manage social groups and the movement of those groups (across topics, activities, rendezvousing, etc.)