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New social networking tool to improve well-being awareness

Researchers at the University of Southampton have developed a new social networking tool that users have described as not only improving reflection and awareness of their own well-being, but also raising their interest in others.

dr mc schraefel (lower case intentional) and PhD student Paul André, at the University’s School of Electronics and Computer Science, set out to look at whether Healthii, a social networking tool which would allow participants to communicate well-being quickly and easily via Facebook or Twitter, would improve personal and group well-being and interactions.

'We’re really interested in what might be called "affective micro climates"' says dr schraefel. 'In other words – if we can see how we’re doing and how our peers are doing, does that give us better opportunities to see how we might enhance our quality of life at work?'

dr schraefel and Paul André closely studied 10 participants using Healthii over five weeks and their key findings were:

• Half of participants said they felt that their self-awareness increased, in terms of self-reflection at the time of the update, and reflection over past states

• Eight of ten participants reported that their awareness of other group members increased (in fact as a result of the communications, one member noticed that her husband was ill, at a time she might not otherwise have noticed!)

• Half the participants said they would really miss this level of communication when the trial ended.

'When we embarked on Healthii, we anticipated that people would use it to be aware of their peers,' said dr schraefel. 'What surprised us more was that they appeared to be getting a lot of value by doing a little self-reflection.'

Healthii enabled users to encode their well-being status into social networking sites and microblogs. The status was represented by four dimensions (busy-ness, enjoyment, stress, and health), and by choosing one of three levels (not, quite, or very) in each dimension. A Facebook application let users select their state (as well as view the group or past updates), represented by a graphical avatar or numeric code, and users could also update simply by adding the numeric code to a Twitter or Facebook update. For example, adding #healthii (3321) would mean the person is feeling very busy, enjoying their task, averagely stressed, but feeling a bit under the weather.

'The trial of Healthii showed that participants used and valued status expression both for self-reflection and group awareness. One participant commented he valued being made to think about how he was feeling, whereas Twitter currently makes him think about what value others would get from his tweet, or whether they might find it amusing,' said Paul André.

'In our field of Human-Computer Interaction, we’re used to designing to support efficiency or productivity in tasks,' said dr schraefel. 'That’s important, but we’re now beginning to consider how to design systems to support well-being while engaged in everyday tasks to enhance quality of life. We think these kinds of awareness applications may be a part of that.'

'Eventually, we hope to inspire designers and researchers not only to explore these attributes in social networking applications, but also to consider the potential for well-being measures across Human-Computer Interaction the same way we consider efficiency today,' Paul André added.

For further information contact Joyce Lewis; tel.+44(0)23 8059 5453.

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Posted by Joyce Lewis on 18 Nov 2009.