CHI 2014

A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.
This past week I attended the 32nd Association for Computing Machinery CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. How's that for a mouthful?

CHI is the world's premier conference for research relating to Human Computer Interaction. Attended primarily by University students conducting HCI research at schools like Georgia Tech, CMU, Michigan, UW and by technology companies with large research branches like Google Research, Yahoo Labs, and Facebook, CHI is the one time a year when those working in the field of HCI can all come together and share what they have learned with one another.

This year's CHI was held in Toronto. While it was something of an expensive endeavor to travel across the country from Seattle, I spent part of the conference working as a Student Volunteer (SV) in order to help offset the cost. Being a SV meant that in exchange for free admission into the conference I had to volunteer 20 hours of my time doing things like setting up exhibits, assisting with workshops, and registering attendees. Working as an SV was actually a blessing in disguise as it meant I got to meet and work alongside a really talented group of students and researchers I might not have otherwise met.

So onto the actual research. Across the four days of the conference there was an incredible diversity of topics which researchers presented on. One of the greatest difficulties I found with CHI is that, because there are so many interesting talks to attend and because they will oftentimes overlap, one needs to attend the conference with a well defined plan of how they will extract the most value from the conferences four days of talks.

In practice, around 4 related papers are grouped together into a 1 hour and 20 minute block. Each paper's author takes a turn presenting a summary of their research and answering 5 minutes of questions from audience members. What I oftentimes found was that I really wanted to listen to a single presentation in any given speaker session. This meant coordinating a schedule that allowed me to sit in on individual 15-20 minute talk, then hurriedly make my way across the conference center to sneak into the back of an overlapping talk I also wanted to hear.

Across the four days of this year's conference, some of my favorite papers were:
  1. Growing Closer on Facebook: Changes in Tie Strength Through Social Network Site Use, authored by Moira Burke at Facebook
  2. Estimating the Social Costs of Friendsourcing authored by Jeffrey M Rzeszotarski at CMU
  3. How Does Knowing What You Are Looking For Change Visual Search Behavior? authored by Duncan Brumby at University College London
  4. Tensions in Scaling-up Community Social Media: a Multi-neighborhood Study of nextdoor authored by Christina Masden at Georgia Tech
There were of course MANY more than that which I really enjoyed, but that was just a small sampling of interesting talks related to online social engagement.

In addition to what I was taking away from the conference in terms of research, it was also an amazing opportunity to engage and interact with some researchers I had respected and admired but had never had the opportunity to meet. I attended receptions held by Google, Facebook, the University of Toronto, and UW/Georgia Tech/Michigan. At each event I was able to meet some incredibly talented and diverse individuals, some of which I sincerely hope I'll be able to stay in touch with.

As next year's CHI conference will be hosted in Seoul, South Korea, I sincerely doubt that I will attend. However, as my first foray into CHI, I had an incredibly time in Toronto and took away a lot from the conference both in knowledge gained and friendships made.

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A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.