Mobile Computing

Researchers Expand User Base by Placing Project in Apple App Store

A team at Pennsylvania State University has published a smartphone app in the Apple App Store in order to expand the size of the user base as part of its research project. The creators of the app, "WithShare," are exploring how people can negotiate transactions with their time instead of their money.

The app brings people together for the purpose of "coproducing services," or, as a co-principal investigator calls it, "timebanking without the time."

In traditional timebanking, participants earn credits by providing services and then use the credits for their own needs — such as dog walking, home construction or a music lesson. The problem, said John Carroll, a professor in the College of Information Sciences and Technology, is that people are more likely to bank their credits than to use them.

The app created by Carroll's research team, he said in a university article about the project, "emphasizes symmetric activities, in which requesting can be experienced as proposing a joint project. You're saying, 'I'm going out to lunch, does anybody want to join me?'"

The service also distinguishes itself from paid services, such as ride- or room-sharing. In WithShare users act as either an "initiator" or "joiner" of a particular activity with no payment involved. Success requires "reciprocal collaboration" of people joining in the activity.

A spring trial among 38 students taking classes in IST is now being expanded to encompass a broader group of students with the hope of diversifying the types of activities run through the service. New users will be notified about the research aspects of the app and be asked to fill out brief surveys at various points in usage.

To put the app into play, the user downloads it, creates a profile and starts posting activities for others to join. These will typically be small scale and spontaneous — eating out, getting together for a study session or physical or social activities. The phone's location feature is used to recommend activities and to suggest new types based on a user's previous choices.

If something pops up as a likely activity, the user can make a quick judgment call based on a profile of the initiator and send real-time messages within WithShare for more information. After 24 hours, the activity disappears from the app.

"We believe these simple interactions through which people form new weak social ties or strengthen their existing relationships will forge a more connected community bit-by-bit," said doctoral student Jiawei Chen. "[It will] empower every community member to play an active part in community building."

The design "rationale" is to connect community members with each other "by providing a convenient way for people to share their experience of daily activities with other community members that they do not know," said Chen.

Initial findings have already been published by the IEEE in a special publication on user interface design. Next, the team said it hopes to present findings of the latest experimentation at next year's Association for Computing Machinery Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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