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Activity-Based Computing John Canny and Danyel Fisher

Summary: Activity-Based Computing
John Canny and Danyel Fisher
Computer Science Division, UC Berkeley
When working in shared physical spaces, individuals develop a rich sense of awareness. They gather and share
information freely; they gain a sense of what others know which allows them to ask the right person for help; they
gain a sense of what others are working on which allows them to provide pertinent help; and they come to understand
other's goals which gives them a richer sense of purpose. This richness seems to be missing in electronic contexts. We
propose a notion of high-level context that is versatile and productive.
Our approach is called "Activity-Based Computing" or ABC. ABC has two key components: (i) the interface and
conceptual model is based on high-level activities rather than actions, and (ii) the use of tacit data to infer a rich set
of relationships among people, documents and tools. ABC draws its principles from several areas: First and primary
is activity theory. Activity theory has been proposed as a unifying theoretical framework for HCI by Nardi in [4].
Activity theory influenced studies of practice and peripheral participation [3, 1] which are important for our work as
well. Activity theory divides human behavior into a hierarchy. At the highest level are activities. An activity is an
ongoing task, like writing a book or musical score etc, working on a legal case, or building a house. Below activities
are actions. Actions include working on the book on a word processor, sitting at a piano to write a score, doing a
LEXUS/NEXUS search on behalf of a client, or framing some rooms in the house. What tends to be stable in an
activity is the group of people involved, the totality of tools relevant to the activity (although the tool in use varies
with the action), and the role of each person in the activity. Importantly, activities are usually social processes while
actions are often individual. Computing systems today are organized around actions: the word processor, spreadsheet,


Source: Abowd, Gregory D. - College of Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology


Collections: Computer Technologies and Information Sciences