Long-time reviewer clampe writes with this piece on Human-Computer Interaction in the New Millenium. This is not a book you're likely to find at the corner bookshop, but if you're serious about keeping track of goings-on in the field of HCI, Cliff argues this one is worth seeking out.
Most of the people in the book I'm reviewing could crush me beneath their heels, given I'm a lowly doctoral student in the HCI field. However, it's not a simple question of whether the collection is good or bad, but whether it will be good for the reader in their context. Besides, I can give you good inside information on lots of the authors. Like George Furnas, as cool a cat as you'll meet, gets nervous when he does magic tricks and Paul Resnick picks a mean fiddle. Yep, I got tons of dirt.
Anyone who has taken an HCI class has probably come across a gigantic blue paperback book called Human-Computer Interaction: Toward the Year 2000, which has acted as a de facto text in HCI classes in the past. In 1998, leaders in the HCI field realized that this book would soon be obsolete, and started organizing the players who would contribute to this worthy successor. This book is a collection of 29 articles from the lead researchers in the HCI academic research community, and it attempts to outline the research programs that will dominate the HCI field, if not for the next millennium as advertised, then at least for the next 10 years. The book is divided into seven sections:
- Models, Theories, and Frameworks
- Usability Engineering Methods and Concepts
- User Interface Software and Tools
- Groupware and Cooperative Activity
- Media and Information
- Integrating Computation and Real Environments
- HCI and Society
Each section has 3-5 articles on the section's topic. Examples of the research included:
- Terry Winograd proposes a conceptual framework for the design of interactive spaces, or more basically computing environments built into the architecture of a space and seamlessly integrated with personal context.
- Hollan, Hutchins and Kirsh follow up some of Hutchins work on distributed cognition as an HCI research area, including a call for more ethnographic studies in the area and a better understanding of how people and tools interact.
- Olson and Olson outline the problems of distant work collaboration, and outline situations in which distant work makes more sense than not.
- Terveen and Hill give a great review of work in collaborative filtering, and then outline several approaches to making recommender systems better able to return positive hits.
- Doug Schuler in one article and Paul Resnick in another argue how HCI issues go beyond desktop computing or small groups and can be applied to larger groups, including communities both online and off.
Other topics include situated computing, participatory design, new user interfaces like tangible user interfaces or gesture recognition, cognitive modelling and so on. Some common themes that emerge are the expectation that user interface needs to go beyond the desktop environment, the application of HCI principle to things other than the individual or small group, the importance of groupware and the development of a unifying theory for the field.
Really, one could write a pretty long review on any of the 29 chapters, since each one does have serious weight, as well as an innovative edge as these investigators attempt to outline directions for the next several years. Some of the articles included here have already struck a chord in this research community and have become widely cited in their draft forms, or from appearances in special journals. Each section of the book typically appeared as as journal article in Human-Computer Interactions, or were specifically solicited by John Carroll.
The Good and the Bad
These are some heavy hitters. The authors list reads like my general prelims, and it takes someone like Carroll to pull together a group like this. Each of the 29 articles stands strong on its own, though one may quibble with claims here and there, yet still manage to paint a remarkably cohesive picture of the area as a whole. This book contains serious research in a single bound volume that should grace the desk of any person interested in HCI issues. It is simply unarguable that this is going to be the HCI book for the foreseeable future.
The book bears some of the problems of the field, which is that it comes from a specific set of disciplines like cognitive psychology and computer science, so may preclude applicable theories from other disciplines. That is the nature of academic boundary making, and is not the specific fault of the book. Just so you are aware of it.
And speaking of academics, some readers may be turned off by the academic edge of this book. HCI in general has always had a foot in both the university and the corporate sector, as evinced by the list of speakers at this year's ACM-SIGCHI conference, but this book tends towards the academic side. Although specific applications get mentioned here, large parts of the book may be a turn off to people like my brother-in-law who is a sysadmin and definitely not interested in new macrotheory for HCI research. Or shaving.
This book takes commitment. It is not for lily-livered pedants who want something to fill the space until the next Harry Potter book comes out. That's neither good nor bad, just fair warning. Don't expect this to be as eminently accessible as a Don Norman book. Still, like in most things the work is very worthwhile.
So What's In It For Me?
It seems that in every field there is That One Book that people will point you to as the ultimate source to quickly get a sense of what it is all about. This book plays that role for the HCI field. If you are at all interested in the state of HCI research, mostly in the U.S. of course, then this is the book you should get. Even if you are already some tricked out, super-HCI guru, there is likely to be some research in here from outside your specific area that you will get value from.
This is not a book for someone who has to do a usability test for the boss next week and needs to know how to conduct one. Nor will this book tell you how to make your website look really cool. What it will do is give you incredible insight into the history and future of an exceedingly interesting field of endeavor.
Cliff is a doctoral student at the University of Michigan School of Information, studying in their Human-Computer Interaction program. He plans to be a contributing author in the next version of this book. You can purchase the Human-Computer Interaction in the New Millenium from bn.com. Want to see your own review here? Just read the book review guidelines, then use Slashdot's handy submission form.