uPresence is a multiuser exhibit that portrays human interaction in a networked environment. It is the third exhibition in an ongoing series by colin moock. Like its predecessors (Ambient User Sound and uTulip), uPresence depicts what i call "ambient user activity"--the collective actions of all users currently interacting with a given computer interface.
uPresence is a Macromedia Flash application built with the Unity 2 Multiuser Development Kit, developed by Colin Moock and Derek Clayton.
If you are connected to the internet, and have Flash Player 6 or higher installed in your browser, you can see uPresence live here (discussion continues below):
In general, the web hides most ambient user activity. I divide ambient user activity into four categories, as follows:
The goal of uPresence and my other multiuser studies is to bring the real-world experience of being part of a human collective (i.e., a crowd) to computer-based interaction. The remaining sections discuss the specific ways uPresence attempts to meet that goal.
Remote User Mouse Pointers
When connected to uPresence, one user can see the location of all other connected users' mouse pointers. Each mouse pointer indicates its user's name (or "guest" if the user is not registered) and the number of times the user has visited the site. Users with fewer visits are represented by a hollow mouse pointer. Users with more visits are represented by a mouse pointer that's filled in with increasingly dark shades of gray. After an arbitrarily high number of visits (currently, 100), a user's mouse pointer turns gold.
When a local user hovers over a link on the site, the link highlights in yellow. When a remote user hovers over a link, the link highlights in blue.
User Mouse Clicks
When a user clicks anywhere in uPresence, a blue dot appears in that location. If the user is new to the site (i.e., has not visited it often), then the dot is small. If the user has visited the site often, then the dot is larger (up to an arbitrary maximum size). Over time, dots fade out and eventually disappear. That is, the age of a dot is indicated by its opacity--more opaque dots are newer, more transparent dots are older.
These "mouse-click dots" give a visual sense of what's currently popular on the website. They indicate not only which links are being accessed the most, but which links are popular amongst frequent visitors versus occasional visitors.
In a future version of uPresence, a click on a link might result in a different coloured dot than a click on open space in the application. That would make the link popularity easier to interpret while still allowing users to play with the clicking feature freely.
The uPresence application tracks how often each registered user has visited the application. To register for visit tracking, a new user enters a name and a password and clicks the "Register" button. Subsequently, the user is automatically logged onto the system.
It strikes me as unfortunate that the uPresence application cannot share data and statistics with other websites. If a user could register once in a central location and then be tracked by multiple websites, interesting results would surely ensue. Different websites could then track user behaviour on a much more general level. The anonymity of the user on the web is admittedly comforting but it also prevents larger systems from evolving. I think of Microsoft's online gaming service, XBox Live!, in which a user can contact me while I'm playing, say, Prince of Persia, and invite me to play a game of Project Gotham Racing 2.
A future version of uPresence, will store each user's personal "most visited pages" rankings. Other users will then be able to determine, say, what page the user with the most visits is visiting.
For posterity, here are some screenshots of uPresence in action:
For more information about Unity-based multiuser web applications, see the Unity homepage. For a list of other Unity-based multiuser applications, see the Unity Showcase.