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The SocialOrb System: Enhancing personal information management using physical-social interactions

Project Team

  • Project Lead: Blake Sawyer PhD Student
  • Dr. Francis Quek
  • Dr. Lawrence Wong
  • Dr. Mehul Motani
  • Dr. Manuel Perez-Quinones
  • Dr. Tom Martin
  • Sharon Lynn Chu PhD candidate

Note: This is a recently completed project that is currently dormant

Project Overview

The way people and their computers index information has been virtually unchanged since personal computers were introduced, leaving the average computer user As information spaces grow, the tasks of information organization and re-finding have become burdensome to the everyday user. To overcome this problem, our computing devices have begun to support new ways to manage our personal information spaces, using both contextual and customizable keys for information access. We address this problem by applying our understanding of how our information activities and our social world are intertwined. We claim that the information that we encounter, organize and re-find can be associated with some part of our social world that is made up of both our physical face-to-face interaction and our digital social exchange.

We argue that our personal information management (PIM) systems should support information re-finding using the social context in which we interact with our information. For example, when a person is in a meeting, all the information will be automatically tagged with the people and groups who are currently co-presence. Furthermore, if a person receives an email, that email and any attachments should be tagged based on the sender, receiver, etc. To re-find a document, the user can request all information based on who was at that meeting or who sent the email attachment.


We propose a framework, shown above figure, that supports this type of social contextual information organization and re-finding. The right side of the figure describes the social sensing components of our framework. Both of our digital and physical social interactions are used for social information tagging. A system resides on a user's personal computing device and automatically associates information that is accessed with the people and groups who are present at the time. The information activity sensing software detects when the user interacts with their information (e.g., picture edited, web page browsed, email sent, etc.). Implicit, digital social data, if any, is extracted from the information and the people and groups who are physically co-present are detected using a social sensing device. The tagging service adds tags of people and groups, from the social database, that should be associated with the information. Lastly, a front-end application allows users to re-find information that has been tagged based on the people and groups that they interact with.


  • B. Sawyer, F. Quek, W. Wong, M. Motani, S. Chu Yew Yee, M. Perez-Quinones, T. Martin, I. Burbey, L. McNair. "Information Re-finding Through Physical-Social Contexts". Workshop on Personal Information Management (PIM) 2012 at ACM Conference for Computer Supported Collaborative Work (CSCW) 2012. PDF
  • B. Sawyer, F. Quek, W. Wong, M. Motani, S. Chu Yew Yee, M. Perez-Quinones. "Using Physical-Social Interactions to Support Information Re-finding". To Appear in ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2012).


CHCI Seminar Virginia Tech - Feb. 7, 2011 - [1]


This research stemmed from and supported by collaboration with the National University of Singapore in the Place-Oriented Embodied Media Project. The project is also supported by the National Science Foundation grants: 'CRI: Interfaces for the embodied mind, IIS-0551610, and "I-EN: Device and Display Ecologies,” 1 August 2010 – July 31, 2014, IIS- 1059398