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Towards healthiier communication

20 August 2009 Southampton, University of

Computer scientists at the University of Southampton are using social networking tools to explore if individuals can enhance their personal and social wellbeing over time if they quickly share how they feel about issues such as their busyness, enjoyment, health and stress via these networks.

Dr Monica Schraefel (lower case intentional) at the University’s School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS), who is passionate about ‘geek fitness’[Notes to Editors – item 4] and keeps kettlebells in her office to run fitness classes for academics at lunchtimes, has set up healthii, an application to examine new ways for individuals in groups to communicate with one another. She is working with ECS PhD student Paul André on the project.

‘We want to find out if we made it easy to convey richer status in say, Twitter, first will people use it, and second, will they find value in it? For instance, if I can tell people “I am reading an interesting paper” and add a compressed version of my wellbeing at that time, with a code like “#healthii(3321)”, then I am not only saying what I am doing, but adding a rich context around that activity. In this case, the code says I am busy, enjoying what I am doing, not too stressed, but feeling under the weather. In our test application we have mechanisms to make selections easily rather than having to remember numbers,’ said dr schraefel. ‘We are interested in understanding what dimensions and how best to convey them are most effective.’

A study of the healthii prototype will run until the end of August. It can be used via Facebook or desktop application, both of which can input from and output to Twitter.

‘We want to see if writing and observing this richer status affects our behaviour. If we see that most of our colleagues are coming down with a cold, perhaps we'll stay at home, or perhaps reach out and give them a hug,’ said Paul André.  ‘Already we’ve seen examples where participants are using the application for self-reflection and group awareness. One person finally has the evidence that they have been working non-stop for a week and needed to take a break.

‘We also hope to see how trends may be used to understand group dynamics: if one group of friends or colleagues seems to be enjoying themselves and working hard, and another group is working hard but not enjoying themselves, what is going on? Ultimately we’re hoping that tuning applications to support this kind of awareness will contribute to improved personal and social wellbeing.’

The researchers will report on results of the study by the end of September.

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