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Lost in Translation

26 Jul 2012


As part of the IMPRINTS project, we as researchers have been conducting Delphi interviews with experts in the identity management arena. One thing I have noticed over the course of these interviews is the repeated mention of the importance of social and Cloud computing (herein referred to as ‘the Cloud’).

Whilst I consider myself to be fairly savvy when it comes to new developments in technology, I will admit the Cloud is something I have struggled to embrace. Despite the Cloud purporting to offer an efficient way to store large amounts of information securely, I still hold some concerns about my data being vulnerable to theft or becoming lost. Since hearing the perspectives of these experts regarding this phenomenon, I began to wonder about the ways in which the general public would react to storing their personal data in a non-physical space, relying on external servers instead of on domestic computers.

©FutUndBeidl/ Flickr. http://www.flickr.com/photos/61423903@N06/7557181168/in/photostream

At CHI this year, researchers presented a paper exploring this very issue, describing a study which tried to understand how people react to the growing reliance on the Cloud for our data storage needs. Their research is embedded in the idea of possession and materiality, and the way the Cloud may be changing our identity by having an impact on ideas of what belongs to us. The practise of ‘life logging’, something pioneered by Microsoft Research, exemplifies how much we value our digital data collection, and how people are attempting to collate and store this more securely.

The authors of the paper recruited 13 diverse individuals from the south-east of England, with the aim of better understanding their attitudes towards digital information storage in places such Dropbox, Facebook, e-mail accounts and other online data-sharing services. One interesting approach with this research was the inclusion of questions related to physical possessions, as well as local digital archives, and online digital information, to allow comparison.

Whilst their interviews revealed that people chose to share information online, as it gave a larger audience the opportunity to reflect and interact (for example, Facebook photo tagging), participants also found it difficult to explain how they took ownership of online/Cloud information, in comparison to physical possessions or local data. Similarly, confusion over where Cloud information was stored, coupled with a concern over the longevity and security of the online services, suggests that there is a long way to go before these services will be embraced.

For the full paper, see: Odom, W., Sellen, A., & Harper, R. (2012). Lost in Translation: Understanding the Possession of Digital Things in the Cloud. CHI’12.