Diploma Thesis Ralf Biedert
Task switching, fragmentation and frequent point-of-interest changes are a common phenomenon during office work. As certain tasks often require certain documents and information, it is important to speed up access to them in order to increase productivity.
We therefore created an application that allows users to perform their knowledge work with less effort. Files, folders and bookmarks may be accessed more quickly, task-relevant persons and entities are a single key press away. A remembering aid is provided to enable a more seamless continuation of previous activities, it presents information in almost the same way as it was perceived before. Simultaneously the information flood is reduced, as only entities which had been previously relevant to the user are shown.
At the same time the dashboard is unobtrusive. The additional costs induced, either time or space wise, were kept to a minimum. No interface is permanently visible, even though it is accessible spontaneously; during interaction with the application the user is still able to see the original content of the screen. In addition, the architecture is modular and can easily be extended to adapt it to new needs or provide new functionality. We started our development by analyzing the notion of context. We argue that systems, that want to be successful in the long term, must share a common concept with users they intent to support. This implies that the time and ease required to adapt a system are important measures when evaluating the quality of any user support system that is meant to be successful in changing environments.
Based on this insight we created a simple yet powerful Java based plugin framework that provides task-related context-aware services. We used the framework to develop the context-sensitive dashboard to assist knowledge workers.
The dashboard consists of several small applications, widgets, that permit quick access to entities on a per-context basis. The places-widget recommends files based on the current situation, shows bookmarks and frequently used items. A notes-widget accepts free text and to-do definitions. A visual backtracking widget helps the user to see events and interactions of the past.
Our evaluation shows that certain tasks can be accelerated using the dashboard. In a rapid context-switching test users were able to perform 40.7% more operations. Further we could show that users, who did not even receive a task description, were able to flawlessly continue 50% of the work other users started by its help. The mean time to understand the original task was 96 seconds. The rest of the tasks were often reconstructed closely.