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Social Computing Group - Loops

Loops (2001-2004) was, like Babble, a persistent chat system that used a visualization to show the presence and involvement of participants in a conversation. Loops went beyond Babble in that it supported multiple communities, provided multiple structures for displaying and organizing information, and was web-based.

Loops consists of a set of user-definable places, each of which can contain a conversation, URLs, static text, and people, as well as user interface elements for seeing who is present, viewing, navigating and modifying the environment. The user experience is that people log in to a Loops server and move from place to place, reading conversations that have changed in their absence, contributing new comments, and encountering other users as they do so. Chance encounters lead to social talk that can, in turn, evolve into more substantive talk. The ultimate goal is that Loops feel like an inhabited place where users may "hang out" during the day, exchanging banter, asking questions, and sharing knowledge.

The figure above shows the Loops user interface. At the top center (callout 1), is the social proxy — it depicts people logged onto the system as small colored dots, with their proximity to the center reflecting the recency of their activity. The chat pane (2) is where those in the same place "talk"; chat is similar to that that occurs in instant messaging or chat rooms, except that it persists across sessions. Each place in a Loop can have slide-out tabs (3) that can contain publicly viewable and editable text and URLs; clicking on a tab causes it to slide out from beneath the chat pane. Next, the places list (4), shows the user-created places, indicates which have new content, and provides a menu of place commands. Just above the places list, the people list (5) shows who is logged in, and provides access to person-centered functionality. Finally, each place has a bulletin board (6) that is viewable and editable by all those in the place.

Loops also contained a timeline (below) that showed who was logged onto the system (a colored, flat line), what place they were in, and when they commented (a blip). The timeline enabled users to get a "historical" overview of the last two week's activities.

Loops was deployed to about half a dozen sites within IBM. Its uses ranged from a casual communication space used by mostly collocated workgroups, to an occasional but persistently used "meeting room" by globally distributed teams, such as that described by Halverson, et al (2003).

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