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Coralog: A plea to idle no more.

The changing health of coral = the visualization of computer idle time.

The changing health of coral = the visualization of computer idle time.

In the paper “Coralog: Use-Aware Visualization Connecting Human Micro-Activities to Environmental Change,” the authors Tanyoung Kim, Hwajung Hong, and Brian Magerko introduce us to, well, Coralog, a computer widget that draws a parallel between computer idle time and the health of coral reefs. In the paper “Designing for Persuasion:Toward Ambient Eco-Visualization for Awareness,” the same authors follow up where the first paper left off.

The health of coral is greatly affected by global warming induced increases to sea surface temperatures. In this study, this particular situation is used to build a relationship between energy wasting behavior (leaving a computer running idly) and the more generalized wasteful consumption habits that are contributing to the warming induced coral destruction. Three areas of coral reef change are reflected in the visualization: coral bleaching, decrease in coral population/size, and the disappearance of reef fish.

If the computer remains on for more than 5 minutes without any activity, it’s considered idle time. As the ratio between idle time to active time increases from day to day, the health of the coral deteriorates, and visa verse.Users can consult the application when they bring up their dashboard (it was a Mac application).

The First Study (2009)

Six participants used the tool for a period of one week. Participants did suggest that they looked for ways to revive ill-looking coral, such as by putting their computer to sleep when not in use. However, there were some people who would have been interested in getting more precise information, including history tracking in terms of their levels of energy waste.

The Follow Up (2010)

With the feedback of the first study in hand, the researchers made some modification to the design and tested it out on 52 participants over a 2 week period. In order to better understand the effect of different approaches to visualization, they designed a comparative experiment, which contrast the abstract representation of information found in Coralog, with a numerical approach in the newly developed Timelog. Both prototypes shared with the user total running and idle time on the computer, and unlike the first experiment, participants were able to view a 7 day trend of running to idle times.

The results from this study showed three general approaches to the widget: some participants demonstrated greater awareness of the issue of energy waste, but chose not to change their behavior, some participants tried to change their behavior, and yet others who did not appear to be motivated in any way. Coralog users reported an increase in checking the widget in a way that the Timelog users did not. Moreover, 82.3% of participants in the Coralog condition made a concerted effort to “save” the coral, by changing their behavior from day-to-day, while the opposite is true with the Timelog users, as 87.5% did not express any real desire to modify their behavior.

The results suggest that while there is something to be gained in displaying the numbers associated with very specific energy usage (called micro activities), some context is important in motivating actual behavior change. Participants were “happy” and “glad to see” when the coral’s health improved saying that it felt “encouraging,” “good,” and provided “relief.” Which is ultimately, what the widget set out to do.

Kim, T., Hong, H., & Magerko, B. (2009, April). Coralog: use-aware visualization connecting human micro-activities to environmental change. In CHI’09 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 4303-4308). ACM.
Kim, T., Hong, H., & Magerko, B. (2010). Designing for persuasion: toward ambient eco-visualization for awareness. In Persuasive technology (pp. 106-116). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.


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