Research on Community Computing




I have been working on community computing, which is to support the process of organizing diverse and amorphous people who are willing to share knowledge and experiences. Compared to groupware studies, community computing focuses on an earlier stage of collaboration: group formation from a wide variety of people. The community metaphor can create five different functions as follows:


Knowing each other;

Sharing preference and knowledge;

Generating consensus;

Supporting everyday life;

Assisting social events.


I have been working on FreeWalk with Hideyuki Nakanishi for knowing each other, conducted Mobile Assistant Project for assisting social events. I recently initiated Digital City Kyoto Project and currently working on social agents in digital cities.


3D Interaction Space


Meetings are not always of a business or formal nature. Casual meetings such as chatting at a coffee break or in a passageway enrich our life. Though casual meetings also take an important role in collaboration, research has tended to ignore this aspect. He thought that conventional desktop conferencing systems, which multicast pictures and voices, cannot support casual meetings.


FreeWalk, a common three-dimensional (3D) space just like a real life park or lobby, enables people to experience accidental encounters in a network. In conventional desktop conferencing systems, participants turn on the system when they start a meeting. Since the participants are listed up before the meeting starts, an accidental encounter with an unpredictable participant cannot occur. FreeWalk provides a 3D virtual space wherein participants can move and meet by themselves to provide maximum freedom to the participants' activity. We designed FreeWalk to naturally reproduce human behavior in a 3D virtual space so that many people can meet without confusion. In FreeWalk, participants have locations and view directions and can change them freely according to their own will.


In real life, a meeting often consists of many people. In meetings such as parties, several tens of participants simultaneously exist in the same space. In such cases, it is almost impossible to use conventional desktop conferencing systems that try to display the faces of all participants at once, since it is hard to show the faces of so many people in a screen of limited size, and even if it is possible, it is very hard for users to comprehend the situation.


Mobile Assistant Project


I planned to clarify the role of mobile computing in network support at international conferences. He conducted the experiment called ICMAS'96 (the second international conference on multiagent systems) Mobile Assistant Project. This conference was held in Kyoto, Japan from December 9th to 13th in 1996. The project provided (a) E-mail and Internet access services, (b) conference, personal and tourist information services, and (c) forum and meeting arrangement services. In this experiment, around 100 personal digital assistants (PDAs) with wireless phones were loaned to conference participants without any charge to try out the system. To our best knowledge, it was the worldfs first experience of applying mobile computing to international conference support


After the conference, he has analyzed a large amount of log data and obtained the following results.

People continuously use PDAs not only at the conference site but also in their hotel rooms after dinner. Compared to desktop computing, they tend to use PDAs more frequently but shorter for each time.

E-mail services are used independently of the conference structure, while the load of information services peaks reflecting the progress of the conference.

No correlation is observed between the use of E-mail and information services, and the combination of their usage varies depending on each user.


Digital City Kyoto


As a platform for community networks, information spaces using the city metaphor are being developed around the world. I started working on digital cities to create a social information infrastructure for urban everyday life (including shopping, business, transportation, education, welfare and so on). I am in the middle of a long term project to develop a digital city for Kyoto, the old capital and cultural center of Japan, based on the newest technologies including GIS, 3D, animation, agents and mobile computing.


Kyoto was the capital of Japan for more than a thousand years, and has been a cultural center of Japan for even longer. To begin a digital city project for Kyoto, he started with its design policies. The first policy for designing Digital City Kyoto is to make it real by establishing a strong connection to physical Kyoto. Digital city Kyoto complements the corresponding physical city, and provides an information center for everyday life for actual urban communities. We think digital and physical make things real. We are thus working on a digital part of the real city. The second design policy is to make the digital city live by dynamically integrating WEB archives and real-time sensory information created in the city. Digital City Kyoto does not produce contents nor select them. He provided a tool for viewing and reorganizing digital activities created by people in the city. He proposed the three layer architecture for digital cities: a) the information layer integrates both WWW archives and real-time sensory information related to the city, b) the interface layer provides 2D and 3D views of the city, and c) the interaction layer assists social interaction among people who are living/visiting in/at the city.


The project for Digital City Kyoto was established in October of 1998. In August 1999, the Digital City Kyoto Experiment Forum was launched. The forum includes several universities, local authorities, leading computer companies, as well as local companies, temples, photographers, volunteers and so on. Researchers and designers from overseas have joined the project. Besides technological problems, he has encountered numerous non-technical research issues such as security, privacy, and intellectual property rights. To gain a better understanding of the big picture of digital cities, I held the International Workshop on Digital Cities. The attendees include Helsinki, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Shanghai, Turin, Bristol, Oulu, and Kyoto.


Social Agents


Social agents, rather than merely being communicative, directly facilitate a range of human-human social interactions and other human social activities. Social agents are a natural evolution of the personal interface agent concept. In contrast to personal agents, however, social agents fill broader social roles and are community oriented - not dedicated to serving a particular person. I defined the notion of social agents with Katherine Isbister and David Kinny from three different perspectives. From the technological aspect, a social agent is a persistent, secure object that can traverse the Internet, and has the capability to learn and adapt to social rules. From the theoretical view, social agents know about social conversation and the conventions of social systems. From the psychological aspect, a social agent is anything a human perceives and treats as a social entity, interpreting and reacting to it as though it were a social being.


As the first step towards social agents, I worked on an interface agent prototype with Katherine Isbister and Hideyuki Nakanishi that is designed to support human-human communication in virtual environments. The prototype interacts with users strategically during conversation, spending most of its time listening. The prototype mimics a party host, trying to find a safe common topic for guests whose conversation has lagged. We performed an experimental evaluation of the prototypefs ability to assist in cross-cultural conversations. We designed the prototype to introduce safe or unsafe topics to conversation pairs, through a series of questions and suggestions. The agent made positive contributions to participantsf experience of the conversation, influenced their perception of each other and of each othersf national group, and even seemed to effect their style of behavior. From this experience, he discussed the implications of our research for the design of social agents to support human-human interaction.


1.      Yoshiyasu Nishibe, Hiroaki Waki, Ichiro Morihara, Fumio Hattori, Toru Ishida, Toshikazu Nishimura, Hirofumi Yamaki, Takaaki Komura, Nobuyasu Itoh, Tadahiro Gotoh, Toyoaki Nishida, Hideaki Takeda, Atsushi Sawada, Harumi Maeda, Masao Kajihara, Hidekazu Adachi. Mobile Digital Assistants for Community Support. AI Magazine, Vol. 19, No. 2, pp. 31-49, 1998.

2.      Toru Ishida. Towards Communityware. New Generation Computing. Invited Paper, Vol. 16, No. 1, pp. 5-21, 1998. (Invited Talk at International Conf. on Practical Application of Intelligent Agents and Multi-Agent Technology (PAAM-97), pp. 7-21, 1997).

3.      Toru Ishida Ed. Community Computing: Collaboration over Global Information Networks. John Wiley and Sons, 1998.

4.      Toru Ishida Ed. Community Computing and Support Systems. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, State-of-the-Art Survey, 1519, Springer-Verlag, 1998.

5.      Hideyuki Nakanishi, Chikara Yoshida, Toshikazu Nishimura and Toru Ishida. FreeWalk: A 3D Virtual Space for Casual Meetings. IEEE Multimedia, Vol.6, No.2, pp.20-28, 1999.

6.      Toru Ishida and Katherine Isbister Eds. Digital Cities: Experiences, Technologies and Future Perspectives. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, State-of-the-Art Survey, 1765, Springer-Verlag, 2000.

7.      Toru Ishida. Digital City Kyoto: Social Information Infrastructure for Everyday Life. Communications of the ACM (CACM), Vol. 45, No. 7, pp. 76-81, 2002.

8.      Makoto Tanabe, Peter van den Besselaar and Toru Ishida Eds. Digital Cities II: Computational and Sociological Approaches. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, State-of-the-Art Survey, 2362, Springer-Verlag, 2002
LNCS 2362

9.      Toru Ishida. Q: A Scenario Description Language for Interactive Agents. IEEE Computer, Vol.35, No. 11, pp. 54-59, 2002.

10.  Toru Ishida Ed. Understanding Digital Cities: Cross-Cultural Perspectives. MIT Press, 2003.