A Web Application for Connecting Family Members Across Time Through Shared Media

Mimo started from a passion project for an application that I was craving for connecting me and my family who are in different time zones. As the body of literature in HCI indicates communication between different time zones has many challenges including lack of frequent communication, family members being in the different context of the day, misaligned schedules and lack of shared experiences over distance. For this matter, I started brainstorming ideas and designs that can provide families with a more intimate connection which mainly focus on the one on one communication of family members. In here some of the early mockups of the website are depicted.

After an iterative process, I created a functioning prototype called Mimo. The name was derived from the personal robot assistant in the movie Flubber called Weebo and wordplay of the phrase”My memories”. I used HTML5, PHP, CSS, and JavaScript to create the web application. Mimo’s focus was on being a method for families to connect together through time and share an activity asynchronously in different time zones through shared media in specific categories. I had a default set of eight categories including walking, movies, cooking recipes, commute, shopping, fixing, and life in general for family members to start a conversation about. In the picture, you can see the main features of Mimo.

Different features of Mimo. From left to right: (a) Activity Board (b) Time Shift Panel (c) Message Panel

In the figure above you can see the Mimo web application. Figure (a) is the activity board where the eight categories are laid out for the user to choose as the topic of their interest. Figure (b) is the time shifting panel where the user could change the time of the message delivery according to their family member’s availability and timezone. In Figure (c), the exchange of audio clips in a category is shown.

The study: To understand how family members would react and possibly use such a system, I ran an early exploratory study where 21 participants were shown the system and interviewed. In the study, people saw the value of Mimo in its one-to-one style of connection rather than one-to-many. This indicated the value of a media sharing system that is very personal in nature for connecting family members. For the participants, Mimo meant that one could hear the sound of a loved one’s voice. Audio narratives created a very personal connection through the voice of another.

The challenges that participants mentioned with this technology included conversations being one-sided. People were also concerned about ‘talking into a void’ without being able to sense the presence of their family member. If you are interested you can read more about Mimo and the study here.

Poster presented in CHI 2017