Mia Suh UX & HCI Researcher [ Home Page ]
Understanding Teens' Multitasking over Videochat
Teen's use of mobile device for videochat is drastically increasing, and there are a number of mobile apps that target teen as a lead user. While millions of teenagers spend significant amount of time while multitasking over videochat, it is little known how teens manage various activities during videochat. Furthermore, videochat may facilitate overlaps, switches and conflicts between temporal, spatial and social contexts. This leads us to ask: how do teens encounter, manage and cope with such context switches?

In this project, I had three research questions to answer:
  • How do teens multitask during videochat?
  • What kinds of challenges they face when using mobile videochat apps?
  • How can we support teen's videochat experiences?
In this project, I had three goals to :
  • Expand our understanding of teen videochat practices in everyday life.
  • Deepen our knowledge of leisure-purpose multitasking on videochat.
  • Provide design implications to support teen's videochat experience.

I conducted a 2-weeks long photo diary study. A diary study is a research method used to collect qualitative data about user behaviors, activities, and experiences over time. As data is self-reported by participants longitudinally, a diary study is great to understand the contexts of user behaviors and experiences over time, which can be difficult to observe in a lab setting. My diary study consists of the three phases.

Phase 1: In-lab study
  • In-lab interview on the videochat practices
  • Contextual Inquiry on Videochat Apps
  • Cardsorting on Multitasking and Interruptions

Phase 2: Diary-tasks & Initial Analysis
  • Collect Photos of Videochatting Moments directly from participants
  • Regularly check-in with participants
  • Affinity diagraming

Phase 3: Final Interview & Analaysis
  • In-lab follow-up interview
  • Thematic analysis
  • Log-data analysis using a web-analytic, Flurry

The data set included transcribed audio from the initial and final interviews, 203 pictures, and 236 item-level notes comprised of direct quotes from the initial interviews. We inductively reviewed, iterated, and finalized the themes, using participants’ quotes as leaf nodes in analysis. After conducting the final interviews, the whole data set was analyzed following a thematic analysis approach.

When I was creating affinity diagraming for analysis after the initial interview - It was so much fun! This helped us to get a sense of what teens perceive as multitasking and interruptions, and guided our development of the final interview protocols.

Teens need a support to manage boredom
We found that most often, teens videochat with their closest friends from their bedrooms when they feel lonely or bored. Teens turned to videochat when understimulated but also felt understimulated during videochat. In order to manage this, they multitasked– teens moved from active chatting to co-presence while engaged in separate activities like scrolling social feeds or playing games.

Teens need a support to manage audio-space interruption
We uncovered social norms of reciprocity of attention, where teens match the attention level of the other and give leeway to briefly divert attention. Videochat on smartphones can afford ambiguity where one person can be more engaged while the other is less so, which help teens manage their ‘boredom’ by performing other activities without upsetting the others.

There are tensions arose in context-switches
Digital notifications did not feel disruptive to the videochat but family members’ interruptions felt 'scary' or 'irritatting' as teens’ domestic context intruded into their virtual videochat space. In particular, compared to visual interruption, teens found it challenging to cope with audio-space interruption such as mom's shouting. Unfortunately, teens felt a clash between their two different social identities - one as a peer to friends, and the other as a child to mom - and they needed to support to cope with the situation. Surprisingly, not many videochat apps enabled the volume to be completely off.

Improve support to manage boredom
Teens start videochats to seek social interaction and relieve boredom, yet still feel understimulated while on videocalls. Videochat apps can provide additional features and content to increase stimulation. Face-filters are currently popular and serve this purpose. Other engaging features could include audio-filters, video-filters, mobile games, co-watching video or other augmented reality components.

Encourage to be creative when bored
Boredom may provide motivation for creative thinking at opportune moments. We suggest designing to support the development of cognitive-approach boredom-coping strategies rather than behavioral-avoidance. A design could encourage users to think through the value of their current interaction by including reminiscence images of previous videochats or other representations of friendship. Users can interact in such a way to increase their own interest in the interaction, for example: pinning notes, images or cropped screenshots of things they love to the videochat, to discuss with their partner.

Help better cope with 'audio-space' interruption
Many teens need to deal with several things at once is during “intrusions” of family members. These overlapping audio spaces were frustrating. Designers can help teens manage these by enabling them to mute themselves, mute their friends, or to turn the volume down completely, facilitating quick context switches and preventing context collapse. Designers could also design to support parental awareness or mutual awareness of multitasking and videochatting.

Minhyang (Mia) Suh & Frank Bentley, Danielle Lottridge (2018). “It’s Kind of Boring Looking at Just the Face”: How Teens Multitask During Mobile Videochat, In Proceedings of the ACM Conference Companion on Computer Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing (CSCW'18). ACM. [PDF]
Minhyang (Mia) Suh (2017). Design for Temporality, HCI@KAIST Seminar, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Daejun, Korea

Presentation to the product team at Oath : I presented the study results and implications to the product manager, designers, and engineers at Oath. I discussed what I learned about teen's videochat practices, and its implications potentially useful to the product. In the meantime, I shared the bugs and technical limitations of the product that the participants reported. In my presentation, I was sitting on the chair where Marissa Mayer used to sit during her meetings!


This was my personal project while I was interning at Oath (Yahoo) working with Danielle Lottridge and Frank Bentley. I did:
  • Lead the project
  • Design & manage a diary study
  • Create the study materials (visual introductions)
  • Conduct a series of in-person interviews with teens
  • Communicate the results in the form of academic publications and presentations to various audiences

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