TaskMaster: Resource management in an email client

Victoria Bellotti, Nicolas Ducheneaut, Mark Howard and Ian Smith (PARC)

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University February 14, 2003

This talk will focus on the design of a novel prototype, TaskMaster, that embeds task management resources directly in an email client. The idea of making email more task-centric came from field investigations of personal information management in which email emerged as a central locus for information management online. The adoption of the XP methodology by our research team allowed fieldwork to directly shape the design rather than taking its usual place as a basis for critiquing design. TaskMaster was optimized for testing on real mission-critical email in a two-week evaluation. Some users continued to use the tool in preference to Outlook, long after the evaluation study was ended. Since TaskMaster had only a small fraction of the features of Outlook, the task management features it embodied were clearly advantageous enough, for several users, to make up for its many limitations. In addition our user evaluation has provided us with a great deal of inspiring feedback about how to improve on our design.

Victoria Bellotti is a Senior Member of Research Staff in the Computer Science Lab at PARC. She studies current and prospective technology users trying to understand their work-practice, their problems and their requirements for future technology. She also works on analyzing existing or proposed technology design for utility and usability and on finding ways to improve designs with user-centered innovations. Victoria studied psychology, ergonomics and HCI at London University in the UK. After that she worked at Xerox's Cambridge Research Lab (EuroPARC) for five years. She came to the USA in 1994 to work in Apple's Advanced Technology Group for three years before moving back to Xerox to work at PARC in Palo Alto. Her research interests include Computer Supported Cooperative Work, Computer Mediated Communication and Ubiquitous Computing.

Nicolas Ducheneaut is a research associate in the Computer Science Laboratory at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and a Ph.D. candidate at the School of Information Management and Systems (SIMS), University of California, Berkeley; his research interests include computer-supported cooperative work, computer-mediated communication, and the social impacts of information technologies in organizations.

Mark Howard came to the United States from London, England where he gained an MS in Computer Science at University College London. He is now a member of the research staff at PARC, the Palo Alto Research Center. His primary role is software engineer on projects concerned with developing experimental software systems.

Ian Smith is a member of the research staff at PARC Incorporated. His work focuses on the integration of software development tools and practices with ethnographic techniques in user interface development. He has published numerous papers in conferences such as the ACM symposium on user interface software, ACM conference on computer supported cooperative work, and the ACM conference on human computer interaction. He currently has eleven United States patents pending. In 1998, he was granted a Ph. D. in Computer Science from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia.

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