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Re: user surveys for the Seul project

Dana M. Diederich wrote:
> It's come to my attention that your group is interested in gathering raw
> data about the computing habbits of your target user audience.  I suspect
> a fairly effect way to do that is to record raw usage information from
> what we in UNIX would call a daemon program.  Of course, this program would
> be a pretty 'Doze screen saver.
> A large chunk of your target audience will be very interested in cool screen
> savers.  It so happens that the huge set of free UNIX screen savers are
> pretty cool.  So, clump the best of them together in one big 'doze
> screen saver program, along with the software to collect usage statistics,
> and send it out to the masses.

This is a really cool technical idea, and probably the worst possible
social implementation from a privacy/intrusion standpoint.  Even if the
product says "hey, I'm watching you", we'd end up with all sorts of
issues from people who didn't read the README, or used their friend's
computer, or....   No one died & made me God, but I'd veto this in a

OTOH -- if this is something you want to try yourself, on your own
machine (or machines you control directly), I'd have less of a problem. 
Unless it escaped....  Microsoft got the sh*t knocked out of it when a
registration program (IE?) uploaded some user/system info, even *with*
disclosure, a few years back.

Roger wrote:

> I think this is a neat idea, separate from the survey idea. I have no
> idea how I'd start quantifying the process of sitting there watching
> somebody work, especially without disrupting their activity. On a different
> note tho, it would be pretty straightforward to write a little background
> daemon that keeps track of the use of the computer, which windows are
> used and how much, etc. We would write the app, then go find a couple
> hundred volunteers who would grab it, run it in the background, and forget
> about it for a while. It would periodically (manually or automatically)
> submit reports to us, along with the user's description of him/herself
> (experienced, cad worker, irc junkie, whatever) so we can categorize it.

Several hundred is probably off by a factor of ten.  Someone's got to
review this stuff, and no, it's not multiple response (especially not at
first), it's "ok, so what's s/he trying to do now" while watching videos
of people running a computer.  I'd say a couple of these things (whoever
writes the app and his/her SO) get to be the first implementation.  We
can figure out what to do with/how to interpret/score the data while
debugging the implementation.  

The distribution of any application we develop from this has to be very
carefully controlled.  We're only interested in getting information from
a relatively small number of sites -- two dozen would be a lot -- and
all of them would need to know that they're being watched, by whom, and
why.  As I said, friends, family, "friendly" corporate environment (if
you could get in the front door in the first place).  Maybe not the
least biased places in terms of pro/anti Linux.  But there should be a
range of skills and exposures (I'm still friends with people who don't
know about Linux).

Other protections: probably based on a keyword/password enabling, and
preferably some sort of data encryption which has to be set after
installation before the data are useable.   PGP public/private key?.  If
the implementation can be done so that data are broken at most
fundamantal level of the architecture -- someone can't just grab the
source and remove security, this would be very good.  I don't think that
this is possible though.  

Look into stuff like greeking text onscreen text, say, documents, but
not menus.  Not sure about command line.  Possibly scrambling graphics
as well.  I mean, what are you looking at at 1:00am  when you get
bored?  We're talking about an app that's going to capture the entire
session, it needs to be done safely.

We also want to consider what we're grabbing.  Probably sampling screen,
and an image, once every few seconds, while the system is interactive. 
Sampling could shut down while system is idle/not being used

I'll think a bit more about just what sorts of useful info might come
from this (other than late-night surfing habits).  I'm thinking stuff
 - what apps are used for what percent of time?  cpu?
 - what accellerator keys are use?
 - what mousing sequences are used (menu traversing)
 - how much KB to mouse?
 - system active/idle time
 - what leads to application errors (any way to watch what's going on in
background that causes Netscape to hang?)
 - network connection usage, esp. PPP.  Methods, intervals.
 - fs mounts/umounts
 - whatever.

Karsten M. Self (kmself@ix.netcom.com)

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