If You Doze During A Meeting, Microsoft's Got Your Back

The new conferencing system will get you up to speed so fast you can pick up the thread of the meeting even as it drones on, and on, and on...

Do you have low-grade narcolepsy, or a low threshold for boredom? Do you want to keep your job? Then Microsoft has just the thing for you.

Of course, snoozing through meetings is a time-honored business tradition, and it's why we've evolved meeting minutes. But what if you really didn't mean to nod off during a particular meeting—and you want to get up to speed so quickly that you can participate in what's left of it?

"We developed an Accelerated Instant Replay (AIR) Conferencing system for videoconferencing that enables users to catch up on missed content while the meeting is ongoing," Microsoft Research announces today (with my italics), together with a study evaluating the system.

Catch-up studies are actually an active and vibrant field of research. Last year, a few researchers put out the irresistably titled study, "A Useful Application of Time Travel in Meetings." No DeLoreans were involved. The paper actually described something it called "audio-gisting," where during brief periods set aside for review, they were fed an accelerated audio feed of what they had missed, enabling them to get on the same page with those who had been present throughout the meeting.

The latest publication from the Softies goes further. It adds video and voice-to-text, among other features, to the mix. And it finds that users feel more confident when they employ multiple media to get caught up—although in practice, audio-only is pretty much sufficient. Intriguingly, transcript-only review often improves fact recall—but there's less of a memory of who it was who said the facts.

In other words, there's a complex set of variables to wade through here, and it's only going to get more complex, as the researchers suggest further avenues for study. They want to investigate futuristic components like "shared workspaces that support pen touch interaction," and they're curious if there's a way to leverage the well-known "cocktail party effect," wherein people at a crowded party are able to mentally muffle out the background noise to promote the signal of their conversation partner's voice.

To our minds, though, Microsoft would do better to focus less on making the systems more futuristic and featurey, and more on making them simpler to use. The most practical avenues for research are suggested in its own paper: "users are concerned about disrupting the meeting or missing more of the meeting when trying to catch up. Care must be taken when designing the user experience to ensure that the process is seamless and does not detract from or disrupt the flow of the meeting," the authors write. Basic design and user experience: in the march toward a product (rarely a focus of the academically oriented, of course), those seem like the research hurdles most worth tackling.

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[Image: Flickr user Sandy Chase]

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