Social Wormholes

"Social Wormholes" is a CSCW2023 paper, leveraging AR for ubiquitous social computing. Collaborating with Snap, Inc. HCI Lab researchers, I drove the conceptualization of spatial-social communication, conducted qualitative and quantitative analysis, formulated themes and design implications, and authored original drafts and revisions. My spatial user experience passion contributed to the understanding of users' behavior patterns and perceptions when interacting with AR spatial artifacts.

Social Wormholes Project


Family and friends often desire to stay connected with each other over distance. Our digital devices, such as smartphones and laptops thankfully let us call or message someone far away with the push of a button. But they do not support many indirect forms of co-presence that we often take for granted when sharing physical spaces. For instance, in person, we might notice a half-full cup of coffee left behind on the kitchen counter, signaling that our partner was in a hurry that morning to get to work.

To get there, many researchers have considered embedding computing capabilities into physical objects (tangible computing). Others envision technology as being pervasive and blending seamlessly into our spaces at scale (ambient and ubiquitous computing). These visions have led to things such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart environments. However, what if we apply this framing of ubiquitous computing then, to supporting social connection?

Our paper, Social Wormholes, seeks to examine this question. While current products and digital devices support social communication using a select number of dedicated objects, what if almost all objects in our environments could become mediums for interaction and exchange? Rather than devices taking our attention away from other people, what if we can share information with remote friends while continuing to actively engage in our daily activities? This work seeks to investigate this possible future, including its implications for feelings of social connection and how it could shape social behaviors. With this knowledge, we could design with the intention of not only having connected things but connected people.

What did we do?

We created Social Wormholes, an AR-glasses-based technology probe to explore what people's behaviors and preferences would be if they could freely connect different objects or spaces in the environment by attaching printed “wormhole” markers and sharing Ghosts and Sparkles in the context of their daily life with their friends. Sparkles appear as floating particles that signal that their partner has been near the corresponding wormhole. A Ghost consists of the image of an object in the user's field of view accompanied by a short five-second audio recording.

As an example, Partner A and B are connected through a pair of “wormholes” in their kitchens. From left to right: (a) B's AR glasses successfully detect the “wormhole” in his view and see light blue Sparkles being emitted from his shelf “wormhole” endpoint, which indicates that A had previously gazed at her corresponding connected endpoint. (b) B's gaze towards his “wormhole” triggers Sparkles to be sent to A. (c) B decides to send A a Ghost. B holds a mug up in front of him, and it is captured and transmitted to A's corresponding “wormhole”. (d) Later, A receives the Ghost from B at the “wormhole” endpoint on her fridge.

Social Wormholes Project

Here is a video demo of the system:

What did we learn?

We recruited 24 participants (12 pairs of friends) to try out Social Wormholes for two weeks. We found that:

What could designers consider next?

We found that people adopt a mosaic of diverse patterns of behavior — ritualistic vs. serendipitous, and interpret their "wormhole" connections in three different ways — as proxies for people, activities, and spaces. Designers can integrate these insights and consider future design directions thoughtfully. Here are insights that designers of ubiquitous social computing experiences should keep in mind.

We are excited about the fast-approaching future of social connection! Combining recent advancements in AR consumer products (e.g. Apple Vision Pro) and Generative AI, our vision may not be far from reality and we hope that our findings will help builders and designers realize it!

Social Wormholes Project

Summary of our study findings in terms of themes, insights, and design implications for future physically-distributed social connection systems.