Occasional Coincidences

Occasion-Making with On-Demand Media


Thesis for Interaction Design Institute Ivrea · Cultural connectedness and social behavior transformed as media experiences shifted from collective to personal. Alongside the convenience and temporal appropriateness offered by on-demand media, a form of social and cultural isolation arose. Due to the now personal nature of our media habits, coincidences of media selection between people are indicative of a meaningful similarity. These meaningful coincidences can act as a mechanism to reintroduce media-centered social occasions. An engaging design space is defined by the recognition and presentation of interpersonal coincidences.

Laying the requisite groundwork for unambiguous discourse about coincidence, a taxonomy of coincidence is provided to establish a working terminology. Along with this taxonomy, factors of what makes for an intriguing coincidence are identified. These factors are provided to help guide design concepts towards the incorporation of valuable coincidences. Various design concepts for media-related coincidence systems were developed as part of this research.

Synch Television · Comprised of a coincidence-aware television attachment resembling an antenna, the Synch Television kit is intended to be attached to a network video player. Whenever a coincidence is discovered, the antenna would bend and rotate, shakily pointing in the compass direction of the other people involved to indicating you are tuned into each other’s ‘channel’. Touching the trembling antenna would cause it to calm down and display an on-screen interface. This interface displays information about the coincidence and provides opportunities to engage with the other people involved.

Timely Speaker · A modified hi-fi speaker, the Timely Speaker is intended to illustrate that digital media, audio in this case, can function as a communications medium. If songs are thought of as time capsules, able to contain written messages to be released when stumbled upon, digital audio becomes an interpersonal messaging channel. In the Timely Speaker system, a message attached to a song is released only when the recipient happens to play the song during a date (e.g. Friday, March 7th, 2007) or repeating time interval (e.g. Thursdays between 3 and 6 o’clock) specified by the sender. The selection of a particular song during a time for which the song’s contained message was intended, defines the coincidence that drives this system.

Musicincidence · To enable people to actively search for coincidences, Musicincidence is a software application that features a real-time music landscape of a geographic region. Compositing songs as markers on a map, it displays the current and recently played songs of all people connected to the system. Social opportunities such as collaborative creation of a mashup song can be offered when tempo, artist, album, genre, or other criteria are met.

Extract from WMMNA · In the past, scheduled TV and radio broadcasts carried with them an implicit occasion. Housewives would schedule their tea time to enjoy a soap opera. Upon hearing the introduction to their favorite detective show, children would rush to their room in search of their secret decoder ring. After the dinnertime variety show, fathers would sit by the radio or television for the nightly news. These now quaint examples of media occasion demonstrate how scheduled media broadcasts stimulated popular discussion and supported social behavior indicative of commonalities of interest.

Unlike the collective cultural rhythm fostered by scheduled media broadcasts, today's on-demand media has encouraged media isolationism. We’ve become immersed in ourselves, fiddling with personal media players loaded with enormous amounts of music and video in hopes of crafting the perfect soundtrack to our daily lives.

However, the personal nature of our media selections offers opportunities to build meaningful media-related social behaviors and relationships. Coincidences of media selection can be a meaningful indication of similarity between people and can act as a mechanism to reintroduce media-centered social occasions.

Thesis Report

Final version as submitted for examination.

Adobe PDF Format (31 pages, 6.5 MB)


Directors & Chairs of Examiners
  • Heather Martin
  • Neil Churcher
  • Heather Martin
  • Massimo Banzi
Thesis Coordinators
  • Simona Maschi
  • Phil Tabor

Copyright © 2006 Nicholas Zambetti