MyUnity has been in use at the FX Palo Alto Laboratory for several months, and is also now being used at one division of Fuji Xerox in Japan. Interviews with users have shown that the tool can help improve communications, says Biehl. “We saw a reduction in the number of e-mails being sent and an increase in face-to-face communication–that showed we were providing awareness of opportunities for those meetings to occur,” he says. Users also took part in tests that proved they gained a greater awareness of the typical availability patterns of their coworkers by using the tool.
“MyUnity is a really nice integration of all these different streams that are part of today’s workplace,” says Jason Hong, who works on privacy and mobile computing at Carnegie Mellon University, and who tried the service this summer. “Today the situation is a bit like before the Facebook news feed: the information is all there, but you have to go and look for it yourself.”
However, as Hong points out, not every workplace might adjust so easily to such tracking. “In an organization where there is antagonism, it might not work out so well,” he says. Users may also worry about accidentally disclosing information they don’t wish others to know, Hong says.
Hong and his Carnegie Mellon colleagues have developed a similar location-sharing tool called Locaccino as part of their research. This tool provides users with finer control over what information they share. “One thing we’ve found is that people become less concerned over privacy over time, when the things they initially worry about don’t happen,” says Hong. He suspects a similar pattern may apply to other services that track user behavior, myUnity included.
Hong believes there’s a good chance that such tools will become common, to help bring order to the distributed workplace. “I think there’s also strong use case for a similar service outside of work,” he adds, “since we are already seeing general awareness of friends and family taking off with Foursquare and other services.”
FX Palo Alto Laboratory hasn’t explored that possibility, but Biehl says myUnity’s technology could easily be transferred to a consumer application.