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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Personal data curation in the cloud age : individual differences and design opportunities Vitale, Francesco


People are creating and storing a growing amount of personal data, from photos and documents to messages and applications, on a growing number of devices. Storage space, often in the cloud, is cheap or free. But previous research shows that a degree of selectivity and curation is necessary to build personal archives that have value over time. In this dissertation, we ask: How do different people decide what personal data to keep or discard? What drives their decisions? And how can data management tools better support individual preferences? We used a qualitative and design-based approach to conduct four studies consisting of 64 interviews in total and a survey (n=349). First, we identified a spectrum of tendencies that informed how participants (n=23) decided what to keep or discard, with two extremes: “hoarding” (keep- ing most of data), and “minimalism” (keeping as little as possible). We extended this spectrum with a set of five behavioral styles that capture contextual curation patterns: taking a casual approach to data, feeling overwhelmed, collecting data, purging data, and trying to be frugal. This model of behaviors (based on the 64 interviews) highlights a key role for data curation: what people keep or discard informs how they think about their own identity. We used these insights to map a design space for data curation and create five design concepts for different user needs, exploring automation and other key design dimensions. Participants’ reactions (n=16) varied: some welcomed technology and automation, others opposed it, with context informing their reactions. Inspired by these results and using a taxonomy of data types and decluttering criteria based on the survey (n=349), we designed Data Dashboard, a tool that aggregates data from a user’s multitude of devices and cloud platforms, providing customizable functions for different goals. We evaluated a prototype of the system with 18 participants and found that a personalized approach to data curation is promising, so long as it respects users’ boundaries. Our work outlines key design directions and opportunities that can help envision new tools, prioritize user needs, and redefine our relationship with personal data in a world full of it.

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