Ambient social networking interface

Sparks is an ambient social networking interface that uses light to create an ambient interface designed to facilitate salient conversations by linking strangers who may not know each other but share mutual interests.


Before entering the Sparks environment, each user pre–selects a number of interests from a pool of keywords. Within the environment, Sparks projects the keywords in an aura on the floor around the user. The aura follows the user within the environment, and augments the visual cues people use to capture initial impressions about another person. However, the aura alone is insufficient to create connections between people in a large group. To help guide distant users with similar interests together, the common descriptors on their respective auras are connected by illuminated paths. To help them locate each other, the path’s thickness modulates to indicate proximity of connected individuals. Furthermore, to differentiate between individuals the user has or has not previously met, the link changes color.

Users can also interact with the paths by sending pulses along them to signal others with a shared interest. To send a pulse, they tap the interest projected within their aura. When the pulse reaches the recipient, a glow appears on the corresponding word.

When the system detects a group, a group pad automatically forms in between the individuals to indicate an ongoing conversation. When the group dissolves, the group pad fades away.

Authors: Andrea Chew, Vincent Leclerc, Sajid Sadi, Aaron Tang, Hiroshi Ishii at MIT Media Lab.

PDF of the research.