Interacting with Infrastructure: Home Networking and Beyond


January 7, 2015


Richard Mortier


University of Cambridge


Does your home network work, the way you want it to, every day? Does your parents’? Your neighbours’? Home networking has become mundane but remains one of the most complex domestic technologies that people have to install and manage. Solving the associated problems requires an interesting mix of human-computer interaction and systems/networking: simply bolting fancy UIs onto existing infrastructure isn’t good enough.

In the Homework project we started exploring this mix by explicitly considering the users’ needs rather than blindly reusing existing technology. In this talk I will briefly describe some of the ethnographic work we carried out, and the impact this had on our technology design, a Linux-based router using Open vSwitch and NOX. I will then discuss the particular capabilities we built and deployed in response to this ethnographic using it: putting people into the protocols, providing physically mediated access control, reducing interaction overhead for secure wireless association, and enabling users to implement network policies. I will finish by looking at some of the challenges that I believe we need to address to enable users to interact with infrastructure effectively.