Putting on a SMILe (Plus: Winners!)

They say academia is the art of becoming world-renown without appearing to be self-promoting. Sometimes, however, you gotta make some noise. In our case, we (that’s my team and I, don’t blame Ayman) have recently launched a new lab, the Social Media Information Lab. We thought we’d like to get the word out, especially as we are looking for new PhD students (and maybe postdocs) to join our ranks.

As the CHI 2011 conference is the most popular conference that matches our research area, we decided to do something for it. It also helps that CHI has traditionally been a very playful gathering, with people allowing their badges to be decorated with a host of badges (formal and informal), stickers, puppets, and various other household items. Love the CHI academics. We decided to have a little game.

With our convenient lab name acronym, SMIL (perhaps not accidental), we zeroed in on a Smile theme pretty quickly. We picked four exceptionally smily CHI luminaries as our SMILe ambassadors: Ben Shneirderman, Judy Olson, Elizabeth Churchill, and Ed Chi. The fantastically talented Funda Kivran-Swaine has turned their smily regular pictures into a monochromatic image (Ed now carries his proudly on his Twitter profile), which we printed on some 1000 stickers using the wonderful-yet-pricy Zazzle service. Of course, the stickers included the URL of the SMIL website.

From left: Judy Olson, Ed Chi, Elizabeth Churchill, Ben Shneiderman

We devised a conference game, with very simple mechanics: collect all four heroes on your badge, post it on Flickr/Twitter (#chismil) and you have a chance to win a CHI-SMIL t-shirt. We also made it somewhat difficult: different team members (and friends) distributed different stickers, and Ed’s sticker was the most rare, and access to it tightly controlled by Funda only.

Did it work? We think it did. Soon enough, people I didn’t know approached me begging for “A Judy Olson” (or some other sticker), and a rumor was start that there is a secret, fifth member.

Second, the luminaries themselves were great sports, and seem to enjoy the commotion and exchanges around the stickers. They each had a roll of their kind, except for Ed of course (access controlled to the end!).

In addition, people went to our website and commented on it to me (and perhaps to others).

And, finally, many people labored to collect all four stickers! (partial set of images). We put names in a hat, drew them out, and have five lucky winners. There you go, people. T-shirts are coming. You’re welcome.

Stay tuned for CHI 2012. Who knows what games will be played.

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