iconic indicators for awareness

Peepholes is a contact facilitation system that lets you know who is around on the Internet by illustrating their presence through iconic indicators. People can initiate communicate with others through a single button press, which initiates groupware connections. One design constraint behind Peepholes is that it only makes use of information that is available "for free" over Internet, nor does it require special multi-media equipment.

The display shows several Peepholes, each representing the activity status of different people. For example, Greenberg is currently active, O'Grady has been idle for a few minutes, Lowe is logged on but hasn't used the computer in a while, Schaffer is logged off, and Roseman is unreachable. If a person wants to contact a person shown by the icon, they simply select one of the groupware buttons on the bottom of the window, and the connection will be made automatically (if equivalent software exists at the other site). As well, a person can find out when an absent person returns by selecting "audible ambush". On return, the computer will play a typing sound which attracts attention back to the screen.

We have also integrated Peepholes with email. The act of reading mail automatically fires up a Peephole of that sender onto the screen, which shows whether the other person is present. The reader can then "reply" to the mail by email or by whatever groupware tool is appropriate to the availability of the mail sender.

Primary Investigators

Saul Greenberg, University of Calgary, Canada
Andy Cockburn, University of Caterbury, New Zealand


  • Telefreek, an earlier system investigating 'for free' awareness constructed.
  • Peepholes constructed and deployed.
  • Papers describing Peepholes and the underlying philosophy published.

Current Status

  • Completed. Variations of the idea have been used in later projects.