WithShare app builds a connected community through shared activities

Jordan Ford
October 04, 2016

Editor's note: This story is informational in nature and should not be considered an endorsement of any product or application.

A new smartphone app developed by researchers in the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) is enhancing interactions between students and constructing a more connected community through everyday activities.

WithShare, which is free and available for download in the iOS App Store, is built around service coproductions where individuals collaborate to pursue an activity that aligns with their hobbies and interests, such as meeting for lunch or taking a walk. The app is being released as part of a research effort coordinated by IST faculty Jack Carroll and Benjamin Hanrahan; IST doctoral student, Jiawei Chen; and IST post-doctoral researcher, Chien Wen Yuan.

Typical peer-to-peer services, including ride- and room-sharing, feature a discrete provider and recipient, which often includes payment from the recipient to the provider for the offered service. In WithShare, however, individuals are positioned as initiators and joiners of a particular activity with no payment involved. The success of the coproduced activity relies on the reciprocal collaboration of others joining in the activity.

“We believe these simple interactions through which people form new weak social ties or strengthen their existing relationships will forge a more connected community bit-by-bit,” said Chen. “[It will] empower every community member to play an active part in community building.”

Once users download the app and create a profile, they can begin posting activities for others to join. The app is focused on initiating small scale and spontaneous activities that can be organized with little to no planning. While activities generally fall into one of four categories—group study, physical activity, socializing, and eating out—users can post any activity in which they’d like to collaborate.

The app uses location to recommend nearby activities and suggests others based on the user’s past behaviors. If a user is interested in joining a posted activity, they can view the profile of the initiator to decide if that person is a good collaborator. Joiners can also send real-time messages within WithShare to get more information from the initiator. After 24 hours, the activity is removed from the app.

“Our design rationale is to build up a more connected local community by providing a convenient way for people to share their experience of daily activities with other community members that they do not know,” said Chen.

The group ran a trial of the app in the spring with 38 students taking classes in IST. Now, they are releasing the app for wider use by Penn State students to diversify the types of activities listed and understand the impact of similar systems in broader context. Users are informed about the research when they download the app.

“We plan to send out a five-minute pre-study survey after a new user signs up for WithShare,” said Chen. “After a user initiates or joins an activity, we will send out a short diary entry survey about the experience of coordinating the activity. After one to two months, we will send out a post-study survey to all users.”

Aside from the obvious benefits of group activities, the app’s preliminary user group sought peer support for some activities, including group study and exercise, while also forming and strengthening social ties in their community.

The group discussed the design of WithShare as a smart service earlier this year in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ Computer special issue on 21st century user interfaces, and hopes to report its findings at the 2017 Association from Computing Machinery’s Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated October 28, 2016