Jason Ellis, PhD

IBM Research
I'm a Computer Scientist who focuses on Social Computing and Usability. Currently I design and build collaborative environments that use large display surfaces, new interaction techniques, and Watson technologies to facilitate high stakes decision-making. I'm on the Symbiotic Cognitive Systems team.

cv/resume . publications . linkedin . twitter


Social Computing Human‑Computer Interaction Software Engineering User‑Centered Design UX Design Usability User Research

Current Projects

War Rooms for High Stakes Decision-Making

Making decisions under time pressure is difficult. The pressure only goes up when complex data must be understood to make the decisions and significant amounts of money are involved. I am co-leading an effort to build war rooms that help professional sports teams make decisions under these challenging conditions. These rooms use large wall and table touch screens to display key complex data, custom software to support fluid interaction across multiple displays (and with remote participants), and new user interface approaches suited to the new environment and high-pressure tasks at hand. The first war room has gone live for the Toronto Raptors.

Prototyping for Cognitive Environments

Cognitive Environments are richly instrumented spaces that feature a multitude of sensors, displays, input mechanisms, and smart devices. Such environments afford a variety of rich interactive experiences. However, building those experiences is often complex and time consuming. I created a suite of scripting tools that allow users to quickly prototype experiences in such environments by providing a straightforward programming language that allows novices to exercise the same room APIs as expert developers. In this way, users can quickly simulate what the completed experience would be like. The scripts also serve as scaffolding -- allowing users to move from prototype to completed application by replacing segments of scripts with fully functioning code bit-by-bit.

Completed Projects

Social Visualization for Medical and Social Care

Medical, social work, and other health professionals often have patients in common, but collaboration among these roles is a challenge. I built a set of interactive visualizations that integrate data from a variety of sources and aim to facilitate appropriate coordination among caregiving roles. The visualizations provide a rich, evolving picture of the patient in their social and medical context. I am working on an interdisciplinary team to design and evaluate these tools. Research issues include design for disparate roles, collaborative visualization, privacy, and information integration.

Social Navigation for Big Data

The amount of data in the world is ever increasing. For people to harness it, they must navigate a maze of data silos, formats, and query mechanisms. I designed and implemented a user interface that enables users to uniformly navigate numerous heterogeneous data sources to find information of interest. Once found, this data can be combined with data from other sources to produce new, shareable data repositories. I built building a query mining engine to provide social suggestions to users. As the user navigates, my code understands more about what they are seeking and introduces them to other users who have taken similar paths, allowing them to save time by leveraging the work of others.

Mobile Social Applications for the Developing World

Five of the the six billion people on Earth do not have access to computing technology. But that's changing. In Africa, for example, mobile phone subscribers have jumped from 10 million to 400 million between 2004 and 2009. What does it mean to make software that specifically targets these markets? Can social software empower the poor in new and meaningful ways? Social computing has the potential to play a transformative role in the developing world, but tapping that power will require a radical rethink of how we design, build, and profit.

Serious Games in Virtual Worlds

Workers are becoming increasingly distributed, from the far-flung collaborators of open source to worldwide corporations. As team members move further apart in space and time, they lose opportunities for face-to-face interaction and the rich possibilities for team building those interactions bring. This project looks at ways serious games (games that are truly fun and encourage learning) in virtual worlds (like Second Life) might help bridge the gap.

Social Visualization in Software Development

Many software development tools focus on supporting the primary technical work – writing code, managing requirements, filing bugs, etc. Yet with large teams, managing the social aspects of a project can be as complex as managing code. Visualizing social aspects of such projects can help make it easier to find problems and respond appropriately. A key mechanism of the approach has been patented.

Incentive Mechanisms and Online Community

Online communities, large and small, are pervasive yet we know little about what sustains them. I believe that novel incentive structures drive a great deal of work in such communities. But how are such incentives born? How do they evolve? How are they integrated into the fabric of communities? This research aims to explore these questions.

Palaver Tree Online

An online community that supports kids interviewing elders on the Internet to build up a shared multimedia archive of oral history. This is my PhD thesis work. My advisor was Amy Bruckman. Numerous papers have been published on this work; see the project site for more.

Babble & Loops

I spent the summer of 1998 building next-generation prototypes for the Babble/Loops project in the Social Computing Group at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center. Two patents have issued on this work.

Audio Aura

I spent the summer of 1997 at Xerox PARC working with Beth Mynatt on the Audio Aura project. Two patents have issued on this work.

Program Finder

Before coming to Georgia Tech, I worked at the University of Maryland in the Human-Computer Interaction Lab. There, I designed and implemented ProgramFinder, a dynamic query user interface for the Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice that assists in the placing of troubled youth in appropriate programs. This work was published in the proceedings of CHI 97.


Dr. Jason Ellis is a Research Staff Member in the Symbiotic Cognitive Systems Department at IBM Research. His work focuses on the design, implementation, and study of social technologies -- particularly those that facilitate collaboration among diverse user populations. Examples include social visualization for interdisciplinary caregiving teams, mobile collaboration in the developing world, online gaming communities, inter-generational communication, and distributed collaboration in open source development. He holds 10+ patents and has published in top-tier HCI conferences such as ACM CHI, CSCW, DIS, where he has also served on program committees. Dr. Ellis earned his PhD in Computer Science at Georgia Tech in 2003.


Jason B. Ellis
IBM T.J. Watson Research Center
P.O. Box 704
Yorktown Heights, NY 10598

jasone (at) us.ibm.com // ibm related
jason (at) jellis.org // non-ibm
914 945 2487