• Xuan Zhao, University of Michigan


    I am currently a Research Lead at Robinhood. As a founding member of the research team, I lead both foundational and strategic product research to help with our mission of democratizing stock market and financial services. You can check out my recent talk on how I used mixed methods for creating personas at Robinhood.

    I received my Ph.D. from University of Michigan School of Information. My advisor is Dr. Cliff Lampe. My academic research investigates how users and systems work together in curating and exhibiting personal digital data (especially in social media), and how to design for technology-mediated reflection for both self and close relationships, as a way to support long-term interaction between users and their data.

    Before joining UMSI, I got my Master's degree in Communication from Cornell University and and worked closely with Reimagination Lab. I've also worked at Facebook UEX Research, the Intelligent Collaboration group at IBM Research (China), and the Human Experience and Design group at Microsoft Research Cambridge (UK).


    I was born in Jinan, China, also known as "the City of Springs".

  • News + travels

    April 2016: Dissertation defended. Mission accomplished!


    Dec 2015: Our full paper (that I collaborated with Cliff Lampe and Nicole Ellison), "The Social Media Ecology: User Perceptions, Strategies and Challenges" has been accepted for publication at CHI 2016. You can download the camera-ready version here. See you in San Jose!


    Oct 2015: Successfully defended my dissertation proposal "After You Press 'Share': Supporting Identity Management and Identity Reflection on Social Media". My thesis work argues that content sharing on social media goes beyond a decision made at the moment – it is followed by continuous efforts to manage one’s outwards presentation across platforms over time, and presents unique opportunities for future personal use of the data, such as reminiscing and reflection.


    I am now officially ABD (all but dissertation)! Thanks to my amazing committee members: Cliff Lampe, Dan Cosley, Mark Ackerman, Daniel Eisenberg.


    July 2015: HCIC 2015, Pajaro Dunes, California.

    April 2015: CHI 2015, Seoul, Korea.

    March 2015: CSCW 2015, Vancouver, Canada.

    Jan 2015: Defended my prelim and achieved PhD candidacy!

    May 2014: Started my second internship with Facebook UEX Research (Photos team).

    April 2014: CHI 2014, Toronto, Canada.

    Feb 2014: Selected as a finalist for 2014-2015 Facebook Fellowship.

    May 2013: Moved to Cambridge, UK for my internship with Microsoft Research (and the awesome Sian Lindley at Human Experience and Design group).

    April 2013: CHI 2013, Paris, France (We received a Best Paper Award!)

    Feb 2013: Moved to Menlo Park, California for my Spring internship with Facebook (Identity team).

  • Research statement

    My goal is to improve research and design in social media systems by examining the long-term relationship between individuals and their own social media data. Much of my work in this space revolves how users and systems curate personal digital traces together over time and across sites, and how users and systems collaboratively derive meanings from, and make sense of these interaction traces.


    Research on the use of social media often highlights the value of social connectedness and communication. A significant part of this discussion of users’ motivation to connect to and interact with their social network members has been situated in their use of social media in the “present”, as a snapshot in time. However, most social media do not just facilitate sharing and social interactions at the moment, but also present an aggregated history of user-generated content and interaction traces between users. The fact that this space affords data persistence makes identity presentation more challenging - while the same shared content persists, the online social contexts could change over time. Recognizing this challenge, there is more theoretical and empirical work needed to explore not just how people share, but what happen after they “share”.


    Drawing on work from sociology, psychology, and mostly work from HCI, my research contributes to work in this space in two major ways. In one camp, I aim to unpack the identity management work on social media from interpersonal, temporal and spatial perspectives – I argue that systems should support users in managing their social media data with other people, and managing their data over time and across multiple sites. In another camp, I explore how design could help repurpose one’s social media content for triggering reminiscing and meaningful self-reflection. With the rapidly changing trend in personal data archiving, my work will hopefully contribute to the field’s understanding of how people value and manage their online presence as part of their digital archive, as well as how to advance the design agenda to help people deal with more devices, more types of digital belongings, and more diverse places for storing and encountering personal data.


    Earlier in my research career, I was interested in exploring the role of social media in facilitating team collaborations, and how psychological needs of organizational members affect their perception and use of technology in general. This secondary interest of mine led to a few published projects exploring how to design in-house technology to promote awareness and knowledge sharing in organizations.

  • Projects

    "Facts never speak for themselves. They must be selected, marshaled, linked together, and given a voice.”

    social media ecology

    Managing and Making Sense of Personal Data Across Platforms


    This on-going project aims to understand how people manage various communication platforms in a personal ecology, and then further explore whether a holistic reflection on one’s personal content on multiple platforms (including multiple social media) brings more self-consciousness on individuals’ goals, communication patterns, and their relationships.


    Our first qualitative study (in submission to CHI16) provides evidence that individuals now face the challenge to manage content sharing across platforms, and factors that go into their decision-making regarding how to navigate different spaces are entangled with their dynamic informational and relational goals (more details to follow).


    As a follow up (and last piece of my dissertation), I am using design prompts to examine whether reflecting on one’s social media content in related to other communication traces offers a new way for people to contemplate their various personal and social goals, and gain important self-knowledge for planning future behaviors.

    Remembering with Social Media

    CHI'14 [video preview]

    Working with my mentor Sian Lindley at Microsoft Research Cambridge, I conducted this study to explore how social media, over time and across sites, forms part of the wider digital archiving space for individuals.


    Our findings highlight how although some sites are more associated with ‘keepable’ social media than others, even those are not seen as archives in the usual sense of the word. Results show how this perception is bound up with five contradictions, which center on social media as curated, as a reliable repository of meaningful content, as readily encountered and as having the potential to present content as a compelling narrative.

    Managing Personal Data on Social Media Over Time

    Best paper award at CHI'13 [video presentation]

    By looking at deletion behaviors on Facebook, this project explores how the relationship between individual users and their social media data might shift over time.


    Our study applies both Goffman’s theatrical and Hogan’s exhibition metaphor for examining the actions users take to manage social media data over time. We found the need for creating digital content for performance purposes might contradict one’s intended long-term image as time goes by, as both goals and audiences change. We also discovered an implicit negotiation between users and the system in terms of how personal data on social media platform should be “exhibited”. Emphasizing users’ role in curating their digital traces allows us to rethink appropriate design metaphors for social media that nicely support and acknowledge users’ needs and expectations.

    Negotiating Privacy and Co-Presence on Social Media

    One’s online presentation often involves decision making and negotiation process with others, and they often find themselves balancing multiple, sometimes contradictory, relational and identity needs. This project explores relational dynamics which often get neglected in collaborative privacy management literature, and explores design possibilities to better support relational presentation and interpersonal negotiation.


    Results reveal tensions arise when relational partners must manage multiple relationships simultaneously because Facebook audiences are so present and so varied. People also engage in subtle negotiation around and appropriation of Facebook’s features to accomplish both personal and relational goals. By capturing both why people make these decisions and how Facebook’s affordances support them, we expect our findings to generalize to many other social media tools and to inform theorizing about how these tools affect relational development.

    See Friendship, Facebook, CSCW

    Reminiscing Together on Facebook


    With an interest in exploring the potential of social media as a platform for triggering reminiscing and reflection on close relationships, I co-led a project with my colleague at Cornell to investigate how both social media data (more specifically, the “See Friendship” page), and conversation with a partner might help people reminisce and reflect on their friendships. Check news report on our study on U.S.News. 


    Observation and interviews reveal a rich array of practices around why, when, and how people reflect on friendships; that both friends and data make reflection more positive, more focused, and more fun; that those are not necessarily good things; and that third parties are a common theme. These findings suggest a number of design considerations, including supporting different types of reflection, aligning the interface with important moments and content useful for reflection, and carefully considering the fidelity of the visualization and data presented.

    IBM, Knowledge Sharing, JASIST

    Ecology of Knowledge Sharing Technology in Organizations

    JASIST, 2013

    With a mutual interest to study how in-house social software facilitates knowledge sharing within an organization, I collaborated with IBM researchers to conduct a qualitative study on how different information and communication technologies, ranging from emails to social networking sites, can help address challenges for knowledge sharing.

    IBM, Dandelion, awareness, knowledge sharing, CSCW

    Designing for Team Awareness


    Working with collaborators from IBM Research, we designed an enhanced wiki-based groupware (Twitter Dandelion) to support distributed collaboration. Twitter Dandelion is a combination of the work space (area B), where users can work on a collaborative document, and the Twitter panel (area A), where users can post status updates to share with others (as shown in area 1).


    We grounded our design of the new Dandelion on a field study with 15 employees from IBM research lab located in China. You can download a tutorial for it here: MP4.


    Based on successful experience at IBM, we also implemented the Twitter Dandelion for Cornell Confluence, an online wiki system for facilitating student group projects (as shown below). Several undergraduate-level classes at Cornell (e.g. COMM/INFO 3460: Online Communities, Fall’10) have incorporated the use of our system into their online classroom communication.

    Collaborative team, ICA

    Communication in Hybrid Collaborative Teams


    A survey of 274 participants reveals both a high level of Safe Communication Climate (PSCC) in face-to-face meetings and greater frequency of face-to-face meetings have a positive effect on online interactions in hybrid collaborative teams. The combination of high PSCC and high frequency of FtF meetings also increased the willingness to communicate online, but high PSCC was the stronger predictor of future online communication. Findings from this project have important implications for encouraging frequency of meetings and establishing a psychologically safe communication climate in hybrid collaborative teams.

    ICA, Self esteem, technology preference

    Self Esteem and Technology Preference at Work


    In this project I explored the relationship between psychological needs of users and media preferences for informal communication. This quantitative study of 342 employees reveals one’s Organizational-based Self Esteem (OBSE) affects both the frequency of information communication the individual has with others in the organization, as well as what communication media he/she prefers for communicating with others.

  • Publication

    Book Chapter

    Zhao, X. (2009). Informal communication networks. In M. Allen (Ed.). Business and professional communication. Milwaukee, WI: Clark Graphics.

    Journals/Conference Proceedings

    Zhao, X., Lampe, C., & Ellison, N. (2016). The social media ecology: User perceptions, strategies and challenges. To appear in Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI’16).


    Zhao, X. & Lindley, S. (2014). Curation through use: Understanding the personal value of social media. In Proceedings of the 2014 SIGCHI conference on Human Factors in computing systems (CHI 2014), 2431-2440. [paper]


    Zhao, X., Salehi, N., Naranjit, S., Voida, S., & Cosley, D. (2013). The many faces of Facebook: Experiencing social media as performance, exhibition, and personal archive. In Proceedings of 2013 SIGCHI conference on Human Factors in computing systems (CHI 2013). 1-10. Best Paper Award (Top 1%) [paper]


    [co-first authorship] Yuan, C., Zhao, X., Liao, Q., Chi, C. (2013). The usage of different information and communication technologies to support knowledge sharing in organizations: From email to micro-blogging. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology. 64, 1659-1670. [paper]


    Zhao, X., Schwanda, V., Cosley, D. (2012). It’s complicated: How romantic partners use Facebook. In Proceedings of 2012 SIGCHI conference on Human Factors in computing systems (CHI2012). 771-780. [paper]


    [co-first authorship] Schwanda, V., Zhao, X., Cosley, D. (2012). See Friendship, sort of: How conversation and digital traces might support reflection on friendships. In Proceedings of 2012 Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW 2012), 1145-1154. [paper]


    Zhao, X., Xiao, W., Chi, C., & Yang, M. (2011). Integrating Twitter into Wiki to support informal awareness. In Proceedings of 2011 Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW ‘11), 733-736. [paper]


    Zhao, X. (2010). The impact of characteristics of face-to-face communication on online interactions in hybrid teams. Paper presented at Annual Convention of International Communication Association (ICA 2010), Singapore. June, 2010. [paper]


    Zhao, X. (2009). Organization-based self-esteem, media preferences, and informal communication. Paper presented at Annual Convention of International Communication Association (ICA 2009), Chicago, IL. May, 2009. [paper]


    Allen, M., Rae, A., Peterson, J., Rae, A., Kim, K., & Zhao, X. (2009). A method of evaluating the impact of scholars. Paper presented at Annual Convention of International Communication Association (ICA 2009), Chicago, IL. May, 2009.

  • Contact

    Connect with me on social media