Motivation segmentation and a mobile app at Kew

This statistics course, data collection and other stuff has taken up so much time that I feel I’m a bit behind on actual reading. Today is the first day I’ve been able to get into a back-log of things I thought might be interesting. And one thing that was near to the top of the list has proven to be a fascinating read, that’s worth sharing.

Ages ago, Kew Gardens announced a new app to help visitors find their way around and find out more about the gardens. I have a soft spot for Kew, having worked at the Palace, back in the stone-age, before its restoration. So I eagerly downloaded it and had a play. Of course I wasn’t at Kew, and so the GPS functionality was somewhat limited. I closed the app, and resolved to make a visit.

I never did.

So when I saw Delightfully Lost: A New Kind of Wayfinding at Kew, by Natasha Waterson and Mike Saunders, I was intrigued, and now I’ve actually read it, my curiosity has been rewarded. It starts off with a summary of previous digital projects and then the visitor segmentation work they commissioned from Morris Hargreaves MacIntyre. MHM originally did this sort of work for the National Trust, about seven years ago or so, and since then they’ve been touting the same sort of segmentation round other cultural institutions. Its a good model, segmenting visitors not by residence, income, lifestyle etc, but instead according to their motivations for visiting. So for example, were I to visit Kew with my kids, I’d be wanting different things than if I were planning a rendezvous with an old work colleague. Its a marketing tool really, but I think its focus on psychometrics, and classification of motivations (of course MHM do slightly different classifications for each of their clients !), make a useful shortcut to keep in mind when thinking about emotional engagement.

What came across at Kew was that many visitors to the gardens didn’t plan their walk in advance, and two of the most successful aspects of the app were the functions that encouraged serendipitous exploration. One pointed out which plants were looking especially good on the day of the visit, and another sent the user “off the beaten track” to discover a place they hadn’t visited before (or at least,  for some time).

The evaluation also discovered some technical difficulties which impacted negatively on the user experience. The Augmented Reality wasn’t accurate enough, and there was a signal black spot which given the app required on-the fly updating, caused some frustration.

Overall, “delightfully lost” proved to be “a successful design principle for Kew” and I can see it (or rather something like it, I wouldn’t want to nick Kew’s theme) being a useful concept for many National Trust places. I’d really like to look at some of the numbers behind this research though – the paper focuses on the qualitative rather than the quantitative. I’d be interested to see an analysis for the download/usage numbers, and more about the 1500 visitor tracking observations they mention.

There is one line which especially resonates with the phase of research I’m just starting now though, looking at the commercial creative relationship between suppliers and clients.

“Our original vision was hampered by difficulties in procurement—in our experience, the UK government’s e-tendering portal actively discourages digital agencies from tendering for work.”

I’ve heard similar sentiments expressed elsewhere, and not just in relation to government agencies, so I’ll be trying to get to the story behind this quote.

3D at the Smithsonian

Richard at Corvidae send me this link to the Smithsonian’s public front end for their 3D collection. At first glance, it’s just another bunch of 3D models you can spin and twist, but deeper exploration reveals incredible resolution and very easy manipulation: I was able slide my point of view right into the pilot “seat” of the Wright flyer with very little effort. Its well worth a look. Older browsers may not be compatible.

Henry V, the Southampton Plot, geolocation and open source (oh, and punk)

Last Tuesday I’d booked a day’s leave from work so that I could attend the SXSC3 digifest. But 15 minutes in, after the introductions, I had to duck out to hot-foot it back to the university to meet with the Dean and others,to discuss a possible project for the 2015 anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. Now, I know my St Crispin’s day but what I wasn’t aware of is that Shakespeare mentions a plot against Henry V’s life that actually took place around Southampton. We discussed a geolocative game, targeted at 15-25 year olds that might explore the historic plot and tie in with planned performances of the play. It’s very early days yet, but everybody there seemed enthused, and we’ve agreed to meet up again to hammer out a proposal.

So I missed the “Dragon’s Den” presentations that were the centrepiece of the SXSC3 Digifest, but I got back in time to see Ben Mawson win the first prize. Well done to him. Its exciting because the prize money might be just what he needs to get get his 3dBARE technology onto mobile devices. And once its on mobile devices, I’m sure we can find a use for it at a few of the historic sites I work with.

He and I also caught up on the noTours technology that he’s used for outdoor geolocative music. He told me that the people behind it have now made it open source. Which is good news. As I’ve been researching, I’ve become more and more convinced that Open Source is the way to go for heritage applications. Lots of companies try to sell you their own proprietary technology for tours and apps, and you can understand why they put a value on it. after all they’ve paid programmers etc a lot of money to create the software, and  solved some problems that other engineers hadn’t managed to solve.

But the market for this apps is actually pretty tiny, and the institutions that can afford to pay enough for programmers to live on are few and far between. Most sites can’t afford it. So companies selling proprietary solutions a scrabbling over a tiny pie and no-one ever going to get rich in the way that Antenna Audio did with solid state audioguide technology. But if they open sourced their software, they could create a framework for mobile heritage applications that even the poorest heritage sites could use, then then there would be a potentially massive market for content production.

Hmmm I wonder if I can persuade our technology partners on this nascent Agincourt/HenryV/2015 app to opensource their work?

Open source offers the same opportunity for creativity that cheap photocopying did in the 70’s. But the punk fanzine hasn’t been superseded by the digital world. At SXSC3 The Ladies of The Press were on hand to create an instant fanzine: the events of the day recorded, written up, photographed and drawn, printed and distributed to attendees by three in the after noon. Kudos to them. It was especially good for me, who’d missed the events of morning to have this fun record of the day.

Steamships, vampires, pirates, space colonists and emergent narrative

This is a bit of a portmanteau post. Which I guess is what one gets when one’s mind has been concentrating on the mid-term exam for a Coursera statistics course. In the end I got 84%. I might have worked harder (you are allowed pretty much as many retakes as you want) to get a perfect 100, but, you know, life’s too short. And all the time I was discovering things I wanted to share and play with.

First of all, the Full Steam Ahead game from SS Great Britain in Bristol. Created by Aardman for the historic ship, this is a deceptively simple game that explains the principles of Naval Architecture, setting ship design challenges fro the player, and equipping them with the skills and expertise to build a ship of their own for the free-play challenges. I’ve not had much time to explore it, but its looks like its could absorb many pleasant hours as you refine and test your designs.

Next up, Bram Stoker’s Vampires, a game designed for Dublin’s Science Gallery by Haunted Planet. Designed to be played in the vicinity of Trinity College, Dublin (where Bram Stoker, among many famous writers etc., studied), it can in fact be played anywhere else too. It’s a dedicated app for Android, and downloadable content of the Haunted Planet app on iOS. I haven’t actually played this all yet, but it has won awards.

What I have been playing is my 14th Anniversary present from my wife: Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag. I love pirates, me. Not the actual ones you understand, but the romantic ideal of the pirate, and this iteration of Assassin’s Creed, has sea battles, quests to collect sea shanties for your crew to sing, and Caribbean weather to boot! The game starts well, with your avatar taking the wheel of a ship in the midst of a battle. Inevitably, you find yourself shipwrecked on an island, with an “assassin” of the order that gives its name to the franchise. Best him in combat, steal his clothes and get rescued, and you are on your way to a life of piracy.

But not directly. After this first scene you awake in a first-person modern day setting, and it turns our you are researching history for a video game company. Its a pretty clever company apparently, that has the technology for you to conduct your research by “synchronizing” with the life of an actual seventeenth century ancestor (or something like that, I’ve only just started playing).

To be honest, these cinematic cut-scenes are quite intrusive to someone like me that seeks only a ship “and a star to sail her by.” There were no cut-scenes as such in Skyrim, and I think it was better for it, even if the conversations your character had were thus stilted and repetitive. The cut scenes in Red Dead Redemption were somehow more in-keeping that the ones I’ve encounter this far in Black Flag, less offensively jarring. I came across an interesting article about game narrative, that could be seen simply as a diatribe against cut-scenes, but make some very valid points about emergent narrative, citing Dwarf Fortress as an example. The same game was mentioned frequently in Tynan Sylvester’s book.Talking of whom, I notice a spike in visits directed to this blog from Tynan Sylvester’s site last month. That site, it seemed, was getting a lot of hits, interest generated by his Kickstarter for Rimworld. I enjoyed his book so much felt compelled to pledge a contribution myself, and so I’ve had the opportunity to play an alpha release of that game.

Rimworld is aiming for exactly the sort of emergent narrative described in Terence Lee’s article. Of particular interest is that Sylvester is experimenting with different automatic narrators which will become (I hope) a more nuanced version of difficulty level for the game.

Of course its a challenge to think of emergent narrative in a heritage interpretation context, though an experimental archaeology sim would be an obvious place to start.

Collecting experiential data

Last week I spent a little while at Bodiam Castle, collecting some pre-pilot base-line data on the experience there. This is a continuation of the Ghosts in the Garden research, testing some alternative questions and a different approach. At the Holborne Museum, I used paper surveys. This time, I tried a face-to-face approach. I had been planning on doing it all on paper, but as the date approached, and the weather looked wet, I decided to try a more technological approach. Some online research led me to QuickTap Survey. This is an on-line service that makes it easy to create a survey on their website, then download it to a mobile device (I used my first generation iPad), when it appears almost as a “kiosk”, with a screen for each question and very easy to use touch controls or on-screen keypads for responses. There is also an option to put the questions on one page, like a paper survey, but I didn’t try that out.

It turned out to be a great tool in the field, really responsive and quick to use. Each sample took less than two minutes to interview (I asked twenty questions). There was a slider for the Likert scale questions, that some (most) visitors were comfortable using themselves. This has great potential, because it allowed continuous responses. I used seven categories (0-6), but people were chosing to push it right to the top end of six, or “only just” into the six region. Given that the slider stays the same length no matter how many categories you use, you could easily create a Likert scale with 100 responses, to get something that feels like, and may actually be, a statistically continuous integer scale.

There are some working traps to be aware of: I created a question requiring a yes/no answer, but the only options for answers were true/false. But it allowed me to create multiple choice questions with either “select one only” or “select all that apply” and along with the Likert scales and a couple of numeric questions, I was good to go. I was at Bodiam for two or three hours on a damp day when it wasn’t too busy and I managed to ask almost everybody leaving the Castle to participate. None refused, so I only missed the occasional group who left while I was already engaged with a visitor.

The app saves all the responses on the device (which is good because there is no mobile signal at Bodiam) and you can upload them when connected to wifi. I did have a problem here at first, because it turns out there’s a (known) bug which means you have to tell the device that it lives in Canada before the upload works. It was frustrating at first, but the help team responded quickly to my email with a fix (change the iPad’s region settings for the upload).

You can only view that data once you’ve uploaded it. But once its there, you can see it on-line, look at some pretty but not wildly useful histograms and pie charts and, crucially, download the data to your number-crunching computer. The download options are excel or CSV. It looks like the most useful one if you are going to do any real work with the data is “raw CSV” which is mostly numerical. The others all include the actual category words “disappointing, very enjoyable” in the data, which isn’t going to be useful in R. The raw CSV file isn’t perfect though. The True/false data comes as 1 or 2 rather than the 0 or 1 which you might expect (though having typed that, I recall there may be a good statistical reason for that which may have been mentioned in my Coursera course). And he “all that apply” multichoice data comes as a single field with comma separated numbers relating to the order of the categories. An “enhanced CSV” file splits out those categories into separate columns but, frustratingly, doesn’t populate those columns with numeric values but instead repeats the category name. So it seems I’ll have to do a bit of fiddling before I can load the data into R and have a play with my newly acquired statistics skills.

All in all though QuickTap Survey seems a useful bundle of service and App. Its pretty expensive though. I used a Free level, which allows me just one survey with a maximum of 50 questions and 50 respondents. The next level up (which allows for up to ten surveys, 100 questions per survey and 1500 reponses per survey) costs $19 (CAD) per month, and additional devices (if you want more people collecting data) cost at least $9CAD per month each.

It may be that when I need to break the 50 response barrier, I can organise my work to get it all done in just one month, and there’s a free trial of any of the paid levels of service too, but I which there was an academic level for us poor students, like the one Prezi offers.

Now about those “newly acquired statistics skills”. I’ve got a mid-term exam due tomorrow, and this week’s coursework needs to be done by Sunday, So I”d better sign off.