I really wish I’d gone to @ctp2015 :(

It sounds like I missed a blinder, but I didn’t even hear about it until it was on. Roll on the publication of any proceedings or papers. In the meantime, here’s a quote from @gamingarcheo Tara Copplestone’s blog, which just hints at the myriad reasons I wish I was there:

Dr. Tobias Winnerling – who artfully compared and contrasted the differential treatment and reception of historic remediation through Lego and Video-game. A key theme within this panel was the concept of ‘normalization’ – that the greater the agency or self-determination there was in constructing aesthetic and narrative, the easier it was to normalize the symbolic system for wide-spread consumption – hence why Lego, perhaps, was seen as more socially acceptable for engaging with the past than its video-game counterparts. This observation was used as a basis for arguing that perhaps with more sandbox style video-games the media form, in the future, will become increasingly normalized and accepted as a way for exploring the past.


Put your phones away

This video came out a couple of years ago. It’s wordless, but it says a lot.

Of course, its nothing we haven’t heard before: people spend a lot of time in social situations looking at their smartphones. But they don’t really want to.

Lets cut to the chase. There are a LOT of companies out there selling (or trying to sell) smartphone based apps for visitors on site. But none of them are worth it.

I’m not denying that some people want to use a smartphone (or Google Glass) to enable a better understanding of a place. But I am saying the majority of visitors really don’t want to use a smartphone or any other mobile device when they are on site. And why would they? They have traveled to, and are immersed in one of the most significant/beautiful/interesting places they know. Why would they want to look at any part of it through a four (or five, or six, or nine) inch screen?

Smartphones (and tablets, but from now on, just read “mobile devices” when I write “smartphones”, or even “phones”) are seen by all those app companies as a cheap and personal way for people to interact with the space they are in. But they are not. Look at the behaviors of those phone users in the video, they are not using them to interact with their surroundings. They are using their phones to transport themselves away from the place they are in.

From the moment Alexander Graham Bell said “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you” phones have always been a method of transportation – into the next room in Bell’s case, but nowadays back to our homes or places of work, closer to absent friends, around the globe, and even into virtual worlds. Even the act of taking a photograph (which some might argue is an interaction with your surroundings) is an act of transportation, whether its to your friends’ sides as you Tweet the image, or back to your home where you are already in the future, remembering this scene.

There’s nothing wrong with using your phone to remove yourself from a space of course. This isn’t a rant against mobile devices. I have no problem with people using their phones at concerts (which seems to fill some others with irrational hatred), or at cultural heritage sites, if they want to take a photograph or remove themselves to the great reference library that is the internet, or to tell a friend what a great time they are having. But lets make no bones about it, when a visitor to a site uses a phone, even if its to hear Stephen Fry (or some equally capable voice talent) tell them a story about the place, they are removing themselves from their surroundings*.

And most people don’t want that. They have come to this place (they may even have used their phones to help transport them to  this place – with on-line bookings or GPS route-finding) to be in the place.

So why do we offer them an app on a device that transports them away? Because of the interactivity? The ability to chose what you want to read about, listen to, or watch? Even the most passive visitor interacts with a place simply by choosing how to wander around it. Our visitors are making choices all the time. Their day is full of choices. Very very rarely do we ever get feedback from a visitor along the lines of “I really wanted to make more decisions.”

The interactivity is inherent in the cultural heritage visit. Sites don’t want to waste money on technology to make the visit more interactive, what they need to work on is making the place more responsive.

So when the phone user does want to take his phone out to look something up, a responsive site makes it easy for him (or her) to connect to the internet, to find the information s/he needs (however unpredictable his/her needs may be) and to download it. Custom apps for smartphones are sold to heritage sites for tens of thousands of pounds. It would surely cost a lot less simply to make sure there’s a pervasive wifi signal and a pointer to the place’s website and/or on-line catalog.

Once that’s in place, then we can build something that works with visitors’ phone to enable the site to be even more responsive, while keeping the visitors firmly immersed in the place, and their phones in their pockets:

A phone regularly sends out a little signal that says “I’m this phone and I’m here.” Recent developments in Bluetooth LE only add granularity to that message. It only take’s the visitor’s consent and the site’s IT infrastructure to turn the signal into “I’m this visitor, and this is where I’ve been.” And that information enables the site to be far more responsive, relevant, to understand the visitor’s interests, to make connections with what they’ve already seen, to tell better stories.

To better connect the visitor with the place.

Which is what we’re all here for, isn’t it?

*There’s some strength in the argument that an audio tour is better at not getting between the visitor and what they are looking at – if only because our ears are behind our eyes, so with headphones on it always sounds like Stephen Fry (or whoever the presenter might be) is standing just behind your shoulder.

The Invisible Hand Revealed!

Back in the days of yore (last year) I attended a workshop run by the digital art collective, Blast Theory. This week they released their report, which fills in all the gaps from my two posts worth of notes taken at the event. Seriously, they took better notes that I did – the document even reminds me of stuff I said. (Playing devils advocate, I’d asked why profiling should be considered a bad thing, if it meant people get better service from corporations – and I get the sort of jeans that make me look good. And its all in the report, though some of the typos suggest they used some sort of on-line transcription service.)

Of course, over the last couple of weeks, as I’ve been further developing the responsive interpretation experiment I’d like to do, I’ve realized that it is in its own small way, all about visitor profiling. And surveillance of course. When the National Trust were thinking of funding the experiment, I was considering trying it out at Grey’s Court, which as the childhood home of Ian Fleming, seems particularly appropriate for exploring the the idea of spying. I hadn’t got so far then as to explore what the story might be, but as I’ve developed the idea for other funding proposals I’ve thought more and more about making the surveillance aspect of the experiment central to the story too.

Part of the reason I want to run the experiment is to test how visitors feel about having their movements around the site monitored. I’ve been thinking how the revelation of that monitoring packs quite an emotional punch, and suggests a story, or at least a “B-plot” around a mystery wherein the players are cast as spies, or spycatchers, investigating the site, and where the final kernel is the revelation that as the watchmen, they are actually the watched. This has been a necessity of trying to create a generic experiment, which can run at any site that the funding requires, but I like the idea of using it to create a James Bond theme at Greys Court, or finding the spy stories in other cultural heritage sites… like Sutton House’s Wolf Hall connections.

The infuriating thing about this search for funding, is the amount I need isn’t actually that much. Well, its more than a little of course, otherwise I’d fund it myself. But at about £14,000 it’s a bit-player in the world of funding. I can scale it up of course, to get closer the sort of money being offered by many funders, but that seems disingenuous in a way.

The Invisible Hand workshop was inspired by Blast Theory’s research for Karen, “the app that psychologically profiles you as you play.” They went to Kickstarter to bring in the last £15k they’d needed. But that was for an already prototyped concept, and they only just hot their target so, what with Kickstarter’s take, the need for rewards for backers, and the reputation which I haven’t got, I don’t think that’s a method I could use…

A virtual bath

Yesterday I had an interesting visit to Kings College London, to attend a workshop in the fascinating space of the university’s Anatomy Museum. I wanted to lie on the floor below the massive skylight, in the position where once a cadaver on a table would have been, while students watched the opening of the body from the mezzanine that extended along three sides. But that’s not what you do, when you are meeting people for the first time, so I sipped my coffee and shook hands instead.

We were there to discuss a neighbor of Kings College on the Strand, surely one of the least known National Trust places in the country. The Roman Bath on Strand Lane is open only by appointment on Wednesday afternoon, but thousands of people must pass every day, hardly glimpsing the signs of its presence. Kings has put a little bit of money into exploring how better access to this (and other) hidden heritage might be achieved digitally.

Martin Blazeby kicked proceedings off by sharing a computer model of the space. Then Alex Butterworth who’s done a bunch of digital storytelling, and Valeria Vitale spoke about two similar (and indeed interrelated during research) concepts The Idea of Water, and A Web of Unexpected Connections. On the two, The Idea of Water most excited me – I could imagine it being installed inside the Roman Bath (which if you want you can peer at through a window when its closed) silently projecting the content (a bubbling source of quotes about water, in essence) on darkened walls controlled somehow by the people doing the peering, or by other virtual visitors in the comfort of their own home, or for than matter, by people walking across Waterloo Bridge…

In between those two concepts Marcia Balisciano of Benjamin Franklin House, shared the frustration of some her her visitors at finding the spaces (mostly) empty and unfurnished, and we knocked about a few ideas around using digital technology to give those visitors a little of what they wanted, while preserving the interpretive philosophy behind the house itself.

On ello

Not much new today, as I’m catching up on the Portus MOOC (final week complete, but I’ve left a ton of gaps in weeks 2, 3, 4 and 5) and trying to lay down few thousand words of literature review (yeah, like that’s happening). But I wanted to pause to reprise something like my Twitter is your friend post from some way back.

Some weeks ago I got an invitation to join ello, the ethical social network. Not from anyone I knew, I’d requested an invite a couple of months back, when ello was starting to make appearances in the press. I joined and found the problem of early adoption – a social network with none of your friends on it. So I invited a few, but ello still isn’t really working for me.

Today though I found my first useful thing on ello – the blog(?) of Tom Abba, an innovative fellow in the realm of pervasive  literature and games. Tom isn’t a new discovery  – I’d already heard about him as the co-creator of These Pages Fall Like Ash, but its nice to have someone to follow

That’s all I wanted to say.