The order or chapters

Today I have been wrestling with a decision, which in the grand scheme of things seems relatively minor. What’s bugged me is that I’ve wrestled with it before and come up with a different conclusion. When I was first drafting my literature review (two bloomin’ years ago!!!!) I could see there were three parts. Indeed as I wrote in the introduction to the chapter:

“Emotional engagement is the theme, the golden thread, running through all three avenues of research that this literature review explores: digital storytelling; interpretive technology; and, narrative structure.

The first is where I started, curious about how games could tell emotionally engaging stories while being interactive and letting their players take control of the game and explore its world, and how those techniques might be applied that to the narrative real world environments(museums, monuments, archaeological excavations and other heritage sites) around us.

The second goes back to a comment a colleague made when I explained I was starting this research. He said “the problem is, companies want to sell us technology, the mark-up’s good and it isn’t very hard work. But we want to buy good content, and that’s harder work to make, and the profit margins are small.” So, can technology help create, rather than deliver, good content, good story? I’ll explore how digital technology allows personalised delivery of experience.

The third thread draws on the findings of the first two, to explore narrative structure itself, and how it might be applied to real-world spaces”

Which all made sense, it seemed, in one chapter. But now, I’m splitting what has become an over-long opening chapter into three. I have thought, until now, that those three new chapters would run in the same order, and I’ve been writing new “tops and tails” that link between the chapters on that basis. But something has discomfited me all this while, and after much deliberation, I’ve reorganized the chapters to tell a better story. Actually, for the most part its about transposing the first two chapters, and pulling some stuff out into a new introduction, not just to the literature review but to the whole thesis.

It does mean doing a little more rewriting, especially of those tops and tails, but the whole job of shifting stuff around is made easier because I’m using Scrivener.

CultureGeek 2017 and Digital Customer Experiences

Better late than never, its a month since I went to two events in one week, and I’ve been so busy since then that I haven’t had time to write them up. Those of you who were following my Twitter stream live may ave some idea what excited me at the time, but for anyone else who might be interested, and more importantly for my own reflection, let me ram my thoughts together into this one post on both events.

We’ll start with Culture Geek in Kensington, which follows on from the M&H show, which I didn’t attend this year. This was the expensive one, with speakers flown in from other countries. I was pleasantly surprised to meet my colleague Alex there, so we were able to reflect a little between sessions, and there’s one thing especially we came away wanting to do, but more on that later. The conference touched on everything digital, including in-visit technology, but of course also plenty of on-line stuff. The first speaker was from that side of the field, Kimberly Drew, social media manager from New York’s Met museum. She drew on her experience as a person of colour doing a history of art degree, and how her life has changed during an internship at Harlem’s Studio Museum when a whole side of black art was revealed to her which had not been covered in her white-centric education.

Keen to share her epiphany, she and a friend started a Tumblr blog on Black Contemporary Art. Now that blog has over 200,000 followers, and she has unintentionally become “a poster child for diversity.” The Met weren’t looking for a “diversity champion” when they advertised the role of Social Media Manager (I asked her afterwards), but you can see why they snapped up such a dynamic, self-motivated blogger, with experience of, and reputation for, reaching out and expanding audiences.

Her work for the Met isn’t all about black art either. She sees the social media as the Met’s fourth space, alongside the 5th Avenue building,  The Cloisters and the Breuer. Her role there is to share 5000 years of art; connect users with the collection; highlight the ways the museum serves art and art history, and to “humanise” the museum and create invitations to participate. This last is the objective that benefits, in theory, from her previous experience, but of course they all do. Reflecting on her talk what comes across most is authenticity. Its a challenge for cultural heritage organisations, to match that authenticity of enthusiasm for both the medium and the message, someone who lives and breathes social media and the cause.

Kimberly is a young woman who inspires, and shows us how to do it, and the organisation she works for is a springboard, not a water-slides forcing her in a corporate direction. She’s one to watch.

The most interesting presentation for my research was given by Joe McFadden of the Royal Opera House. they are trying a number of digital experiments as they redevelop one of their spaces, known as the Piazza, with the intention of increasing the number of daytime visitors. Currently only the tens of thousands annually, which for a central London space, is very few. Their work is in three broad areas: Transactional – things like ordering your interval drinks online, and paying with Applepay; Experiential  – things like AR with hololens and VR (check out the work of the VOID) and post-show video on demand: and, Informational – things like personalised wayfinding (which made my ears prick up, but sadly when I quizzed Joe afterwards, he said they were struggling with the contending needs of different visitors at the same decision point, so It might not happen). We also talked about their current testing of an Alexa skill, so that Amazon Echo users could quiz their “household assistant” about whats on and even, possibly, buy tickets.

Which tied in with a fascinating presentation I saw later in the week at the Academy of Marketing’s Digital Customer Experiences event. There Prof. Merlin Stone of St Mary’s University talked about work he is doing on Baby Boomers and the heath service. These are “the largest generation of older people the world has seen”, but also the healthiest and longest living, the richest, most educated, etc etc. though its early days in the voice first market – he sees signs that they are also likely to be enthusiastic users of Alexa and other home voice assistants, and may well expect services (he was talking about health, but it applies equally well to Opera and Heritage, where baby-boomers are currently core market) to be provided by voice-first platforms.

Back to CultureGeek, Tim Wood of the Ballet Rambert showed us some simple online stuff that had proven surprisingly popular – live streaming of rehearsals. Not fancy dress-rehearsals, but studio work, the repetitive practice of moves and blocking. This is what set Alex and me off on a reverie about making a “slow TV” livestream event of a voyage down the length of the river Wey. One day….
Apart from those presentations at CultureGeek, there was interest as well in Patricia Buffa’s discussion of e-Marketing the Fondation Louis Vitton to Chinese tourists. The Chinese market isn’t a big one for my market yet, they are mostly urban tourists, and ticking off the iconic sites. But if (when?) it becomes spreads into the countryside and independent travelling there’s stuff we can learn here: the importance of Weibo/WeChat; finding Chinese celebrity advocates; doing exhibitions in Chinese partner locations; and, interestingly, the ubiquity of the QR code – “in China your QR code is your business card”.

We also got insight from the Science Museum’s use of Kickstarter to fund the rebuilding of Eric, Britain’s very first robot. We were shown a really interesting content management system created by MIT, and heard about building digital systems for a City of Culture in Hull. There were also some lovely experiments in mixed reality from the National Theatre, including a VR Alice in wonderland that the viewer experienced sitting on a toilet, and Draw Me Close, a VR opera that puts the audience in the naively drawn world of five year old Jordan. I’m not sure how sustainable the business model of this experience might be, the cast outnumbers the audience (of one) so that as the virtual Mum hugs you, or tucks you up in bed, a physical cast member also does it to you, to make an fully sensory experience. Its the closest we’ve come yet to the Ractors of The Diamond Age.

The Digital Customer experiences event was more commercial (after all, it was hosted by the Academy of Marketing at the Direct Marketing Institute). I had been invited to give a presentation, the abstract for which I posted a few weeks back. Apart from Professor Stone, whom I spoke about above, Dr Julia Wolney introduced the day with an overview of all the points in the customer “life cycle” where AI has growing potential.

Ana Canhoto gave a very interesting presentation about the conflicting attitudes to tracking and personalisation. As one respondent told her, its:

… creepy. But, then, it is just also very useful.

Dr Wolny returned to talk about her research into wearables, and the quantification of the self. As a recent wearer of an Apple watch, which I am using to incentivise my own movement, I was very interested in what she had to say. However based on her findings I’m not sure I’m typical. Women are more likely than men to track their fitness, but men are more likely to share their latest achievements. (I am not.)

But perhaps the most intriguing presentation was from Dr Fatema Kawaf – she presented a research technique I had not heard of before, but one I think may be valuable to evaluating heritage experiences. Its called The Repertory Grid, and as the linked article shows it comes out of psychology, a technique as a method to help the individual unveil his or her constructs. As Kawaf demonstrated though, it enables participants to use their own words to construct their understanding of experiences too. Kawaf was thinking about the retail experience, but I wonder if its ever been applied to heritage?

Building a story in Star Wars Indentities

A Stormtrooper marching band? The exhibition attempts to illustrate different values with illustrations like this.

It was Fathers’ day last weekend, as a treat, my family took me to the Star Wars Identities exhibition at the O2 in Greenwich. I was interested for a number of reasons, not the least of which was, being ten in 1977, I was (am) a massive fan of Star Wars. But one of the other reasons was the idea that visitors build their Star Wars identity as they go around the exhibition. This seemed to me to be a large scale, upfront attempt to personalize a cultural heritage visit. (And yes, Star Wars is cultural heritage now, I’m sure I saw other movies when I was ten, but I can’t recall what they were.)

The RFID tag that visitors use for the interactives

The mechanics of this personalization were wristbands, or if you were latex intolerant, “credit” cards, with RFID (I’m guessing) chips, and nine (not ten as advertised) stations around the exhibit where you could make choices that defined your Star Wars identity. The content of the show were props, models, costumes, concept sketches and some original art, mostly from the first six movies (though BB8 and a couple of props were squeezed in to represent the latest phase of production), with two streams of interpretation. One stream interprets the design of characters in the movies, and the second is a sort of “science of Star Wars” strand, with basic interpretation of things like genetics. Some of all this is delivered with traditional text panels, and some is aural, delivered by an IR activated headset. You are given a “medallion” style unit to hang around your neck and hook an earpiece over one ear. Then, stand in the right place in front of a panel or AV, and the relevant sound is beamed to your unit in a choice of languages. All you need to do, is control the volume… and make sure you don’t turn away from the beam, or cross your arms over the receptor, or let anybody tall stand in front of you, cutting of the beam – all of which will cut out the sound.

It’s worth  pointing out that the text comes in English and French. And that may betray the exhibition’s 2012 origins at the Montreal Science Centre. That of course explains where the science interpretation strand comes from, and why objects and stories from The Force Awakens feel shoe-horned in. One can’t argue with most of the interpretation – seeing how the characters like Yoda developed over time was interesting, the science was a bit basic, and its connections with the Star Wars story questionable (the exhibition suggests Force sensitivity is a genetic trait). The stuff on personality felt just one of many different models of personality types that, despite five post-Doc academics advising on it, reads like its been cribbed from a dodgy self-help book. Interestingly, it was the personality test that was the only interactive station that wasn’t a simple choice – visitors had to answer a number of questions before it revealed their personality profile.

When I started the experience, I was looking forward to discovering what my Star Wars identity would be, but three or four interactives in, when I realized that most of the stations were offering choices rather than revelations, I decided to rush back to the start and remake those choices – because I’ve known since I was ten what my Star Wars identity actually was: the son of Grand Moff Tarkin! Given that the character described in the link was mostly made of my direct choices, I am of course very pleased with the result. I was curious to see what my personality test said about me (or rather, about my Star Wars identity). Click on each of the buttons below the biography on the page I linked to, and it highlights the bit text in the biography that was chosen by your answers. So to reveal the personality results, all I need to do is click that button. The highlighted text says:

People often tell me I’m a generally adventurous and curious person, I also tend to be energetic and social.

… which suggests I was really getting into character when I was answering those questions, because that doesn’t sound like me at all 🙂

Actually the interactive I enjoyed most was Events. Touch your RFID bracelet to the receptor and a random life event spins into view, with a choice of how you react to it. I won a city in a “game of chance”, and had to decide (if I recall correctly) whether I governed sensibly, gave up the job, or “reveled in the prestige and borrowed liberally from the city coffers” which is the option I went for (of course). But my boy was disappointed that the random events on offer were not in some way defined by choices you’d already made – he too got the city, and I might easily have been “freed from slavery” by an event. The son of a Grand Moff in slavery? I don’t think so. 🙂

Despite its limitations (which one is prepared to forgive more when one realizes the technology is five years old), the opportunity to create a story like this was very much enjoyed by my family. I wonder if the exhibition had a deeper emotional impact on me because of it?

Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics

There you are sitting down to go back and review a piece of work you completed over a year ago – your literature review. You’ve had notes from your supervisor, some of which you addressed at the time, but others required a little more reading,  which you did, or some deeper thinking about, which you are still doing really (does that ever end?). But over all you are ready to take those forty thousand words apart and rearrange them a bit into three chapters instead of one.

You’ve also got a bit of actual diagram design work, which you also did, and re-did, and tweaked a little, and tweaked a lot, and you are still not yet entirely happy with, but its so almost there that you think you think you can at least put it in and see what people think of it. This picture should be worth at least a thousand words that currently read like a long list.

After the intensely practical work of the previous week, you are ready, eager indeed to get back to the desk and stuck into some long form writing.

And… and someone casually waves a paper under your nose that you’ve not seen before. And you read it and think “how did I miss this?” And look at it and think “I wonder if I should change my diagram?” And then you frown and think “no, seriously, how did I miss this?” And you begin to wonder what else you missed – but that way madness lies.

The paper in question is from 2004. It’s called MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research by Robin Hunicke, Marc LeBlanc and Robert Zubek. A paper written as a result of a series of games design workshops at an annual AI conference, I might be forgiven for missing it on the first pass, but the concepts it offers seem so fundamental I feel I must include it as I edit those forty thousand words. For example take this quote, from page two

The MDA framework formalizes the consumption of games by breaking them into their distinct components:


…and establishing their design counterparts:


Their argument is that the game is a designed artifact, and the content of the game is its behaviour, “not the media that streams out of it towards the player” and they go on to say that each component can be thought of as a “lens” through which to examine the game design. Importantly, they point out that designers and players will use these lenses in opposite directions:

From the designer’s perspective, the mechanics give rise to dynamic system behavior, which in turn leads to particular aesthetic experiences. From the player’s perspective, aesthetics set the tone, which is born out in observable dynamics and eventually, operable mechanics.

It’s their discussion of aesthetics which I think is the first thing I need to add into my thesis. It needs to go in somewhere around Nicole Lazarro and Tynan Sylvester. Like Lazarro, they try and create a taxonomy of fun:

  1. Sensation
    Game as sense-pleasure
  2. Fantasy
    Game as make-believe
  3. Narrative
    Game as drama
  4. Challenge
    Game as obstacle course
  5. Fellowship
    Game as social framework
  6. Discovery
    Game as uncharted territory
  7. Expression
    Game as self-discovery
  8. Submission
    Game as pastime

They go on to describe how dynamics can be created to support or even generate the aesthetics, much in the same way that Sylvester does. (Along the way they suggest ways to “fix” Monopoly, but here they make the newbie error of thinking Monopoly is meant to be “fun”.) And then how the mechanics might enable the dynamics. This being an AI conference, they summarize the approach by showing how an AI prototyped with a simple “peek-aboo” game for toddlers, can be run through the MDA lenses again and again, creating a Rugrats game for older children or even a shooter for teens, all with the same same core mechanic, but different dynamics and aesthetics. All of that is les relevant to my thesis, but I’m going to have to build the fundamentals of MDA in.

A Thank You to the Chawton team

Not the most flattering photo of me ever, as I give an Untour, with Ryan observing. Photo: © Chawton House Library/Darren Bevin

Well, that turned out to be be more exhausting than I had expected. It went very well though. Only one of the visitor (group)s that I approached chose not to come on an Untour, and that was just because they were short on time, having come to see the village’s open gardens as well as the “Great House”. That was on the last day, and was more than made up for by a visitor actually requesting an Untour in the final minutes before last entry. She was very effusive with her appreciation, and indeed, every participant seems to enjoy the tours, despite my pauses as I waited for the wi-fi to catch up with us.

What caught me by surprise (though it shouldn’t have) was the energy required when engaging with the public all day. I say it shouldn’t have, because I used to do that for a job at Hampton Court Palace. But I didn’t come home from that job quite as exhausted as I felt by the end of the week. Maybe I’m just that much older, and more out of shape, or maybe the extra work of limiting my interactions to what the “natom database” defined used more brainpower. But as it turned out all I wanted was to sleep through Sunday. And Monday actually, but I had to go to work.

But this post isn’t all about me. Other people devoted energy to the success of the project too. I want to take this opportunity to thank everybody involved at Chawton, all the staff of course, especially Darren Bevin the librarian, but also the volunteers William and Yvette and intern Ryan. Ryan has, moments ago, sent me his notes from observing a numbers of tours, and he also filmed a good number of tours which give me a few hours of video evidence to analyse too (just as soon as I can find somewhere to securely store all those gigs of data!). I’d also like to thank all the participants who willingly because my test subjects.

Now I have to get my head around all that analysis,which means coding the evidence with Atlas TI (which means learning Atlas TI) and start writing it up. At the same time, I need to edit/rewrite my incredibly long first chapter in my thesis into three or four chapters, plus an introduction. Which I need to have done by the end of next month. The write up of the experiment and the results I have a little longer to do, I’m thinking the end of September. So this week, I’ll make sure my data is filed property and the video stored securely and backed up a couple of times. Then I’ll leave off thinking about Chawton for a while, and go back to Scrivener to get my thesis in shape for the upgrade, which I’ll need to organise for December.


Chawton Untours live: progress review

Its a rainy day today, and so Chawton House Library is seeing very few visitors. I guess that many visitors come to the village to visit the Jane Austen museum, and if it’s dry a good proportion of them follow that up with the short stroll to the Library. But when it rains, with the choice of a warm and dry pub OR a cafe just across the road from the Jane Austen Museum, I guess most people decide they don’t want to brave the weather to come here.

The quiet afternoon does give me the opportunity to reflect on Untours so far. The first thing to note is how helpful every visitor I’ve approached as been. Not one has refused to let me give them an Untour. They have also been helpful on the tours, clearly expresing their interest in objects etc. I wonder how much their behaviour is changed by their awareness of  being observedt, but I don’t think, in the final analysis, that will matter very much for what I get out of the experiment. They’ve also been very patient and forgiving when the (somewhat flaky) wi-fi takes time to get up to speed.

I have the minimum number of volunteers, so I’m currently doing all the Untours, with the volunteers (Ryan doing most of it, and Yvette and William from Chawton’s own volunteer body helping out when Ryan isn’t around) in an observer role, either taking notes or filming the exchange. It does mean that one thing I wanted to test – where two groups come into the same space with different story needs – isn’t something I’ll be able to learn about this time.

I’m not going to make firm conclusions here, not until I’ve had a chance to look at all the evidence, but there are some observations I’ve aleady made. One such is that it seems so far that trying to direct people’s attention my turning lights on is having little or no effect. This maybe because most days, the lights don’t make much difference in the naturally and artificially lit rooms of Chawton House Library. Today, with the gloomier weather, my lights are all more noticable, and I was hoping to see if they finally did start attracting visitors’ attention. But I’ve only given one Untour so far today…

Music/sound seems to be working well*, sometimes the visitors’ behaviour keeps it in the background and sometimes they actively listen. It will be interesting to look back on the week’s notes and films and see if there’s any indications whether particular pieces of music trigger specific responses.

*My wizard of Oz solution for the music isn’t brilliantly reliable – I set the music running, and then set the relevant speaker. The music is all on-line, short pieces on Scalar itself, and bigger files on an AWS server I recently set up for an entirely unrelated podcast. Occasionally one of the servers (I’m not sure yet but I think its only the Scalar one) takes so long to deliver the music that my device (an iPad) raids its own music library for something to put on the speaker. The first time this happened, it was Adele’s heavy piano chords, so I notice in time to stop it and go back to the Austen themed piano pieces that should have played. Subsequently I deleted the iPad’s entire music library, but just yesterday it managed to drag up the Pretenders from somewhere.

Halfway through this post we got a visitor who happily joined my tour, and she was followed by another very interesting couple. So I didn’t manage to finish writing the above until now, Friday morning. Ryan collected a lot of video evidence today, with everyone consenting to be filmed, so that will be interesting to look back on.

Chawton Untours launch

The exhibits are in place, the interactive script is done, the sound files are all uploaded to the server and the lights and speakers are all in place and plugged in. In a little under an hour* we launch Chawton Untours.

The weather is a bit wet and windy today, so its anybody’s guess now many visitors will brave the elements to come to Chawton House Library. But a slow start will might be for the best – I’m sure there will be some snagging today as visitors make choices I haven’t predicted in the script.

The beauty of Scalar though is that I can make changes quickly on-line and they’ll be in place for the next Untour. Indeed this whole experiment is to uncover and solve problems, the sort of problems future “ambient interpretation” algorithms will need to deal with.

You can help by coming to Chawton and joining an Untour. We’re running the experiment until Saturday 10th June. If you are reading this, and can get  to the house (near Alton), I’d love to welcome you.

*Well actually, although I wrote that an hour before opening, I’m about to publish this post just before closing.