Locating stories: Report on the afternoon working session
— Middag met Valentina Nisi over verhalen vertellen met locatieve media.
On march 29th was Amsterdam’s Felix Meritis the site of Virtueel Platform’s Locating Stories Scenario Workshop. The workshop was built around the work of media artist Valentina Nisi, who is currently completing a PhD at Trinity College and was a former researcher at the Media Lab Europe in Ireland. Preceding the workshop participants were introduced to Valentina's work in a presentation highlighting three of her completed projects: Weird View, Hopstory, and A Mediated Portrait of the Dublin Liberties. At the center of each of her projects were stories. The works investigate different ways of story construction and narratives, through the use of locative technologies. This subject matter was the starting point for the participants’ brainstorming sessions in the afternoon.
The participants came from a wide variety of backgrounds: education, music teachers, media designers, programmers, interaction designers, artists, and researchers. Many of the participants did have a project to begin with, such as the development of education networks in schools, community driven media networks for the Vondelpark based on existing mobile phone technology, or using the Waag building on Amsterdam’s Nieuwmarkt as interface to express the building's vast history. Another project was archiving stories for small Dutch cities and localities exploring oral traditions of an area. Or investigating the migration and cultural diversity in Amsterdam's Bijlmer district. Other participants had no previous experience with "new media" technologies and therefore had no digital media strategy to build upon, but were heading cultural awareness projects at various locations in Amsterdam that could take advantage of implementing these technologies, such as Mercatorplein.
The afternoon working session began with participants introducing themselves and briefly explaining why they were interested in the workshop and whether they had an existing project to explore or if they came to learn more about the subject matter. The participants broke into small groups of about four, each choosing to discuss a topic from a list devised by the workshop organizers based upon frequently mentioned subjects from the introduction session.
The topics clearly illustrated not only what was foremost in the participants mind, but also the cornerstones to developing a locative media project. For many of the participants this included an ‘open format’ for inputting data, which enlarged the range of subjects to the following list: 1) collecting and representing data 2) tagging, preferences, and keywords for content customization 3) counter strategies against mainstream media labeling 4) storytelling and place 5) sharing media and privacy 6) social implications 7) hi tech/low tech
Of these different subjects the participants used three. Two groups took the subject storytelling and place, one group that ended up splitting in two, chose tagging, preferences, and keywords, and the last group was interested in hi tech/low tech. The groups had an hour to discuss the topic and formulate a final thought to present at the end of the afternoon.
Group 1: Storytelling and place I — Music culture in the Bijlmer
For the first storytelling and place group discussion focused on the issue of calibrating a past archived event to a specific location. Locations sometimes have several different functions or changing roles, causing confusion between the archived event that has happened, and the shifting place that a user is experiencing the archived event. The example proposed was documenting Dutch Hip-hop from the project investigating diversity in the Bijlmer. Often times important events for the Hip-hop scene took place in community centers, which also double as churches. What happens when users experience the event describing a community center when church is in session? Or for that matter what if an important event happens in a completely uninteresting setting?
The final thought to this dilemma proposed lifting the place out of any potentially shifting settings, and creating a single setting visually identifiable to user (much like Nisi's cat solution in Hopstory), in this case benches would function solely for the purpose of users and the project. The solution allows not only for attracting users to a singly identifiable part of the project but can also be used as docking bay for transferring data to a PDA.
Group 2: Storytelling and place II - Storytelling bricks
The second storytelling and place group considered the stories of centuries past kept at the Waag building in the centre of Amsterdam. The challenge facing the group had to do with conveying the long history of the building but in an interactive way, rather than with a guided tour.
Looking towards the structure of the building itself the group concentrated on the individual bricks of the building as objects that could be used to interact with. Each brick containing a piece of the building’s history, not simply meant to explain interesting facts, but also as a way to guide and intrigue the user to other parts of the building. In this sense the building acquires a new sensorial layer and adds to its pre-existing layers of history, as it is literally wired up to become an information tool.
Group 3: Tagging - open expression vs precise clarity of meaning
For the context of this workshop tagging has to do with systems that allow users to meta-tag data for their own purposes, either from pre-conceived tag lists or user edited tag lists.
A conflict on the issue of tagging, preferences, and keywords resulted in the group splitting up. The line of conflict was drawn between a largely theoretical means for thinking about the subject matter versus thinking about practical methods for realizing a project.
For the theory side of the issue it was revealed that this way of tagging presents various limitations rendering the tagging system ultimately useless. On the one hand pre-conceived tagging systems that are not editable are not really open for expression. Users are confined to the tags that the developer warrants as useful. At the expense of open expression clarity can be maintained throughout the inputted data. On the other hand, tags that are open, allowing users to add to the list, suffer from a lack of clarity as nothing maintains a coherent meaning over the tags. It was argued that in both cases, finding what you are looking for becomes senseless. Adding further to the deficiencies of tagging systems has to do with how users tag media items anyway. Tags themselves do not clarify a picture of somebody's cat named robot, from being tagged "robot", or a robot of a cat being tagged as "cat". The point being that tags do not ultimately imply any meaning, rather a sort of overall agreement has to happen for the meaning held within a tag.
Group 4: Tagging: Vondelpark media depot
The practical side of the argument presented was the most well formulated presentation consisting of props, sketches of graphic interfaces, and even highlighting some programming languages to be used. The presentation outlined a media depot at the Blauwe Thee Huis in the Vondelpark, Amsterdam. Using native technologies found on mobile phones such as BlueTooth, users would upload software that enable them to download and upload media onto a server whenever they passed the Blauwe Thee Huis. The project is meant to investigate the highly regimented and divisive park culture, and stimulate communication between the different islands of park-goers hanging out on the lawns, skating or jogging. It is an attempt to draw people who know nothing about one another into contact and maybe begin new relationships.
As much as the previous tagging group didn't present any practical means for solving the great problems posed by tagging systems, this group did the complete opposite by perhaps not entirely considering the power of this media configuration and its use or misuse. In the end, both groups could have used help from the other.
Group 5: High tech / low tech - finding formats
The workshop organizers steered the workshop away from lengthy discussions about technology, however many participants were keen to look at technical solutions, since these can often serve as large stumbling blocks to projects. The trouble with a topic like this is: where do you draw the line? Once the technical details are settled for one situation new details immediately arise. How does someone with no technical background get his or her project off the ground? This quickly became the point of emphasis for the hi tech/low tech group, all of its members firmly placed in the low tech half of the equation, so it wasn't surprising that technology was quickly ditched.
Instead the group developed a strategy for tackling just this problem. Rather than getting too deep too quickly into technical issues, it focused on different formats that can be utilized without a technical background per se. A great deal can be simplified by determining what key actions need to occur, in this case for a story archive developed by the community of Oost Kollendam, three different formats needed to be developed, one for collecting material, another for editing material, and a format for re-distributing the material. This exercise of investigating and developing formats for each stage of the project came out of a fear that simply archiving input didn't make anything interesting, available or coherent. The group discussion pointed out that the system alone will not make meaning, but formats can be quickly derived and edited to help in the process of making meaning installing the necessary technology for each format.
The workshop covered a great deal of ground in a short period of time. For such a complex subject matter it would be asking too much for anybody to walk away with all of his or her questions answered. However, the discussion groups served a good purpose in allowing participants to pitch their ideas, and get vital pointers for what to do next, and options for going forward.
Alexandra Myk (Stichting ICT op School): Using ICT in schools for bridging classrooms www.ictopschool.net
Alex Schaub (Waag Society): Using the Waag building as interface for distributing its history. www.waag.org
Els Ameloot (Cronos/d8d): Developing PDA navigation systems for city tourism and analyzing city problems. www.d8d.com/
Aske Hopman (Waag Society): Using mobile phone technology to connect people at Vondelpark. www.waag.org/waagsite/
Iwan Szomoru (Yo! Opera Festival): Utrecht based project in the Vredenburg, Nu Water Project. url: www.yo-festival.nl/
Michiel Boerman (Geheugen van Almere): Freelance interaction designer interested in moving from knowledge to learning/experience.
Riek Sijbring (de Geuzen): Developing mobile phone narratives for the Czaar Peter Buurt. url: www.geuzen.org/ project: Czaar Peter Buurt
Susanne Loeber: Ways to adapt your own material, adjust a story for a specific people.
Ingrid van Boogaard (Artist): Multi-media game through time. project: City Change Club, De Barten, Den Bosch
Alain Klein (Stichting Beheer Mercatorplein e.o.): Organizing events at the Mercatorplein to bring attention to the neighborhoods unique diversity. url: www.baarsjes.amsterdam.nl
Theo Derksen (Hogeschool Zuid): Audio/video interactive narrative structures, using tags in content description (fabchannel). url: www.theoderksen.com/
Bibi Panhuijzen (Imagine IC): Migration and cultural diversity of the Bijlmer project: Tracks and Trails
Ino Paap (Mediamatic): How can we create interfaces to have different views and how do we adapt it to the viewers. url: www.mediamatic.nl/portfolio/ahm01/ Project: Het geheugen van Oost
Hayo Wagenaar (Ijsfontein): Interested in the cross over between virtual and physical world. url: www.ijsfontein.nl/front.php
Stefan Tax (Stefan Tax | Ontwikkeling en innovatie): Combining interactivity with the flow of historical information from the source to the public. url: www.stefantax.nl/ Project: History of Oost Knollendam
Mu riel Claes(Brussel Behoort Ons Toe): Using a story archive and adapting it to theater pieces. url: www.bna-bbot.be/Public/
George Hulshoff (R&D Management 4 Screens): implementing location based narratives to next generation mobile phones.
Interessante ontwikkelingen die organisatiebreed worden behandeld.