Sunday, July 5, 2009

Mobile storytelling project at Fort Vancouver National Site

I'm working on a new mobile storytelling project in the vicinity of the Fort Vancouver National Site in the Portland, Ore., area, where the Oregon Trail ended for many settlers.

As part of this, I'm conducting a survey of the potential audience and trying to determine what will work best, including the technology to use, the format of the content and the core narrative structure that will have the biggest impact and leave the most flexibility in terms of artistic expression.

In preparation of the survey, I interviewed a neighbor, Dave Griffith, who has an iPhone 3G and an interest in local history. He graciously is allowing me to put a summary of his responses on the blog as well, in case it might provide insights to anyone else working on mobile storytelling projects.

To begin with, he noted, the iPhone doesn't allow applications to run in the background, which means a potential audience member would have to have the appropriate program loaded on the right device and have it ready to go to even start engaging with an interactive mobile presentation. Those are a lot of obstacles to overcome, including trying to create a universal medium when standards are evolving and shifting and each mobile device right now has different applications to do different things.

Let's say, though, that we can create a mobile presentation that can be accessed by the majority of the devices -- including the iPhone, the G1, the Palm Pre and the BlackBerry Storm -- and that they all, or most of them, can use the material in the same basic ways. Griffith's point extends to the idea that somehow these people are going to need to know to have the specific application loaded and ready to go, and any technical glitches between the application and the material will be negligible. How would this mobile story be publicized, especially at the location? How can this material be accessed by the most people, in the easiest way? Those are important questions.

If he could access such a piece, Griffith said he would like that to be a multimedia blend of text, images and video, not just a chunk of text, or a photo or a video. He was intrigued by ideas I floated about following in the footsteps of history while a nonfiction anecdote played itself out, or by interactive mysteries or games, that could be broadly labeled as historical fiction. But when I brought up the possibilities of social networking as part of that, including interacting with other participants as they followed along with the story as well, he said he did not have an interest in taking the idea that far and that he likely wouldn't use such a feature.

In terms of specific content that would interest him, he leaned toward contextual enrichment via real maps, photos of artifacts and journal entries, plus other information that provided details of the ways in which people, especially famous or quirky people, lived in the mid-19th century, when Fort Vancouver was at its apex in history. Yet he thought it also would be fun to experience that kind of material as part of a game, or mystery, or tour, particularly one that was family-oriented and would include children in the process.

All good fodder to keep in mind for later steps.

1 comment: said...

Hi, just linked in from the Mobile Portland group.

This is a pretty neat idea, and one that's fairly realistically feasible with current technology.

Google's Gears plugin, which is present both in iPhone and Android's browser has gps location support, meaning that a phone displaying an html/javascript application in the browser can have access to positioning data.

You could tell visitors to visit the url of your webapp, and then be up and running. You could have javascript poll periodically for position, then update the contents of the app accordingly, with photos, links to youtube videos, mp3s etc.

It's a pretty neat idea. I'm not sure what the rollout of getting access to other phones' positioning data is, but at least in the case of iphone, android, and palm pre, the html/css/javascript rendering is virtually identical.