Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Reading Into the So-Called Decline of eBooks

I was reading the 2015 technology predictions from global consulting firm Deloitte released today. Of Deloitte's various and sensible predictions, one stood out for seeming counter intuitive to prevailing trends:
A decade on from the launch of the eReader, print still dominates book sales even in markets with high digital device penetration – and print will likely generate the majority of books sales for the foreseeable future. Sales of eBooks have hit a plateau, or seen decelerating growth, in major markets including the US, UK and Canada. (source)
Particularly surprising in their report is that digital natives are not widely adopting eBooks, instead preferring print books, as Deloitte explains:
Nearly half of 16-34 year-olds agreed that 'eBooks will never take the place of real books for me'. Why do millennials show a preference for print books? One UK study found that 62 percent of 16-24s prefer buying print books over eBooks because they like to collect, ‘like the smell’ and ‘want full bookshelves’. (source)
In the Words of Digital Natives
I was working today at an eBusiness class with digital natives, so I couldn't resist posing this enigma to them. If there was any group that would be most apt to vouch for eBooks you'd think it would be students aged 19-25 in an Internet program. But it was not the case. None of the students appeared surprised by this prediction. One student put it quite simply "It's because eReaders suck!"

Although not a representative sample, none of the students spoke out in support of eBooks, yet they appeared to be quite familiar with eReaders. Various students identified problems with eReaders compared to print books, such as:
  • battery life is a pain and goes out too quickly
  • usability generally poor
  • doesn't facilitate taking notes in the margin
  • hate eBooks that have expiry dates
  • creates eye strain
  • want the ability to give books to friends or resell them
About the Author
This topic has been particularly timely for me as we just got our first eReader this Christmas and began reading our first eBook a couple weeks ago. We got a Kobo device and love it - and coincidentally it is made by a Canadian company. I've been very happy with it, but I thought that I'd let my wife and daughter share their thoughts.

They both loved how easy it is to get books from the library. My wife loved how small and light it is and that it stores multiple books at the same time, "so if you are going on a trip you can take a bunch of books with you very easily". My wife loved the ability of being able to increase the font size and have the book still be easily readable:
Being able to make the font really big is great for my bad eyes. Large-print books are too big, heavy, and hard to find and not all books are readily available in this format. I like that it lights up as I like to have a lot of light when I read. I have used it for over two hours and I didn't get a headache - it's the font size plus the lack of glare.
My young daughter quickly was able to use the various features of the eReader, such as increasing the brightness, search, bookmarks, etc. Here is what she has to say:
I love the eReader. It is easy to use and to read with it. I also like that they have other things that you can do on it like draw. I like how you can get free books from [Project] Gutenberg.
Both agreed, however, that despite these benefits they still preferred print books more. As my wife noted:
I'm of two minds with eBooks compared to print books. I like the tangible qualities of a book. I like seeing books on my shelf and go back to old books. I also like to make notes on my book in my own handwriting.
Counter Points
I was still curious, so I investigated the matter more. First of all, the stats indicating the decline in eBook sales is not quite certain. The Guardian reported a study today from Nielsen that eBooks in the U.K. are cannibalizing print books and are expected to grow:
We think consumer eBooks this year will be worth £350m, with most big publishers reporting eBook growth of double digits – and almost all of that will be in fiction.
Also, Deloitte's findings appear to be focused on eBook sales from book retailers - and likely do not include sales from self-published eBooks or indie publishers or readership of free eBooks and from public libraries. An article also published today in Information Today discusses this issue as well, but notes the high use of eResources from public libraries (my hometown of Toronto was one of two public libraries to have over 2 million such checkouts last year) indicates "e-reading is becoming a staple in libraries across North America".

The Last Word
As it turns out, such a prediction for eBooks is not new as Metro news wrote last April that the reported decline of the eBook has been greatly exaggerated.

The video from Ikea hilariously addresses these points and the return to old tech.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

My Favourite Webslinger Posts of 2014

2014 was a big year for me blogging here. I have been busy blogging for my Deltiology Deity blog. But I my posts for Webslinger have been decreasing steadily.

I even opened the year lamenting my lack of interest in blogging here (which still stands). Despite this, I do enjoy blogging still and had some posts I'm particularly fond of from last year.

Since I started this blog 9 years ago, I have done an annual recap of my favourite posts by month. This year, I'll break with my tradition and use the traditional format of the Top Ten.

  1. Putting Toronto on the Locative Map - I had a great time at the Mobile HCI conference in Toronto last fall, particularly at a workshop on using locative and mobile media to tell stories
  2. There Were Trolls and Anonymous Bullies Long Before the Internet - combining my two blogs into a shared post that examines how postcards from the turn of the last century reflect similar digital media behaviours we see today.
  3. A Webslinger Holiday - recounting all the great digital and mobile media I encountered on my family vacation to Disney World and Universal Studios (including RFID bracelets, virtual reality fun, & smartphones saving the day.)
  4. Social Georeferencing - Bring Content Into the Field - I presented at a conference on social georeferencing, a term I coined for online, collaborative adding of geographic metadata to digital content. This post recounts my main points from my presentation on this trend.
  5. Kid Reviews Mobile Game Tunnel Town - I love writing blog posts with my young daughter and together we reviewed one of her favourite tablet games.
  6. Spam Poetry - Those ubiquitous and generally annoying spam emails can actually be fun sometimes. I encountered one that, oddly enough, made a very evocative poem.
  7. Foursquare Loses Me - this was a sad post to write as I have loved the mobile locative media app Foursquare since it launched in Canada. But when they split the app in two to launch their new app Swarm, they result was less than the sum of its former parts.
  8. Finding and Getting Our Way With Google Maps - I uncovered Google Maps dubious and murky review process for making changes to their mapped points-of-interest. It's not very open, logical, or accurate I found.
  9. Homer Simpson Uses Locative Media - I was delighted when one of my favourite tv shows satirized the topics I've been researching!
  10. Most Frustrating App Ever! - We've all had a horrible experience with an app made even worse when it was one we paid for. But having a blog provides an outlet to vent my resulting frustration!
So in compiling this list, I found that although 2014 didn't have much quantity, it did have some quality. This is reflected by some of my posts getting some always-appreciated attention from some prominent sources. 

I'm not sure how 2015 will shape up in regards to my posting habits or trends in digital media. Despite being interviewed yesterday by the CBC about future technology (30 years down the road), I can't foresee what this year will bring.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Ho and Hum of Online Shopping

The holidays are almost over and I pretty much survived Christmas shopping - the worst part of the endless, obligatory traditions.

I finished my Christmas shopping by early December thanks to online shopping. I did have to pick up a few stocking stuffers at a local store - but if there was a website that sold candies, trinkets, and lip-balm at reasonable prices I'd use it gleefully - such is my hatred for shopping.

I particularly hate shopping at malls and big-box stores any time of the years, but especially during the holiday season. In addition to my hatred of physical shopping, we don't have a car and we live in a city with an inadequate public transit system. And, like most people nowadays, I have very little free time. So getting the time and to the location of physical shopping is a real challenge. Even if I can get there, one has to deal with the hordes of hell at the stores.

Such is my hatred for physical shopping - made a horrendous hell at this time of year - that the protracted pain of Christmas shopping can just completely kill me. So I love online shopping as it has saved me endless grief and given me a semblance of a life during the onslaught of required holiday preparations and traditions. I have done the bulk of my Christmas shopping online for the past 15 years.

Well, I should have had not online shopping let me down this year.

We have bought almost every type of thing online: computers, books, toys, clothes, collectibles, shoes, groceries, electronics, postcards, etc.

We got some good stuff this year via online shopping. I got a great price on a Canon Selphie photo printer for my daughter at a price cheaper than any store had it. Our only computer died on Cyber Monday, I could not go physical shopping as, but we got a great deal online (if a computer has to die Cyber Monday is the best day to do it, but just a bit too convenient).

We got a book not available in physical stores (I know as the bookstore's website has a handy feature to see their physical store's inventory).

We have had a few problems with online shopping. Shoes that weren't really the size they said they were (that's why you always have to try shoes on first).  Shirts that looked great online but were a bizarre colour or odd cut. The laptop I recently got had great online reviews, particularly for its keyboard - but it turns out the keyboard isn't anywhere near as good as it was hyped.

I was going to buy clothes as gifts online, but I learned from my mistakes. Unless the price is so good that one can afford to get something shipped that is potentially unwearable or can be returned at a nearby physical store, then it isn't worth getting.  The return process for items is just too painful and usually too expensive for that to be an option.

Then there are stores that charge just way too much for shipping.  I wanted to get my mother some stuff from Crabtree and Evelyn, but their shipping cost was too expensive. Online stores have such a lower overhead that they can easily afford to offer reasonable or cheap shipping. But at least, I was able to browse their products online and figure out what I wanted so that when I went to the store I was in and out in a flash (I still don't think websites get the credit for motivating in-store shoppers that they deserve.)

The worst this year was trying to find a gift for people that have everything on my student budget. So I saw some cookies on a national retailer's website that seemed unique and cool for $15.

When I got the cookies they were the tiniest pack of cookies I had ever seen. I'm talking the same weight as a chocolate bar.  It was so small that the package was almost the same size as the photo on the website - seriously I held it up to it and it was within millimetres!

It is so expensive that per gram these cookies are about the price of gold, or crack, or elephant "processed" coffee.

Okay, I have to assume some responsibility for not specifically checking the weight of the cookies and figuring out how truly infinitesimal the product is. But then, this store is not known for selling gourmet items and I think they have some responsibility to offer products for sale that are consistent with the overall market in terms of size and to fairly present their products. It didn't help that the size described on the website and the product didn't match either - being off by 25%.

So I was convinced that online shopping had let me down. But then I remember that another great thing about the Internet is how easy it is to complain via email! So I drafted off a complaint about both the inaccurate product description and overall misleading size.

Within a day, I heard back from a customer service agent who apologized, rebated me $10, and escalated the problem of inaccurate product description to her managers.  This awesome response restored my faith, enlarged my Grinch heart, and convinced me to continue my shopping online ways!

Happy holidays!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Webslinger Holiday

I spent a few days in Orlando Florida at their amusement parks and have come to two conclusions:
  1. Mobile devices are invaluable for park visits
  2. I'm sick of simulated/3D rides
I blogged about these topics before, such as Disney World's increasing use of digital media and Canada's Wonderland's poor mobile app.

Although, I have been to a few theme parks, when it came to Orlando my family always went to Disney World and nowhere else. So this trip I decided to try Universal as well as Disney World. I heard the rides are more wild at Universal (partially true) and I was eager to see their Marvel Super Hero Island (awesome!).

So now that I have been to Universal, Disney's main competitor, and also recently at Canada's Wonderland (North America's most visited seasonal amusement park), I am able to compare North America's top amusement parks on their use of digital media and mobile technology. Disney is definitely a leader in this area (although they have inferior postcards, see my other blog's post, Universal Postcards Best in Universe).

Universal Studios Islands of Adventure with pictures of Marvel superheroes
Since I was last at Disney World a few years ago, they made huge changes in their use of user tech. So here's my recap of the cool things the parks are doing...

RFID Bracelets for Visitors
One of the most noticeable changes is that Disney has replaced park tickets and cards with RFID-enabled wrist bands called MagicBands. These bracelets not only provide entry to one's hotel room and park (with fingerprint scan needed as well), but can also be used for food and gift purchases (with pass code provided as well), claiming photos from rides or Disney photographers, using FastPasses, or for a new interactive game.

I liked the bracelets as they are quick and easy to use and worked flawlessly. I like that I didn't have to whip out my wallet all the time, as I have habit of losing it. I also like that the bracelets are waterproof, so I can wear it in the pool and don't have to worry about someone stealing my room key or wallet.

I don't believe the privacy concerns raised are a worry - seeDisney's privacy policy.My only complaints about the RFID bracelets are that I did find it uncomfortable to wear on hot days. Unlike other parks and resorts that make guests wear a wrist band, MagicBands can be easily removed. Also, Disney sells accessories for them, "Band Its", but they always kept breaking or falling off, much to my daughter's upset (and wasting $20).

Planning Online - Gaining Efficiency, Losing Spontaneity
Disney has made increasing use of the Internet to allow people to pre-plan their trip for booking dining reservations and passes to rides and shows.

My favourite example of the technology combining masterfully was for our lunch at Be Our Guest restaurant at Magic Kingdom. We had pre-ordered our meal online months in advance. Within moments of sitting down at a table, a server brought our meal to us, without us having talked any waiters first. The RFID bracelets alerted the kitchen of our order and provided our location for the server to locate us.

Disney allows guests purchasing park tickets in advance to book three passes a day to rides, shows, or character greetings. These FastPasses allow one to skip the queue. I find Disney's system to be much more fair than other parks (Canada's Wonderland and Universal Studios charge people almost double park admission to get such passes). It's also better than Disney's prior system, which required people to physically go to the ride every day to claim a ticket - you had to be there early before the day's allotment of passes ran out.

Having had a miserable time at Canada's Wonderland recently where we had to wait in line at least 30 minutes for every single ride and up to 1-2 hours for top rides, I won't go back to a park in-season without such a pass. I hate waiting in line in the full sun (as Wonderland makes guests do) for the bulk of my day and paying about a $100 to do so. The only down side to such passes is they instill a forced rigidity to one's schedule that doesn't facilitate unstructured fun or serendipitous surprises. But it does free up 3-5 hours of each day that would otherwise be spent in queue hell, so that more than makes up for a loss of spontaneity.

Mobile Devices a Must
All of the trip planning done online gels beautifully with Disney's mobile app My Disney Experience.

Disney provides free wifi at the parks and hotel rooms and grounds - as does Universal. For all parks, we found coverage is not great and there are many places where no coverage is available. We were only able to connect to wifi in about half to two thirds of any of the parks. As one is frequently moving around at the parks, it wasn't a huge problem, but it really should be improved.

When we were able to connect to the Internet, having a mobile device was invaluable.

We loved Disney's mobile app. It's effectively displays one's plans (restaurant reservations, FastPasses, parades, etc.)day-by-day at a glance. The app makes it easy to see restaurant availability and book reservations (we were able to get a character dinner that surprisingly came available for a few minutes). It also makes it easy to change one's FastPasses too - up to the day of the pass. Supposedly, after one has booked their three allotted FastPasses of the day, the app should allow one to book new FastPasses - but this feature never worked for us.

I loved Disney's GPS-enabled map feature. I have never been to any theme park where I was able to find my way around - or find a washroom - without great difficulty. I usually refer to a park's printed map at least 2-3 times every hour at least. And I still had to as it often was the case that when I needed directions, I couldn't access Disney's wifi.

Disney's app shows wait times for all rides, which is great for planning one's park visit to maximize ride time and minimize queue time. Disney didn't use to provide this info beforehand, and we had to go to a third party website to get it. So I'm glad they have it now. We were asked twice while entering a line to carry a device that tracked our wait time, so I know the info was valid. And it was highly-accurate - always within 5-10 minutes and usually over-estimating the waits.

Disney's app also shows upcoming parades, shows and character greetings. I don't like that the app shows only the one next character appearance and not the full schedule. The character schedule was inaccurate occassionally too. The biggest Disney disaster was when we waited for 30 minutes for a character greeting and the character didn't shouw up, causing my daughter to burst into tears. Character greetings for her (and many other children and adults) is as important as rides, so this is something Disney needs to do correctly.

I didn't use Universal's mobile app as we had almost no wait times for rides (YES!) and the park are well laid-out so it was easy to find my way around. My wife used it and it has similar features to Disney's.

This is the first trip to an amusement park where I brought my mobile device. It was invaluable to be able to email my partner when we split up. But it does have the down side of also getting work emails at the park (but then addressing work problems while at the "Happiest Place on Earth" is better than coming home to the dreaded email avalanche the first day back).

This is also the first trip that we didn't bring a separate camera. It made things much lighter and generally our mobiles provided satisfactory quality (except for night photos).

One thing I hated is that both Disney and Universal had services or interactions that relied on text messages and don't allow emails as well. This is really stupid as many visitors are from out-of-town. Roaming charges being what they are, we had our voice and data plan turned off. You'd think the companies would know this and allow email which works on wifi.

Augmented Reality App - Potential but Problems
My daughter, like most young girls, loves the movie Frozen. So while she was playing at Wandering Oaken's Trading Post, I noticed they offerred an augmented reality experience there. It required the app Aurasma. Aurasma claims to be the world's leading augmented reality app, but I had to download it for this.

Apparently, this Aurasma installation is notoriously buggy. In general, I have had dismal track record with a.r. apps, see my past post on this (do they ever work well?). My wife has a newer mobile device, so I first tried it on her Android device, but even I and two Disney employees couldn't get it to work on her mobile. It worked, if inconsistently, on my old Nexus oddly enough.

Disney only has configured the app to work on two spots at Oaken's. When working, trolls or reindeer appear on your camera screen, do a brief action and then pose for photos. The final picture quality wasn't that good though.
It was a lot of trouble to get working, so I was disappointed Disney only used it so seldom. I read they have an installation for Star Wars weekends - but why only then?

If Disney made more use of installations throughout the parks and could make the tech work on more devices and more reliably, it would be an amazing experience! Who wouldn't like finding, seeing, and posing with Disney characters throughout the park and without long lines! It could also be used to help one find hidden Mickeys (I had to search mobile websites for this info).
Simulated Thrills
I have liked wild rides since I was a kid, but didn't have any friends or family that shared this passion. Until recently - my daughter just recently passed the height and courage requirements for wild rides. This has opened up a world of possibilities for me. I got to go on some great rides at Canada's Wonderland and I was expecting Universal to top this.

It seems, however, that Disney and Universal are focusing all development in rides on simulated and hybrid rides (a.k.a. motion-based 3D dark rides).

In short, some of them are great, but these parks have too many of them and after a few days of them they get boring.

Simulator rides are stationary rides that use 3D or large-screen projections and move the audience to correspond with on-screen motion to achieve the sense one is on a dynamic, moving experience. I didn't know until today that the world's first such ride was my hometown of Toronto's Tour of the Universe.

Most rides use a combination of physical movement, actual sets and animatronics, and "4D" techniques (vibrating chairs, scents, bubbles, lighting effects, fire, etc.).

First off, I like many others, hate wearing 3D glasses. In many cases, the glasses don't work well enough to justify their existence. They make everything darker and less sharp and they introduce a barrier between me and my immersion in a world. 3D is so common nowadays in entertainment and rides that it isn't a draw for me or my kid. At the worst they don't work - as happened for both me and my daughter at Disney Quest's Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for Buccaneer Gold where problems with the 3D tech resulted in us both having double and blurred vision and ruining what would otherwise be a very fun and immersive game-ride.

Simulated rides also often don't deliver the same physical feeling as real rides and they don't offer the same perceptual level of experience. They are the only rides that have ever made me feel motion sick.

I did like Disney's Star Tours: The Adventure Continues - but probably only because it was themed as Star Wars and being in a rocket pilotted by a real C-3P0 while encountering Darth Vader is a fanboy's dream come true. Universal's The Simpsons Ride was similarly fun to be able to enter another world that would otherwise be impossible, but the actual ride part, as with other simulators, was lacklustre.

I also liked Disney Quest's personal simulated roller coaster, CyberSpace Mountain. I enjoyed this because it was the first personal simulator ride I've ever been on and I loved that the simulation was designed by my daughter and I.

Simulator rides would be better if there were less of them. But I found the best experiences were ones that were a hybrid between simulator and actual ride, such as Universal's& Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man. But I don't like it when the ride stops for a long time as most of them do to display a short theme-related scene - interrupting the motion of the ride ruins the momentum of the ride experiences.

After many days of 3D shows and simulated rides, I was impressed by Universal's The Revenge of the Mummy ride. It makes engaging use of real sets, special effects, and projected imagery and a real roller coaster. It and Disney's Space Mountain are my favourite Orlando rides as they deliver unique, themed and wild ride experiences.

Real Interactions

Disney World has three interactive games that allow players to travel around the park and solve clues and play with the park environment.

  1. A Pirate's Adventure ~ Treasures of the Seven Seas @ Magic Kingdom
  2. Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom @ Magic Kingdom
  3. Phineas & Ferb: Agent P's World Showcase Adventure @ Epcot
We did all of them - except that we did the Phineas & Ferb one when it was themed as Kim Possible. Interestingly enough, each game used a different input method - the RFID bracelets for the first, cards for the second, mobile devices, and magic wands (that cost about $50). Disney provides the mobile devices for the Phineas & Ferb game - which I was dismayed as I'd much prefer to be able to use my own device (although I realize that ensuring compatibility and performance would impossible).

All the games have a similar structure. Players are given maps or instructions to travel around a park area and solve clues to find specific spots for their next interaction. Each interaction spot requires a player to confirm their presence by activating a site sensor through their input device. Then either a short video or audio clip will play that advances the narrative and leads a player to the next clue. This step may also involve the world responding in some way, e.g. a statue moves, a painting comes to life, a canon fires, or a treasure box opens, etc. Game play takes about 30 minutes and can be played at the player's own pace.

Universal Studios had just one interactive experience, and it isn't a game so much as just playing:
Universal is getting a lot of hype for the magic wand experiences which they launched earlier this year. But Great Wolf Lodge has had a very similar, and I'd say better, game, MagiQuest. We played years ago and it also allows players to interact and move objects in the real world.

The problem with both MagiQuest and Harry Potter wands is that the motions required are too complicated and the sensors are not sufficient. First, it is pretty much impossible to get them to work on the first try without having someone showing you. Neither Universal or Great Wolf Lodge have staff readily available for assistance, which results in lots of frustration. Fortunately, other park visitors noticed our problems and helped us out (as we did with others once we knew what we were doing).

So the only way to get these things to work is to find the sensor - which looks like a little camera - and do your "spell" pointed right at it. This totally ruins the illusion and immersion of the experience. Ideally, the sensors should not be visible, but people should definitely not have to perform for the technology.

Blogger Kristin Ford has excellent reviews of Disney's games (see review of #1#2 and #3). She points out the main problem with these is that if there is a queue for the spots the players ahead of you will spoil the surprise for you. We got our Harry Potter wand an hour before the park closed and the place was almost deserted. So it really was magically when we got to make the Harry Potter world come to life and were surprised by what happened. It is quite the opposite, when you are the fifth person in line to do the exact same thing.

My daughter loved the interactive experiences. Her favourite was Disney's Sorcerer's of the Magic Kingdom. She liked that there was more of a story than the other ones and that the cards worked seamlessly with the sensors. She also loved using and collecting the cards - and I like how Disney gives the cards for free (a pack a day) compared to the over-priced wands. She liked the Harry Potter wands, but wanted there to be a story element to the play.

Post Trip
We purchased the Memory Maker package for our Disney World visit. This gave us access to unlimited photos taken by Disney's ubiquitous photographers and automated ride photos. They also have two videos one for Seven Dwarves Mine Train and Tower of Terror but the latter's video broke down the day we were there.

Once we had our picture taken by a photographer, we had them scan our card or bracelet. The photos are automatically uploaded to our Disney online account. From their website sharing photos, downloading, or posting to social media sites is easy.

What I most liked about the Memory Maker photos was access to some special Disney stuff. They give some stock photos of Mickey and some characters we met (my daughter would have liked more of these). They also give access to Disney themed borders and clip art, that users can add to their pictures.

I wanted to be able to upload my own photos to get access to the borders and clip art, but Disney doesn't allow this. This is my biggest complaint - that and that purchasing any of their photo products (e.g. albums, mugs) are insanely expensive - about twice as much or more as equivalent photo providers.

Disney photographs offer some cool treats too. They have you pose a certain way and then Disney characters are automatically added in. My favourite is when my daughter was photobombed by the reindeer Sven.

Disney is really leading the way with amusement parks in using digital and mobile media to deliver fun and useful guest experiences. There are still some areas to improve, but they provide a great example of what can be done with this technology.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Kid Reviews Mobile Game Tunnel Town

I have a guest blogger for today's post, my young daughter.  She recently discovered mobile app game by the maker's of National Geographic's Animal Jam that she loves! It's called Tunnel Town.

It's a free game available on Android and iPhones. 

As I type this she is getting a new a new bunny in the game for me  - it's Halloween themed (my fav holiday) and she's naming it after me.

Daddy Glenny the Pumpkin Bunny

Here is her review:


I heard about Tunnel Town from an ad on Animal Jam a few months ago, and then a kid in my class talked about the game and then I remembered it. Then I felt like I wanted to try it, so my mommy downloaded it for me to our tablet. I thought it sounded cool and it is. It's good. R-e-a-l good!

The bunnies are from Jamma and they are dancing but then a phantom comes and takes them to Tunnel Town, a land where the bunnies have to learn to dig underground.

What you do in the game is get bunnies and make rooms underground and you can decorate or get things for the bunnies to do.

You start with a bunny and you can name your bunny. The first bunny I got I named is Alyssa. She is a Dust Bunny from the Desert. 

Alyssa in resting in her chair
Click on a bunny and if you want to find out about the type of bunny it is or where it is from. Then you can read more about it. You can also tell how much energy it has.

These are not real bunnies. They are just virtual ones. So like a squid bunny - they don't exist. They have really weird bunnies, like turtle bunnies, a cactus bunnies, chinchilla bunnies. There is even a sea-foam bunny. 

You can play with your bunnies. Bunnies can mine, dance, sleep. They jump and hop around on their own. They can fly using their ears too. If a bunny gets hungry or tired, they will tell you.

At the bottom of the screen is a camera button that takes a picture of Tunnel Town. That's how we got these pictures posted here.

You start with three garden plots. You get more plots as you level up. You can grow food for your bunnies to get energy.

The Garden Patch
Bunnies need energy so they can do their work. If you want them to dig they need food. If you want them to mine, they need food. Bunnies don't care what type of food it is, but some give them more energy than others.  Normal carrot seeds are free. You need gems or stars to buy other seeds. When the food is grown it glows and makes and a noise. I like growing food so the bunnies have lots to eat.

To get new bunnies or to decorate, you need to buy them with gems or stars. In the bunny tunnels are mines that the bunnies can work to get gems.

Bunnies hard at work mining gems for currency
They give you things to do and if you do them you get rewards. For instance, I had to get a kitchen set, which includes a stove, a kitchen sink, and a refrigerator. Or you might have to get a bathroom set.

Bunnies doing their bathroom business

You get new goals. When I first started I had one, but now I have 11 goals. You can also collect bugs and you can get rewards for doing that.

Bunnies go to the dance floor to breed babies. It can be any two bunnies that are level four and up. It is a mystery what kind of bunny you will get. You can also adopt bunnies by going to the store and buying one. I like to buy bunnies more because I can choose what bunnies I get.

Bunnies looking at each other
I made rooms for the bunnies based on the colour of their fur. Each room I want them to have a rug, a bed, and an accessory (a clock or a stool).

A Bunny-of-Paradise named after my mom

You put the bunnies into the bed and they go to sleep. They curl up and make cute snoring sounds and there will be zzzs. That's how they get energy.

Sunny the Cactus Bunny sleeping her bedroom
 Usually when I go I like to put them to bed or in a chair to be polite to them.

Sometimes it is really hard to find bunnies as they wander around wherever they want, so you have to search for them.

I like this better than Animal Jam because you can do everything without paying. I also think it is really cute how they have weird and adorable bunnies. It's easy to use. Most of all, it is a lot of fun!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Returning to Toronto's Tech Centre for Mobile HCI Conference

I spent much of this week at a tech conference at the Hyatt hotel on Toronto's King Street near Toronto. I haven't been to this hotel for many years, since the height of the dot.com era. The hotel was a Holiday Inn back then. There wasn't much else of note in this area except parking lots and a few restaurants. Back then this former "fashion district" was increasingly populated by tech startups filling the old smallrise buildings left by banished furriers.

The first two jobs I had in the tech sector were within a few blocks of the hotel so we had all-staff meetings at the hotel a few times. Where TIFF is now was a parking lot that I shortcutted through to work.

A business association formed in this area, called SpadinaBus, to foster the nascent Internet sector companies and workers. Pre dot.bomb there were big events and great tech work being done within about 10 blocks of this area. SpadinaBus reached its last stop in the early 2000s along with the Internet crash. Since then Toronto's tech sector (and Canada even) has become decentralized (and less extravagant in their parties).

Now I'm back here for an international tech conference and it was both strange and nostalgic.

The conference was Mobile HCI, an ACM conference about front-end mobile innovation. I volunteered at the conference so I didn't get to attend many sessions, but there were some excellent work. It was the best organized (and cattered) academic conference I have ever attended (which made conference volunteering actually a pleasant experience for the first time).

As with many academic conferences, the presenters are not the most engaging (to put it mildly and politely). I would also have liked to see more of an emphasis on the human dimensions of innovations presented - i.e. more "H" of "HCI". I also think that there needs to be a better mix of methodology - more qualatative data would have helped demonstrated the value and dimensions of the innovations presented.

The conference papers are made available freely for a year. Here are the proceedings.

There was an insipring keynote, Collective Mobile Interaction in Urban Spaces,  by Amahl Hazelton of Moment Factory from Quebec, outlining his organization work of digital, multimedia art and entertainment installations.

Here are my favourite work presented at the conference (with a link to the paper).
The highlight for me, however, was the workshop lead by Martha Ladly on locative mapping and geo-targetted storytelling - as I covered in my blog post, Putting Toronto on the Locative Map, earlier this week.

It was great to hear about some inspiring work happening in my field and returning to the site where my tech career began.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Putting Toronto on the Locative Map

It seems that in tandem with the growing popularity of cellphones and then smartphones and tablets has been the criticism that they detract us from our world. Concerns that technology distances us from the real world and our real lives goes back as least as long as the Luddites raged against the machines 200 years ago.

Technology in the form of mobile computing, cell networks, open geographic information software, and social media have come together in contemporary mobile devices and have undoubtedly impacted our relationships to the physical world in numerous ways. Mobiles have made it easier for us to stay connected to one another throughout our daily travels, to find our way in unfamiliar spaces, or to report political events to the world.

Yet much of the academic research on mobiles has neglected the human dimension and instead fetishizes technology or has shunned it all together for its perceived dehumanizing qualities. There are a few scholars who are demonstrating that mobile technology can be used to enhance or share our relationship to the physical world.

One such scholar is Martha Ladly, a professor at Toronto's OCAD university. Martha's work has explored how mobile devices can be used to share spatial stories and representations that foster people's connections to the places they encounter. In 2007, she developed an early locative media app, Park Walk, which used the GPS capabilities of people's mobiles to deliver geotargetted narratives of particularly places (Toronto's High Park and Grange Park).

So I was really excited when I heard that Martha was leading a day-long workshop in conjunction with the Mobile Human Computer Interaction conference occurring this week in Toronto. The workshop called People, Places, and Things - A Mobile Locative Mapping Workshop was organized by Martha, Bryn Ludlow, and Guillermina Buzio. They described their goals as:
Cultural production is about people (both contemporary and historical); places (existing situations, and their connections with the past); and things (artifacts and archives). In this workshop, participants will learn how to explore people, places, and things through the creation of personal narratives in small collaborative groups. They will then visit and locate their stories in public space at a nearby local park, connecting with their potential audiences through mobile storytelling and interactive GPS mapping on Google Earth.

Lucky for me, Martha made it possible not only for me to participate in the workshop but also invited me to help out in planning it. Martha had lead a similar workshop in Italy and shared with me her steps. With Guillermina, I put together instructions for the workshop that lead people through mapping a route via their mobile device, documenting their experiences and impressions, plotting them on a map, and sharing them with others. I posted the instructions so that others can also do it as well.

What I found particularly exciting about the workshop is that it uses technology often used for plotting quantitative info related to demographics or infrastructure and repurposes them to plot and share the very human elements of stories and creative expressions. As one who follows the mobile and geoweb fields, this use of technology is not as common as it could/should be.

Before the workshop, I tried out all the steps with my ten-year-old daughter at her favourite park. As I mapped her route via the GPS-tracking app MapMyWalk on my mobile device, my daughter took pictures of her favourite places on another mobile. Together we made short videos on the mobile of her describing the park's highlights and her memories. Later, she used the free photo-editting software to Picasa to play around with the photos to make digital art.

Using Google Earth, we imported her route as a path and plotted her photos and videos of the park onto a map. My daughter did almost all of this by herself (it's that easy to do). She loved the ability to have her stories and images added to the map and loved interacting with it all. She wants me to do this workshop with her Grade 5 class (even if it is easy and fun to do, the idea of being with 23 little kids as they run amok in a park is not inspiring). Here's her final tour as a KMZ file.

Martha opened the workshop on September 23 by defining locative "not as positioning ability but rather, it means tied to or embodied in place". Although locative media has a short, about 15-year, history (see a history I compiled), Martha placed the workshop project within a history of other innovative locative media work, as can be seen in her presentation she has posted.

Later, the attendees went to a nearby park and began capturing their experiences and creative encounters with place. Some people captured the park's soundscapes while others arranged playful, expressionist imagery. Martha describes the outcomes of the workshop:
The workshop was a great opportunity to connect with both residents and visitors to Toronto attending Mobile HCI, and gave us a chance to relax together in a beautiful historic location; to document and share stories and experiences in the park together and record them with the Google Earth Toolkit; to enjoy some of the best weather of the season; and to see Toronto at its best! We had a great group and learned many new approaches to mobile locative mapping, with a delightful day in Grange Park. I was particularly impressed with the wide variety of approaches and aesthetic and technical responses to our challenge to create new narratives in the Grange Park setting. And it was a lot of fun!
The workshop was fun, but it really impressed upon me that digital technology can easily and freely be used to share our experiences of space and enhance our relationship to place.