Friday, December 28, 2012

My Favourite Webslinger Posts of 2012

As the year wraps up, every year I reflect via this blog on my favourite posts from the past year.

Is Facebook an Echo Chamber?
A large study was released in January arguing that Facebook helps expose us to more and novel information, but although I love Facebook I discuss how my experience differs from the study's claims.

Top 20 Most Important Developments of the Internet
In honour of the Internet Society's 20th anniversary they asked for submissions from the public on what should make it into the Internet Hall of Fame - I offerred my 20 picks from the obvious (ARPANET and hypertext) to the forgotten (GeoCities and

Locative Media and Geosocial Networking - Overview Presentation
I was asked by one of Canada's top mobile carrier to speak to them about geosocial networking. Although I believe apps that focus exclusively on the geosocial networking may not last, embedded geosocial networking and media functionality is changing how we socialize, express, and discover.
(I also guest lectured on this topic to an undergraduate at University of Toronto in February.)

Canada's Walk of Fame - Needs Digital Footprints
In response to Canada's Walk of Fame lack of any people in digital media, I offerred my suggestions for some worthy inductees, such as Tim Bray, Garrett Camp, Lorne Abony, and William Gibson.

My Fondness and Frustration with foursquare
I was an early evangelist for the first great location-based service, foursquare, in this post I chronicle my love-hate relationship.

Putting Facebook and Flickr on the Map
If you look to your right of this blog, you'll see a link to "My Photos".  This page combines three of my greatest passions - the Internet, travelling, and photography.  I played around (for way too long) with various online photo mapping features to achieve a great way to display travel or local photos.

Notable Canadians in Digital Media and Technology
Every Canada Day, I update my list of famous and influential people and companies in digital media.  The list started out rather small, but has now grown to    over 200.

Explorations of Place and Media - An Interview with Shawn Micallef
A leader in locative media, Shawn Micallef, answered my questions on his early forays into locative media, [murmur] to his recent Twitter collaboration with Toronto's public transit and his plans for the future.

Tips to Get a SSHRC Graduate Grant
Although this topic, on how to get government grants for PhD or Master's research isn't normally within the Webslinger mandate, this post (which I update every year) has gotten the most response and views.

On Location in Baltimore
I presented at a conference in Baltimore (during Hurricane Sandy) on a study I did on how people use location-based service. While in Baltimore and armed with a new mobile device (a "superphone"), I thus had a chance to use new locative functionalities to explore new places.

Mobile Devices Are Changing Our Lives
Time Magazine ran a cover story on how mobile devices are changing our lives.  Despite the hyperbole that mobiles often engender, I offerred my suggestions on how they truly are changing our lives.

People Should Still Not Have to Think!
I got to meet one of the people who helped shaped my career, Steve Krug, the online usability god.  I took pages of notes on his presentation and got him to autograph my copy of his landmark book, "Don't Make Me Think".

Although I never see to have enough time to blog as much as I would like (and have a backlog of topics to get to), I did blog the most I have in four years. More importantly, I find blogging to be the most rewarding professional and creative outlet.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

People Should Still Not Have to Think!

I attended a talk recently by usability expert Steve Krug. His book written in 2000 Don't Make Me Think helped convince me in the early days of my Internet career of the importance of usability and the need to study it. So I totally geeked out when I had the opportunity after all these years later to hear him speak in person. I grabbed his book from my shelf, next to my other treasured classics such as by Nielsen and Holzschlag, and hoped to get an autograph.

Krug was sponsored by University of Toronto's Association for Information Systems, who very kindly squeezed me into their full event at UofT's Faculty of Information. His talk addressed the continued need for usability testing and recent developments that make it easier than ever to do so.

Despite the passage of time since publication of his landmark book, Krug still asserts that too much digital media design is not user-friendly and consequently "if you're not usability testing you must be nuts".

Krug noted that in the past usability testing was difficult and expensive, so there could be an excuse to not do it. Usability tests were conducted in speciality labs that had the ability to record testers and had a private room separated by one-way glass to allow developers/designers to observe unobtrusively. The labs and test experts were very expensive. Most often, labs were offsite. It was also difficult to recruit testers as they needed to physically be in lab.

But advances over recent years have made it easy and inexpensive to do usability testing. Now screensharing technology and software that records software usage is cheap and easy to use. So usability testing sessions can be set up pretty much anywhere and then broadcast to development teams located anywhere with an Internet connection. Remote testing is also an attractive option, Krug suggested, as it makes recruiting testers much easier and not much essential info is lost in the process.

To demonstrate the ease of doing such a test, Krug organized a testing session on the spot. He tested the mobile application Clear.

As usability testing should be done not for "statistical validity but actionable insight" the power of his impromptu test was immediately apparent as the tester reached roadblocks in her usage. The tester was requested to express her thought processes out loud (i.e. think aloud protocol) as she used Clean and was able to clearly articulate her problem.

Within moments, the tester provided evidence of problems and direction for changes. It wasn't complicated, expensive, or time-consuming but the input gained would dramatically improve the application (and likely make them more money).

Krug six maxims for usability testing
I condensed the maxims as follows:
  1. Do usability testing (with 3 people) every month.
  2. Start testing earlier in a project than you think (e.g. test prototypes or competitors products).
  3. Recruit loosely and grade on a curve (i.e. don't get so hung up about finding the ideal target user that you don't test as frequently).
  4. Make usability testing a spectator sport (i.e. invite as many people from the team to observe testing sessions together as "usability testing is the ultimate way to resolve debates around design issues").
  5. Prioritize findings - you'll uncover a lot of problems so identify the top three problem by participant.
  6. Tweaks are better than redesign.
Tips on testing mobile apps & sites
I asked Krug for some tips on testing mobile applications or sites. First, he noted that one can share their screen usage of a mobile device just as easily as a website (as witnessed by the Clear test session) so special video cameras to record mobile device usage are not necessary.

I also asked how one can overcome the difficulties of testing a mobile app or site in the context of use, particularly when the context is important - as with location based services. Krug offerred three points:
  1. How important is the context? Is it essential functionality? If not, testing in context may not be that crucial.
  2. How realistic does the context need to be, that is can it be simulated?
  3. Even if context is crucial, there is still tremendous value testing anywhere as problems will still be uncovered.
So the message is clear - just test. And do it frequently.

At the end of Krug's talk, I hesitantly took out my book to ask for his autograph. While waiting in line to talk to Krug, I noticed another person doing the same thing  - for the same reason. I'm clearly not the only person who has found his advice tremendously useful and influential.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Learn How to Use Digital Media Strategically

A few years ago, I was managing a website for a financial services company and wanted to take courses to improve my ability to use online communications effectively and strategically. I also wanted courses geared towards those managing online media, but the programs I found in the Toronto area covered mostly the technical (i.e. programming or development) or design elements.

I ended up taking the e-Business program at University of Toronto's School for Continuing Studies. At the time, it was the only such program in the Greater Toronto Area.

Although it was a good program, e-Business tends to deal mostly with the infrastructure and business processes required to have a business online.

Educational programs on digital media management are expanding, but I still find that there is not much with a marketing, communications, strategy, and operations focus.

So I was really excited to hear from a colleague, Eden Spodek, that she in conjunction with other experienced professionals will be launching a certificate program in Digital Strategy and Communications Management with the University of Toronto's School of Continuing Education in 2013.

The Digital Strategy and Communications Management certificate program aims to help professionals "make sense of the digital and social media landscape" and to learn to use new and emerging digital media for organizational goals.

Classes start January 2013 consists of three required courses taken consecutively:
  1. Foundations in Digital Communications Strategy and Social Media
  2. Social on the Inside: Internal Communications On and Offline
  3. Advanced Practices in Digital Reputation Management
Some of the learning outcomes (from their website) include:
  • Integrate digital, social and mobile platforms into a strategic approach to communications management
  • Develop and implement goal-oriented and outcome-based measurement and evaluation techniques to communications strategy and tactics
  • Use social and digital channels to strategically engage management, employees, partners and suppliers to develop and maintain relationships built on trust
  • Develop creative, measurable and relevant digital and social media plans and strategies that blend earned, owned and paid components and leverage analytics to demonstrate ROI
I asked Eden to whom the program is geared towards and she replied that it "is targeted towards anyone who recognizes the importance of creating and disseminating online content as part of their job and wants to do so strategically. Previous experience is not necessary as there will be a lot of hands-on instruction. Class participation will be encouraged and with a strong emphasis on learning by doing."

Eden adds, "We anticipate there will be a lot of two-way mentoring between students because they will have different levels of experience. For example, most digital natives will be familiar with the tools but won’t necessarily know how to develop a strategy. More seasoned practitioners may not be as comfortable with the tools yet may have a lot of experience developing communications and marketing strategies. These two groups will have a lot to learn from and share with each other."

All the courses are offerred at University of Toronto's St. George campus. But it is possible that online courses may be offerred in the future. As Eden states, “U of T's School of Continuing Studies considered an online version from the beginning and development is likely to begin following the pilot of the first course.”

Friday, November 30, 2012

Climb for Change Launches First Online Fundraising Site for Charity Climbs

Working with non-profit organizations, I am familiar with what a challenge online fundraising and e-commerce can be for an organization that doesn't have the specialization or budget to launch such services. I was really excited to learn today that a friend's organization, Climb For Change, had recently launched the first online platform to help support people climbing a mountain, trekking, or hiking for charity. I thought I'd share more on their efforts from their press release:

Climb For Change campaign sites make fundraising for a cause easier, more engaging, fun and successful because they're catered specifically to people and teams wanting to raise money for charity using climbing, trekking, hiking or adventures to do so. Thousands of people worldwide challenge themselves with fundraising climbs each year. Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for charity for example is particularly effective, with teams often raising money in the $100,000 to $500,000 range. This is impressive fundraising, but does take a lot of time, resources and the right tools. Enter Climb For Change.

"People want to have their own story and brand represented on their campaign site," says Chantal Schauch, VP and co-founder of Climb For Change. "They want more than the simple mass market fundraising pages and don't have the time or money to spend on a custom fundraising website."

"We developed the platform based on our own experience doing charity climbs up Mt. Kilimanjaro and Pico de Orizaba," says co-founder and president Mike Schauch. "We realized a need - a story and fundraising hub for people climbing for a cause."

Founded by the Schauchs - the husband and wife duo from Vancouver, Canada - the Climb For Change community started in 2010, and has since shared resources, tips and stories inspired by thousands of charity climbs and adventures from around the world.

With the new online fundraising tool for climbers now available, campaigns that have already signed on include Mount Kilimanjaro charity climbs by two American climbing teams for the American Foundation For Children with Aids, an Aconcagua charity climb for the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, and a Canadian fundraising campaign supporting the education of Himalayan Children in Nepal.

The Climb For Change fundraising platform is ideal for charity climbs raising a minimum of $2,500 for US, Canadian or UK registered charities. Visit Climb For Change Campaigns to start a fundraising campaign.

For more info visit Climb For Change.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Interested in Starting Canadian Chapter of the Internet Society?

Over the past couple years I have been interested in starting a Canadian and/or an Ontario Chapter of the Internet Society.

The Internet Society is an international, non-profit organization devoted to making the "Internet for everyone".  They do this through chapter work promoting standards (e.g. IPV6), facilitating global access particularly in developing countries, advising and arguing for policy that supports the open nature of the Internet, and other related work.

Currently, the Internet Society is reaching out to Canadians to help organize a national chapter and/or provincial chapters - currently there is only a Quebec chapter. 

If you are interested in helping start any of these chapters Internet Society, you can start by becoming a member. It's free and quick to do.

The Internet Society also has a short survey that they are asking interested Canadians to fill out as expressions of interest. 

Please consider joining and filling out the short survey before Dec 16, 2012 to help get chapters here.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Note to Location-Based Services - You Suck!

I moved to a new neighbourhood a few weeks ago and I'm directionally challenged at the best of times. So when I found myself lost a couple nights ago in a strange part of town (all the Danforth is strange) I thought it'd be location-based services to the rescue. How wrong I was. Four separate location-based services let me down.

Yes, I could have easily asked someone for directions, but the lesson drilled into my from childhood has me reluctant to talk to strangers - and I was determined dammit to use my mobile device (after all this is my research area)!

I was headed to a pick up a package from the Canada Post at a new Shoppers Drug Mart. I knew the major intersection - Danforth and Pape - so I got out at the correct subway station. But as I walked to where I thought the Shoppers would be, I was checking my mobile device and walked past the store without knowing it. Mobile device usage and walking is probably almost as bad as texting and driving, but so far I haven't had too serious of accidents (aside from walking into a few posts and dog poo). I should learn my lesson though.

After walking for over 20 minutes and not noticing that I had come to the Shoppers yet, I finally looked up from my mobile device and figured out that I had no idea where I was.

So I figured my trusty, new mobile device would help me! How wrong I was...

First, I tried Google Navigation. It correctly determined my location and even the direction I was headed (which was helpful as I was walking the opposite direction than I thought I was), but it couldn't help me locate the store. As I never considered that I had passed it without noticing, I figured something more odd had occurred.

So I tried Google Local they could locate where I was but didn't have any Shoppers locations listed as near me when I searched. (In hindsight, the two Google apps probably use much of the same back-end so a failure in one is bound to be the same in another.)

Starting to get desperate, I tried Foursquare. I mostly use Foursquare for their geosocial networking functionality, so I haven't really tried their newish "Explore" functionality. There was no point in trying it though. Foursquare also correctly located me but insisted that the nearest Shoppers Drug Mart was about an hour public transit ride away. No other Shoppers Drug Mart came up in a search of their database, despite the fact that I had previously checked into other Shoppers' location (and was once the mayor of the Forest Hill one).

I'm not a big fan of the mobile web, but I figured I'd give that a try.

At this point, I'd been standing in the cold November weather for about half an hour and my fingers were going numb. I was thinking those gloves that you can get to use your mobile device in the winter weren't such a bad idea after all and probably worth the price. (Great Christmas gift idea for your friendly lost-in-the neighbourhood Webslinger.)

So I searched Google on the Chrome browser for Shoppers and Danforth and nothing returned (despite their numerous stores on the Danforth). I went to Shoppers' website and tried their store locater functionality. ;It didn't work and it is almost impossible to use. It correctly located me, but it said the nearest store was incredibly far from me. Also, their map feature wouldn't display and the phone numbers couldn't be dialed or even really clearly seen.

Then, I remember the Yellow Pages app that I had on my Blackberry and had such great luck. Well, a search for Shoppers (in its various forms) turned up no locations near me.

At this point, I gave up and started to walk home. I did find that direction from Google Navigation. To my great surprise, I found the Shoppers right near the subway station.

Okay, how is it so hard for four mobile apps to not be able to execute basic functionality. If they can't get the location part of location based services right they are rather useless. I'm also puzzled at how so few Shoppers locations came up when I searched.

I tried the same search from my home again tonight and they all worked except for Foursquare and Shoppers' mobile webpage (which is indeed impossible to use).

Apparently, the other apps haven't heard of fuzzy search as if one types in Shoppers but not Shopppers Drug Mart they get the problematic results. (I thought for sure I tried various name combinations - but I won't rule out human error, as it surely wouldn't be the first time). Still, why would a shortened version of the name pull up some results but not others?

So I'm still convinced that although location-based services have a lot of promise - I still assert that - THEY SUCK!

(Buy me the gloves and I'll forgive you.)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Online Research: New Challenges and Opportunities

I delivered a guest lecture this week on online research - both online methodology and researching online phenomena. Below are the slides from my presentation and a coding exercise of online discourse I had the students do.


Friday, November 09, 2012

Methods to Study Digital Media

I'm teaching a class next week on "Online research: New challenges & opportunities". In preparation, I was thinking of all the ways to study online (and by this I mean both Internet and mobile) phenomena and to use online methods to study other things.

As I love typologies, I thought I'd prepare one on this.  Although such a list doesn't express the complexity of online research, I thought it would demonstrate the diverse ways to investigate digital media.

Online methods to examine online phenomena:
  • computer-captured and compiled data (e.g., web metrics)
  • email, virtual reality, VoIP telephone or video call, or instant messaging interviews
  • diarying or user logs
  • remote observation (participant or nonparticipant)
  • online focus groups
  • web-based or email surveys
  • audience response systems
  • remote user testing or experiments
  • autoethnography (can be conducted through blogging)
Methods to analyze online phenomena:
  • social network analysis
  • semiotics or visual analysis
  • content analysis
  • discourse analysis 
  • hermeneutics
  • ethnography
Online methods to study offline phenomena:
  • web-based or email surveys
  • email, virtual reality, VoIP, or instant messaging interviews
  • diarying (e.g. through special software or blogs)
  • photo documentation via mobile device
Offline methods to study online phenomena (which may or may not involve having users interact with digital media while capturing data):
  • face-to-face interviews or focus groups
  • nonparticipant observation
  • contextual inquiry
  • verbal protocol analysis (talk-aloud method)
  • eye-tracking studies
  • user testing or experiments
As a colleague pointed out there's also design science and participatory design that involves creating digital media as research tool - this type of research could be place in every category.

Please let me know if I missed a major method, as I'd like this typology to evolve iteratively.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Mobile Devices Are Changing Our Lives

I recently signed out magazines from my nearby public library for recreational reading on a flight. I still like reading print, but don't like spending the $6 or more magazine now costs. Granted they were a bit old, but applicable to my research interests.

Toronto Life Magazine had an excellent article on the problems with RIM, "Lazaridis and Balsillie Meet Their Waterloo" (unfortunately, not available online).

Time magazine had a "Wireless Issues" this past August that discussed "10 Ways Your Phone Is Changing the World". These ways and their respective articles are:
  1. Democracy - elections will never be the same
  2. Giving - doing good by texting
  3. Spending - bye-bye, wallets
  4. Secrets (and surveillance) - the phone knows all
  5. Attitudes (socializing & communicating) - your life is fully mobile
  6. Talking (rural telecommunications) - the grid is winning
  7. Seeing (photography) - a camera goes anywhere
  8. Play - toys get unplugged
  9. Learning - gadgets go to class
  10. Health - disease can't hide
I'm planning a class (hopefully to teach sometime soon) on how mobile devices have affected our society and identified these areas as the major ways mobiles are changing our lives. But I wondered what other areas are changing as a result of the increasingly global, ubiquitous access to mobiles?

I was thinking this blog post would be a good place to iteratively document mobiles impact from the major to the minor. So I would love for readers to add their thoughts or experiences with this. Here are my observations:
  • Socializing and Lifestreaming - our ever-present mobile devices enables us to share the magnificent and minute details of our lives
  • Identity and Memory - not only do mobile devices allow us to record and reflect on the events and images of our lives, but they provide a way to craft and project our identity and serve as memory aids and diaries
  • Personal efficiency - from digital to-do lists, calling the spouse at the grocery store, or proximal reminders - mobile devices help us manage our lives for efficiently (and also prevent us from ever escaping it)
  • Information and m-Libraries - through either e-books, online news, reviews or facts, or mobile friendly info databases, we have more ready access to information than ever possible
  • Maps - do we need them any more with GPS and maps on our phone or in our car (but we do need to learn to not drive into the ocean or onto logging roads because or device told us too)
  • Accessibility - there are strong barriers to use of mobile devices based on ability literacy, and finances - but mobile devices are providing new forms of information and communication access to groups that have not otherwise had it such as in the developing world or for the deaf and their use of instant messaging as a readily available mass communication method.
That's all I can think of now, but I'm sure there are many other ways mobile devices are changing our lives - so please share your thoughts here.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

On Location in Baltimore

I went to Baltimore to present my findings on location-based services at the conference for the American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T). I was only supposed to be there for a couple days but then Hurricane Sandy blew in and stranded me there for a few days. So the dull academic conference had more excitement than usual - and I got to explore more of Baltimore.

Before going to Baltimore I bought a new mobile device, a Galaxy Nexus, so that I could connect to WiFi as my old BlackBerry didn't allow this. I also thought I would just be getting a better device. So far my experience with the Nexus has been very disappointing, which I'll blog about later.

I've travelled to the United States before and used my mobile device, but the roaming fees were killer. So this trip was the first time I was able to use my device while exploring a new place.

Before going to Baltimore, I was looking for travel guides apps or content to access on my mobile. I couldn't find a Baltimore app - which I was surprised wasn't readily available. The only thing I could find on Baltimore for my mobile was an e-book by Lonely Planet. But at $10 it was too expensive for me.

Baltimore is making good use of Foursquare however (see Visit Baltimore for more on this). I was able to connect to visitor centre beforehand and receive recommendations on places to visit, which I saved in a list.

My new device did allow me to easily check-in on Foursquare at spots with Wi-Fi and to upload pictures. This functionality forms a travel log, which I really enjoyed. It also made it easy to share what I was up to with my wife at home (I'm not sure she liked knowing the fun places I was at while she was working and watching our kid at home) and with friends.

These check-ins allowed me to earn the quirky crab "Charm City" badge. These badges, as I have noted before, are surprisingly fun. I also got a Halloween badge on the trip for being out on Halloween night - instead of with my family as usual - due to Hurricane Sandy.

Facebook also has similar check-in functionality, which now makes Foursquare less necessary. But at this point, I don't want to share every check-in with my Facebook network, so I still find it useful to have a separate app.

Plus Foursquare, in theory, offers "tips" on places, but these user-generated suffer from the inevitable problems of spam, trolls, and overall noise. Most of the time that I wanted to access these tips in Baltimore they were populated by such useless content, that it rendered this feature pointless. If I knew of an app that had place info on Baltimore - both official and user-generated - I would have gladly used it as Foursquare is really problematic in this regard.

Another problem, is that as I relied on Wi-Fi, I could only check-in at major places that had a free Wi-Fi, so I wasn't able to get the tips when and where I often need them (e.g. deciding a restaurant) and I couldn't check in at all the fun, new places I wanted to.

My explorations of Baltimore, however, came to a halt when Hurricane Sandy came to town. Under such circumstances, I (and everyone else at the conference) wanted regular, real-time access to hyperlocal news and weather. I couldn't find a source for this during my short time in Baltimore (yes, I could have used Twitter but I find it too much of a firehose in these instances). I could find weather forecasts for the entire city, but not a minute-by-minute update on my particular part of the city. This was info I needed to know to determine if it was safe to venture out to get to the conference venue or back to my hotel (the conference went on during the storm). It was easier to just turn on a tv to a local station or ask somebody to get the best information.

The conference itself was a great opportunity to meet other people researching some interesting things. But unfortunately the sessions, I found, were rather uninspired. There was almost no sessions that discussed mobile or geographic information - so ASIS&T might not be the best place for this topic. Still, several people were interested in my research on mobiles, location-based services, and sense of place. So maybe I'll attend the next ASIS&T conference in Montreal - at least I could use my mobile device freely around the city and not have to worry about access points or roaming charges that otherwise greatly limit the technology's potential.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Study Highlights: The Role of Location-Based Services in Shaping Sense of Place

I'm presenting this paper at ASIS&T annual meeting this week.  It represents the highlights of a larger survey study I conducted last December.

The increasing ubiquity of mobile devices with positioning technology has enabled more people to access and create information where it is geographically relevant. These location-based services are growing in user adoption, yet the role of such emerging technology in our relationships to the places we encounter has not been fully examined. This paper reports on a survey study that examines how people use mobile devices in relation to place and the potential for location-based services to improve sense of place.  It was found that location-based services enhance people’s familiarity, personal engagement, and social connection to place, leading to an improved sense of place.

Location-based services, mobile applications, locative media, geoinformatics, sense of place.

The open and ubiquitous nature of current and emerging mobile, Internet, and geographic information technologies have enabled the widespread creation and dissemination of diverse and multimodal forms of geographically relevant information. Current mobile applications can identify a user’s location and deliver information geographically relevant to that position. This functionality is known as location-based services (LBS). Three-quarters of American smartphone users are now using location-based services (Zickuhr, 2012), such as foursquare, Google+ Local, SCVNGR, and Layar. LBS can take the form of stand-alone applications or embedded functionality in other mobile apps. LBS often enable users to access and interact with diverse sources and formats of place information, to create and share content, and to participate in geosocial networking and locative gaming.
Studies show possible societal benefits from the use of location-based services. For example, a Pew study found that 65% of survey respondents with a mobile device believe it is now easier to keep up with community information, compared to 47% for non-mobile users (Purcell et al., 2011). Yet, studies have not examined how this technology affects one’s sense of place.

Sense of place is the “meanings associated with a place” (Cresswell, 2009, p. 169). It arises from the interrelationship of self, others, and environment (Gustafson, 2001). Scholars have posited that sense of place is a fundamental human need (Relph, 1976), an essential component for feelings of belonging or attachment to the world (Stedman, 2003), and a trigger for heritage and environmental custodianship (Kaltenborn, 1997).

Relph (1976) argues that personal experience is the root of our relationship to place. Yet, accounts of others and cultural forces also shape how we interpret and value place (Lefebvre, 1991). Walker and Wehner (2009) found online information aided in the social construction of place, while Cramer, Rost, and Holmquist (2011) found similar results with LBS users. A direct connection, however, between use of LBS and sense of place has not been found in empirical research.

The study addressed two research questions:
  1. How are people using mobile devices in relation to place?
  2. What is the potential of location-based services to improve sense of place?
A web-based survey using open and close-ended questions was used. Recruitment used convenience and snowball sampling, drawing upon this researcher’s network via his blogs and social networking websites. The questionnaire was open to anyone over 18 with access to a mobile device (defined in the questionnaire as a “portable computing device with network connectivity”). Seventy eight people completed the questionnaire, with participants representing a cross-section of ages, education levels, residence, and type of mobile device used. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistical analysis and thematic coding.

Findings and discussion are organized by research question.

RQ#1 How are people using mobile devices in relation to place?

When asked if they had “discovered something new and valuable about a place via their mobile device”, 62.5% (40 respondents) indicated they had. The larger the device screen used (e.g., tablet versus smartphone) increased positive responses, indicating user experience may play a role.  

Based on a list of LBS functions provided, many respondents (86.3%) reported using at least one such function in the past month (see figure 1 for the breakdown). At the high end, 84.1% report finding proximal businesses or services, reading local news (74.1%), finding nearby sites (67.7%), and reading information about their location (66.1%).  

When asked if they had “used a mobile device to record notes, opinions, or memories of a place”, 40.6% of respondents replied that they had done so. These respondents were asked to elaborate on how this affected their relationship to a place. Their responses fell into the following categories: improved recall (75.0%), encouraged personal reflection (20.8%), enabled sharing of place experiences (20.8%), and augmented place experience (12.5%).

These place-related functionalities that mobile devices enabled were seen to work with other elements, such as personal experience, reflection, and social elements that have been found to foster a sense of place.

RQ#2: What is the potential of location-based services to improve sense of place?

Of 28 respondents who indicated they had a stand-alone location-based service application installed on their mobile device, 72.4% answered the question “How have location-based services affected, or not affected, your sense of place”, with responses that were interpreted as improving their sense of place.

One response exemplifies the improved place familiarity resulting from easy, ubiquitous access to geographically-relevant information:
"They have let me learn more about a place, quickly, while I am there - which has provided a greater depth of knowledge and let me ‘commune’ with interesting places more."
Another response captures the individual and social elements of sense of place:

"Location based services have, by bringing other peoples’ social gazetteers into consideration, made a sense of place easier to achieve. The ability to explore what is around me through LBS and to not only stand in relation to those places but also to assess them through the social gazetteers left by other users does allow a sense of place to develop in even the unfamiliar, and the process of making such inscriptions in the LBS database strengthens my own sense of place..."
Of those who provided details (21 of 78), the responses were categorized into themes related to sense of place, as listed in table one (responses can be grouped in more than one category).

These findings indicate that LBS can improve one’s sense of place.

This study provides groundwork for establishing the role location-based services play in fostering sense of place. Respondents reported using LBS to find and share geotargetted place information, which increased their place familiarity and personal and social connections to place – which are components of sense of place (Gustafson, 2001). Respondents using LBS indicated it improved their place appreciation, fostered a sense of belonging, and improved their sense of place.
LBS are rapidly evolving as new features and innovations continue. Along with this, the ability to deliver geographically relevant information increases. Improved understanding of user patterns and outcomes arising from the use of LBS can provide guidance for developing applications to better meet user needs and to foster individual and societal benefits.

Cramer, H., Rost, M., & Holmquist, L. E. (2011). Performing a check-in:
Emerging practices, norms and “conflicts” in location-sharing using foursquare. Proceedings of the 13th International Conference on Human Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services (pp. 57–66). New York: ACM.

Cresswell, T. (2004). Place: A short introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Gustafson, P. (2001). Meanings of place: Everyday experience and theoretical conceptualizations. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 21(1), 5–16.

Kaltenborn, B. P. (1997). Nature of place attachment: A study among recreation homeowners in Southern Norway. Leisure Sciences, 19(3), 175–189.

Lefebvre, H. (1991). The production of space. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.

Purcell, K., Raine, L., Rosenstiel, T., & Mitchell, A. (2011). How mobile devices are changing community information environments. Retrieved from

Relph, E. C. (1976). Place and placelessness. London, UK: Pion.

Stedman, R. (2003). Sense of place and forest science: Toward a program of quantitative research. Forest Science, 49(6), 822–829.

Walker, D., & Wehner, P. (2009). Practicing place: Collective experience and
difference in an urban online forum. Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 46(1), 1–16. Silver Spring, MD: ASIS&T.

Zickuhr, K. (2012). Three-quarters of smartphone owners use location-based services. Retrieved from

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Need Advice on Which Smartphone to Get

Last month, after three long years, my smartphone contract with Bell finally expired!

This contract had me locked away from the exciting developments in the mobile device market. Although not completely cloistered and clueless, I really need help in choosing my next device and carrier.

I had a BlackBerry Curve for the last three years.  Although it served me well and I love its keyboard, I have found that accessing apps is often difficult with BlackBerry. As a mobile researcher, I need timely access to the popular and cutting-edge apps, so as reluctant as I am to not buy a Canadian company's product, I will not be going with BlackBerry.

I'm not an Apple fan for various reasons, so those devices are out.  Even though I've heard positive reviews of Microsoft's mobiles, I'm not convinced. So that practically leaves only Android phones.

I like the more open ecosystem of Android and the large number of apps on the platform.  What do you think, is Android the way to go?

I also don't have a tablet or netbook. I really like something highly portable so I'm not keen on those devices, but the new superphones seems to be a compromise between portability and decent screen size.  I am worried that superphones won't fit in my pocket as that's where I always carry my device (if I need to carry the phone separately  or in a knapsack, I'm not apt to always carry it with me).

I was drooling over the Samsung Galaxy in a store. Any one have any experience with this  - caveats or concerns?

I will never lock in again!  I hate long-term contracts, so I won't deal with any carriers that don't offer a no-contract option.

My dealings with Bell's customer service have never been great and recently it has been horrible (it took 5 technicians visiting and over 12 hours on the phone over 3 weeks to get Bell to hook up my Internet access, telephone, and Bell Fibe tv).  Dealing with Bell was like having glass ground into my eyeballs. Their customer loyalty is also non-existence, so I'm eager to leave them behind.

I checked out prices and options and Wind Mobile seems to be the best. But I heard their network coverage is only good in major cities and even then conks out. Any one have any advice on Wind Mobile or other carriers to consider?

I'm presenting at the ASIS&T (American Society for Information Science & Technology) conference at the end of the month on my research on location-based services on mobile devices. I'd love to show up with the best new device so I greatly appreciate any help that will make it less difficult to get my next (heavenly) device.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tips to Get a SSHRC Graduate Grant

Checking the stats of this blog, I discovered that my posts on tips to get Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) graduate grants were the most popular. So I thought I'd update my tips. This post is a distillation of advice I gathered from professors, university awards officers, and fellow students and determined what worked for me. I won a SSHRC grant at the masters and doctoral level - but there is no one recipe, so get advice from other sources and disregard whatever does not makes sense to you.

Before beginning, visit SSHRC's website and find out the eligibility basics, such as does your research fall under the domain of SSHRC (social science and humanities), NSERC (science and engineering), or CIHR (health). Unofficially, I heard that NSERC and CIHR grants are easier to get than SSHRC grants (but I'm not sure if there are less applicants or more money to give out) so if your research can apply within their mandate you may want to consider applying there.

SSHRC publishes some application tips, which are good, but general. The first and most important tip I have is don't consider any instructions or tips from SSHRC as optional; they are commandments. Don't deviate from their instructions - no matter what. If you think you have a compelling exception, change it so it follows SSHRC rules.

SSHRC also states, rather vaguely, how they evaluate applicants:
  • past academic results, as demonstrated by transcripts, awards and distinctions;
  • the program of study and its potential contribution to the advancement of knowledge;
  • relevant professional and academic experience, including research training, as demonstrated by conference presentations and scholarly publications;
  • two written evaluations from referees; and
  • the departmental appraisal (for those registered at Canadian universities).
They don't give specifics or offer a weighting for doctoral applicants. They do offer the weighting for masters students. Academic excellence is weighted at 60%, research potential is 30%, and communication skills is 10%.

I've heard speculation from various sources that there is a SSHRC bias for certain regions, universities, faculties, etc. SSHRC releases their applicant data and I went over it. There does appear to be carefully balancing to ensure that the awards to match Canada's regional population distribution and by university. There does not appear to be a significant bias by the year of doctoral study, as I had heard. Considerably less people apply in year four of doctoral students, yet the award rate is still roughly the same as other years - so one's odds are definitely better in this year.

Below are my tips for grades, application form, publication record, program of study, and references.

Your department and university

A lot of applicants don't adequately consider that it isn't just the feds approving your application, as your department and university (in most cases) must approve and forward your application first (most major Canadian universities have a quota of how many applications they are allowed to submit) . Many applications die at one's department level. So make sure you address this internal audience too. Make sure your program of study fits into your department and program. It doesn't hurt to mention the strengths of the department and university either and include a name or two of key faculty. This is not just buttering up, as it should be a sincere statement as this is what drew you to the program in the first place.


Everyone agrees that grades are a prime importance. If your grades suck, then there is no use applying. For doctoral students, anything lower than an A- average in your master's degree would probably be too low. For masters, I'm not sure but it is likely at least a B or B+ during one's bachelor's degree. I don't know how far back they look though - my first couple years of my bachelor's degree I didn't do that well, but managed to pull my grades up for the final couple years (even then they weren't that great - it was only once I became an old student that I really started to care about my grades). There's not much you can do to improve your grades - but I included my transcripts from two college certificate programs I did. I got great grades in that - so perhaps that outweighed my bachelor's.

My suspicion is that since all candidates that get forwarded by their university will represent the best and brightest, I am not convinced that one's grades and academic awards alone are that influential. It opens the door, but your program of study, publication record, and letters of reference are what closes the deal.

Application form

The application itself is rather onerous. The application is filled out online - you can save and edit it right up to submission. The application asks general, expected questions and questions about your research and background.

My thought was I don't like to leave sections blank or almost blank. I don't advocate square pegging anything into inappropriate holes, but think outside the box. For example, I included professional awards in the awards section and a volunteer position in my work experience.

I heard a great tip about the keywords that the form asks.  First of all, don't leave these blank and be sure to choose these wisely. SSHRC publishes an online database of prior funded research. Use their search engine to find work similar to yours and identify the keywords they used and then, as appropriate, consider those.


They ask for your publications twice - in the application form and as an attachment. I think that doctoral applicants really need to have at least one peer-reviewed article. I also included my writings from non-academic sources. I'm not so sure that self-published sources (e.g. your own blog) is necessarily great - but if you blog is picked up by another source or syndicated (as mine is) then that would help. The publications should ideally be relevant to one's program of study or at least academically related. Still, I think some publications regardless of the topic are better than nothing.

Program of study

I think this is often underestimated by applicants. I think applicants need a kickass, flawless, unique proposal to stand out from the crowd. Also be clear on what you plan to do, how exactly, and why.

Obvious rules for any proper academic work apply. Avoid jargon or concepts only understandable by one's own field as the reviewers are from a broad range of departments. Be sure to define key terms. Consider the visual appeal of the application by judicious use of whitespace, headings, and bolding.

I frequently hear that "telling a story" is vital with grant proposals. I think it is true as reviewers do have a stack of papers to go through so a lively, concrete, compelling narrative can convince the reviewer of the interest and importance of your work. Have a clearly articulated research question and everything should center and flow from this. The last paragraph should end the work on a strong note, reestablishing the "so what" of the work. 

Include how you (your interests, academic and professional background) fit into this story. Demonstrate how your professional and academic path has lead you to this point you are in as linear a form as possible.  It's not a c.v. so you don't need to mention every career detail - I highlighted the parts of my history that were relevant and disregarded those that weren't. It's not an autobiography, either, so only share your life history that is relevant. It's rather boring to begin or end your paper with a paragraph about yourself unless your experience is vital to the proposed research.

You should also demonstrate that you have experience and ability to execute your study, so explain relevant coursework, access issues, necessary skills and how you have or will attain them. SSHRC also insists that the "scholarship is tenable only in degree programs that include significant research training" so briefly mention how your program provides this training.Don't include a course list with all your professors names and course numbers - remember all content has to be meaningful to external reviewers.

I believe that it is helpful if your topic  has contemporary social value and is not just esoteric academic navel gazing. SSHRC has a mandate to promote research that is "connecting with society" so check out their information on this aspect. However, don't go too far and get the Miss America syndrome, in which researchers naively promise that their research will save the world.  It's not a dream study either, so ground it in some reality of what one can feasibly accomplish.

Your method section should have the specific steps of your plan, but you don't need to go overboard and specify minute details such as your transcription strategy.  In general, you should touch upon your approach to sampling, recruitment and/or access, data gathering, data analysis, and presentation of results and dissemination.  Show you know your method. For example, don't say you plan to do interviews, for example, but rather specify structured, unstructured, semi-structured. A citation or two to show why your methodology is appropriate is definitely helpful. I prepared a research proposal checklist. It goes into more details than may be necessary for a SSHRC application, but it is useful to look over to make sure you haven't missed any major areas.

If you plan to study humans (or animals), be sure to briefly mention your ethical review process. If you're using deception or planning any research that will harm or will greatly upset participants, you'd probably should reconsider. This kind of research is sensitive and needs to be handled carefully.  If you really need to do this, then you should probably have at least 2-4 sentences on what this is the only possible approach and how you are going to mitigate harm.

Demonstrate your knowledge of your subject area. At a master's level this should include at least a couple citations to canonical sources and probably at least a couple to more recent (within the last 2-3 years) research published in journals.  Identify your camp and pitch your tent - that is figure out what discipline you are in and show how you fit into this area. If you are deliberately trying to shake things up (and a SSHRC graduate grant application is probably not the place to do this) then mention that you are aware of your unorthodox approach and state why it's a good idea and how you will make it work.

Make sure you have ample, but not wanton citations. Initially, I only included works I referenced, but I believe there may be a limit of up to 5 pages of bibliography. Someone advised me to show my knowledge of the relevant literature in this space, so I did. I still only used 2.5 pages as I really doubt any reviewer will ever read 5 pages of bibliography. I believe it is better to have 2-3 pages of great references than 5 (or more) pages of filler - at that point it seems like shameless padding.


As with any time you need a reference, make sure they will give you a great one. After that, choose your references wisely - not just who likes you and who you like, but also consider your referee's position and credentials. For example, I was told that letters from adjunct faculty (ie. non-tenure track) don't count very highly. Can one infer that a letter from a dean would then be more impressive?

I was told that at least one reference should come from the university that you'll be studying at and one reference should be your current advisor. It makes sense that you should get an internal reference as in most cases applications must be vetted by one's department, so if you don't have someone there officially vouching for you it certainly doesn't help.

I heard a good tip to help get referee's to return their letters quickly is to open a courier account and provide your reviewer with the account details, so they can easily express return it without having to worry about the cost.

Your references should definitely be familiar with your program of study - ideally even incorporating it into their reference letter. So be sure to give them a copy of your program of study and your c.v. - even if they don't ask for it.

General tips

The reviewers have huge stacks of applications to review, so they are looking for ways to weed out so be very careful in following all the rules. Have someone proof every word in your entire application. Actually, have two or three people proof it.

The best thing that helped me get the grant was listen to the advice of professors, university staff, and colleagues. Most universities, I suspect, hold seminars on how to apply for grants - don't miss them. Just the process of following all the steps is daunting, so it's best to get help. It also helps to get to know the contact person at one's university (e.g. an awards officer, registrar, etc.) as they are an invaluable source of information on the process. Another source of help and comfort in numbers is It has a forum thread where grad students get advice, fret, and lament with fellow stressed-out applicants.

It is painful to even apply for these things, but it does represent a decent amount of money and prestige so it is worth the effort.

In the end, the odds of winning a SSHRC are not great. Only a handful of candidates get selected by a given university to be forwarded to SSHRC and of those less than half this year got an award. One can do all the "right" things, have a great academic record and still not get it. So it does almost seem like winning a lottery.

If you do not get it, it is definitely worthwhile to apply again, particularly if you improved your grades, added peer-reviewed publications, or wrote a better program of study.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Explorations of Place and Media - An Interview with Shawn Micallef

While researchin locative media and Toronto history and urban planning, I have frequently come across the work of Shawn Micallef. I first encountered his work through his locative media installation, [murmur] co-created with James Roussel and Gabe Sawhney. Murmur was one of the first locative media efforts. It began in Toronto and subsequently spread globally. The project placed plaques around the city which instructed people to dial a number to hear oral histories of that specific location.

I later encountered Shawn's work in his various writing about Toronto from the magazine Spacing to his book Stroll. His approach to discovering the city involves psychogeographic techniques pioneered by French theorist Guy Debord.

More recently, while waiting for a subway, I noticed Shawn's latest locative media project, Stroll City. Shawn and Toronto Transit encouraged people to tweet about places across the city, which were then broadcast across the TTC's digital signs.

I've read and cited Shawn work, but I've never had the opportunity to meet him. At a McLuhan seminar last month (which I blogged about), I finally had the opportunity to meet him. Shawn agreed to field some of my questions about his work and its intersection with my research.

Glen: How do you believe digital media has, or can, affect our sense of place?

Shawn: I think it's made place multi-layered now. Wherever we are we can expect to use a smartphone to access digital media left there by other people. When we started [murmur] there wasn't much of that, just some experimental art projects and the like. Now, it's widely accepted and as mainstream, nearly, as turning on the TV. From Instagraming a photo and linking to that spot and seeing other photos from that spot (so you see it at other times and, perhaps more importantly, you see the other people who have passed through that place) to other geolocative things whose spammy-value I'm not sure about (like Foursquare).

So, through digital media you get a sense of time in place now, as well as other humans. That's great. Or, you can turn everything off and experience it the old fashioned way.

Glen: How have people responded to your media projects such as [murmur], Spacing, and Stroll City on the TTC? Particularly, what feedback have you got on how it affects their experience of place?

Shawn: There was a learning curve for each (or acceptance curve, in the case of Spacing). When [murmur] began, there were few projects that used mobile phones as entertainment and culture delivery devices -- they were for work or talking only -- so to get people to think of them a little wider was a slow process. We just did the project, and hoped people called in to listen, and slowly they did. Feedback is probably similar to that of other oral history projects -- lots of relating to the story -- but here there's the added connection of being in the place where it happened, so it evokes another kind of connection. The hope is that for a brief few moments, the story will take you back in time in that spot, as well as to wherever else the story takes you. [murmur] really only capitalizes on the age-old power of story telling, just distributing it differently.

Spacing in a way created an umbrella for disparate areas and projects to be collected under one term "public space" -- now, 10 years later, public space is talked about at all levels of media and there are many local online efforts covering what we and a few others alone would chatter about. So that's given us the opportunity to pull back and think wider and talk more about the big picture of Canadian and global city issues.

Stroll City has been lots of fun - the first time we did it people needed a lot of encouragement to share their Toronto observations (it was also November) but the last two times, both in June, the Toronto stuff has been coming a lot more freely, and people observing the city in their own ways, not just doing it how I do it, which has been great. The continued growth of smart phones and Twitter account has probably helped a lot too.

Glen: You launched one of the first locative media projects, [murmur], but have subsequently focused more recent efforts on writing about place in print and online and have mentioned that you don't geocode. Why the switch and any plans for future locative media projects?

Shawn: Financial, somewhat -- doing [murmur] and other such project, outside of the Academy or a research institution, is difficult. But also I see writing as my main gig, and wanted to focus on it more, (but which is related to a lot of other stuff that I've done or will do -- [murmur] research, story gathering, contributed a great deal to my first book Stroll, so it all overlaps) The writing I do is often place-based in a very old-school way (talking about place) but indeed I'm thinking and talking with some people about projects that might connect words with places in easy, geocoded ways. Not so much secret right now as still in infant form, so more on this later.

Glen: What do you feel is the potential or future of locative media or
location-based media?

Shawn: More integration into our daily life and travels -- receiving media about place without even thinking that we're receiving media. With tech-advances it's hard to gauge where this might go, as content will follow tech, but I wonder if a language may develop around place and locative media in how stories and narratives are communicated. That will be fun to watch for.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Notable Canadians in Digital Media & Technology

In honour of Canada's birthday, I'm updating my list of Canadian individuals and companies who contributed to digital culture or technology.

My goal is to document an aspect of Canadian history and culture that is overlooked. I'm loose in my definition of what constitutes a person as Canadian. Some people or companies got their start in Canada, but were acquired or lured to the United States. Some innovations were done by Canadians while abroad.

The point is not to debate citizenship, but rather to document innovations and their Canadian connections to demonstrate that Canada has made and continues to make a significant contribution to digital media and technology.

  • Parham Aarabi, professor and inventor of imaging and internet advertising software
  • Lorne Abony, e-Business (Petopia), gaming (FUN), and digital music business leader (Mood Media)
  • Melody Adhami, co-founder of Plastic Mobile and leader in mobile app development
  • Chris Albinson, venture capitalist, co-founder of C100, expat Canadian tech network
  • Ronald Baecker, computer scientist and HCI researcher
  • Jim Balsillie, co-founder of Research In Motion
  • Michel Beaudet, creator of online humour videos Têtes à claques
  • Gilles Brassard, co-inventor of the first quantum cryptography protocol, BB84
  • Alexander Graham Bell, original telecom inventor
  • Tim Bray, father of XML co-founder of Open Text
  • Rhiannon Bury, academic, studies women and online fandom
  • Stewart Butterfield, co-founder of Flickr, pioneer in use of tagging
  • Bill Buxton, principal researcher for Microsoft, pioneer in human computer interaction
  • Garrett Camp, co-founder and CEO of StumbleUpon
  • Dave Carroll, creator of "United Breaks Guitars" video meme
  • Ann Cavoukian, privacy czar, promotes greater privacy in social network sites and privacy by design
  • David Cheriton, computer scientist, mentor and initial investor of Google - now billionaire
  • Vincent Cheung, creator of image software Shape Collage
  • Geof Collis, accessibility advocate and publisher of accessibility news
  • Michael Cowpland, founder of Corel tech eccentric
  • William Craig, founder of iCraveTV, first company to stream television over Net
  • Cassie Creighton, 5-year old co-creator with dad, Ryan Creigton, of a popular online game
  • David Crow, organizer of tech events, DemoCamp and StartUpNorth
  • Douglas Coupland, author of tech-themed novels Generation X, Microserfs, JPod, etc.
  • Ronald Deibert, researcher and campaigner against Internet censorship and cyber-espionage
  • Peter Deutsch, leader of the team that invented Archie, the first Internet search engine
  • John Demco, creator and first registrar of the .ca domain
  • Hossein Derakhshan, influential Iranian blogger
  • Sara Diamond, academic leader founding Banff's New Media Institute and Mobile Experience Innovation Centre
  • Cory Doctorow, tech blogger and co-editor of Boing Boing
  • Timo Ewalds, creator of social networking website Nexopia
  • Caitlin Fisher, digital artist and augmented reality innovator
  • Markus Frind, founder of popular dating site Plenty of Fish
  • Ganz Sam and Howard, founders of children's virtual world, WebKinz, pioneered toy with virtual counterpart concept
  • Michael Geist, prominent Internet law scholar
  • William Gibson, author and visionary of cyberculture, coined term "cyberspace"
  • Murray Goldberg, developer of WebCT one of the earliest and most popular e-learning platforms
  • James Gosling, inventor of Java programming language
  • Calvin Gotlieb, "father of computing in Canada"
  • Kunal Gupta, founder of mobile app. agency, Polar Media
  • Jeremy Gutsche, futurist and founder of TrendHunter
  • Kevin Ham, world leading domainer
  • Caroline Haythornthwaite, researcher on social networking, online collaboration communities
  • Graham Hill, founder of environmental blog site, TreeHugger
  • Geoffrey Hinton, computer scientist in area of artificial intelligence
  • Cory Horner, early DIY programmer, leader in government transparency, launched How' in 2005
  • Tara Hunt, online marketing and communities expert
  • Glenda Hyatt, accessibility advocate and blogger
  • Mathew Ingram, tech journalist and co-founder of mesh conference
  • Donna Jodhan, campaigner for web accessibility, launched the first federal court case demanding greater accessibility of government websites
  • Mitch Joel, digital marketing expert
  • Brian Kernighan, computer scientist, creator of "Hello, world" program, popular for training programmers (the first code I wrote)
  • Asif Khan, founder of Location Based Marketing Association, blogger on locative technology and marketing
  • Deidre LaCarte, creator of Hampster Dance, believed to be first Internet meme
  • Lake Minnewanka Squirrel, Internet meme of scene-stealing rodent
  • Mike Lazaridis, founder of Research in Motion
  • Rasmus Lerdorf, creator of PHP and open source advocate
  • Pierre Lévy, academic, developed notions of collective intelligence
  • Bruce Livingstone, founder of leading stock photo service, iStockPhotos
  • David Lyon, researcher on technological surveillance
  • mafiaboy, prominent website hacker
  • Amber MacArthur, tech journalist and podcaster
  • Steve Mann, inventor and researcher, pioneered fields of wearable computing, mobile blogging, and sousveillance (reverse surveillance)
  • Don Mattrick, founder of Distinctive Software (predecessor of EA Canada) at 17, now Microsoft's President of the Interactive Entertainment Business
  • Marshall McLuhan, communications theorist and tech visionary
  • Mike McDerment, co-founder of invoicing web-service FreshBooks and co-founder of Mesh conference
  • Sid Meier, game developer of the Civilization series, second inductee into the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences' Hall of Fame
  • Lane Merrifield, co-founder of Club Penguin and developer of children's virtual worlds
  • Michael Mulley, DIY developer of government transparency website,
  • Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk, co-founders of role-playing gaming company BioWare
  • Ryan North, writer and creator of online comic Dinosaur Comics
  • David Ossip, founder of Workbrain, efficiency software
  • Emma Payne, author and founder of Wired Women
  • Rob Pike, co-creator of UTF-8, a unicode standard
  • Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph, pioneers in transmedia storytelling, incl. Interactive Alice
  • Simon Pulsifer, prominent and prolific Wikipedia contributor
  • Jade Raymond, gaming executive for Ubisoft
  • Andrew Rivkin and Mark Rivkin, founders of online gambling tech company, Cryptologic
  • Rafal Rohozinski, cyber security expert
  • Mark Rzepka, pioneer of online pharmacies
  • Robert J. Sawyer, scifi author, including his recent WWW trilogy
  • Gerri Sinclair, founder of Canada's first multimedia research centre
  • Jay Steele, founder of Viigo, a news aggregator app
  • Jeffrey Skoll, co-founder of eBay
  • Star Wars Kid, another Internet meme star
  • Jennifer Stoddart, Canada's privacy commissioner, investigates practices by social media companies and mobile users' practices
  • Don Tapscott, tech culture visionary and author of Wikinomics
  • Clive Thompson, journalist has written for Shift and Wired
  • Ilse Treurnicht, CEO of tech incubator and innovation centre, MaRS
  • Jutta Treviranus, researcher on web accessibility, lead author of authoring tool accessibility guidelines
  • Barry Wellman, academic, pioneer in studies of online communities social networking
  • Beatrice Helen Worsley, computer pioneer - possibly the first woman to earn a PhD in computers and her dissertation was first on modern computers
  • Tim Wu - Internet governance and policy scholar, coined term "network neutrality"
  • Michel Vulpe, inventor and founder of i4i, successfully sued Microsoft for patent infringement
  • Bob Young, founder of micropublisher, Lulu and former CEO of Red Hat
Companies or Projects
This list is not exhaustive - but has been exhausting to put together. Please help me out by letting me know of any additions.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

IPTV - My Experience with Bell Fibe

Over a year ago, we signed up for Bell's Internet TV service (IPTV), Bell Fibe.  Judging from my blog stats the post I wrote on it last year was rather popular. Bell has certainly been marketing the service more lately.

Since last year, there's been improvements to the service and my experience with customer service has changed, so I thought I'd update the post.

First, Bell promised me two years of free PVR and two TV receivers, but then after one year renegged on this after one year. Of course, Bell doesn't put anything in writing, but I have notes from my conversations. After endless calls to Bell's customer service which is extremely painful in how unhelpful they are (this comic describes the pain of dealing with Bell's customer service perfectly), they offerred me a pretty good deal going forward, but refused to rebate me the fees I feel they fraudulently charged me.  Rather incurring more pain in dealing with them, I accepted their offer.  But, once my various contracts are up, I'm switching providers based entirely on this treatment.

Fall 2012 Update:  I had more problems with Bell's customer's service when we moved and tried to get Bell Fibe at our new place.  Without exaggeration, Bell's customer service is the worst I have ever dealt with.  Please see my updated blog post on Bell's bad customer service before considering Bell.

Signal Quality
Since we signed up there has been occasional buggy or down reception. I would say that this is happening less frequently over the past few months. It is rare that the service is down for more than an hour and very rare for it to be down a few hours, but it has happened at least a couple times in the last year. I have never got a rebate or any sort of proactive notice from Bell when the interruptions are more lengthy outages.

Search & Guide 
Users can search by program or actor up to two weeks in advance. At first, I thought this was great, but it doesn't take long to get to know when and which network a fav show is on. It was more useful when we had a free trial with a gazillion channels as I could quickly find Xena playing somewhere at any given moment. A serious flaw, however, is that the actor info for shows only lists up to four actors. And the actors listed may not necessarily be the leads or stars. Frankly stars are the only ones who anyone would search for, so this often negates the value of this feature.

Their tv guide feature seems standard to all tv services now. Listings include title, plot synopsis, date of production, rating, and cast. Similar to the search feature the few actors listed are not necessarily the stars and could unknowns playing bit roles. They have a genre search (e.g. news channels, family, movies, sports, etc.) which makes it easier to browse similar channel offerings, which is nice but is probably more useful for new customers or house guests.

The guide allows one to add and then browse by favourites. A feature they don't have that I have seen and like is colour coding of channels based on channels one gets and doesn't. We have to manually remove the channels we don't get up from our guide, but this means they don't show up at all so we don't know when a channel is offering a free preview.

I like the ability to have the main screen stay open and have another mini-screen appear on the bottom. Also, one can browse the guide and see a mini-screen of a channel without actually having to go to that channel. I'm not sure if these features are standard on other services but they are definitely great for channel surfers such as myself.

Family friendly
I'm not sure if satellite or cable offer this feature, but I really like Bell Fibe's parental controls. I can quickly set the tv to block my kid from seeing inappropriate stuff while we channel surf. The blocking is based on ratings, however, so they are not foolproof. We can easily unlock by show or for a block of hours by entering our four digit passcode. It also blocks the pay-per-view and video-on-demand service, which is great as my 7-year-old already knows how to pull these up and is enthralled by them.

At Christmas for the past couple years, Bell  special channel with games, music, countdown, and links to holiday programs. We loved this, but they haven't had anything else like it subsequently.

Bell Fibe's pricing structures does not appear to be significantly different than other services. One cannot completely custom order channels despite Bell's claims of this. One has to get a certain high and expensive tiered service before being able to order a-la-carte. Their channel packages, as with other services, are ridiculously expensive and bundle a ton of crap with a few good channels. Video-on-demand is also  expensive at $8-7 for new releases and $5 for really old movies. Their VOD offerings, and preview functionality, works great.

On Demand TV
They have a lot of TV shows available to view on demand. Great for when we forgot to PVR them.

Special applications
Since we have had the service, Bell has been rolling out more Internet-enabled features. One can program their PVR via the Internet or mobile device - great in theory, but I can't imagine a urgent need to suddenly and unexpectedly need to record something.

I like their web apps. Facebook and Twitter apps are a fun way to share what you're watching and provide commentary. As I post my photos to Facebook, I really like using this app to provide a quick and easy slideshow. The Weather Network app is also handy, as it quickly pulls up a full local forecast as well other weather info.

As an introductory offer, I'm getting a PVR for free for 3 years. The PVR has been amazing - and has been the real game-changer for how we experience television. Bell Fibe's service integrates really well with the PVR and all the tvs in the house. As Bell states "set, playback, manage your recordings and pause and rewind live TV from any TV in your home" - this is easy and well-used in our house.

I don't have extensive experience with cable or satellite options, so overall to me the determining factor on whether or not I'd renew my service is price. But as Bell continues to roll out more apps and web-enabled features this may prove a determining factor for me in the future. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Prince Edward Island Gets Social Media

Yesterday, I participated in a Facebook event that was so effective and enjoyable that I thought I should share the details, as I think more organizations can benefit from hosting these types of events.

It was a 3-hour group chat, via Facebook's comments feature, with Prince Edward Island (PEI) representatives and tourists. I've participated in chats with organizations before, but this one was different as it offered a range of expert opinions and had a real conversational and personal style.

The organization organizing the event was PEI Tourism, but there were other host organizations from across PEI, such as tour operators, hotels, a heritage association, as well as locals in-the-know.

What I particularly liked about it was that it was a great big conversation about PEI with a bunch of different voices and perspectives. Many of the people writing had a genuine appreciation of PEI and an individual style that came through in their responses.

There is a ton of travel info available nowadays. I still love guidebooks and online resources are equally useful. If anything, there is often too much travel info available - but it's often generic in advice and bland in style. So attempting to get specific or non-mainstream information can be difficult.

This chat offered a chance to get the info I needed. I posted two questions and quickly got great answers. The responses included my name in their replies. This not only alerted me of the reply, but populated my Facebook feed with this.

It would be great if companies, regularly offered Q&A services. I understand this can be expensive to offer, so most companies don't even attempt this and instead rely on FAQ pages or a user base to field questions. These methods sometimes work, but I've seen lots of instances of questions posted that receive no replies, spam, flaming, or useless info. I noticed Tourism PEI always offers the ability to get answers online from a real staff member - but this is really rare nowadays.

But getting answers to my questions wasn't the only reason I thought the PEI Facebook chat was so effective. I also benefited from others' questions and answers and I enjoyed reading other people's fond memories of past PEI visits. This serendipitous discovery of info not only helped me learn more about my future travel destination but also get a sense of the personality and history of the island.

I also liked how the PEI hosts included links to further info or pictures. For example, PEI Museum and Heritage shared a link to their Flickr collection of scanned PEI postcards and asked if we ever received any. As a deltiologist I love looking at retro and kitsch postcards, and I went and checked my collection (some great old ones but so far no matches).

Finally, another useful element was the format of the chat. As it was online, I (or others) can read the chat and investigate further at any time (unlike other "chat" formats such as conferences or some Internet Relay Chats).

From a business perspective, there are numerous benefits to hosting this type of event.

First in terms of finances, such events can directly increase sales. For example, I received recommendations for restaurants that I will definitely be going to (instead of just cooking in our cottage rental). Indirectly, it helps foster a pleasant attitude to the brand, that will likely have future financial benefits.

In terms of promotion, by using Facebook the event uses Facebook's existing user base and social features that easily, and often automatically, extends the reach of such an event.

The conversational quality and earnest responses of this event were essential to this event not coming across as one big shill. This in turn makes the recommendations received more credible and (at least for me) more actionable.

I was really impressed with this event, not only for the serving my needs so well but for representing the ideal of what social media can achieve.