Thursday, December 31, 2015

Top Posts of 2015

Every year I recount my favourite posts to this blog. I've done it as my favourite post by month or a top ten. This year I'll try something new and do the top ten posts as determined by you readers. I reviewed my site usage records to determine most viewed blog posts that I wrote in 2015.

So here in order of most viewed, are the Top 15 Posts of 2015
  1. Playing and Learning with Digital Media and Technology at digiPlaySpace - for the past couple years my daughter and I play hooky and visit TIFF's digital media playground, here's her review
  2. Digital Help for Visitors to Toronto - Toronto hosted the PanAm Games this summer, so to help out visitors to our city I comprised a list of apps (including LBS) and websites to help them find their way and our sites
  3. No App Required - a post on the virtues of the Mobile Web over mobile apps and how one company gets it
  4. List of Location Based Services - years in the making, an updated list of the top apps with geolocative functionality
  5. Digital Advent Calendar for Canadians - I was impressed by an interactive holiday present from Harrowsmith, so I talked to the maker on how he put it together
  6. Email Etiquette: Things We All Should Know by Now - after receiving some rude and annoying emails this summer, I retaliated by publishing a list of how to use email correctly
  7. Learning Appreciation for Graphic Literature - I delivered a workshop for kids at my local library on the elements on graphic literature and how kids can make it themselves
  8. Careers in Corporate Digital Media - a presentation for university graduates on possible careers and skills needed for jobs involving digital media
  9. Tracking the Trackers - exploring my Android smartphone's location tracking feature
  10. Reading Into the So-Called Decline of eBooks - will digital media replace print, it's not as simple as people originally thought as some predict print books will replace eBooks
  11. Building a Solid Information Architecture for a Website - an overview and tips on how to organize the content of a website for users
  12. The Hardest Thing About Social Media - angry at a local company with shoddy service, I resisted the urge to post a negative review online and instead I posted some advice on why not posting is sometimes the best decision
  13. You Can Locate Me at the Canadian Wireless Trade Show - this past October I spoke at this tradeshow on user issues mobile, locative applications
  14. Accessibility of Information Systems - my presentation on accessibility as related to digital media and Ontario's accessibility law
  15. Motive to Make Locative Media Better - my interview with a Canadian company, Motive, who have launched a DIY platform to make it easy to launch locative media apps

Some of my favouite posts didn't make it to the top 15, so here are my missing favourites:
  • e-Postards Archives - my attempt to help preserve a communication form, e-Postcards, as it seems to be dying out
  • Images of Canada - for Canada Day 2015, I put together a slideshow of my favourite photos of Canada
  • Kids Doodle App - my kid just got her first smartphone in the summer and some apps, including a digital doodle app that she made an awesome image for me
  • National Girls Learning Code Day - November 7 was Girls Learning Code Day and my daughter and I spent the day at Telus headquarters building her first website
Judging from my posts for 2015, it was an eclectic year as I explored and wrote about a bunch of digital media topics. Plus, my usual posts on locative media (including a still active request for research participants on this topic). Hopefully, 2016 will be a similarly inspiring.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Art of Complaining - Or Try Some Sugar Instead of Just Vinegar

I know life is unfair and people can be miserable ass hats such that the injustice of life does make one want to complain. Believe me, I am a complainer. My complaining has gotten me some benefits such as rebates and various forms of compensation. So I can appreciate the desire in others to complain about their perceived injustices.

Lately, I've noticed people have no sense of the art and skill of how to complain effectively.

This is even more important as you consider that much of complaining, of a non-personal nature, is done via email.  Email is a thin medium, that doesn't have all the features of face-to-face interactions. Thanks to email, it's easier than ever to complain to companies, agencies, institutions, and governments.

Too many people, however, go in with their first message with all guns blaring and throwing vinegar in the eye of their intended target. Their emails are full of accusations blaming the receiver in the harshest terms of malevolent wrongdoing and instantly brandish threats that the sender will seek reprisal to the highest levels. This tactic is a form of intimidation. But when dealing with authority figure or a distant and unresponsive customer service agent, this tactic doesn't tend to get them on your side. Vinegar begets more vinegar. And your offending email can easily disappear or be given a low priority.

You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar is an age-old adage because it states a universal truth. Humans like sweetness. We like to feel appreciated and to be treated well. Threats and rants may work some time, but they cause damage to one's reputation (not to mention psyche) and may result in long-lasting damage. Once you go dark, it is next to impossible to reverse that.

Instead, the first tactic in complaining is to offer sugar.  It is surprising how effective a polite inquiry can go towards getting you what you want. So here are my steps to complaining effectively via email or other digital media.

#1 Cool off 
We all make mistakes. Most people don't intend to harm others. Don't assume that everyone is out to get you. Give people the benefit of the doubt. So the first step in an email complaint is to thank the person for their time and/or effort. You may not feel very thankful depending on the circumstances of your situation, but give it a try for your first communication. Give people decent human respect until they have proven conclusively that they don't deserve it - and even then sometimes its advantageous to ape respect for undeserving "superiors". Never insult people, directly or indirectly, as this will never help. Keep your communications non-personal and level-headed.

#2 Ask for clarification
Often things can be a misunderstanding or error that can be quickly rectified. A few weeks ago, I  purchased something online and when I received it was very poor quality. My first email was polite and expressed how disappointed I was. I was preparing in successive emails to mount an extensive case for why they should accept a return of the item, but upon receiving my first reply I received a full refund and they said for me to keep the item. This has happened to me before.

#3 Provide evidence
Facts sway opinion and get intended results. Your subjective opinion can backfire and come across as a scam or someone trying to get something they don't deserve. (There are people out there trying to pull things so distinguish yourself from them with evidence and logic). Photographs or screen-captures are great sources of evidence.

#4 Declare the stakes for you
The goal is to generate sympathy not come across as a self-righteous ass hat. In a brief and somewhat emotional manner, state why this is an issue for you - what you lost as a result or are not able to do now.

Advanced tactic, if appropriate play the victim card and let them know how you have suffered. When a flight was cancelled at the airport for our trip to Disney World and none to be reschedule my wife was resigned to acceptance. I went up to the company agent without any anger or attitude (as it was most definitely not her fault) and explained how we had booked a special event at Disney World and we would now miss it. I told my daughter to come with me. In the end, the agent was incredibly helpful and really wanted to help us, she spent an hour of her time made numerous calls but got us on another carrier there (we were only 2 people to get a flight).

#5 Declare your desired recourse
At some point (and not too early), you will need to state what form of redress or action you woud like. Don't come across as too demanding or asking for things you aren't really entitled to (e.g full refund or completed overturning a decision as this isn't likely to ever happen). I like to begin by implying what I want. If the idea comes from them, there is a much better chance it will be implemented.

If these initial tactics don't work then try...

#6 state the stakes for the company or organization
Declare what a valuable customer you are, for example. Be careful to not threaten as no one likes to be threatened. Always be polite. But sometimes you have to be very clear at what you will do if the your problem is not addressed.

#7 Escalate with caution
Don't instantly go over someone's head or cc their boss. At some point and times, escalation is the only way to go, so don't be afraid to do this if and when it is necessary. Exhaust the previous tactics first though!

Be transparent when escalating to the people you were previously communicating with. Don't try to vilify the person to their boss as that person still works there and creating an enemy which is never helpful for your immediate or future needs.

Assuming some responsibility for the situation and being contrite can go a long way to avoid making the problem worse and can help you come across as a reasonable person with a just issue. At this point, ask to take your discussions offline (and instead proceed in-person or via telephone) is recommended.

Email has made complaining so much easier and effective than before. But it can definitely backfire if one sends out emotional and hasty emails.  I have followed these above steps for years, and I'm still surprised how frequently everything works out very well for me and surprisingly early and without emotional turmoil.  For the sake of everyone, give sugar a try!

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Digital Advent Calendar for Canadians

Over the past three days on Facebook, I've noticed friends posting about Harrowsmith Now's online Advent Calendar. I finally had a moment to check it out today and was delighted!

I love the idea of taking the concept of an advent calendar, putting it online, and making it enjoyable for adults. For each day in December, one can click the date to see a new interactive experience with a focus on Canada's winters and the holidays. The online advent calendar is much better than waxy chocolate and is guilt-free and made in Canada.

I won't give away the digital treats that await you, but they are fun and reflect the Canadian pastoral culture that Harrowsmith has famously chronicled since the magazine began in 1976. Harrowsmith closed in 2011, but reformed in 2013 as quarterly magazine and website, Harrowsmith Now.

I wanted to share the calendar as I feel we all could use some holiday cheer right now. As a Canadian digital media aficionado, I wanted to find out more about this project, so I contacted the magazine.

Wayne MacPhail, the magazine's digital brand strategist, agreed to answer my questions. I asked him about their new website, Harrowsmith Now which launched last month. He noted that it "is aimed at millennials who share the same concerns we do about sustainability, a love of the country and an appreciation of handmadegoods." The website includes features, blog posts, and, of course, the advent calendar.

MacPhail says his team was motivated to launch the calendar as a way "to give folks a little taste of the season and the holidays (not just Christian ones) during the month. There's enough bad in the world right now, we need something a bit more uplifting and fun".

He describes the development process:
"I started with a rough mockup in Tumult Hype using an existing advent
calendar as a backdrop. I then shared it with Michelle Lydon, a graphic designer I work with. Michelle developed the circular number motif in Illustrator to match the dimensions of a landscape retina iPad Air 2. I brought those graphic elements into Affinity Designer and broke them into the constituent elements and then built the interactive piece in Tumult Hype (HTML 5). I sourced the content partly from Harrowsmith staff and partly from a call I made to my pals on Facebook."
I've seen the first 3 days of the calendar (December 2nd is particularly wonderful). I asked MacPhail what other types of digital treats await us. He notes, "We've created some little interactive amusements, more video links, recipes, and a few other easter eggs and surprises."

Give it the calendar a try. I can't wait to see what Harrowsmith has in store for the 25th!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

I Need Your Help To Understand New Mobile Medium

  • Do you upload photos of your location?
  • Do you share your whereabouts online with friends?
  • Do you use your mobile device for reviews and directions where to shop or eat?
  • Do you use an app to uncover history and culture when in a new area?
  • Can you imagine navigating through the world without your mobile device?

Content on mobile devices targeted to our location (often by GPS) is changing the way we navigate and experience the world. These locative media apps (also known as location-based services) can draw upon our personal experience, histories or cultural associations of physical spaces. It is now easy to share this content and access it in the places where it is relevant.

Such locative media apps are still so new that the ways in which they contribute to our experiences of places is not well understood.

I’m seeking people who use locative media to help learn more about this exciting topic for a researching study I'm conducting at the University of Toronto.

Participation is open to people over 18 years old and who can communicate fluently in English. I’m looking for people using mobile media to engage with their places. This can be writing reviews or geotagging photos, but it can also be people looking up recommendations or history of places near them using their mobile device.

Participants will be interviewed on their usage. Participation can be conducted online, by telephone, or in-person at the University of Toronto.

Participants who complete the study will be given a $25 (Canadian currency) Visa gift card.

Please email me, Glen Farrelly at glen.farrelly @ if you are interested

*** For more details about the study, please visit my research website:

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Dear Facebook Diary

Earlier this year in March, Facebook launched the On This Day feature that shows a user his or her Facebook content from that same day from years past. Status updates, tagged photos, wall posts from friends, funny drawings, meme videos you commented on, etc. all from years gone by are presented in reverse chronological order for your nostalgic perusal.

You might have noticed this feature via the notifications Facebooks provides to the memories you have waiting to see. If not, you can find the feature is found on your Facebook homepage under the Apps section on the left or by going directly to your On This Day page after logging in.

Facebook only enables one to view the One This Day content one day at a time. I can see the business reasoning behind this decision, as it keeps people (like me) clicking back daily. Also it is more powerful to view past content on the anniversary of its posting than during a binge reminiscence. Still, if one really wants this to take a LONG trip down memory lane they could just pour through their activity log.

The content on one's On This Day page is only available to the user in this format (friends could still access any content you've given them access to via it's original historic placement. But Facebook has a Share button that enables one to repost with or without new commentary. I know I'm not the only one who is using this feature, as I'm seeing this content appearing in my feed with increasing frequency.

Lest we be reminded of anything too painful, Facebook provides settings for us to exclude posts from specific days or people. As always, Facebook also make sit easy to delete any old items one deems too painful or too boring to linger on. (If only Facebook could excise unpleasant memories and people so deftly and dispassionately.)

I was one of the first Facebook users when they opened up to non-students, so I've used it for many years. As an addicted user for most of this time, I consequently have a LOT of prior posts.

Prior to the launch of this feature, however, other than looking at my past photos (as this is how I do my family photo albums now), I have almost never reviewed any of my prior Facebook content. As with my daily conversations offline and on, my words and images passed into the ether never really to be heard from again.

That is until Facebook launched this feature. Since they launched it, I have checked it every day. In a way that I never conceived of before this, it provides a chronicle of my life and times. Posted are my accomplishments and losses, my thoughts on politics and pop culture, new friendships (but not unfriendings), and funny things and family memories. There are photos, videos, links, notes, and rantings by me or others that I reposted. At no time during these years did I think I was saving something for prosperity or archiving my lifestreaming.

Over the years, I have thought of keeping a journal (man's term for diary) and had a few haphazard efforts using Word docs, emails and even a diary mobile app. In the end, these efforts were all quickly abandoned as I ultimately found that I didn't want to rehash my daily events and feelings. I found writing such autobiographical accounts to not only be a chore, but more importantly it dredged up stuff that I was probably best moving past quickly. I have never wanted to reread any of my past journal entries for similar reasons.

Perhaps it was my format and approach to diarying that I felt was de rigueur that provided an uninspiring and restrictive structure. I probably got my sense of what a diary should contain from movies and TV, as in "Dear Diary: Today, I did the following...".

Yet Facebook posts don't have any such constraints and can flow more organically. My posts arise spontaneously based on my responses to events in my life and content I encounter daily. So I might post about a big event - getting an award or milestone anniversary - but also about a new movie or cool website. I tend not to post about the deeply negative and personal parts of my life as I'm private that way. This probably explains why my experience of the On This Day feature is much more positive than others have written about. (See such accounts in The Debrief, TechCrunch, and Globe and Mail. My deeply personal thoughts and internal life are not represented on Facebook as they were in when I did proper diarying, but it was this type of content that was too painful - and dull - to document and relive, so I'm okay with it not be present in my Facebook history.

In the end, what I have are vast and eclectic reflections on almost all the substrate of my life.  The diversity of topics of these posting provide a good reflection of the diversity of things in my life. I want to see and be reminded of these things.

So for me Facebook is an easy to keep journal (diary) kept in a less restrictive and more fun manner.

But that's not what makes it really something different. What makes Facebook posts unlike any sort of diary is that posts are read and commented upon by others. Previously diaries only became social media when one's pesky sibling found it and mockingly read aloud the embarrassing bits.

The comments by friends, family, even acquaintances provides the social dimension that is central to almost everyone's life. Hermits aside, we have always shared our experiences and thoughts on our life and times with others, but this was often not documented (especially since letter writing died out). Our old-style diaries might record social interactions - even conversations - with others, but it was always from our own perspective and using our own words. But Facebook in all its seldom editted glory gives people a forum for commentary on our lives. Now these interactions with the many others in our lives are recorded too. (And again, this is a source of contention with some users of this feature.)

Since this feature launched I have rarely missed accessing it, sometimes logging into Facebook just to access this. I have also started posting things mostly for their future historic value to me. My posting volume has gone up considerably as a result. I am worried that I am TMIing my friends.

With this future history posts, I have considered making them private. However, I like the social interactions with friends that my postings solicit, so I have left them open. Still, it is rather sad to post something and then get zero responses or even a minimal-effort required "Like".

I love this feature so much that it leads to a big concern. My prior diaries were completely mine. Even my forays into digital diarying were in non-proprietary formats that could be easily read by other software. But now my diary is owned - at least in part - by a third party. Facebook, I learned in writing this post, does allow one to download the complete records of one's account, but I can't imagine how any other software would be able to present it in a meaningful or usable manner (let me know if there is). 

I'm happy to stay with Facebook as I find it an overall great service with an unbeatable price. But as more and more of my life is comprised within Facebook and archived by them too, I worry about what happens when Facebook is no longer around or still offering this type of service. Companies don't last forever, but I want my memories to.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

National Girls Learning Code Day

Today is National Girls Learning Code Day. My young daughter and over 1200 other girls across Canada spent today learning how to code. The goal of the event is to help show girls that coding is accessible, useful, and even fun.

We participated in an event for 8-13 year old girls hosted by Ladies Learning Code and Google at Telus' Toronto headquarters. Volunteers working in a wide range of jobs in digital media spent the day instructing and mentoring our crowd of 60 girls on how to code their own website.

Before attending this event, I figured they'd show us how to use WYSIWYG editors to build a website - but as the name of this event stated, it's definitely code the girls got their hands dirty with today! The instructors taught the basics of HTML and CSS with the help of Mozilla's free online code editor Thimble.

My daughter does have her own blog and YouTube channel, but hasn't actually done any coding before. She loves frontend digital media, but I was worried that the nitty gritty of writing lines of code (and moreover debugging the inevitable problems) was get wearisome for her.

The instructors lead the girls through the basics to get a website up and progressed fast enough to keep interest up. The instructors also shared some great online resources such as a hexadecimal colour picker and CSS code snippets to make customizing the look and feel of the website easier.

There were volunteer mentors on hand to help us out whenever we got stuck. It was great to see so many accomplished women sharing their knowledge and love for tech with girls - they were really helpful and inspirational for my daughter. I wish there were more events like this to connect girls with women working in technology.

Before we attended the event, I talked to my daughter about what she might want to build a website about. One of her ideas was humourous cat videos. As the Internet is powered by cat videos, I figured this was a perfect topic for her first website. The other girls present made websites on hedgehogs, dolls, cookie stores, germs, pet store, toys, fashion, etc. It was great that girls could focus on their interests in a judgement-free zone (note, yes boys do ruin the fun some times).

The goal of this session was to learn a variety of HTML and CSS codes - so the final website is a hodgepodge of hand-coded techniques. Perfect for a collection of Super Silly Cat Videos!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

My Own Bat-Mobile

I saw today some puffy bat stickers from my daughter's collection that I loved, so I put them on my LG mobile device for festive bling.

And voila my very own Bat-Mobile!!

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

You Can Locate Me at the Canadian Wireless Trade Show

I'm speaking this week at the Canadian Wireless Trade Show in Toronto. My presentation, called "Positioning the User in Mobile Locative Applications", is at 2:00 pm, October 29th. 

Here's what I'll be talking about:
The locative functionality of mobile devices is enabling more people to connect to the spaces in which we live, work, and do business. Based on my doctoral research, I will discuss how people are using location-based services to access geographically relevant content for commerce and pleasure. As this technology continues to evolve, this seminar will help attendees to consider the interplay of technology, people, and place and how this may apply to their organization.

The conference is held at the Toronto Congress Centre.

Even better, there is no admission fee. So track me down there and we can connect about our mutual love of mobile devices.

Update: Here's my slide deck of my presentation.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Unfriending is Unprofessional and Unnecessary

According to a recent Australian regulatory decision, unfriending a coworker on Facebook can add up to workplace bullying. There were other actions leading up to this, but unfriending was key (see CNET for details).

Just recently, and without provocation, I was similarly bullied!

I noticed this when a friend posted something to Facebook and tagged another person. When I went to go to my "friend's" page, I couldn't access it. I checked my friend list and sure enough I had been unfriended!

I probably have been unfriended by others before. In the early days of social media I, like most people, wantonly sent friend requests to people I barely knew or knew from long, long ago in a galaxy far away.  I did end up interacting rather regularly via social media with some of those people, but by and large these very weak ties were not maintained. Of my 200+ friends on Facebook, I probably only interact with less than 30 in a given month. So if people unfriended me over the years, I really didn't notice.

I did notice this person unfriending me, however, as we have had a continual workplace relationship and collegial ties that have persisted for years. I thought we got along really well both offline and online and we never had any incidents. Possibly, this person just accidentally unfriended me or went through some massive friend purge in which I was engulfed. Or maybe I'm just a creep and I don't belong there.

Either way, considering that I must have continual business dealings (albeit limited) with this coworker her action is therefore quite unprofessional.

I wouldn't call it bullying - but it definitely seems mean-spirited, and more importantly it is unnecessary!

I'm going to give this person the benefit of the doubt and assume the unfriending wasn't personal and was possibly an accident. Otherwise unfriending someone is sending a direct and unequivocal message that you refuse to have further interactions with this person. This is not appropriate workplace behaviour. This is only acceptable if it has based on some sort of horrible dealings, which would be better dealt with by talking to your Human Resources department.

Facebook is a dominant form of social interaction (and likely THE dominant form) among friends, family, and coworkers, so closing this off is sending a very strong message of hostility. I don't believe most people realize how powerful a message it is (including digital media experts, as this case may be). I have often heard people talk about unfriending people very casually. We may not like how Facebook and other social networking sites have pervaded the workplace and so many spheres of our life, but we have to find ways to deal with this reality.

Some people choose to avoid social networking sites altogether. This is an effective tactic, but it is a blunt option that blocks one from lots of interactions that could be beneficial to one personally and professionally. Others choose to have multiple accounts or use pseudonyms to keep their lives and people apart - but this becomes unwieldy and too much effort to maintain.

Instead, there is a solution that achieves the same ends, but in a low-key and diplomatic fashion. People just need to take a few minutes to make use of the excellent privacy and group settings that Facebook and similar sites offer. Consequently, there is no point nowadays to unfriending someone (barring heinous acts) ever again.

First, set up various "list" of Facebook friends. I suggest having different lists for close friends, family, coworkers, and acquaintances at the very least. Facebook even has preset lists for some of these. You can then designate what members of a list have access to - as little or as much of your stuff as you decide.  You can then target content to list by by type of content (e.g. all photos) or a specific piece of content (e.g. okay, even acquaintances can see this picture of me meeting this big shot). Facebook has a preset list called "Restricted" which only receives access to content you make public.

Then when you post status updates, photos, anything to Facebook it can be easily and quickly targetted to lists. Facebook even remembers your preference and makes that a default.

You can thereby easily and regularly segment portions of your life. Coworkers don't need to see family photos and your close friends don't need to hear about that interesting new article of interest to only those in your esoteric profession.

There is no need therefore to unfriend someone!  Instead you can send someone down to restricted purgatory where they receive and can view little or no social media content from you.

And if you don't want to hear from them, you can remove them from your news feed via Facebook's "Unfollow" feature. You still remain "friends" but they are now dead to you in your social media stream. The great thing is that the person will likely not notice any of this and a working (or family) relationship can be peacefully maintained without the person ever knowing any differently.

To successfully pull this off, I recommend posting some stuff for all groups to see. There are many types of posts that you can benefit from more people seeing - such as promotional posts about an event, accomplishment, or company. For this reason, I also recommend making some Facebook posts public.

I am a little shocked that a digital media expert has behaved this way to me and didn't know enough about her field to make astute use of the website. It will be hard for me to not think much less of her personally and professionally as a result.

So learn from her mistake!

And if I am a creep, don't let me know that I don't belong - just make me "Restricted" and I'll never be the wiser.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Blogging @ Home

Today is the ninth anniversary of me starting this blog and blogging in general. Over the years on the anniversary of my first blog post, I have written a reflexive piece on this blog and my feelings to blogging in general.

The title of my first blog entry ever is Nothing to blog home about as I feared I wouldn't have much to blog about. It turns out I was very wrong on that account.

Webslinger is my first ever blog, but over the years others have come and gone. I had a blog about my daughter's hijinx when she was a toddler; now she is a preteen and we blog together about her artworks. I have public blogs, like this one, and private ones, such as those I set up for clients. I have guest blogged for other blogs and had my blog syndicated by Backbone Magazine. I blog about serious stuff (such as digital media - as what is more important than that) and less serious (but possibly more fun) topics such as my postcard collection. I blog via Blogger, WordPress and have tried others, such as Tumblr and Yahoo 360.

Today, the topic of creating a new blog for one of my current jobs came up and I'm leading the charge for setting up yet another blog that I'll be working on. (I had wanted a Facebook page or static website - but blogging software can be used creatively to achieve both those ends.) This is an interesting coincidence as on the fourth anniversary of me creating my first blog, I created my second one (see post about that) - based on the outcome of a meeting with a client.

Over the years, my interest in blogging and posting frequency has ebbed and flowed and ebbed again. It is hard to maintain interest in something when it takes a lot of time to do and doesn't have immediate (or ever) compensation. But blogging has opened up doors for me and lead to some exciting opportunities. For awhile, I was even making some money selling ads on this blog - although my Google ads have still not resulted in enough money to take my family out for a pizza yet.

There are also ancillary benefits to blogging, such as providing an awesome venting source. For example, it is a continuous pleasure to me to see my post on a horrific customer service experience with Bell Canada continue to get hundreds of views. Blogging has also introduced my research and ideas to more people then traditional academic publishing has ever done and helps my SEO too.

I find I do have a fair amount of things to blog about on my various blogs. I don't really have the time to do it, but I find it useful to post something here or just plain fun to post about my postcard collection that I find time to do it. No doubt, blogging is also a procrastination crux for me and help to alleviate the unending pressures of my PhD process.

The biggest change with my blogging is that I am doing almost all of my blogging at home. Now that I'm working almost entirely remotely in both my studies and employment, I work from my office at home. Although isolated from others, blogging gives me an excellent outlet for sharing my thoughts, experiences, feelings and postcards in a way that continues to be very personally rewarding.  So despite all the writers blocks and time-vacuums that hit me, I think Webslinger and other blog team will rage on!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Motive to Make Locative Media Better

If you've read more than one post here you would quickly come to the the conclusion that I love locative media (a.k.a. location-based services).

However, you'd be a bit wrong. I love the potential of these apps, but too often it is just potential. Existing apps are scratching the surface of possible interactions and experiences that mobile media can facilitate between people and their physical world. To give a cinematic analogy - if locative media were films, it would still be the silent era.

There are a lot of elements that need to be in place to build a killer locative media app. In addition to the standard user experience and technical proficiency factors, locative media developers need to be able to create interactions with a device's geopositioning abilities, incorporate online maps, and access or create a library of geocoded content. In my experience and in talking to developers, they spend a lot of development time working on getting these last elements working.

Having worked in digital media for many years now, I have found that when technical development is difficult or overly laborious, it often results in an organization's energies being focused on that - opposed to front-end elements such as creating an intuitive and pleasing user experience, offering sophisticated narrative or informational structures, promoting organizational or branding goals effectively, or differentiating itself from similar services, among other issues. Alternatively, technical hurdles can scare people off and prevent people from even trying their ideas.

I was contacted this summer by a company, RocketChicken Interactive, that is addressing the challenges locative media developers face. Naturally, my interest was instantly piqued. All the more so when I learned the company is based on Canada. Over the past couple months, I have had the chance to talk to company founder and president Ryan Chapman and senior executive Peter Wittig.

Their company has created several location-based games, such as the popular Code Runner. The game was a hit. But it was during their lengthy development process that the founders realized that there could be an easier way to do this. So they created Motive.

Motive offers a platform service for people to build and launch locative media applications from games to guides - without needing to know much code. This offers organizations the new ability to not only launch products more quickly, but ideally to focus their energies on innovating, differentiating themselves, and making killer new apps.

As Ryan states:
People are reinventing the wheel in the development of locative apps. They are struggling with the same technical obstacles and having to build everything from scratch. Motive gives you the programming mechanics so that you can focus on the story and the user experience. You can create a compelling experience without writing a lot of code. 
Through a web-based, authoring tool, Motive allows people to choose the types of interactions desired to build an app. You plug into an existing dataset of geocoded content, such as OpenStreetMaps or Foursquare, or use your own. Then, through Motive's visual interface, you choose from menu items to enable interactions with specific places or types of places in proximity to a user. So one could choose a piece of content to display when a user is near a specific restaurant, any restaurant, or a type of restaurant (Indian vs. Italian). Scenarios can be prioritized with conditional responses added in accordingly. Developers can also choose whether to make their app online or offline (and thereby avoid incurring roaming costs).

Another challenge that Motive addresses for organizations is that it can help reduce the silos between back-end and front-end. Ryan summarizes the problem:
Content producers are still kept at arm's length. For example, it could take a week to update a few words, but with Motive, the writers or graphic designers can work in parallel to the developers. We are injecting content into the pipeline using Motive's tools - content can be updated on the fly and be live instantly. 
As with a content management system, Motive can enable one's apps to be updated via their hosted web-based tool. Clients can upload their digital assets (e.g., design elements, images, music, videos) and content and update it as they wish without having to request a programmer to do it for them.

Although Motive was developed based on a location-based game, the notion of interacting with place is not confined to gamers. Museums, historic sites, tourist attractions, theme parks, and schools, among other businesses, may want to offer an app to direct, guide, or encourage play between their customers and their places.

Currently, the service does require some programming effort to launch an application, but Ryan notes,
The vision of Motive is for someone to be able to sit down and launch a locative app without writing a single line of code. If you are creative, then you won't be hamstrung by all that - you don't have to solve the problems over again and over again. Just take this and run with it. With that, I think there will be an explosion of apps. 
It is this vision that is so engaging. By opening up the sphere to those otherwise unable to code and overcoming herculean tech hurdles, more people and a more diverse variety of people will be able to try something out. To make this vision more of a reality, the company is working on offering a series of templates targeted to various types of businesses with associated interactions further facilitated.

Through their beta and alpha testing with Motive, Ryan has been surprised by some of the new things people are doing, as their testers have built options into their apps that he hadn't envisioned. The initial crop of locative media apps offered a lot of novelty, but check-ins, friend finding, and place reviews are rather limited forms of interacting with our world. I am excited at the possibility of seeing really sophisticated and innovative projects in this area. As Blogger did for blogs, I think Motive has the possibility to facilitate and spur some amazing developments in the locative media field.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Let's Get Loaded

I am not afraid to admit I love coupons. I don't understand what people have against them? Who doesn't love having more money or getting stuff for free?!
I'm not talking about your grandma's coupons to save 25 cents. I've gotten coupons to save several dollars, get stuff for free, 2 for 1, etc.

For me, couponing is still largely a print act. I get some direct mail from companies I do business with and some mass mailers that I quickly scan for deals.  Occasionally, I check for coupons online but this so seldom nets anything that I don't bother often.  So like housewives of old, I merrily clip my coupons and put them in my wallet.

Where they remain abandoned and expired until they pile up en masse and force a purging.

Given that I love saving money and free things, this makes me both mad and sad.  For years, I have wondered when the digital revolution will get to coupons to save my day. 

Sure there's been forays into digital deals. I've found some online coupons from websites such as Red Flag Deals for e-commerce sites - although these sources have been drying up for me over the years
I have also had a few coupons emailed to me for purchases in bricks and mortar stores with the promise that I just had to show my mobile device to the cashier to redeem. I don't think this ever worked once at any business, but ones that I printed out have generally worked.  But, I still had to remember to (try to) redeem them.

So it was with no small excitement today that I eagerly followed up on an email offer from Shoppers Drug Mart to load coupons to my store loyalty card, Optimum.

I love loyalty rewards programs even more than I love coupons. So so showing my loyalty card is something I will not forget to do.

To load coupons to one's Shoppers Optimum card, one has to sign into their website. It was pretty easy to load the coupons even if it did take a few steps (which would be a bit cumbersome on a smartphone). I understand that coupons can't be automatically preloaded onto a card as one does need to be made aware of the promotions.  Something to make this process a bit easier would be great - but not an app. I do not want yet another business-specific app to clutter my device and never be used.

I love this idea - no more clipping ever again! However, I still need help when roaming the aisles to remember what amazing offers are awaiting for me one scan away.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Email Etiquette: Things We All Should Know by Now

Email was invented in the 1970s and ubiquitous by the 1990s. Yet it seems that people still have trouble using it appropriately for professional communications.A few weeks ago, I experienced five breeches of email etiquette within two weeks:
  1. someone refuses to answer my emails after a few weeks (no vacation response either)
  2. someone replied to an email I sent to my supervisor and not me (nor did they cc me)
  3. someone replied to all regarding a matter that only involved two people (causing unnecessary worry and chaos for the others recipients)
  4. someone send me a snarky email chastising me for not doing something that I had already emailed them about to indicate I had completed (prompting the "sorry I missed that one" response)
  5.  someone c.c. me on an email without explaining why (so I was left to unravel the mystery)
I've committed some email violations before in my day. But in these cases all these emails I wrote were definitively relevant to the person's job duties and were polite and brief.

I actually thought that after many years of email usage people would be committing  email crimes with much less frequency. But email crimes continue to happen far too often.

And, I'm guilty too. The worst email crime I did recently was not checking spell check closely enough and it changed a person (thankfully one with a sense of humour) name to urine.

So since there are still evidently so many criminals here is

Email Law for All Lands

1) Reply to all emails that indicate a reply is needed
With the exception of emails from crazy people, there is no one too great that they can't type even a few words of a reply. I've emailed CEOs, deans, and government officials and received replies - so I refuse to believe that those managing the middle and such are more busy than them.  If you are too busy to reply to your emails then you need to delegate or reassign your responsibilities.

Note some slack can be given to really big, big shots. By this I mean at the level of heads of state and Hollywood superstars. But the same excuse is not acceptable for entry level administrators

2) Read up before sending out
It's easy to quickly send an email to follow up on a topic - but don't channel your responsibilities to someone else by not knowing the current status of an issue.  Before sending an email, it only takes a few moments to check your prior emails on a topic and familiarize yourself with the status of items before sending an email exposing your ignorance.

3) Watch your tone and take sensitive stuff offline
Email is a lean medium unlike talking in person, so tone or humour can be easily mistaken. Better to compose emails with a neutral tone unless one has an established relationship with a person.

4) Be careful of "reply all", CC, and even more careful of BCC 
It's really easy to add that extra person, or two, or three, or ten - but don't! Everyone experiences email overload nowadays so don't compound the problem. Also, never send an email to someone if they don't be to know why they are receiving it.  BCC has the same problem, but is even worse as now you've done something secret and sneaky,

Finally, if you are adding someone to an ongoing email thread state this to the email group. Explain to the group and individual why they are being included.

5)  Check before you send
Taking at least a few quick moments to reread your email before sending it out can help you avoid the above problems and more.  It's a great idea to have spell check set to automatically check emails before sending them, but spell check is not always your friend as my email to "Urine" proved.

There are more email crimes than I have listed here, so feel free to add to the list.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Kids Doodle App

My young daughter just got her first ever mobile device earlier this month. Any advice on how to manage this is greatly appreciated. So far she's only been using it at home and hasn't connected with any of her friends with it (I wish it could stay this way for a few years.)

We promised her a mobile device for her birthday last month. Many of her classmates already had a device a grade or two before her, so we figured it was time. I got my new smartphone at the same time (a LG G3, which I LOVE) so we got a great deal.

Along with my kid getting the new mobile, we got her some apps. She's particularly fond of playing various games, texting (me and family members only so far) and YouTube. She also loves a digital art app called Kids Doodle.

My daughter wrote a review of Kids Doodle for her own blog, so I wanted to post it here (the picture explains why).


When I got my new smartphone, I wanted to make a nice picture for my dad. My mom found an app for me to make pictures with.

She heard of the app from an online list of best free apps for kids. The app is called Kids Doodle.

The app lets pick colours and effects to make pictures. You can choose different colour backgrounds. You can add in images of fireworks, hearts, bubbles, and stars.

 Here's one I made for my dad:

I love my daddy doodle

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Fatal Error: Neglecting Error Handling

For a long time, I've heard great things about Airbnb. Friends have recommended it for making travelling to places, such as Europe or New York City, finally affordable and as a good way to meet locals.

I have been eager to try Airbnb, but haven't had the opportunity until earlier this month. I was travelling to Vancouver for a conference and was put off by the B grade hotels in B grade locales charging on average about $300 a night.

Upon checking Airbnb, I was delighted to find a few great listings. I narrowed it down to one that sounded perfect. I was a bit nervous that the place didn't have any feedback from prior guests, but I decided to go ahead and book it. I was excited because not only was I getting a good rate, but it was in a great location.

But due to fatal errors with Airbnb and their partners, I won't get the chance to book any rooms with them any time soon or perhaps ever. Their site has an error that blocks the process of booking and they offer no workaround.

As a former web developer, the issue doesn't seem like a huge problem. Yet it is a necessary step that without completing stops a traveller worst than a wicked case of Montezuma's Revenge.

In brief, the problem is that some Airbnb's room renters require a guest to be authenticated. This process requires uploading a photo of government-issued identification. Suffice to say, my wife and spent over an hour trying every permeation offerred to do this several times and it never worked. Airbnb offers no error message to inform me of any problems on their or my end. I had no idea what was going wrong, instead I'd just be redirected back to where I started with no word from Airbnb on how to proceed. No alternatives are offerred nor is any way to contact customer support. As booking lodgings is often time sensitive, access to very fast, preferably live, customer support is essential - another one of Airbnb's problems.  So despite finding a great room, I could not book it.

The problem is so prominent and fatal that it should not have been overlooked by the company. The fact that it was missed speaks to a lack of adequate quality assurance that throws their whole service into disrepute.

I don't mean to pick on Airbnb - but this case is a great example of a company that has done very well developing a great online service, designing an attractive and generally usable website, and achieving a critical mass of users to make the service viable.

They obviously put a lot of very skilled work into all those crucial components of any digital media business. The business analysts, developers, designers and marketers should be proud.  But the the company obviously hasn't done an adequate job of error handling and user testing.

Having worked in this field for many years, this is not surprising as testing is often neglected. In the rush to get products live quality assurance testing - let alone user testing - is frequently sacrificed. Sometimes it is not done at all.

Testing is not the most fun part of launching any digital media product (it might actually be the most boring and certainly the least sexy). But neglect it at your peril. All the hard work of launching a great product comes to a grinding halt when a simple bug is overlooked.

P.S. I ended up only be able to get an overpriced room in Vancouver's "entertainment district". It turned out to be next to strip clubs and peep shows and be smaller than most hotel bathrooms (and didn't include a bathroom either). Staying at a gleaming new condo in a trendy neighbourhood for less money would have been MUCH PREFERABLE!!!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Digital Help for Visitors to Toronto

With the Pan Am & Parapan Games officially starting tomorrow, a large number of tourists have already begun arriving in Toronto.  As one a specialist in mobile apps with a focus on apps that help people find their way around and learn more about their places, I  put together a list of my favourite Toronto mobile websites and apps.

All the the apps and websites below offer crucial information for getting around Toronto and most include geolocative maps that pinpoint your mobile location to offer customized help and directions. There are sources below to help you find your way to and around Toronto whether by public transit, car, foot, or bike. I have also included some of my favourite sources for finding out more about our city - from restaurants and restrooms to history and hijinks.

Note: I have tested all the desktop and mobile websites but not all the apps.

Pan & Parapan Am Games - Official Source

Desktop Website

Mobile App

Mobile Website

Pan Am Games official website is comprehensive and has all info on the games and cultural events. You can also buy tickets and merchandise. (including Pachi stuffies)

Key Info:
* Sports, schedules, venues, countries participating, events, transportation, and news

Pointing Your Way:
* Interactive map of sporting & cultural venues

* Venue pages have maps and links to directions
* Interactive trip planner provides driving or public transit directions
The app appears to have all info and features of desktop website. It has interactive, locative maps of sporting and cultural venues.

Available on:
Android and Apple.
Mobile website is similar to desktop website and has been mostly optimized for viewing on a mobile.

Key info and functionality present, including their trip planner. But no links found to interactive maps - instead links to Travelinx for transit directions.


Desktop Website

Mobile App

Mobile Website

Regional Public Transit

Triplinx - combines info on transit systems for Greater Toronto and Hamilton areas - specifically Brampton, Milton, Burlington, Mississauga, Oakville, York Region, and the regional GO Transit services.

Key Info:
* Schedules by route, fares, maps, and paratransit services

Pointing Your Way:
* Stop Finder - get nearest transit system by entering address
* Interactive Trip Planner - enter address or venue for directions for transit, car, or bike
No app appears to exist (but none needed as mobile website works well - see note to right) Mobile website is fully optimized.

Mobile website has full content and functionality as desktop website.

Toronto Public Transit

Toronto Transit Commission (known as TTC) is Toronto's only public transit system. TTC serves downtown Toronto as well as Scarborough, North York, East York, and Etobicoke.

Key Info:
* Fares, alerts, schedules, day passes, airport routes, maps,etc.
* You can now buy day passes online!

Pointing Your Way:
* Interactive Trip Planner - enter starting and ending points for routes
TTC's official app just launched this July. TTCconnect is only for buying tickets via Android or Apple

I use TTC Tracker. It's easy to use and hasn't let me down. TTC Tracker gives schedules for buses & streetcars (subways come about every 6-8 minutes) by route or stop.
Mobile website is fully optimized.

It has all essential info, including maps and interactive Trip Planner.


Pearson Airport is the airport most visitors to Toronto use. (There's a little airport on Toronto Island mostly for small flights). Pearson is in nearby Mississauga.

Key Info:
* Arrival and departure updates, parking guide, and free wifi info.

Pointing Your Way:
* Interactive terminal maps showing gates and showing amenities, food, and services
The app appears to have all info and maps of website.

Available on:Android, Apple, and BlackBerry.

Mobile website is fully optimized.

It has all essential info, including interactive terminal maps and customized directions to airport.


Green P Parking is owned by City of Toronto. They provide many of the parking spots here (160 lots containing about 20K spaces). Prices are reasonable (not cheap) and they don't jack up rates during special events (as some lots will).

Key Info:
* Rates per lot, monthly permits, pay tickets online

Pointing Your Way:
* Find Parking function map out nearest lots by address, venue, or intersection entered or by browsing a map - sort by distance or price
* Each lot has a webpage with its location plotted on Google Maps and rates

The app has same features as desktop website, but with additional functionality of paying via your device, setting expiry reminders, and extending meter time.

The app just launched and paying via app is not yet possible at all locations.

Available on: Android and Apple
Only partially available via mobile browser.

In a near-sighted decision, the mobile website only promotes the app. The helpful info provided on desktop website is not available, nor is their parking finder.

But payment functionality is available to members via a browser or text messaging.


Gata Hub - Now that Hailo is gone from North America, a local company offers service to hail official taxis via mobiles. Rather than having to know the specific name of a cab company, this service allows you to request a taxi pick-up in Toronto.

* I haven't used this service
* You can't hail a cab from website
GataHub's app allows one to request a taxi pick-up, estimate a fare, track taxi locations, and get arrival times.

Available on:
Android and Apple
Mobile website is optimized, but one cannot hail or view taxis from website.
Uber Toronto - links riders with private (unofficial) cars. Taxis in Toronto are regulated but Uber drivers aren't, which can result in cheaper rates than taxis. However, Uber rates can fluctuate based on demand (unlike official Toronto taxis).

* I haven't used this service
* UberX service is in legal disputes here
* You can't hail a cab from website.
Uber's app allows one to estimate a fare, split bills with friends, view driver profiles, pay with your mobile, and order a pick-up even if you don't know your address.

Available on:
Android, Windows Phone, and Apple
Mobile website is optimized, but one cannot hail or view cars from website.

Mobile website does have a Fare Estimator.


BikeShare - Toronto has various bicycles stationed in docks in the downtown of the city to rent for short term travel and return it to any of the stations.

Key Info:
* Info on signing up, rates, and overall program

Pointing Your Way:
* Station Map plots the location of bike depots on a map with real-time updates on bikes and docks available

* I haven't used this service
* There are also a few other places to rent bikes in Toronto, but here's a list.
No official app, but various third party apps - search your app store for "bike share Toronto" Mobile website is optimized and offers same functionality as desktop website.
Bike Parking - Toronto is not a bike-friendly city in various ways. One way is that there aren't many (official) places to lock them. The City has some bike parking spots, but they are not always easy to find. A Toronto developer has built a service to address this.

Key Info:
* Find the address of spots or suggest a location for one

Pointing Your Way:
* Enter an address or browse a map of Toronto to see nearest bike parking spots
No app Website works well on mobile browser, but it isn't fully optimized.

Mobile website appears to have full content and functionality as desktop website.

Services and Amenities

Business Directories

Desktop Website

Mobile App

Mobile Website

Yellow Pages is the leader in local businesses listings across Canada. They have extensive listing for Ontario including Toronto

Key Info:
* Search for contact information and addresses of a specific business / organization or browse categories via directories.
* Filter results by rating, neighbourhood, etc

Pointing Your Way:
* View businesses by category on a map or view a specific business' address on a map with directions
The app has same features as website, but with additional ability to search for individuals and well as businesses.

Works well on my Android.

Available On:
Android, BlackBerry, Windows, and Apple
Mobile website is fully optimized.

It allows one to search for businesses or individuals and view results plotted on a map.


SitOrSquat Restroom Finder - addresses persistent problems of finding available (let alone decent) washrooms when you need one.

Listings aren't the most up-to-date or comprehensive, but if you're a newcomer and you gotta go, it's better than the alternatives!

Key Info:
* Search for washrooms and filter results by accessibility, changing tables, family bathrooms,
* Add a life-saver to the list and rate as good (sit) or bad (squat) and attach a photo (of the washroom, no selfies please)

Pointing Your Way:
* See the nearest bathroom to you on a map or enter a location
The app has same features as desktop website.

Works well on my Android.

Available On:
Android and Apple
Does not work on mobile browser.


Finding your way around Toronto's many malls (we love to shop in climate-controlled comfort here) can be difficult. Rather than download various apps, a leading owner of malls here built one app for all theirs.

No website available for content, but here's a useful article of the Top 10 shopping malls in Toronto.
CF SHOP app has directories, maps, events, and promos.

They have an interactive map feature "mark your location in the mall, get directions to your favourite store and even pinpoint your parking spot".

Note: I haven't tested this.

App includes local malls Eaton Centre, Sherway Gardens, Shops at Don Mills, Promenade Centre, Fairview Mall, Markville Shopping Centre and others.

Available On:
Android and Apple
Mobile website only promotes the app.

City Guides and Tourist Info

Desktop Website

Mobile App

Mobile Website

See Toronto Now is Toronto's official tourist office website with everything visitors needs to know (although the design could be better). It includes info for the Greater Toronto Area.

Key Info:
* Sites, shopping, events, food, lodging, and promotions
* Onscreen and PDF maps

Pointing Your Way:
* Choose type of attraction or point of interest you are seeking and filter by neighbourhood
* Attractions, events, food, and hotel search result pages list address and plot location on a map
The app has all key content of website, but also allows one to find sites by proximity and locative maps. Also gives distance to sites and directions.

Available On:
Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, and Apple
Mobile website is fully optimized.

Mobile website has full content and functionality as desktop website.
TripAdvisor - likely the best source of user reviews of hotels, restaurants, and attractions (although some reviews are clearly fake) all ranked by users.

Key Info:
* User reviews, guides, and a Q&A forum
* Search for sights, nature, shopping, hotels, museums, food and drink, etc.

Pointing Your Way:
* Maps of every location
TripAdvisor's app Toronto City Guide app offers city content from desktop website but works in offline mode.

Offers maps, directions, and itineraries.

Available On:
Android and Apple
Mobile website is fully optimized.

Mobile website has full content and functionality as desktop website. It also offers directions to sites from device's location.
Bloor St. Culture Corridor - Bloor Street from Yonge Street to Spadina (comprising neighbourhoods of Yorkville and The Annex) is a main area for museums, shopping, bars, and restaurants.

Key Info:
* Find out about area stores, cultural sites, restaurants & bars, and hotels with descriptions and contact details
* Lists of cultural events

Pointing Your Way:
* View map of locations by type and click on items to find out more
The app has same features as desktop website. In addition, one can search locations by proximity and view results in a list or by map.

Available On:
Android and Apple
The mobile website is usable and has all the same info as desktop website, but is not fully optimized and using the full map is difficult but possible (just click on it a few times to view entire map).

Food and Drink

Desktop Website

Mobile App

Mobile Website

Toronto Patio Guide - summers are too brief here, but we make up for it by celebrating the good times with gusto and patios are the best way to do so.

Key Info:
* Definitive guide with reviews of patios including contact info, opening hours, type of patio (rooftop, side walk, backyard, etc.)
* Search for bars, restaurants, or nightclubs by name or location (but not cafes stupidly!)

Pointing Your Way:
* Find patios on a map or search by neighbourhood
The app has the same features as website, but in addition one can search by proximity, view results in a list or by map, and get a recommendation by shaking your device.

Available On:
Android and Apple
Mobile website is fully optimized.

Mobile website has full content and functionality as desktop website.
Toronto Food Trucks - portable and convenient food and in increasing diversity.

Info Available:
* Guide of food offerings and truck locations with schedules

Pointing Your Way:
* View food trucks on a map
The app has the same features as desktop website, but in addition one can view trucks in a list or by map.

Available On:
Android and Apple
Mobile website is fully optimized.

Mobile website has full content and functionality as desktop website.
Foursquare Toronto - It is not as much fun as it used to be, but it does do well in recommending nearby and trending restaurants, clubs, and bars. Foursquare has content on most cities in Ontario.

Key Info:
* Members see visits and recommendations from friends
* Filter results by price, specials, open now, etc.

Pointing Your Way:
* Search for food, nightlife, shopping, or"fun" and refine search by address, neighbourhood, or your location
The app has same features as desktop website.

Works well on my Android.

Available On:
Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, and Apple
Does not allow one to load their website on a mobile.

Historical Information

Desktop Website

Mobile App

Mobile Website

Toronto in Time - offers more than 150 site histories are told through text and images.

Key Info:
* View items by theme (e.g., sport & leisure, law & order, industry, roots, arts & entertainment, fighting, etc.), neighbourhood, suggested routes
* Search sites by keywords (try "Rolling Stones")

Pointing Your Way:
* See points of interest on a map
The app has same features as desktop website. In addition, one can search locations by proximity and view results in a list or by map.

Works well on my Android.

Available On:
Android and Apple.
Mobile website is not optimized and is so hard to use on a mobile that it is essentially inoperable.
First Story - chronicles history of Toronto's First Nations people.

Key Info:
* Blog of history and events related to indigenous people in Toronto

The website does not offer locative or map features. The app is essential for this.
First Story app let's one view aboriginal history points of interest via map or by proximity.

Works well on my Android.

Available On:
Android and Apple.
Not optimized for mobiles and does not offer mapped content. App is essential.
Queerstory - chronicles history of Toronto's LGBTQ people.

Key Info:
* Multimedia (text, photos, or videos) histories tied to 37 locations in downtown Toronto.

Pointing Your Way:
* View location history by category or by map
The app offers same functionality as desktop website.

Works well on my Android.

Available On:
Android and Apple.
Mobile website is optimized.

Mobile website has full content and functionality as desktop website.
Findery - offers people's stories and perspectives on their places. Users upload notes and photos about locations. The result is eclectic and personal glimpses into places as other people experience it.

Key Info:
* Populated by user-generated content so notes are on any and every topic
* Add a note about your experience here

Pointing Your Way:
* View notes by map, satellite, or grid view
* Search for notes about or near address, neighbourhood, or business name
The app offers same functionality as desktop website.

Works well on my Android.

Available On:
Android and Apple
Mobile website is optimized, but does not offer mapped content or search function. Get the app!

Did I miss one of your favourites? Please let me know of other great sources.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Measures of User Experience

I was thinking today about my experience of advising clients wanting to do user testing of their new software or digital media. Typically, clients new to user testing don't know what they want to measure and once introduced to what can be measured they want to record it all.

Having conducted user testing sessions and analyzed the resulting data, I can assure you that more data is not necessarily (and even rarely) better. There are many measures and metrics that are irrelevant to your organization goals and the needs of your users.

Software has not been invented yet that can adequately record everything and there never seems enough people that can be hired to observe and record all that can be recorded. Besides, the sophisticated user testing software is expensive and having more than a couple observers during a user testing session often just makes the participant feel too much like a guinea pig (although a two way mirror to another room can help). And making someone analyze and report on quantitative data that is not necessary and will likely never be used is just a cruel and unusual  punishment.

My advice is to start with determining your goals and priorities first. Then review my list below of some common digital media metrics and measures to figure out which ones will most work for what you want to achieve. (If you are not familiar with the term - just google them as they are quite standard.)

Designers and developers are increasingly interested in measures related to how an application makes users feel. It is important when doing user testing to not think about everything in terms of efficiency. If a new website feature can be used quickly and easily, but makes us angry and never want to return - it has grandiosely failed at a primary goal. The difficulty is in measuring subjective phenomena is being sure that the operational definition used accurately captures the phenomenon. For instance, a user smiling during a test can mean that they are happy, but there are also perplexed smiles and polite smiles that people give to strangers for social niceties.

Usability or User Experience Measures

  • Task completion rate (also failure rate)
  • Task Completion time
  • Path analysis
  • Number of clicks to desired content
  • Number of times user clicked "Help" or "Search"
  • Number of times user asked facilitator for help
  • Error rate
  • Time spent on X (as a measure for "engagement")
  • Most used feature
  • Least used feature
  • Outcome based (e.g. if goal is to learn X)

Affective, Satisfaction, and Hedonic Measures

  • User reported
    • Task satisfaction rate
    • Application level satisfaction rate
    • Favourite feature
    • Least liked feature
  • Feelings observed or reported of 
    • Happy or pleased
    • Frustrated
    • Nostalgic
    • Angry or agitated
    • Sad
    • Confused
  • Social behaviours exhibited (e.g. number of times "shares" feature)

These are just a few of the various many measures and metrics that can be done and each one has its uses and inherit problems.  So heed my works about planning well before testing and really consider if the measure will give you meaningful, useful, and accurate data.

Let me know if I missed a particularly common or useful measure.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Images of Canada

In honour of our great country's birthday today, I made a Flickr album of my photographs of Canada. Check out the obligatory landscapes and landmarks, maple leafs and waving flags, and Canadiana kitsch galore!

I've geotagged all my photos, so you can check them out on Flickr's map to see where they were taken.

Regardez mes photos maintenant...

And as a nice bit of Canadian trivia - Flickr started in Canada. So did the Flat Stanley Project (did you see him here?).

Happy Canada Day!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Attend Our Mobile Cultural Mapping Workshop

Mobile devices get criticized for distracting us from our world. Yet, I've found that mobile media - in the form of location-aware technologies and user-generated content - is growing increasingly sophisticated thereby enabling people to use their mobiles in various ways to enrich their relationship to their places.

Mobile devices can be used to record, geolocate, and share experiences and feelings about a place. They can also be used to access and benefit from reading another person's account of a place in the location that it applies to.

I have enjoyed exploring this topic and continue to research locative media.

However, I don't have a lot of experience in creating my own locative media content (aside from reviews via Foursquare or geotagged photos on Instagram). Last year, I was able to attend and help with a workshop at Mobile HCI conference that taught me the tools and methods to create my own locative stories and artworks.

The workshop was developed by Dr. Martha Ladly, a professor from OCAD University in Toronto. Professor Ladly led this workshop before in Buenos Aires and Florence and she will offer it this August at the International Symposium on Electronic Art (ISEA) in Vancouver, BC.

This year, I am helping lead the workshop as well. Our workshop called People, Places & Things: A Mobile Cultural Mapping Workshop, is a day-long event on Saturday, August 15, 2015.

The workshop is held at the downtown campus of Simon Fraser University. From there, we'll take our mobile devices and explore the area including the Woodward redevelopment project.  It will be a fun, collaborative, and informative day spent experiencing local culture and history, creating digital art and narratives, and adding it all to mobile maps.

Participants will learn how to annotate their places and geolocate their stories using open source mapping tools, and working with their data inside the Google Earth toolkit.

If you’re interested in attending:
  1. Visit our workshop website
  2. Register for the workshop at ISEA (You can register for just our workshop or the entire conference.)
Please join us in Vancouver!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Lost Forever - Remembering Location Based Services Now Gone

In preparing for my prior blog post listing location based services and mobile apps with a prominent locative functionality, I noticed that many of the apps from my prior list (in 2013) were out of business. An even greater number of apps were still "live," but had been abandoned by their creators and not updated in a year, or two, or four.

But I think it's important to remember these apps. Not only are they part of our social and technological history, but many of these apps created new directions and charted paths for future technological innovations. So this post is in honour of the trailblazers now lost forever.

List of deceased location based services:
  • Benefon - released in 1999, possibly the first friend finder feature
  • Brightkite - place check-ins and geosocial networking
  • Booyah - make of location based games MyTown and Nightclub City
  • Carrr Matey - pirate-themed parking finder
  • Centrl - geosocial networking
  • CheckIn+ - augmented reality check-in app
  • Citysense - nightlife discovery and social navigation
  • DeHood - tap into neighbourhood buzz to find local businesses
  • Ding Dong - ring your friends with your location
  • Dodgeball - SMS, pre-cursor to foursquare bought by Google and shut down (see CNET eulogy)
  • Dopplr - social travel planning (bought by Nokia and withered)
  • EveryTrail - user-generated trip recommendations
  • Fire Eagle and Friends on Fire - location sharing platform and API, by Yahoo
  • Flook - user-generated geolocated information
  • Glancee - friend finder based on proximity and social and personal commonalities (started in 2010, bought by Facebook and shut down)
  • Geoloqi - bought by Esri and shut down, their apps including DinoDeals - proximal alerts of deals, Geotracks - real-time friend tracking, and Geonotes - leave geotagged notes or subscribe to location-based info 
  • Geopedia - geotargetted Wikipedia entries - as also offered by WikiMe
  • GeoSpot - started in 2005, offered location-based information and search products
  • Google Latitude - real-time friend tracking (merged into Google+)
  • Google Local - proximal recommendations (merged into Google Maps)
  • Google Sky Map - identify the stars near you (open sourced & mothballed)
  • Glassmap - friend tracking app by Groupon (merged into Groupon Now)
  • Goby - suggested fun activities based on your location 
  • Gowalla -  place check-ins and geosocial networking
  • Groundcrew - place centered coordination and mobilization
  • GyPsii - European company that claimed to have the world's largest geosocial network
  • Hidden Park - location based game where fantasy creatures are found in the parks around you
  • HipGeo - geosocial networking and user generated place recommendations
  • Historypin - enabled users to add old photographs and text narratives to locations (website still running, but apps mothballed)
  • Hurricane Party - helps friends find, share, and create spontaneous parties
  • Junaio - augmented reality vicinity info search
  • Local Books - proximal search for book stores and literary events
  • Localmind - get answers about a specific place & real-time events by people who are there
  • Locatio - by Seiko, possibly world's first LBS, launched in 1999 it included locative mapping, wayfinding, geo-targetted weather forecasts, and proximal restaurants, hotels, and sights
  • Loopt - geosocial networking
  • Magitti - local recommendation, from PARC (see ReadWriteWeb article)
  • Mscape - location-based gaming platform by HP
  • Moby- family member tracking and coordination
  • Nearest Subway - locates nearest subway station in various cities
  • Nearest Wiki - content from Wikipedia overlaid on places via A.R.
  • Neer -  geosocial networking
  • Plazes - an early geo-social networking app, bought by Nokia (read eulogy)
  • PinDrop
  • Poynt - local search with proximity based reviews and mapping
  • Rally Up - geosocial networking
  • Red Rocket - pioneering Toronto-based transit app
  • SCVNGR - pioneer in location based commerically oriented gaming
  • Sitegeist - aggregator of locative info, including census data
  • Sonar - ambient friend finding
  • Task Ave - location-aware reminders
  • Tripbirds- travel tips from friends
  • Trippy - trip advice from your social network
  • urbantag - tag and share lists of places with friends
  • Voxora - voicemail for places
  • Where - proximity-based promotions and deals, by PayPal
  • Whrrl -  brand based groups for recommendations, tips, and deals
  • Zeitag - historical photographs overlaid of users locations
Let me know if I missed one of your dearly departed. Also, if you're interested in location based services, I'm conducting a study soon on this topic and would love to hear from you. Check out my study at my research website.