Saturday, January 31, 2015

Aquarium Interactions

We went to Toronto's aquarium last weekend to celebrate my birthday. It's been open a few months, but we heard the crowds were so bad we've been waiting for the crowds to thin out (they haven't). It was expensive and the line-up to get in was daunting, but in the end we had a great time!

There is a lot more to see then what I ever imagined in what from the outside seems like a small space beside the CN Tower.  They manage to pack a lot of cool stuff into their space. Our highlights were the jellyfish ("Planet Jellies"), the Canadian exhibits (which managed to make Great Lake fish interesting), and the an extensive tube for viewers to submerge themselves in a tank of sharks and rays ("Dangerous Lagoon").

As a parent and digital media aficionado, what I like best about it the aquarium is how interactive they made the experience for kids. I've blogged before about how traditional attractions, cultural sites, and museums are using digital media and interactivity as it's something I think can really entice people into a collection or site and make for a memorable, let alone enjoyable, experience. (Sadly, Toronto's sites actually seems to be getting worse at this, such as  the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum dismal track record.)

Ripley's Aquarium of Canada doesn't use a lot of digital media and doesn't have a mobile app.  I think people are excited enough to explore the novelty of our new aquarium that we don't yet need a mobile app - but it would be a great way to add more interactivity, engagement, and learning opportunities (and I'd be happy to help design such as app, by the way).

There are, however, ample forms of physical interactions in the forms of play structures, tubes to crawl through shark tanks, water tables (of Ontario's locks), buttons to press for sound & light effects, touching ponds, and a shark to put one's hand in to guess what they ate.

But there are so quite good digital experiences to be had to. In relation to the West Coast kelp forest, they had a fun video game.  I didn't notice any accompanying educational components, but I'm not one of those parents that thinks everything has to have an overt "educational" component to have value. Just engaging kids while at these types of places is enough - let alone avoiding the tedium that comes with row upon row of "glass boxes" (as my young daughter called them) such as found extensively now at the ROM.

There was a cool screen that allowed people to have their motions move and play with jellyfish (at least realistic looking digital representations). They also had a mini-program that allowed kids to put together their own jellyfish character. Usually with such programs, they give one the option to have the final creations emailed to you. In a stroke of marketing genius, this only gave kids the option to post to Facebook - or rather, since children aren't allowed to have Facebook accounts, to post to a parent's Facebook page (and free advertising will be achieved.)  Still my daughter really enjoyed doing this and it gave her a cheap souvenir.

But as much fun as the various interactivity was, when one goes to an aquarium there is one overriding expectation: cool sharks! In the end, it is all about the sharks and they delivered Discovery Channel style!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Reading Into the So-Called Decline of eBooks

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, January 03, 2015

My Favourite Webslinger Posts of 2014

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

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

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

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

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