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.

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