Geolocating ducks in Essex

July 31, 2009

Earlier this week, Sebastian and I gave a workshop about geolocation at IWMW 2009. Despite ongoing struggles with the wireless networking it all went fairly smoothly, and the 12 or so workshop attendees seemed interested and engaged — and even willing to do the ‘audience participation’ section! This was a re-run of what we did in a local workshop, but with the added advantage that this time the participants came from a range of institutions — so we were keen to see whether our examples and suggestions were things they could all relate to.

Happily, it seems we weren’t being too Oxford-centric, as there was plenty of discussion around our ideas (particularly on the topics of library books and energy usage) and several interesting new suggestions.

Snapshot: whiteboard writeup of the suggestions made by the three groups in our geolocation workshop.

Workshop whiteboard notes

We particularly liked:

Analysing PC/wireless provision and usage to help users determine the likelihood of finding a free PC nearby
It’s easy enough to show the location of currently free PCs, but by the time you’ve got there, what are the chances of there still being one available? Enhancing existing usage metrics with geodata would help users head for the best ‘hotspots’ without wasting time trekking from one bit of campus to another in search of a workstation. However, there was a concern that this might also look like an open invitation to burglars, showing them a map of all the unattended computers on campus!
SMS reminders for courses/meetings with directions tailored to user preferences
Enhance course reminders (already provided by EduTxt) with directions appropriate to the user’s location, mobility, mode of transport, etc. It’d be difficult to do this dynamically based on the user’s location at the time, but possible to allow users to set more general preferences for the sort of reminders/directions they want.

But the firm favourite was one delegate’s suggestion of geolocating a duck: apparently students at York have a pet duck and would love to be able to find its current location and follow its progress! Ducks have generally been less quick to join the smartphone revolution than students, but this problem could be overcome by attaching a lightweight GPS data-logger to the duck. While of course this service would have clear benefits for the duck-watchers, opinion was divided over the benefit to the duck itself: on the one hand it might be more likely to get fed and looked after in a timely fashion, but on the other hand it might not want the constant attention…

Ducks by the lake at Essex University's Colchester campus

Ducks: how can institutional geolocation services benefit them?

See the IWMW2009 website for details of the workshop (including all our slides). Thanks again to everybody who attended the workshop – please feel free to comment here with follow-up, further suggestions or discussion!

Feature Ideas for the new Mobile Portal

July 7, 2009

We’re currently working out what kind of features we’d like to present to users (both staff and students) on the up-and-coming mobile portal. At the moment we have the following ideas (in no particular order of priority):

  • Contact search – This could possibly be location-based, e.g. “Find all lodge / reception numbers for buildings that are near me”.
  • OLIS search – Find a book by title, ISBN etc., and be presented with a map of relevant libraries.
  • Emergency contact numbers – e.g. University security services, NHS direct, the OBSU/OUSU Safety Bus, police.
  • Wake-on-LAN (WoL) – As part of the University’s Green IT initiative, many departments support WoL to encourage people to turn off their computers overnight. Being able to turn your PC on from your mobile as you enter the building could save Vital Seconds.
  • A condensed calendar – With the move to a University-wide calendaring solution we should be able to present a simplified interface to one’s itinerary.
  • OUCS service status
  • University / departmental news feeds
  • Simplified access to the new VLE, WebLearn.

Anything else you’d like to see in that list? A major hurdle we’re still working out how to overcome is the issue of authentication and delegated authority. Some of these ideas (such as WoL, calendaring and the VLE) require the user to authenticate, which they’d either have to do directly (requiring each project to implement a separate mobile interface) or we’d act on the user’s behalf (requiring each service to implement an API for use by the mobile portal). OAuth may not fit the use case exactly as it requires the user to confirm access from the delegated service, which isn’t mobile-friendly.

Other points of inspiration include the mobile portals of the MIT, Warwick University, the University of Iowa, and Swinburne University.

Thoughts and suggestions welcome!

Talk to OxPoints! E-mail and Twitter

July 2, 2009
Tweeter tweeting #oxp

Tweeter tweeting #oxp

As our new OxPoints system is starting to take shape, people have started coming to us with more use-cases and feature requests. To aid in this process we’ve got two main methods of communication for you:

Follow us, message us @oxforderewhon
If you want to talk about OxPoints we encourage you to use the tag #oxp which will help us track all talk relating to OxPoints and hopefully provide you with a better service.

If you prefer e-mail, chuck us some suggestions, problems etc at this address.