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!