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!

Erewhon workshop

December 15, 2008

On Friday December 5th we held our first Erewhon workshop — an opportunity for us to tell people about the aims of the project, get their feedback on some of our initial ideas, and give them a chance to make suggestions of their own. Despite a few last-minute cancellations we still had about 40 attendees (staff and students) — not a bad turnout for the last day of term!

The first half of the workshop was all about ‘setting the scene’, showing the technological landscape we’re working in. Tim started this off with a lively overview of the capabilities of smartphones, with demonstrations of a wide variety of tools on the iPhone, the G1 and the HTC TyTN — the aim being to show people just how much functionality is already available and in use now (and, by extension, what imagined possibilities might be reality by this time next year…). We wanted to make it clear that we’re not just talking about browsing the web on a small screen; we’re talking about the phone as a platform and an interface in its own right.

From the technological landscape we moved to the physical landscape, and our attempts to map it; I gave an overview of the work we’d done so far on ‘OxPoints’ (the original name for our fledgling geo database), the data we’d amassed, the simple services already available making use of that data (more about that on the handout — see link below), and the direction the new data model was taking; building on this, Sebastian then talked about some of the more exciting future possibilities for mapping, creating visualisations, and enhancing existing services.

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