Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Jake Barton Presentation Notes

So this week I am on the hook for Red's class presentation. Earlier today I attended class and got a chance to watch Jake Barton, founder and principal at Local Project, whose presentation we will need to respond to. Here are my notes from tonight's class. I'm keeping the presentation ideas private for now.

Local Project is a design firm that is focused on developing collaborative storytelling experiences using spatial and virtual media. Company focuses on media design portion of the equation; they partner with architecture and installation design firms to develop the physical design of the experiences.

Overview and reactions to key projects:

(1) Caring Aspiration - J&J Pavilion at the Beijing Olympics: Installation featured a series of stories told by people from many different parts of the world in their native tongue. Each story was captured in video in a vertical format and featured subtitles in two languages. The stories had been professionally video-taped and curated in the months leading up to the Olympics.

Reaction: this exhibition was Jake's least inspiring work in large part because the interaction has a strong top-down control structure compared to his other projects (e.g. StoryCorps, and 9/11 Memorial Museum). The stories that are featured are small in number and have all been recorded in a similar style. Due to the highly curated nature of this installation it is not able to reach collaborative storytelling platform status - it remains in the category of collaborative storytelling "installation".

(2) Official NYC Information Center: This city-funded information center was created to help tourists explore New York City. It was designed to bring an enhanced version of online-like browsing into the physical world. The space features numerous tabletop interactive maps, physical computing icons that represent virtual information, and other large screen displays (of course, all of these devices support eight languages). At the end of the experience tourists are able to get a customized NY guide or information printed, emailed, or sent via text message.

Reaction: I like the idea of this project because it focuses on leveraging physical space to help people navigate, interact with, and understand information related to New York City. I also appreciate how the project enables people to take with them a digital product of their interaction with the devices at this highly specialized location. I look forward to visiting this information center in the next couple of days.

(3) Brooklyn Historical Society: This project focused on highlighting Brooklyn's relationship to the abolition movement by highlighting specific locations in the neighborhood that have historical significance. These points of interests were used as sites for projections of pictures of residents of these areas from those times long past.

Reaction: I felt that this is one of Jake's less inspired projects. It's focus is primarily on the augmenting these locations with information about the past, there is no collaborative element in this piece.

(4) Jewish-Polish American Museum (? not sure about this name) - multiple exhibitions. The two projects that caught my attention included one that explored stories of Jewish immigrants to America with a focus on their reasons for migrating; and a second that created a space for museum goers where they could have a mediated interactions with others in their community to discuss important questions.

Reaction: I am really impressed by the second project that mentioned above because it totally changes the role of a museum within a community. It makes the museum a much a more progressive institution that embraces the community in a conversation about the current state of our society - rather than a space that offers an singular (even if sometimes varied) institutional perspective.

(5) StoryCorps [Link to Project Page]: This is an awesome project that was developed to capture stories about the lives of everyday american people, from their own perspective using physical installations in high-traffic areas. It provides two friends or family members with a recording booth for 45 minutes, offering the chance for one participant to interview the other. At the end of the session the two participants leave with a DVD copy of the conversation, and the recording is saved in the Library of Congress. All of this takes place in a relatively small recording booth that lives in kiosks located in several major US cities.

Reaction: I have known about this project for a long time from NPR, it is truly an amazing idea. I actually always wondered who had created StoryCorps. It is one of the coolest and best executed collaborative storytelling projects around. The physical aspect of the execution is a crucial element to the success of this project. The context adds a lot of meaning (importance) to the conversation.

(6) Make History 911 [Link to Project Page]: This is a web-based collaborative storytelling project about the history of september 11th. It allows users to add their stories, pictures and videos to the tapestry of stories that already exist on the site.

Reaction: This project has successfully provided people from all over the world with an opportunity to share their experiences related to september 11th. In the process each person has the opportunity to take part in writing the history about this important moment in our shared lifetime. I think this is a pretty cool way to change the way that history is written. It is definitely a storytelling platform.

(7) September 11 Memorial Museum: This large project features some interesting combinations of environmental media and collaborative storytelling. I was specifically interested by the way in which they are integrating the ability to post verbal comments (a behavior that is common only in virtual spaces) into the physical space. I also appreciate the plans to have people's interaction with the exhibition, and current events, to automatically impact the exhibition itself. This creates a much more dynamic experience that repositions museums as I previously pointed out).

Key Concepts:
  • Notion that we should use a collaborative approach to creating a public history.
  • Difference between a collaborative storytelling platform that enables people to tell their story to an installation that features small selection of curated stories.
  • Need for physical interfaces to be "walk-up" ready - this means that first time users are able to interact with the interface with little difficulty or embarassment.
  • Museums should look for ways to extend the experience beyond their walls by giving people something to take with them, such is information in a cell phone.
  • Museums re-envisioned as interactive spaces where communities can communicate about important issues and in the process impact the space (installation) itself.

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