CategoryTechnology

Digital Democracy Event

The Speaker of the House of Commons is currently running a commission on digital democracy. It’s looking at the future of democracy (with particular attention to the work of parliament) and the commissioners are looking for views on topics including ‘Making Laws in a Digital Age’, ‘Electronic Voting’ and ‘Representation’.

There have been a number of events around the UK with interested people coming together to discuss, debate and feed ideas into the commission’s report. Many of the round table discussion events have been organised by or for specific groups of people but I wanted to bring together people who didn’t have a particular identity in relation to ‘digital’ or ‘democracy’, but were just interested to have those conversations.

The commission is particularly interesting to me because the questions are fairly open so there are loads of opportunities to feed in new and creative ideas.

Spying my opportunity, I arranged to create a discussion event as a fringe event to Gov Camp Cymru. I worked with the Satori Lab team, who have great ideas and supplies of pens and Lego, and co-ordinated with the commission’s staff in Parliament to bring the event together.

We heard from one of the Commissioners, technology entrepreneur Paul Kane, who told the group about the commission and its role in putting together a report on digital democracy in the UK. Sam Knight, who created YourSenedd, also spoke about his experience with open data and democratic engagement.

We then had space for discussions around the commission’s final topics of Engagement and Facilitating Dialogue between Citizens. We asked questions such as whether or not is it Parliament’s responsibility to facilitate citizen dialogue, the opportunities to increase engagement with the current political system and whether a whole new system will be the most successful way to engage citizens in decision making in the future.

Alongside informal space (and encouragement to use the hotel’s bar) we provided write-on table cloths and a big box of Lego so people could create, think and share in any way they chose. Quite a few little Lego creations and tablecloth thoughts emerged from the evening.

The full report of discussions and ideas will be published on the commission website soon, and you can follow the commission on Twitter @digidemocracyuk.

Photos by Dan Green.

Tablets as Performing Arts Spaces

There’s a lot of ‘digital’ going on in the arts at the moment – in productions, in communications, straddling the two, augmenting our live work and standing in and of itself. I read an article earlier about an iPad app which has been created as an entirely different type of performance space for dance. Rather than trying to replicate or augment the experience of a traditionally placed audience, this work is created just for the iPad and is interactive in its nature.

Called Dot Dot Dot, it is created by 2wice Arts Foundation and features dancer and choreographer Tom Gold. The app allows you to tap areas of the screen and ‘create’ your own version of the piece, which is made of pre-recorded segments of dance. The introductory video gives more of an insight: 

Dot Dot Dot from 2wice Arts Foundation on Vimeo.

It turns out this isn’t the first iPad app 2wice Arts Foundation has created. Their previous effort, Fifth Wall, also uses the iPad as a new creative space for dance. This time a piece was filmed in a particular environment – a large rectangular frame – and the user can change the orientation of the frame, add multiple versions and resize each of them. The dance being performed doesn’t change, but the user’s experience of the piece is exactly as they determine it. You could watch it hundreds of times and each time get a totally different perspective on the work.

Here’s the video for that one:

Fifth Wall from 2wice Arts Foundation on Vimeo.

In other arts app news, I also read today (on ClassicFM’s website) about the launch of an app showcasing Benjamin Britten’s orchestral work The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. For those unfamiliar, the work, written in 1946, showcases the different sections of the orchestra in ‘variations’ on a theme by Henry Purcell and is therefore a really important way for music learners to start to understand the complex workings of the symphony orchestra. 

The app announced today is part of the Britten 100 centenary celebrations of the composer, and is available free. It uses a new recording of the piece, alongside games, quizzes and an interactive musical score to enhance learning and demonstrate the potential and complexities of the symphony orchestra to young people. 

There are probably loads of examples of apps and other digital projects creating entirely new ways to experience and create different types of art. I particularly like that the examples above are not only pushing the boundaries of performing arts but also of the tablet as a device and an experience. I think the proliferation of tablet devices is going to turn out to be one of the most dramatic changes in the way people consume and interact with the content and the world, so it’s definitely interesting to see how the performing arts fit into this. 

I plan on downloading and having a play with all the apps mentioned above so I’ll be sure to review them as soon as I can! 

Rails Girls Bath

I spent the day today in Bath at the UK’s first Rails Girls event. It was run as part of Bath Digital Festival by some lovely, friendly coders.

RailsCake

Rails Girls started in Finland, and is a one-day event to teach women of all ages the basics of coding in Ruby and using the Rails framework to create web apps. From the starting point of no knowledge whatsoever, the goal of the day is to make a simple web app using the skills and tools learned along the way.

We started the morning using TryRuby.org to learn the very basic elements of coding in Ruby. I found most of this quite logical because I’ve been learning a bit of JavaScript so some of the concepts transfer even if the syntax and language is slightly different. This taught us how to create and manipulate strings and arrays, using objects and methods and creating a simple blog template at the end.

The friendly coders were always on hand to answer the “Wait, why did that just happen?” questions and keep everyone motivated. There was also cake, which I’m pretty sure helped a lot. After pizza lunch we moved on to learning about the Rails framework, using the Rails Girls tutorial to create a basic app.

I wish I could show you the app that I made but due to the wifi limitations of the college we were in, we couldn’t get our apps to the point of publishing them online. That’s probably a good thing because there’s quite a bit of css work to be done before it looks as pretty as I’d like it to.

I had some lovely moments during the day when I finally got things to work, a concept ‘clicked’ or I figured out how to make something happen without just following instructions. Each time I felt that excitement of having actually achieved something. Ruby on Rails is a really good framework for seeing what you can achieve really quickly. From a few Terminal commands you can see something you’ve created in your browser straight away, whatever it looks like at that point, and that’s really motivating when you’re just starting out with a programming language.

I’m hoping to carry on learning and create some brilliant web apps. Please feel free to offer tips, suggestions or pointers.

During the day, thanks to the wonders of Twitter, I was also part of a conversation about bringing a Rails Girls event to Cardiff. I’m particularly excited about this, so watch this space for more news about that.

 

 

2012: Apps of the Year

In the first of my roundup of the year posts, I’m had a look of which iPhone and iPad apps I’ve used most this year and the ones I’d recommend. Without further ado…

Super Jetpack Penguin

Game / iPhone / Free

 

What is it?

In Super Jetpack Penguin you need to help the penguin eat as many fish as possible without getting killed by any of the nastier sea creatures that try to block his path. He has a Jetpack so all you need to do is tap and hold to keep him going up or down the screen. Like many other games there’s the double challenge of not just passing the level but achieving a 3-star score.

It’s great because… 

It’s so simple. It can be learned very quickly and mastered with a little patience. Also, the sea creatures, and the penguin, are very cute.

Cdf Hotspots

Productivity / iPhone / Free

What is it? 

This app uses your device’s GPS to locate you and show you the nearest wifi hotspots. It’s a Cardiff app, so obviously only shows you hotspots in Cardiff! With a nice clean design, and just the right amount of information, I’ve used it on a number of occasions to locate the best wifi for wherever I am. This app was developed in conjunction with Cardiff Start by Applingua, a friendly app translation and localisation startup based in Cardiff. If you need your app localised, give them a shout.

(They’re not paying me to say that, but they are my friends, just incase you had any disclosure concerns.)

It’s great because… 

It has a clearly-defined purpose so it’s simple, clear and very helpful.

Letterpress

Game / iPhone / Free

 

What is it? 

An online word game. Use the grid of letters provided to spell a word. The letters you use go blue, then your opponent does the same and the letters they use go red. Be the first to complete the board, and make sure more are blue than red. Simple.

It’s great because… 

A lovely simple concept can be made more difficult by the word skills of the players. It’s also a nice, clean, flat design (no bevelling or skeuomorphs here!)

Draw Something

Game / iPhone & iPad / Free

What is it? 

Get a word, draw a picture, your friend has to guess what you’ve drawn. Effectively, it’s Pictionary but over the Internet. Words very from classic objects (spoon, train, man) to topical and entertaining things like Bieber, Hogwarts and J-Lo.

It’s great because… 

It’s entertaining. If you’re a really good artist, it’s an opportunity to show off. If you’re not so good at drawing (or your opponent isn’t!) it’s funny trying to work out what’s being attempted. I actually cite playing this game as the reason I’m better at drawing than I was a year ago.

Pinterest for iPad

Social Media / iPad (iPhone app also available) / Free

 

What is it? 

The long-awaited tablet version of Pinterest. It’s surprising it took this long to be released, as Pinterest’s browser interface has always been so tablet-like. I’m a very enthusiastic pinner so this has just completed my experience. It’s easy to use, if the navigation is a little congested and confusing, and uses a layered page system to show different types of information from pins to profiles to source links.

It’s great because… 

Pinterest is such a natural tablet experience. All those beautiful images you’ve pinned are now full-size on the retina screen and you can admire them and dream about when you actually afford a house/building/wedding/life like that.

Trip Advisor City Guides

Travel / iPhone / Free

What is it? 

An app featuring downloadable city guides of a selection of major travel destinations across the world. Once downloaded, the guide includes offline maps of the city which combine with GPS to make sure you’re never lost, and listings of restaurants, attractions, transport links, subway stops, etc. I used the New York guide on my recent trip there and it was extremely useful.

It’s great because… 

You get offline maps of a whole city for free. Also because it links to Trip Advisors reviews and rating system. A selection of the reviews for each place is available offline within the app so you can make an informed choice about a restaurant or bar.

Adobe Sketchbook Pro

Art & Design / iPad / £ – appears to be on sale at the moment at £1.99

 

What is it? 

A drawing, painting, creating app. It functions a lot like Photoshop but is optimised for tablet use in terms of tool placement and interface design. The paid version allows for up to 30 layers, great high resolution images and a whole host of tools and colours, all customisable. There’s an inbuilt gallery and you can save the images to your iPad’s camera roll.

It’s great because… 

You get a huge amount of function from it, and it’s on a tablet so is always there and nice and easy to use. For best results, combine with a good stylus. And some talent. There’s probably call for a disclaimer here that you still have to actually draw and the results will only be as good as you are. Maybe get Draw Something to practise 😉

The drawing in the screenshot is by Kat Aldridge. She’s an awesome illustrator and you can find her on Twitter here.

Gifboom

Photography / iPhone / Free

What is it? 

A simple app to create animated gif images and share them. Add up to 30 still images, set the speed and the rest is all done for you. It features a ‘feed’ of gifs created by people you’re following but I haven’t actually used this feature at all, as you can share the gifs you created straight to Facebook and Twitter, or just copy the URL.

It’s great because… 

It’s easy, and lots of fun to animate photos and video of your friends, or hand draw your own animations.

Codecademy

I’ve been thinking for a while I should learn to code. When I was a teenager I taught myself html and css and created a series of little websites for my own entertainment. Unfortunately none of them are online any more so I can’t show you what it is a 14-year old girl in 1999 thought a personal website should include…

I still use loads of that knowledge when I’m administering websites at work but I am generally frustrated that my knowledge takes me to a point and then if I want anything shiny and exciting to happen I have to find someone to make it for me. Enter Codecademy.

One of the most talked-about startups of the moment, the site launched in 2011 and offers tuition in various programming language for people with no prior knowledge. Codecademy’s creators want to be “educating tens of millions of people in the skill that matters most in the 21st century” (source: Wired.co.uk). You sign up to the site and register onto a mini course – thus breaking down the challenge into manageable pieces. Every time you sign in and learn or practise you get some points, and when you complete a section or pass an achievement you get a badge. I am totally sick of the work ‘gamification’ but that’s what is going on here – it turns learning a skill into a game in a way that is really not annoying, for a change.

Aside from the game element, the site is also lovely because it looks so great. The interface is clean and effective, with the instructions always down the left hand side and a practise window and console on the right into which you put your code. You can switch between a ‘Scratch Pad’ and the exercise at any time and input your answer to the problem when you’re ready.

Initially all the courses were written in-house by the Codecademy team but earlier this year they opened up their ‘Creator’ platform which allows anyone to submit a coding lesson or practice exercise. This has led to a very quick increase in the number of courses available. Options now include Python, Ruby and CSS alongside the initial Javascript course.

I’m really enjoying learning some coding and it is my intention to complete the whole lot eventually. Perhaps I’ll share the results with you soon!

Livestreaming, Video and Theatre

Which is better? What does it mean? Where are the lines between each format? What’s it all for?

Guardian Culture Professionals raised these questions in a live chat last week, which you can view in its entirety here, but they have also produced a round up of some of the ‘top tips’ from the chat which you can use in your organisation. They included a couple of my suggestions and ideas, along with several from other interesting people. Check it out here.

Also, if you’re not yet a member of the Guardian Culture Professionals network I suggest you sign up. They send you lovely emails rounding up the week and on the site there are loads of articles, chats, tips and ideas.

No Word Yet on What This is Promoting

A company called Zed Events are currently offering you the chance to battle with zombies every weekend in an abandoned shopping centre in Reading. The building is due to be demolished, but this group have created an interactive real-world game in the space before it is destroyed. There are a number of companies around at the moment creating experiences which sit on the borders of theatre, film-reality, gaming and party and this seems to be one of them.

I heard about the event via Mashable, everyone’s favourite Social Media news source, and noted a rather interesting sentence in the article:

No word on what, if anything, this zombie battle is promoting, but one thing is for sure — people love being scared by zombies.

This struck me as very interesting. Obviously Mashable are a social media news source and, as such, many of their articles are about virals, pop-ups, flashmobs and the like which are almost all to do with marketing and promotion. It seems interesting, though, that it hasn’t occurred to them that this sort of experience can be simply that, an experience.

I work in the business of theatre and experiences so perhaps I’m more familiar with this sort of thing than most people, but even so it feels like a sad sign of our times that a news source’s first question is ‘what is it promoting?’

Photo CC by Rodolpho.reis on Flickr

Blogroll: Inspirational Creative Blogs

I love checking out other people’s creative ideas and always manage to find inspiration from them. I follow a lot of blogs, but I thought I’d share a few of my favourite creative ones.

Architizer

Who doesn’t love looking at wonderful places and spaces? Architizer keeps me happy with a huge range of different buildings, designs and ideas. They always have great photography too. The website isn’t the best design for viewing as a content stream but in your rss reader it’s brilliant.

Information Is Beautiful

This is a collection of infographics – showing off all the ways of presenting data visually. In addition to the great-looking graphics, the range of information presented in them makes for fun reading in itself.

Photojojo

Photojojo are a photography shop – and that side of their site is well worth checking out for quirky accessories you never knew you needed – but they also blog about everything from the latest lenses to a new way to frame your portraits. Check out their new sister site, We Love Phonography, too.

Sweet Home Style

This is more interior-design focused, but is great for pondering how your next workspace is going to look, or the dream living room you’ll be hanging out in after work.

DesignBuzz

Product design at its finest, this blog includes cutting edge products and some lovely concept work.

Bonus: Pinterest.com

Pinterest isn’t technically a blog, it’s a social network which allows you to curate your own virtual pinboards. It’s still invite-only (but shout if you want one) but has very quickly become a home of creative people, and people who like creative things. Crafters, designers, typography geeks, architecture fans and an insane number of brides-to-be share images of things they love, things they want and things they’d like to make. A well-honed search function can lead you to the right people to follow very quickly and you’ll soon find it’s 3am and you can’t bring yourself to log out.

Image by suttonhoo on Flickr

Roundup of 2011 Part 2: Apps of the Year

I have been meaning to write a post about some of my favourite apps for a while and this seems like the time to do it. I use loads of apps on my iPhone, for different things from productivity to gaming, and will quite often download 5 or 10 free apps in one go and play with them all, keeping the useful ones. Here is my brief roundup of some of the keepers from 2011:

Instagram (Photography, FREE)

Instagram iPhone Screenshot

I’ve had Instagram for a while, but it’s only in the last year that I’ve really started to use it. The concept is very simple – you take a picture, add a vintage-camera-style filter to it, and upload. The reason I’ve taken to it so well is the micro-community that exists within the app. There is no web-based version, so you have to use the app to interact with other users’ pictures. Hashtags connect similar images, and are the way to enter daily competitions, and there are veritable Instagram ‘celebrities’ who will never be heard of outside of the app.

iMovie (Video, £2.99)

iMovie iPhone Screenshot

I reviewed this app earlier in the year in some detail so I’ll stay brief here. I like iMovie on my Mac but with a 13″ screen size it can be a bit tricky to manage and see everything clearly. The re-designed interface for iPhone, especially when coupled with the iPhone 4S’s fantastic camera, is really easy to use and can help you produce a great-quality video in no time.

Diptic (Photography, £0.69)

Diptic app screenshot

Another great little photo app which allows you to create a photo collage of up to 5 images with an easy-to-use interface. Just add the images, zoom in or out and off it goes. This works very well when combined with Instagram too. There is also a Diptic community on Flickr.

Plants vs Zombies (Games, £1.99)

Plants vs Zombies iPhone screenshot

This game began life on PCs but the iPhone version scales down remarkably well. It has a wonderful interface, and some extremely cute cartoon plants and zombies. The attention to detail is brilliant – every plant has a face and they bob around in a truly charming fashion. The gameplay itself involves attacking zombies with various plant life (pea-shooters, cabbage-putts and cherry bombs, for example) before the zombies reach your front door and eat your brains.

Amazon Mobile (Shopping, FREE)

Amazon Mobile iPhone Screenshot

I shop quite a lot on Amazon, send my Wishlist to my family when they ask what I want for Christmas, and research prices and products, so it was only natural that I’d download the app at some point. Its previous incarnation was satisfactory – you could shop, filter your search results and purchase within the app – but the recent updates have made it brilliant. You can now scan the barcode of any physical item anywhere and Amazon will find it (thus giving you an instant price comparison), add to (or purchase from) any of your Wishlists and use a new feature called Amazon Remembers, which allows you to take a photo of something you want to remember, saves it on your Amazon account and tries to match it with a product available on the site. Genius.

Roundup of 2011 Part 1: QR Codes

I haven’t been amazing at updating this blog and one of my New Year’s resolutions is to be a bit better at it. For now, here’s the first of a few little roundups of some things that happened in 2011.

QR About Me

Part 1: We all talked about QR codes. A lot.

And I sort of got bored of it. The main points made were as follows:

  • They’re quite cool and we think people scan them because they’re interesting
  • Very few people are actually backing up (or disproving) the above with analytics data
  • They’re not as pretty as we’d like them to be
  • A lot of people are using them very badly (for example to link to a non-mobile-optimised homepage)
  • We can do more with them. But we’re not.

So what can we learn from this? Well, I’m steering clear of any “2012 is the year of the QR code” nonsense, but I can do think that they are a useful and interesting way to provide creative extra content as part of a communications strategy.

Here, then, are my top tips and thinking points for using QR codes in your marketing:

  • Be absolutely certain that whichever URL your QR directs to is mobile optimised. Test it.
  • Try directing QRs to other places. It doesn’t just have to be a URL. What about using it on your gig poster to add the event to the user’s calendar? Or use one on your business cards to add your details to the user’s address book. You get the idea, and there’s a helpful list of possibilities here.
  • If you are going to use a URL, make it a good one. An exclusive behind-the-scenes video, a wallpaper or song download you can’t access any other way, for example.
  • Use Google Analytics (or or other web analytics system) to find out how many people are using your codes and arriving at your site by scanning them. If nobody is, re-think where they are and what they do.
  • Make sure it’s scannable. It needs to be large enough, clear enough and situated somewhere with mobile internet signal. Don’t become one of Mashable’s Top QR Code Fails.

Check back for part 2 later in the week!

 

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