ITP Thesis Week 2009
Monday, May 4 - Friday, May 8


Thomas Chan

A platform for creating and sharing tours on the web and iPhone.

Plott is a platform for experiencing location based stories. For Plott,this is a narrative tied to an outdoor place, such as a building, park or street intersection. Many of these places have a history to them that are unknown to passers by. Conversely, many times we read stories without experiencing the physical environment that they were set in. Plott seeks to bridge this gap through two channels. Primarily it provides on-site, on-demand stories to the user’s mobile phone while they are at the story location. These stories are delivered in the form of audio and images, allowing the user to be immersed and explore the physical environment while being told the narrative. Alternatively it provides a browser-based experience of the physical environment using Google Street View technology. Google provides a database of compelling panoramic street level imagery, which can be virtually explored by using mouse and keyboard actions. This gives the user freedom to navigate through the virtual street environment while still experiencing the audio. Not only is Plott a platform for experiencing content, it is also a platform for generating content. Plott provides online tools to record audio and images, as well as geo-tag them with locations. This enables authors to record their own location-based stories and then share them through the same physical and virtual channels of distribution.

StoryCorps is project whose mission is to record the oral history of ordinary Americans. Participants come and record interviews using a recording studio provided by StoryCorps. 35,000 stories have been recorded, some of which are very personal and poignant. This project addresses the multi-layered personal stories centered on historic events or locations. They also leverage the user generated content aspect to portray a very fine-grained, diverse yet deep personality of America. Authors must go to one of the StoryCorps studios to make the recording, but the quality of the equipment keeps the stories at a consistently high production value.
Chanel Mobile Art is a 7,500 square feet installation designed by Zaha Hadid. It is an artistically produced indoor audio tour with strong emotional visual and audio content. The highly coordinated audio and visual cues give the virtual storyteller an ethereal omnipresence that augments the user’s experience of the physical space. This is a great example of how good production can give the narrative a transcending presence.
Janet Cardiff is a Canadian installation artist, who is known for 1995 pieces on audio walks. She creates audio walking tours, where she adeptly weaves fictional narrative with descriptions of the actual landscape. Her tours are a highly produced audio file with ambient sounds in the background of her narrative. She also includes physical pictures with the tour, to be viewed at certain points in her story. The user goes to the starting point with an audio player and pictures in hand, and simply listens to the audio as she directs the user through the physical environment. Her stories would be an ideal fit for the Plott platform.
On the commercial side, Guide by Cell is a company that provides self-guided museum tours accessible through mobile phones. The museum curator records the tour by calling the Guide By Cell 800 number and leaving voice messages for each exhibit or piece. The curator also assigns each voice message a number prompt. Visitors to the exhibit then call an 800 number and enter a number corresponding to the item that they want to hear about. This saves the museum the expense of buying numerous audio listening devices and of synchronizing content across them.
Hear Planet is an iPhone application that provides location based tour information. This product was released at the end of 2008, a week after the first Plott prototype presentation. The application provides audio and text articles for places of interest near to the user. The text articles are public information sourced from Wikipedia. The audio is actually a text-to-speech generator, which reads the text article. Since the content is sourced and generated programmatically, Hear Planet is able to serve 200 audio files. However, according to user reviews, there are several limitations to the user experience. No map is shown of where the places in question exactly are, only their distance from the mobile phone. The algorithmic computer generated voice is monotone and emotionless, making for an impersonal narrative. Finally, the content being from Wikipedia is very general information and in that sense is also impersonal.

Three components make up Plott: the physical experience using the iPhone, the virtual experience using Google Street View and the user generated content experience using the website. A user creates a Plott tour consisting of multiple location 'points'. Each point will play audio and images when the user approaches the respective location.