Thursday, December 27, 2007

Merry Christmas everyone

How is it that as the Christmas break approaches, the list of everything you want to achieve grows and grows and yet you know from past experience that the time available will dwindle on a daily basis as family demands on your time increase with every second?
Every year I forget that I cannot possibly do everything. All good intentions of replying to emails, reading journals, building the EndNote library of references, writing blogs, project managing the year ahead, chatting on MSN, building virtual abbeys and revising software are buried by house and family matters. For instance, the weekend before last, the conservatory wood burner blows a gasket and the whole of the ground floor is covered in a gritty film of soot. Precious moments are spent washing every ornament, surface, conservatory white work and glass instead of sitting comfortably and cosy studying away in front of said fire. Suffice to say, I am now behind all my intentions big time.

Today has been good, all day spent on spreadsheets and time management for possible projects. Between Mike and myself, there has grown quite a list of suggested opportunities for a Talking Walls (TW) application, and over the year we have noticed that some have been slipping by and have run the risk of being forgotten. These are now all nicely listed with contacts researched complete with numbers and addresses.

The highest priority currently is making sure the Micro Project funding application is finally vetted, printed, bound and submitted. This will be to Finance South East for a TW application based on Beaulieu Abbey and the Cistercian monks that lived there. Should the funding application be successful, it will be a busy 7 months creating the software and then we will at long last have a full working application in place for other interested parties to view, test and use.

With regards to the PhD, it has been extremely interesting to note the increase in papers and research on interactive multimedia tours since 2003. Whilst still studying for my Masters, I read a few papers looking at the visitor experience, one in particular mentioning an electronic guide book prototype and a study of it's use (The Guidebook, the Friend, and the Room: Visitor Experience in a Historic House - A. Woodruff, P. M. Aoki, A. Hurst, and M. H. Szymanski 2001). There were not many papers on this area that I could find then and most were based in America. In 2002-2003, the Tate Modern ran pilot tours using a PDA and a 'location-sensitive wireless network' (Tate Modern Multimedia Tour Evaluation, S. Fisher, 2002), at the same time, an interactive multimedia tour at the Natural History Museum was implemented by Alisa Barry, Head of Interactive Media at the museum. As time has passed more and more museums, galleries and heritage sites are looking into enhancing the visitors' experience, and finding ways to encourage more people to visit.

What has not been available is the technology we have now and it's accessibility. We also now have a generation that has grown up with computers and expect instant access to information and entertainment. They are able to create their own online entertainment and social networks and provide entertainment for others via sites such as 'YouTube', sharing and re-purposing content. This is such a vast change from when I first started the Dunster Castle multimedia 'Talking Walls' project in 1995, and yet with a re-work of the interface and more importantly the navigation, it has become suitable for mobile, web, DVD, kiosk or TV. More importantly still, the content is being designed for visitors / users to create their own chunks of information which they can explore in situ and continue at home.

This area is really the basis of the PhD - so if you have any comments / feedback on multimedia tours you have experienced recently, I would love to hear from you.

Merry Christmas and have a Happy Prosperous New Year - with heaps of time.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Here goes - the first blog regarding The Talking Walls, what it is, how it started, where it is going and how it is getting there.

The Talking Walls is a templated multimedia application that is designed to be visually rich, educational and entertaining. It was designed primarily for cultural heritage tourism sites, to enhance and stimulate children's perception of heritage sites whilst visiting with either parents or in school groups. The first design in 1995 / 96 was for a DVD / kiosk application in response to a final year 'real' project brief for a degree in Computer Animation and Illustration at Portsmouth University. The heritage site involved was National Trust's Dunster Castle, nr Minehead in Somerset.

In 2001, I started a Masters degree at Solent University in Interactive Production to continue with the idea. By 2003, The Talking Walls had developed considerably and incorporated a unique concept, termed the KubeMatrix, I was awarded a Masters with Distinction and had a prototype to take forward to show Dunster Castle and others. This prototype was still mostly for DVD / Kiosk and web but I had also started to look at the possibility of the application being used on handheld devices.

This took hold and parts of the application were re-designed to work on a handheld device / smartphone. The re-working was the functionality / programming and the use of the KubeMatrix as the interface as well navigation through the content and the property. This was then presented at the Innoventions 2004 exhibition at Intec, Winchester, where it received the Highly Commended for Commercial Viability award.

Since then, it has been presented to Paul Clifford, Learning and Interpretation Manager at the British Museum, who considered it to be the best handheld application he had seen in his two and a half year research for just such applications to use at the museum, the Heritage Houses Association, the National Trust Learning division and English Heritage's Ancient Monuments. The application has also been presented at the EVA 2007 conference, and more recently to my fellow Digital Horizon participants in London, who gave me fantastic feedback (thankyou everyone, your comments have been very helpful).

The subject matter of my PhD (Solent University) is innovation and creativity for mobile content, so this should help define and further develop The Talking Walls application for mobile content, and hopefully become a very exciting educational, visual and cultural learning bank of information that users are able to interact with and re-purpose to suit their own interests and skill levels.

Alongside the part-time PhD, I am a particpant on a very informative and well organised year long course of Masterclasses and seminars - Digital Horizons. This is being run and organised by SEMN, SEEDA, Wired Sussex and Screen South and concludes in May 2008. Further information on Digital Horizons can be found on this link:

The DH particpants are all creative people mostly within the film and music industry with a sprinkling of digital graphic artists. Extremely talented people all round and quite inspirational to be amongst. It will be interesting to see how we all progress.

Another good piece of news this past week is having been accepted on the 'Flying Start for Women' programme, organised by the National Council of Graduate Entrepreneurship. This starts officially on the 7th/8th and 9th of January in York, and is a year long help and support programme aimed at getting the company trading by the end of the year.

I hope to keep this site updated with all news on how these areas are progressing and research areas being covered for the PhD. If you have any suggestions or would like to chat regarding thisit would be great to hear from you.