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Audio of chat with teens about social networking

Prior to heading to MW2007, I sat down with some of the WACTAC teens to discuss Myspace, Facebook and social networking in general. I thought I had a good handle on things (since I have, in fact, used Myspace). I figured a talk with the experts would fill in any gaps I was missing. Download […]

The Walker on Myspace

Prior to heading to MW2007, I sat down with some of the WACTAC teens to discuss Myspace, Facebook and social networking in general. I thought I had a good handle on things (since I have, in fact, used Myspace). I figured a talk with the experts would fill in any gaps I was missing.

Download Social Networking Discussion MP3

Much of what I learned is interwoven in the notes I prepared for our workshop at MW2007. Here are some of the highlights, according to WACTAC:

  • Myspace is old news
  • Facebook is where all the cool kids are
  • Some kids don’t even use email these days, sticking to myspace or facebook
  • Kids consume a lot of media, therefore use a lot of media
  • When multiple people add content to social accounts for institutions, let people know who’s doing the update
  • Don’t use a different account for different departments
  • Make groups and encourage people to join
  • Make use of bulletins and notes
  • Keep things up to date, nothing is worse than an out of date profile or events

The big thing that I took away from our chat was that it seems that Facebook is becoming the favorite among more technically savvy users. It seems due to the more refined design and permissions system that it enforces. So all the web designers who hate myspace because it is ugly can rejoice; smart users are shying away. Facebook is also more strict about who can create and hold an account. I heard from some people at MW2007 that their attempts to create a “person” for their institution were rebuffed, and they were forced to create a group instead. While that doesn’t fit with the paradigm that has happened within other social Web 2.0 applications, it does seem to be one that is more sustainable for users in the long run.

I just created a Walker Art Center group on Facebook. The acebook APIs seem interesting, and something Myspace does not offer to my knowledge. It is something I might play around with in the future.

Please note that this is a rough cut and basically unedited. I am adhering to the “quick and dirty” principles we discussed in our workshop. A big thanks to the teens that participated in the discussion:

  • Willy Schwartz
  • Basanti Miller
  • Mark Severson
  • Ricardo Ortiz-Vasquez

Also thanks to Witt Siasoco and Megan Leafblad for setting the discussion up.

Invasion of the iPod people

Watching last night’s broadcast of the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, my ears perked up on a segment about the impact of the iPod. Since its introduction in 2001, Apple’s iPod has been transforming the landscape of technology and culture. From a must-have among snowboarders at the recent Olympics to new cars that come iPod-ready, the […]

Watching last night’s broadcast of the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, my ears perked up on a segment about the impact of the iPod. Since its introduction in 2001, Apple’s iPod has been transforming the landscape of technology and culture. From a must-have among snowboarders at the recent Olympics to new cars that come iPod-ready, the report suggested that people are as interested in what the iPod says about who they are as the opportunities the technology gives them to control their environment.

What some scholars refer to as the “ podification” of society–now there’s a word I hadn’t added to my vocabulary–was reported as just the latest chapter in a continuing story of technology and culture. From the remote control, VCR, to Sony Walkman, the personalization of technology allows us to exercise almost complete control over our environment and contributes to what Christine Rosen calls “ egocasting,” the thoroughly personalized and extremely narrow pursuit of one’s personal taste.

So, what does it mean if we’re all walking around with iPod buds stuffed in our ears? Isolated, “ alone together,” propagating the “ hear only what we want to hear” mentality would be the downside. The more positive outlook recognizes a democratizing impulse encouraged by the technology, and educational opportunities at all levels of the spectrum that provide students with potential audiences to whom they feel accountable.

Hacking The iPod

In my last post about using iPods for gallery tours with Art on Call, I talked about ordering serveral iPod Nano’s that we were going to load up and lend out to the public. I also mentioned how this had its own set of unique problems to overcome. That actually turned out to be a […]

In my last post about using iPods for gallery tours with Art on Call, I talked about ordering serveral iPod Nano’s that we were going to load up and lend out to the public. I also mentioned how this had its own set of unique problems to overcome. That actually turned out to be a bit of an understatement.

Lending iPods out to patrons is much more involved than just the simple question of how you clean them, or avoiding theft (those items of business are handled by our Visitors Services department). In the New Media world, we care more about answering the question, “how do we make them easy to use?”

Ease of use really comes in two forms. One for the user of the device, and the other for those of us having to update the content on the device itself. When there are budgetary constraints, you’re always looking for the best bang for the buck, while not overly hindering the experience because of it. So what do we do?

The default iPod OS is not good enough.

When you’re using an iPod in a normal sense with MP3s as music, the tags for each song make sense, like artist, album, and genre. When you’re dealing with physical objects, the relationship doesn’t always make sense. Sure, Artist makes senes, but Album? What does that mean to someone looking for audio on “Spoonbridge and Cherry” who doesn’t know who the artist is? Where do they look with the default iPod interface? It’s obvious the iPod interface needs some changes to have it make a bit more sense for museum goers.

iPod Notes (aka “Museum Mode”)

Apple put a feature on the iPod called Notes, which is also referred to as “Museum Mode”. These are files you can put on the iPods data section that point to other files or audio. They’re very simplified HTML and allow you to basically customize the interface. You’re also able to default to “notes mode” so that you don’t see the normal iPod OS choices or are you able to fiddle with the iPod’s settings. Sounds like a great solution right? Well, almost.

One of the biggest problems with Notes is that it breaks the second rule of ease of use. Since they’re just flat HTML text files, creating the directory structure you want takes a lot of hand coding. Notes does not really take advantage of the ID3 tags in the MP3 files. While you can link to a list of songs in genre “X”, you can’t link to a list of all genres and go from there (and if you can, it’s not covered in Apple’s API docs). This means having to rewrite a lot of the basic functionality of the normal iPod through notes mode. It’s time consuming, and every update of audio means an update to the Notes files.

Even if this did work nicely there are other issues. One is that special characters don’t seem to render properly, if at all, in Notes mode, even with the correct text encodings set. The other for me was a real deal breaker. Half the reason to restrict users to Notes mode was to keep people out of the normal iPod OS. However, if you hold the Menu button down for 2 seconds (like you would to go from song info to the main menu in one click), it doesn’t go back to the Notes menu, it goes to the iPod menu! Imagine the confusion of someone holding the menu button down just a tad too long and now staring at a screen that looks nothing like they had seen before! Now we’re back to the same old problems we had in the beginning. So what do we do?

Hack the iPod

Before I tried Notes mode, I had thought about just hacking the iPod firmware to change the menu options in the OS. However, I figured “Museum Mode” would be much easier and then went that route. After my dissatisfaction with that, it was back to researching iPod hacks. This would prove to work well, with only a few drawbacks, and also allowed us to add something that we certainly could not do in Notes mode (at least not easily).

First things first, how do you hack an iPod? It’s actually a bit easier than it sounds, though not without a lot of risks. If you’re not confident with machine code, and don’t follow the directions to the letter you can easily turn your iPod into a 6oz paper weight.

That said, there is a great little program called iPod Wizard, that really helps in the process. The basic idea is you download the latest iPod firmware and load it into iPod Wizard. The Wizard helps you find and change various parts of the firmware, like text, fonts, even graphics. Once your changes are made you save the new firmware and then update your iPod with it. If all goes well you’ve just hacked your iPod and it works great!

The results

In our case we mostly just wanted to change the text. Remember how I said earlier how “Album” doesn’t make much sense in a museum audio tour? What if I changed it to “Artwork”? Then we’d have something people could relate to. We’d just have to make sure each artwork title was mapped into the Album ID3 tag in the MP3 and it would be seamless to the user. Do this for other tags, and you get the following, which is our new iPod interface:

Lets start at the top. “Art on Call” is now the name of the iPod. Next are Artist and Artwork, followed by Location which lists each gallery in the museum, and then Code, which is the Art on Call number code on an artwork. As you can see there are a number of ways to drill down to get to the same content, and it all uses the build in ID3 tagging of the MP3s. Just tag them correctly, upload them and they fall into place. Much easier to make sense of and update!

You may have also noticed “Walker Calendar” in the options. This was what I was talking about earlier in regards to extra features that would be hard or impossible to do in Notes mode. iPod allows you to sync with iCal, and we have already made an iCal feed of our online calendar. So why not put it in the iPod? Here’s what it looks like:

Calendar grid is on the left. The red flags represent days when events take place. Click on a day and get the list of events for that day followed by a detail of the event which is shown in the right image. The great thing about this is because it works with iCal, it’s an auto update. When you plug your iPod in it auto syncs with our calendar feed and updates as we recharge. There’s literally no work to do to add this feature on our part.

Lastly you see an “Information” item on the main menu. This is actually Notes mode. We’ll still use notes for things like info about Art on Call, or perhaps various other info we want to push there.

Downfalls

While this does sound nice there is one main downfall. While you can change the text of the items that appear on the OS, you can’t outright remove some of the options. For example, “Settings” always appears on the main menu, meaning anyone could go in and change them if they wanted. However this was also a possibility in Notes mode as well, given the problems I wrote above.

To try to solve this we used a bit of social engineering that will hopefully help at least keep a few people from mucking around in the options. One was to label Settings to “iPod Settings” to alert people that this is perhaps something they want to avoid. If they do happen to click on it though they’re greated with this message:

Most honest people will recognize the mistake at this point and back out. Those who really feel like fiddling of course can, though resetting the defaults is pretty easy and will be done after each iPod is brought back to the counter after use.

Overall this isn’t the greatest solution in the world, but I feel it works a lot better than the default OS menu or the Museum Mode. Time will tell how patrons feel about it, which is the only real thing that matters in the end. Hopefully we’ve covered our bases.

iPod Docking Station: A Follow Up

I got a few questions at Museums and the Web this year about our iPod Docking Station prototype, what I learned from the experience, and if I had solved the problem. I had been meaning to write about these issues since my original post, but never got around to it. With so many inquisitive people […]

I got a few questions at Museums and the Web this year about our iPod Docking Station prototype, what I learned from the experience, and if I had solved the problem. I had been meaning to write about these issues since my original post, but never got around to it. With so many inquisitive people asking about it, I figure it’s time to finally lay out what I found. Long story short, it’s not going to realistically work.

Many of the comments in the original thread already lay out the reasons why a docking station is seamingly not feasible. Peter Samis from SFMOMA talked about some of these in his session at MW06. There was also a link to an Apple FAQ on the matter in the comments section of my original post.

The first bad news item is one I already knew. Your iPod is married to your computer, and plugging it into a rogue computer means your iPod wants to cheat on you and be married to the new computer. From the FAQ:

“When you first connect iPod to your computer, iPod recognizes that computer as its ‘home’ computer…When you connect iPod to a different computer, iPod asks for permission before synchronizing with this music library. If you choose Auto-sync, iPod recognizes the second computer as its home computer and breaks the link with the original computer. Note: Music on your iPod will be replaced with music from this computer.”

This is bad for the obvious reasons. It’s confusing to the user (most people don’t know about this) and sets up the potential for erasure of a person’s music files. Given that the music on and iPod is simply a copy of the music on their computer, they don’t technically lose the music for good, but someone flying into Minneapolis would probably like to listen to their music on their trip back home.

The next issue however is even more serious. Two questions down in the Apple FAQ, we quickly realize that not all iPods are the same. iPods formatted for Mac and PC do not play well together. Again, from the Apple FAQ:

“iPod is configured for either Mac or PC…Using the iPod for Mac on a PC, or using the iPod for Windows on a Mac, is not supported by Apple. FAT32 is the format used by Windows…It is not possible to use an iPod formatted for Mac with Windows. This is because Windows does not support the HFS Plus file system [used by Mac iPods] and therefore will not see the drive.”

So what happens if you plug a Mac formatted iPod into a Windows machine (or vice versa)? It doesn’t recognize it and asks if you want to reformat the drive. This of course is much worse than deleting copied music, because many people also use their iPods for file storage. Some even upload their pictures to the iPod while on vacation. Imagine if someone connected their iPod to a docking station, reformatted it, and they lost all of their vacation photos!

The first idea to get around this is of course, “Just have two docking stations, one Mac, one PC”. But it’s not that simple. You still have the first issue to deal with, but you would also have to make sure people understand why they need to plug their iPod into the correct machine, and hope they do so. Most people have no idea about the formatting differences between platforms on iPod (I didn’t), and if one machine is being used, a person’s general instinct is to use the open machine, even if it’s not the machine they’re supposed to be using. In essence, there are simply too many variables that could go wrong. If it’s not as simple as plug-and-play, it’s too complicated! Sometimes, it’s just better to be on the safe side, especially when it deals with someone else’s hardware.

So what do we do? Wll, we could hope Apple changes the way things work, and allows this plug-and-play between iPods. But most of these safeguards are in place in iPods because of rights issues, DRM, and anti-piracy. Apple would need to find a way to let places like museums use the technology where there are no IP rights infringed, but also have a way to stop piracy of music in general at the same time. Easier said than done.

It may be possible to write a 3rd party app to handle all of this as well, assuming you could reverse engineer iTunes in a way that allowed you to do all of the things you wanted to do. Two problems with that approach. One is the time, effort and money it would take in R&D to try and come up with a solution (a solution that may not even exist). And two, you’d always be one step behind Apple. If Apple decides to put out an iPod update that breaks your new system, you have to invest again in updating it so that it works with all iPods. It can become a cat and mouse game.

At the Walker we’ve decided to instead go with two approaches that, while perhaps not as nice, should get us closer to what we want. That being having people using iPods in our galleries for audio tours.

The first thing we’re trying to do is promote our podcasts online more. We now have individual podcasts for certain exhibitions and you can find them on places like the iTunes Music Store. We also are trying to drive more people to our Art on Call page, where you can download each item individually, or as larger “tours” to upload to your own computer. It’s an attempt to empower users to use their own equipment to upload tours to before they come to the Walker.

The second thing we’ve done is bought several iPod Nano’s. On these I’m beginning to put all of our audio tour stops and they’ll be available at our front counter for checking out to people who don’t have an iPod, or didn’t bring theirs. This service is free, we are just going to be taking collateral in exchange for checkout of the Nano’s.

Actually getting the Nano’s ready for the public has brought some more ups and downs, as well as some exciting new developments I hadn’t thought about before I started. But I’ll save those for a future post. Stay tuned. ;)

Counting Podcast Subscribers

I’ve been having some conversations recently with SFMOMA on how exactly to count the number of people that are subscribed to our podcasts. The quick answer is “look at your stats” but that doesn’t always work. For example, we run stats on our website as a whole. I can see how many page views there […]

I’ve been having some conversations recently with SFMOMA on how exactly to count the number of people that are subscribed to our podcasts. The quick answer is “look at your stats” but that doesn’t always work. For example, we run stats on our website as a whole. I can see how many page views there have been to our podcast RSS feed, but as many people know, this doesn’t tell you much.

This is because RSS readers will look for new content multiple times a day. Each request is a “view” in the eyes of the stats package, but it tells us nothing about how many unique people actually are subscribed. If we have 5000 page views on our RSS feed, is that 500 people requesting the RSS feed 10 times, or 50 people requesting it 100 times? There’s no way to know.

The answer is to generate unique stats for a filtered version of your log file. Luckly, our stats package, AWStats, allows for this. Nate was able to run a unique stats report for our New Media neighborhood, but only count stats to the URL “/aoc/rss.wac” which is our podcast feed. This allows us to see all stats on this one URL, which includes unique visitors.

Unique visitors are how many unique IP’s have accessed that URL in the given month. So if my podcast client accessed that URL 30 times, it’d still only count me as one visitor. This gives us a good indication of the number of people actively subscribed to our podcast. Those numbers are as follows:

Unique visitors to podcast RSS feed

Sep – 37

Oct – 194

Nov – 303

Dec – 524

Hey, we’re gaining subscribers! But one thing we realised was that not everyone accessing the podcast feed were using a podcast client. Some came from Firefox or IE. Most likely these people just clicked on the RSS link in the browser without knowing what it was for. They make up about 10% of the unique visits.

At the same time there are sites that aggrigate RSS feeds, where one site requests the RSS feed for their many users. Those sites would be counted as one visitor, even though many are accessing that feed. I’m not sure of any that do this for podcasts (I’m sure someone will let me know if there is), but for blogs, there are many that do (like Bloglines), making counting total subscribers for blogs much harder (just because it’s more prevalent). Thus even these numbers aren’t exact, and have the potential to skew more as time goes on and aggrigation sites become more popular, but they’re about as close as we can get for now. We’ll just have to keep on top of it.

We also decided to run another separate stat ouput on MP3 downloads. This time we limited it to MP3s downloaded from podcast clients only, too see how many audio files were actually downloaded from subscribers (as opposed to people downloading them from our website, which you can do as well). Here are the stats there:

MP3 file downloads from podcast clients

Sep – 1816

Oct – 2117

Nov – 1564

Dec – 2696

Also of note is that 86% of these files were downloaded with iTunes, which means it’s certainly the number one podcasting client out there.

Hopefully that helps others who are trying to get a handle on subscriber counts. If anyone has any insight on generating even more accurate numbers, please share!

iPod Docking Station Prototype

I’ve recently been working on creating what we’re calling a “docking station” for iPods in the galleries. The idea is that people who bring their iPods to the Walker can dock it at this station and download various audio tours from Art On Call to it. Then they can cruise through the galleries and listen […]

I’ve recently been working on creating what we’re calling a “docking station” for iPods in the galleries. The idea is that people who bring their iPods to the Walker can dock it at this station and download various audio tours from Art On Call to it. Then they can cruise through the galleries and listen to artists and curators talk about said work on their own iPod. It’s really an alternative means to receiving the same info that AOC has. Plus it saves on your cell phone minutes and the recordings sound much better. Choice is good!

I was able to wrangle an old iMac from the IT dept to create a prototype of the station. It’s just one of those old, slow, first gen iMacs with the CRT monitors. Unlike the speedy new G5 iMacs we have in our lobby for web surfing, there’s no “kiosk” verion of iTunes. On the lobby kiosks we use wKiosk, which basically locks the entire system down for us, and, other than a few bugs in the program, works pretty well in this regard. But for an iPod docking station, we need to use iTunes, and as I’ve found out, what we’re attempting to do is not what iTunes, or the iPod for that matter, were built to do.

In essence I had to start from scratch when building this kiosk, as I couldn’t use any of the tricks I did on the lobby kiosks. I’ve got a lot of things covered at this point. I’ve created a user who has permission only to run iTunes. This means they can’t screw up the system or start launching other programs. That’s good! I’ve also been able to turn off things like the music store or music sharing with the “parental” prefs in iTunes. Double good! However, the bad news is they still have most of the control over iTunes as any normal user would. They can edit most of the prefs, quit the app, or even delete all the tracks in iTunes. Not good.

I somewhat have a solution to this. Quitting the app is ok, because iTunes will relaunch automatically when a user connects their iPod. For the other two, I think the solution is to have a master prefs and library file backed up on the machine. If for some reason someone is sneaking around and changes something (which will happen), all you need to do is revert to the master prefs or library. This requires a bit of baby sitting, to check up on the machine every once and a while to make sure it’s running properly, but this would be the case regardless of the tech or how bulletproof it is.

The thing that actually concerns me more than this though is how iPods dock with iTunes when the machine isn’t the user’s own. I need to test this out more, but so far the results seem to be sporadic. It looks like there are a couple of options as to what happens when an iPod is connected. Either there’s an automatic update of content, meaning the iPod will just download whatever is in the library and fill itself up, or it will be set to manual transfer, where you can drag and drop tracks to the iPod manually.

Automatic downloading is perhaps the most concerning for a few reasons. One is that it doesn’t give people the option to select which audio tour they want, and it just gives them everything, something I’d like to avoid. Again, choice is good! However, perhaps worse, each iPod is tethered to a specific libary (usually the users library on their home machine), and when you connect an iPod to a rogue machine, it gives you an alert saying as much, and asks if you want to delete the contents of the iPod and marry the iPod to the new machine.

That’s not exactly a great idea, especially for a user who’s on a trip from out of town and brought their iPod for things other than museum audio tours. There is however the option to cancel this overwrite, in which case, you can then set the iPod up for manual transfer, but it’s not totally clear how to do this to the user (it’s in the iTunes prefs), and you must unmount and then remount your iPod for this change to take place before you can actually begin the manual transfer (too complicated!).

The best thing that could happen is to somehow force the connection to be manual transfer when people connect their iPods. If it is, people can add whatever they want to the iPod without the worry of overwriting whatever they already have on it (assuming the iPod is not full already). The key is going to be testing this out with many iPods to see what sorts of things work and what do not with this set up. Right now it’s the main thing that’s worrisome.

I suppose that’s to be expected. I doubt anyone has really ever thought about using iTunes with Podcasts as a physical delivery method for audio tours to the public, and it’s obvious they were not created to be used in this way. Thus the quest continues on how to make this work in the most seemless way possible.

If anyone has any comments, questions, or ideas (!), please pass them along, I would love to hear about them.

New podcast about prefab architecture.

We have some great interviews and commentary from the architects participating in Some Assembly Required and Andrew Blauvelt the curator of the the exhibition. We posted it in mp3 format, podcast and via cellphone on Art on Call. There’s a full listing of information on the exhibition site as well as on the Art on […]

We have some great interviews and commentary from the architects participating in Some Assembly Required and Andrew Blauvelt the curator of the the exhibition. We posted it in mp3 format, podcast and via cellphone on Art on Call. There’s a full listing of information on the exhibition site as well as on the Art on Call page.