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Dickens Trails app: making tracks to other heritage sites

In the first post of 2013 I decided to pick up where we left off last time; catching up with all the different Digital R&D Fund projects (just recently we spoke to Scratchr and Punchdrunk) to see what’s happened and what’s next now most of the projects have completed their research & development stages. This week I caught up with Paul Cutts, chief executive of the Exhibition Road Cultural Group, to find out more about what’s happening with the Dickens London Trails app

“Our ambition was to make the technology available to other small-scale arts and cultural organisations, enabling them to break into the digital market at low cost,” said Paul when I asked him what was going to happen with the app technology now the project had completed its R&D phase.

The group are now in discussions with a trust in the north of England, who is interested in using the app tech to develop its own series of trails around a world-famous heritage site.

“It would not be appropriate for me to name the organisation at this stage, as we’re in discussions currently and it may not come to fruition,” added Paul. “But I will be going to Newcastle to lead a workshop for them looking at what they need to consider, how to avoid some of the pitfalls we stumbled into and how to ensure the tool they create gives audiences what they want.”

Scratchr: taking Scratch online beyond Battersea

November 26, 2012 3 comments


Scratchr

In yet another update (and video) from the Digital R&D Fund projects, I caught up with David Jubb, artistic director of the Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) to see how the Scratchr project has been progressing, and what the future holds for the project.

“Scratchr has now been online for about 3 months,” he started. “Our original planned outcome remains unchanged: to create an online platform to enable creative dialogue between people who are interested in developing new ideas together. But as with any R&D process, there have been plenty of surprises along the way. Perhaps one of the most striking realisations is the way in which Scratchr, over time, could change the way BAC engages with artists and programmes new work in the future.”

Some of the stats from Scratchr make for exciting viewing: the site has 200+ active members; half of these have posted an “Itch” as an idea that they are interested to “Scratch”; the site has also had over 21,600 pageviews and 2,000 unique visitors; 55% of site visitors go to at least 20 pages, and about 62% of these visitors will stay for between 10 and 30 minutes on the site. Impressive stuff.

“We’re pleased with these early signs,” David added. “While the site membership is modest, the depth of engagement with the site is strong. It feels like it is mirroring the engagement with live Scratch back in 2000, with strong levels of interest by a committed community. That process led to Scratch being adopted and adapted by many arts organisations across the world.”

So what about Scratchr being adopted beyond BAC? “In terms of Scratchr, there are still lots of questions that we are still answering, and there is plenty of work to do to make the platform easier to use and more accessible to a general audience,” said David. “Perhaps the most interesting relationship – that we have yet to really scratch the surface with – is the relationship between live Scratch and the Scratchr online space.

“The potential to grow online engagement and a much wider audience feels massive. We think our next step is to find a way to embed a developer inside the organisation so that as ideas evolve we can flexibly test them, ensuring there’s a day-to-day playful relationship between the live and online experience.”

The Dero project: public broadband just doesn’t cut it!

September 18, 2012 1 comment

As part of continuing series of posts for this blog, I’ll be asking some questions of the experts behind the Digital R&D Fund to see how their answers compare and what other, perhaps smaller arts organisations can learn from…

We’ve already heard from a few of the projects their answers to the first question (what do you think the key to success has been for this particular project?) but now it’s time to hear what they have to say about question number two:

If you could do the project again, what specific things would you do differently and why?

Claire Harvey, one of the digital bods behind the Dero project at Sage Gateshead, offers her thoughts:

“The project can been seen as a success in what we learned, rather than necessarily by delivering a product perfectly. In hindsight, we could have chosen a more populist programme of concerts which would have boosted the viewing figures, and spent more on marketing the concerts.

The other key problem was relying on the public broadband network which let us down at a number of critical points. This really affected the Mixed Arts Venues who were forced to abandon concerts. We are immensely grateful to their audiences and their understanding of the R&D process and inherent pitfalls! While the public broadband network is expected to improve, at the moment it is not sufficiently reliable to deliver live streaming to rural and remote locations.”

Punchdrunk and podcasts

September 11, 2012 Leave a comment

As part of the next series of posts for this blog, I’ll be asking some questions of the experts behind the Digital R&D Fund to see how their answers compare and what other, perhaps smaller arts organisations can learn from…

Previously we heard from Jo Johnson, digital marketing manager at the London Symphony Orchestra, and Claire Harvey, one of the digital bods behind the Dero project at Sage Gateshead. This week we ask the same question of Pete Higgin, enrichment director at Punchdrunk, and find out about what he thought was the success to his project.

Question 1: What do you think the key to success has been with this particular project?

“The key to success has been good communication between all teams involved. The challenge was always to co-ordinate a project in New York, which was being conceived and built in London, Boston and New York. Undoubtedly the support, resource and opportunity offered by the project team in New York was key to making the project successful too.”

We’ll be asking this question of the other projects in due course, and finding out their answers to some more. In the meantime, have a listen to the latest Arts digital R&D podcast, the third in the series. This one is all about using digital channels and technologies to distribute arts and cultural content and reach the widest possible audience, including new and international ones.

The Dero project: make sure all the partners are committed and content

September 4, 2012 2 comments

As part of the next series of posts for this blog, I’ll be asking some questions of the experts behind the Digital R&D Fund to see how their answers compare and what other, perhaps smaller arts organisations can learn from…

Previously we heard from Jo Johnson, digital marketing manager at the London Symphony Orchestra – next up is Claire Harvey, one of the digital bods behind the Dero project at Sage Gateshead.

Question 1: What do you think the key to success has been with this particular project?

Claire says that for a project like Dero, where so many different partners and organisations are involved, success rests on commitment and a willingness to take the plunge!

“The Dero project has been a very happy and successful project because all of the partners were committed to working together to making it happen.  One of the key risks to this project was the number of partners. We are 11: 3 orchestras, 4 mixed arts venues, 2 tech partners and 2 research partners spread from Berwick upon Tweed, through Northumberland, Yorkshire, Manchester to Cambridge and London. We also had 3 media partners including the Guardian Online, Medici and BBC Classical Music Magazine. We set up a virtual project office immediately and ran the project through fortnightly calls which were well attended. The project was very process driven, and that created a structure for the myriad of issues to be sorted and agreed.

We were helped by 2 key factors: All the partners were incredibly generous with their time, their expertise, their willingness to take the plunge, and their optimism. And secondly, we were developing a new product out of new processes, but using existing technologies which reduced the risk to manageable proportions.”

Arts Digital R&D podcast 2: mobile & location-based technology and gaming

August 8, 2012 1 comment

This is the second in the Arts Council’s Arts Digital R&D podcast series – podcast 2 is all about using mobile and location-based technology and gaming to engage arts and culture audiences.

The series, hosted by arts and culture broadcaster and journalist John Wilson, explores the innovative use of digital technology in the arts and cultural sectors and features discussion and debate from expert studio guests and pioneering case study examples of digital projects.

Each programme in the series will focus on one of the themes at the core of the new Digital R&D Fund for the Arts: User generated content and social media; Digital distribution and exhibition; Mobile, location and games; Data and archives; Resources; and Education and learning.

The next batch of blogposts from each of the projects will be released soon so keep your eyes on the blog!

Categories: Overview, Resources

Scratch Online: translating live interaction and human behaviour to online

This week I catch up with David Jubb, artistic director of the Battersea Arts Centre (BAC), to find out more about the Scratch Online project and how it was all coming along…

(Note – the project’s digital partner is now Native HQ)

Can you explain what the Scratch Online project is and how it works?

Battersea Arts Centre’s mission is to invent the future of theatre. Most of the theatre made in the building is created through collaboration and experimentation. 12 years ago we began our Scratch programme, which gives artists an opportunity to share their ideas at an early stage of their development. As a process it also gives audiences the opportunity to roll their sleeves up, feedback on artists’ ideas, and follow the creative journey of an idea from inception to fruition. We have made 1,000s of shows using this process and over the last 12 years, “Scratch Nights” have spread far and wide, from the Royal Shakespeare Company to the Sydney Opera House.

About a year ago we started talking about how the process of scratching ideas might work as an online platform. Especially because one of the main challenges for theatre makers who make collaborative work is to find other collaborators: so we thought that the social nature of the internet might help one creative soul find another who could then go on to Scratch together.

How has the project been progressing?

The project process has been true to Scratch. Slow to start. Plenty of mistakes. Masses of learning from those mistakes. And some of the best decisions coming later in the process. I reckon we are about three quarters of the way through the project in terms of time – but we are about to make half of the most valuable discoveries in this last crucial quarter. That is often the nature of research and development. The result will be a Scratch of a Scratch that we are going to open up to users at the beginning of September.

What have the main successes / eye-openers been?

By creating a web-version of Scratch, we have essentially been exploring creative process. So the project has sometimes felt like an exploration of relationships, psychology and philosophy. This is partly because we are trying to create something on the internet that in the real world is all about the unspoken rules and the behaviours of a room full of people. So in creating an online version, you end up talking a lot about human nature, so our some of main discoveries have been how to adapt Scratch for an online environment.

Equally, what have the main challenges been, and how have you overcome them?

One has been translating the qualities of live interaction and human behaviour to an online equivalent. The other is the timeline, which has been tight in order to generate and deliver real innovation. We are entering the final phase of the project where we will face up to both of these challenges – I’m excited about the result.

Scratch is a human-centred creative process. It is what we are making online and it also how we have been making it. And there are such great people involved in the project that I trust that we will use our creativity to come up with something fresh and fun. Come to the launch on 31 August at Battersea Arts Centre, we’ll be Scratching it – and you can give us your feedback to develop the idea.

Dickens London Trails iPhone app: money, marketing and mobile

July 18, 2012 1 comment

I caught up with Paul Cutts, chief executive of the Exhibition Road Cultural Group, to find out more about the the Dickens London Trails app and how the project was coming along…

1. Can you tell us a little bit more about the Charles Dickens app is and how it works?

Dickens London Trails is an iPhone app that enables users to experience London as characters from Dickens’ fiction would have. It leads you through the streets of London on a series of unexpected cultural encounters. You also discover more about Dickens’ eventful life and some of the secrets of Victorian London.

Your guides are characters from the novels who introduce dozens of places mentioned in the novels and the stories behind them. Each character also represents a particular theme that’s as relevant today as it was in Victorian times. The trail of Artful Dodger (from Oliver Twist) covers themes of childhood, poverty and power; Abel Magwitch (Great Expectations) embodies crime and punishment; Lady Dedlock (Bleak House) is the trail for those interested in the lives of women in Dickensian London and Samuel Pickwick (from Pickwick Papers) leads the food, drink and leisure trail.

Users can choose to follow a thematic trail or randomly select destinations. Each has a map, an accompanying image and – if a cultural destination such as a museum – telephone details and website inks. You can also share your favourite destination on social media (Facebook, Twitter etc) as well as tell people where you are through Foursquare.

2. How has the project been progressing?

The app went live in late April so progress in terms of editorial and technological build was quick and we’ve essentially finished what we set
out to create.

3. Have there been any real eye openers?

A number of things – the consumer focus groups were really helpful in clarifying our thinking. We ended up with something less ambitious than
we’d envisaged and took different editorial options largely in response to the feedback from that initial audience research. The main success was
having so many editorial partners from across the London cultural sector contributing free content. Our primary ambition was to develop a tool in partnership and collaboration – we ended up spending far less on content generation than budgeted, which gave us flexibility to spend elsewhere.

That said, we’re happy with the content and because it’s not time-sensitive it will have ongoing value. The Dickens theme was – for many of us –
secondary. The primary purpose was to create a collaborative forum that could be populated with different content. We negotiated with our
technology partner to have ownership of the IP so we can license it at low cost to other arts organisations. We’ve got interest expressed from a few others already.

4. Equally, what have the main challenges been, and how have you overcome them?

The biggest challenge was probably the under-estimate of how much marketing and comms we really needed to raise awareness; we relied on our own networks to a large extent and the take-up rate was much lower than we’d have wanted.

There’s also an issue in only having been able to fund an iPhone app rather than Android and other platforms. With the increasing take-up of
alternative platforms we missed a large potential audience. We also had a challenge in terms of visibility on the Apple iTunes app store.

There’s a case I think for the whole sector to push for the inclusion of a dedicated arts channel on the app store – there are so many apps out there it’s easy to be drowned in the digital noise.  We’ve not overcome that problem but it’s worth pushing for, I think.

The LSO Pulse App: mobile apps, QR codes and the problem with paper tickets

July 5, 2012 6 comments

The LSO Pulse project is the London Symphony Orchestra’s discounted ticket and loyalty scheme for students – they offer £6 tickets for 10 (thereabouts) on selected concerts throughout the LSO season at the Barbican to students aged 18 years old or more. 

I caught up with Jo Johnson, digital marketing manager at the London Symphony Orchestra to find out how the Pulse project was coming along…

“We wanted to update the technology we used to run the scheme and to give it a 21st century feel,” explained Jo, which is why LSO chose to use an app to reach a younger audience. “The app lists all the events included in the scheme, allows the students to share their attendance on their social networks and enables them to buy tickets for themselves and their friends directly from the app.

“It means that they don’t need to leave it in order to call or book online – this also means that they don’t have to pay a booking fee, which would usually be up to a third of the ticket price again on top.”

Jo explained that the tickets are delivered to the app as a QR code, which users can bring with them on the night for scanning on entry: “Students also collect points in the app for completing actions such as sharing with their friends, buying tickets for themselves and their friends and for filling in short surveys after the event. Points build towards a tiered series of rewards, such as CDs, free tickets, free drinks and meals, Amazon and Spotify vouchers – at the end of the season we reward the person collecting the most points with a trip to Paris with the LSO.”

Jo was keen to mention that, overall, the project has gone very smoothly: “We were delighted with the initial take-up of the app by our existing LSO Pulse members and pleased to see that the transition was pretty smooth for them. We haven’t had too many bugs surface in the app itself, and have had a smooth ride on the scanning hardware side, with no on-the-night disasters or total tech failures (aside from a couple of minor Wi-Fi problems!).

“We have been surprised by some of the ways in which the students have used the app – for example, a couple of users without smartphones used the mobile website on a desktop computer and then printed the QR code ticket to bring with them on the night, something we hadn’t considered as a possibility. Luckily this worked just as well!”

Because LSO are yet to do all the data-crunching, Jo didn’t have any concrete numbers but revealed that early indications show that awareness of the scheme itself has grown, with more first-timers attending LSO concerts.

“Our main challenge was related to the scanning process in our venue, the Barbican Centre,” admitted Jo. “When we sat down with them to explain what we wanted to do, they raised an issue with their auditing process – paper tickets were a required part of this and entry to the hall was not permitted without one. They were also concerned about their stewards having to decipher more than one type of ticket quickly when large numbers of people were entering the hall together.

“As a short term solution we decided to set up a dedicated desk for scanning and printing off the tickets that had been purchased in the app – stewards could then hand the purchaser the corresponding ticket after their QR code ticket had been scanned. This also meant the stewards didn’t have to be trained to use the scanners.”

Jo also mentioned another work-around they had considered: “We also thought about a solution whereby we purchased a ticket printer which printed a ticket when the QR code was scanned, but we discounted this solution as the Barbican could only accept tickets printed on their own stock.”

Despite this change to the initial plan, the app team have been working with the Barbican on future implementation of mobile ticketing, and Jo said she’s delighted that their test project has been able to demonstrate to them the pros and cons of this method: “We have however still been able to test the full solution twice at our venue, LSO St Luke’s, with stewards scanning the phones and without handing out paper tickets, which we were pleased to see went smoothly.”

Matthew Caines is a journalist currently blogging and posting updates from all eight projects involved in the Digital R&D Fund for Arts and Culture

Punchdrunk: the challenges of online, offline, time and space

Pete Higgin is enrichment director at Punchdrunk, the British theatre company and masters in “immersive” presentation theatre. As part of the Arts Council, Nesta and AHRC Digital R&D for Arts and Culture Fund, Punchdrunk has been experimenting in connecting the online and physical performance spaces.

Punchdrunk Sleep no More

Connecting online users…

In particular, Pete and Punchdrunk have been working on connecting a live Sleep No More audience member to an online companion, but when I caught up with him he admitted the project has not been without its challenges, all of which he says have made the project think more carefully about planning and operating – something arts organisations can learn from as well.

“The Atlantic Ocean was a massive challenge in itself, as was working in three different teams in three different cities,” said Pete. “I’m not sure we actually fully overcame this but regular Skype meetings, a pretty constant stream of conversation and making the most of what little face-to-face time we had helped.”

He also added that it can be incredibly challenging integrating a new piece of work into an existing production: “The project attempted to connect two online and offline participants, but this had to happen in a show which demands the audience be silent and turn off all mobile devices, which makes it quite difficult to facilitate.”

But Pete actually saw this, in part, as an advantage because it forced the team into working around something specific and focused: “Interestingly these parameters helped shape the project and gave us debilitating but important boundaries – ultimately, we had to embrace these and find distinct moments for communication.”

Another challenge that Pete mentioned was time: “It was a massive challenge, and we could have done with much more and also a second iteration of the project.” But learning from these kinds of challenges is what will make the next rounds of experimenting and testing so successful.