Category: Digital Media


It’s that time of year again. The Dublin Web Summit is fast approaching, the biggest and still, fastest growing IT Tech conference in Europe.

I attended both days last year, spending the days manning the Morgan McKinley stand, chatting with start ups and other exhibitors, attending talks and #chillingout in the tweet cafés. For an IT recruiter, who loves all things tech, it certainly satisfied all my needs.

The only down side is the cost. At €595 for a normal entrance ticket, it’s not cheap. And if you want to have a stand at the event like Morgan McKinley, then you better get the cheque book out!

Despite the prices though, if you are involved in the IT/Digital Industry, your attendance is a must.

If you are part of an IT start up, miss this at your peril, for you may be missing out on speaking with Investors, other start ups or like minded individuals from all over the globe, whom can share tips and ideas with you. If you are looking to justify the cost, either to yourself or your employer, click here for some gentle self persuasion.

Personally, I look forward to visiting the Start Up Village, where people pitch business/ tech ideas.

I look forward also, to speaking with some of the excellent start ups coming out of programmes like Wayra, NDRC, RyanAcademy etc.

To be honest though, what I most look forward to is attending Tony Hawk’s talk, that should be really cool!

See here for a list of speakers and here for a list of exhibitors confirmed so far.

Dublin Web Summit Exhibitors

Dublin Web Summit Exhibitors

See below video of this cheeky chappy, the all singing, flirting and dancing robot. We had great fun with this last year as it was hanging out beside the Morgan McKinley stand. In fact, you can spot us in the background.

robotMMK

Web Summit - MMK

Web Summit – MMK

Advertisements

Momo (Mobile Monday) Dublin had their latest event last Tuesday. Why on a Tuesday? Well, because “we are 6 days ahead of ourselves” quipped the event’s host; Ben Hurley (COO of NDRC)

MobileMondayMMK

The event kicked off with an excellent introduction by Mr. Hurley.

Soon after, Donald Hawrath of comScore took the stage and gave a well informed picture of mobile trends. His slides from the day can be accessed here; http://www.comscore.com/content/download/20299/1042315/file/Mobile-Trends.pdf

This led into the first panel discussion, titled; “Making Mobile Platforms Work.” Making up the panel where; Keith Davey of Marino Software, Aisling McCabe from RTE Digital, Gary Leyden of NDRC and Mr Hawrath.

Donald Hawarth fromcomScore, Aisling McCabe from RTÉ Digital, Keith Davey from Marino Software and Gary Leyden from the NDRC.

Donald Hawarth fromcomScore, Aisling McCabe from RTÉ Digital, Keith Davey from Marino Software and Gary Leyden from the NDRC.

 

 

This gave us the app developer’s insight. It reminded us that users control how they consume content, across multiple platforms. Each of the panel members gave evidence of how vital the user experience is, regardless of the platform. They also reminded us that, the ecosystem is moving so quickly, and that the Industry has to adapt.

RTE Digital attributed its success to 3 points; 1.) Good quality content, 2.) Knowing the audience, 3.) accessibility via multiple devices.

The next panel discussed the mobile app environment, both from a B2B and a B2C perspective.

Brendan Bourke from Radical, Brendan Conway from iMob Media, Elaine Robison from Meteor, Conor Mullen from RTÉ Digital, and Bruce Bale from Facebook

Brendan Bourke from Radical, Brendan Conway from iMob Media, Elaine Robison from Meteor, Conor Mullen from RTÉ Digital, and Bruce Bale from Facebook

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
I found it interesting when Conor Mullen of RTE stated that the majority (63%) of online users of rte are mobile.  (Mobile and tablet)

 Interesting as well, was where Brendan Conway discussed location based and proximity marketing – “we now have the delivery mechanism in our back pocket”. This is a topic I blogged about previously, seehttps://daraboland.wordpress.com/2011/06/09/mobile-location-based-marketing/

It was however, the next panel discussion which I found the most interesting.

Rob Cumiskey and Tim Arnold of Hailo, James Whelton from Coder Dojo and Joe Drumgoole of Feed Henry.

Rob Cumiskey and Tim Arnold of Hailo, James Whelton from Coder Dojo and Joe Drumgoole of Feed Henry.

 

Joe Drumgoole of Feedhenry discussed how Enterprise clients are demanding the same quality as what they have seen in consumer markets.

He also chimed in on the BYOD debate. He said, people can debate it all they want, the fact remains that employees will continue to bring their own devices to work. He stated that, whether he is an advocate of BYOD or not, it doesn’t matter, what matters is that it is happening anyway. He went on to say that it’s expensive to buy devices for employees, so why not embrace it by mobilizing them for their own devices. He made an interesting prediction by saying that soon, large enterprises will have App stores on their corporate intranets, for employees to download what they need, to their own devices.

James Whelton of coder dojo discussed how kids are becoming more interested in web and mobile, a really positive message which was well received by the attendees.

The gents from Hailo brought the discussion back to the need for great design, and how this is key to delivering successful apps, whether native or hybrid.

It’s an ongoing challenge. The most frequently asked questions which Hailo’s customer support teams receive are actually enquiries about functionality which IS in the app. Mobile UX is crucial. The rhetorical question rang out across the room; “how do we use the real estate on the screen, it’s a small screen”.

It was interesting as well because following the Coderdojo talk, the panel where discussing digital natives. Hailo reminds us however, that its not all about digital natives. In fact, they told us the average age of taxi drivers here is 57. Many of their users had never used apps, many didn’t even have email accounts. Their app, has to be intuitive.

The final round of talks invited some promising app makers to the stage, to introduce themselves.

Treemetrics,  Studio PowWow and Transact Carbon, Chloe Burke

Treemetrics, Studio PowWow and Transact Carbon, Chloe Burke

 

Of those, I found 2 particularly noteworthy.

One was Studio Pow Wow’s Richard Glynn.

It was interesting because they are different, their “World of ShipAntics” project is a little out there, and that to me, is cool. It gave a good insight as well, to monetizing apps which are designed for young people.

There is a lot of regulation around this (see Kopa). It is also challenging because, although designed for the end user ( children), the customer is actually the patent.

The real star of the show though, was Chloe Burke, the 14 year old app developer. She told us how she revolutionised the theorem market, by making maths theorems mobile.

She is a product of Coderdojo Dcu. After hearing about it on Bobby Kerr’s radio programme, she decided to check it out, and hasn’t looked back since. And why should she. She should only be looking forward, I think the future is bright for young Chloe.

She touched on Mobile UX , where she discussed how she wanted to make it engaging for kids. She said that maths has never really been seen as cool, and that it probably won’t be, but her app does make it more engaging and fun. She selected the colours carefully and inserted cool diagrams and clickable buttons.

She touched as well, on one barrier to entry to this market. Her app is on android (320 downloads) yet she was conscious that not everyone her age had a smart phone, so it is also online. You won’t find it on iOS though. Why? Because Chloe and her brother pooled their pocket money together yet still can’t cover Apples demands.

The event was a success. It was well organised, with excellent speakers. It succeeded in bringing us on a journey through the mobile landscape as it stands and gave us a good insight into where it is going.

It did so, by offering different perspectives, whether that be from an App Developer, Marketer, Investor, or from Industry Giants like Facebook.

It was a nice atmosphere too, and the networking potential (and free coffee and cakes) was great.

Daniel Dunne of Morgan McKinley

Daniel Dunne of Morgan McKinley

One of the speakers had highlighted that we run the risk of damaging the market, by overcome locating it, like other areas of IT, the Industry has mystified it by constantly bringing out new acronym ons, new buzz words etc.

Momo Dublin however, highlighted the extent to which the ecosystem is changing, but really succeeded in making simplicity out of a complex area.

#rtemomo

#rtemomo

I look forward to the next Mobile Monday.

I have worked with a lot of companies on SEO, Social Media Marketing and Online PR initiatives.

Due to the nature of the commissioned reports, I can’t publish a lot of this work. However, I have routed out an old report which I can share with you.

Click here: (Digital_Markting_and__Communications), to have a read of a thorough Digital Marketing guide, for a small company based in Dublin. This was conducted by myself and my friend Jason, and went a long way in helping the company owners optimise their online presence and activity.

This is a little boastful, but also pretty cool!

I have received an email from LinkedIn, notifying me that my profile is among the top 1% most viewed profiles of 2012.

With 200 million LinkedIn members, that means I could be the most viewed, or in the top 2 million, they didn’t say 🙂 Coming 2 millionth doesn’t sound like quite the same achievement though!

Image

Image

LinkedIn probably designed this initiative for 2 reasons; 1.) to thank and encourage its elite members and 2.) to tap into the inherent narcissism of social / professional media communication.

Scepticism aside though, Linkedin is a powerful tool.

One person who knows this is my colleague Darren, who is a super user of LinkedIn, and regularly gives training sessions on how to optimise usage. He was also approached by Linkedin, and awarded the top 1% status.

He wrote a blog about; “How to get yourself into the Top 1% most viewed profiles on Linkedin”. You can read the blog here.

And Linkin with me here 🙂

I have been a student of Martial Arts and Boxing for over 14 years now. I feel I have gained a lot from my training and wanted to give something back to the clubs. One way of doing so was to help them with their online activities. I thus nominated myself to conduct a project on behalf of DCU Amateur Boxing Club, to design a website for them. I became a committee member, and was given the Title of PR Officer and Webmaster.

Although I had some experience with Web / UI design, this was the first time I really paid heed to design principles. At the time, I had been learning about UI and UX and was keen to design the best possible website, with these concepts in mind.

Here is an account of my first real venture into Web design…

Before I put the website together, the club had no online presence. This prompted me to design this website, as well as their very own Pixie gallery, Youtube channel, Facebook group and WordPress blog.

I believed that the website will not and should not be overly complicated. I acknowledged that the aim was to design/implement an effective, well organised, functional website, rather then it necessarily being the most advanced. In short, I opted not to include many of the bells and whistles, e.g. RSS feeds and java programmes.

I purchased the URL: www.DCUboxingclub.com (recently lapsed)

Description and Objectives

I set myself a goal: to apply my new found knowledge in the implementation of a DCU Boxing Club website. I felt that, key to my design would be elements such as consistency, formatting, use of colour, headings, fonts, writing style, as well as structural considerations such as page layout and navigation.

Although I had previously used Weebly, Joomla, WordPress and Microsoft Frontpage, I had the desire to master Adobe Dreamweaver. I thus decided to design the site using this web authoring tool.

It should be noted that throughout the design and implementation stages, I consistently elicited the help of my classmates, through questions and usability tests. A specific example of this would be in deciding text or colour schemes where I constantly consulted others for their opinions.

I have, to the best of my ability, made my design rationale clear. Additionally, I have conducted post launch evaluations in a bid to refine my work.

design

Idea Generation

–          If you’re not online, you don’t exist…

I had read a blog which struck a chord with me. One of my blog feeds includes work by Nathan Snell, an Internet Strategist. The blog I refer to then was titled; “If You’re Not Online, You Don’t Exist”.

Here he discussed (primarily in relation to small businesses) that 82% of customers try to find a business by searching online. He highlighted the negative effects then not having an online presence can have, especially where competitors do.

For a small club such as DCU Amateur Boxing, it was easy to overlook the internet, especially as committee member’s hail from accounting background.

This club’s lack of internet activity to date had meant that students were not aware the club existed. See this boards.ie discussion. Students discuss how it is a shame that DCU do not have a boxing club, when in fact they do.

Boards_2

This proved to me that the club is Internet Invisible. The sight of that boards.ie page is ultimately what prompted my decision to opt for a DCU Boxing Club website.

Planning

The initial planning stages where admittedly, relatively unstructured.

For example, I contacted the DCU Boxing Club committee and first asked permission. I then asked their members for ideas. Indeed, that relationship between the committee and the clubs’ general members remained throughout the process. This provided me with a constant feedback loop as well as access to content information.

Next, I conducted field research, searching other similar websites.

Of the Colleges that have boxing club websites, none where particularly impressive.  I decided to design my page from scratch.

University College Cork

The University College Cork Boxing Club’s site utilises the traditional left-margin layout. All navigation tabs are on the left and are presented laterally.

UCC3

Trinity College Dublin Boxing Club

TCD Boxing club’s site utilises the popular layout that is, the distributed left and top-margin layout. I feel the existence of one navigation bar would suffice, as the tabs are repeated on the left e.g. Home, Photos, Videos and Contact appear twice.


ucd4

University College Dublin Boxing Club

UCD Boxing clubs’ website utilises the top margin layout. It is similar to (but not identical) our site in that navigational tabs are displayed along the top of the webpage.

 

ucd5

Other layouts would include the uncommon right margin layout and the distributed layout. I dislike the right-margin layout as users are not generally accustomed to using them. I feel user’s eyes will favour the top left area of the screen. Although the distributed layout can work well, because my site does not showcase an extensive amount of content, I have decided it is not an realistic option for me.

I pondered how best to design our page layout. First, I drew freehand, to help me visualise my proposed content. Subsequently I progressed to designing a webpage layout on Microsoft PowerPoint. Upon reaching a decision, I began designing, using tables, on Dreamweaver.

It was at this stage that I decided it necessary to put in place a structured plan for implementing the website. I drew up a “Design Checklist” which would ultimately act as my framework / guide throughout the process.

DCUBOX6

 

 

DCU Boxing Club’s Web Design Principles Checklist

Primary Audience

  • Needs – Club Information e.g. times, costs, location etc.
  • Interests – Boxing, Fitness, University Clubs and Societies
  • Technological expertise – highly advanced, computer/web literate

Website’s Purpose

  • Educational – informs members and potential members re: DCU Boxing. The associated Youtube account hosts training videos, to help members improve their skills.
  • Promotional – promotes the club to non members. The club have confirmed with the student union, that the recent emergence of the website, WordPress, Youtube, Pixie and Facebook accounts will get special mention in an upcoming edition of Campus magazine.
  • Entertainment – the addition of training pictures and videos provide entertainment and increase participation within the club.
  • Non-Profit – The website, like the club itself, is run on a non-profit basis.

Location of website

  • Initially hosted on DCU server
  • URL: www.DCUboxingclub.com will be purchased and the site will be made live.
  • Received confirmation from DCU Boxing Club Treasurer, that hosting costs will be reimbursed.

Content

  • Text – always relevant and informative. Experiment with text size, case and fonts. Always written with our target audience in mind.
  • Graphics – Use both PNG (Portable Network Graphics) and JPEGs (Joint Photographic Expert Group) formats.

 PNG for header as it compresses the file but this is lossless compression. This image is the most prominent in the site and thus its quality should remain high. The PNG format will allow for seamless integration with our grey background.

     JPEG for all other, smaller images. We have decided pixilation is less important for these images and so decided upon using lossy compressed JPEG images. User can access Pixie account for better quality viewing of these photos.

Use sparingly – so as to avoid download delays.

Assign Alt text to each graphic.

Include hyperlinked widgets for social media websites.

  • Video – embed one Youtube video. More videos can be viewed on the linked Youtube channel.
  • Applications – embed one Google Calendar and one Google map

Style

  • Should not be overly professional. A casual style best reflections the nature of the club. It will be teen/young adult orientated (target audience) yet all user friendly.
  • Some graphics used to compliment text. Visually appealing, fast loading and will not require abundance of memory.

Background / Text Colour

  • Limit use of “hot” colours – bright colours like pink or orange are not associated with boxing.
  • Use a plain background, making the text stand out.
  • Ask classmates for advice with re: background / text contrast.

Basic Page Design

  • Consistent layout and colour scheme for every page
  • Choose effective colour scheme with sufficient contrast
  • Make Logo image at head of each page a back to home hyperlink
  • Put most important data near top of page
  • Choose a single, effective navigation bar layout – horizontal
  • Design a footer, with navigational components (links)
  • Condense so as to minimise user scrolling up and down, left to right

Resolution

  • Computer labs’ large screens allow for high resolution. However, users may be using notebooks, choose efficient resolution setting.

Social Media

  • Set up and link various Social Media sites including Pixie.ie, Youtube, and Facebook. Set up and write blogs using hyperlinked WordPress account.

Privacy

  • Conduct interviews with committee members and fighters. Include accurate representation of results.

When designing/implementing our website I found it vital to keep in mind the 9 guidelines which I had studied in class. It is evident, I hope, when navigating through the site that I have used all of these best practices.

Designing the Layout

Prior to implementation, I contemplated potential looks and structures for the site, from both visual and technical standpoints. It was my intention to develop a logical and easy means to understand structure, in a bid to enhance usability and user experience.

guidelines8a


I had decided the website would have four main blocks.

1.)    The title – this would be the logo, which doubles as a “back to home link” As the image would be larger than the link in the navigation bar I believed this would work as a small shortcut for users. I highlighted the fact that this was a hyperlink through the use of alt text which reads “HOME PAGE.”

2.)    Navigation Bar – showing users how to get to other pages within the website. Also highlights current page.

3.)    Body – Where the main text appears. This may be supplemented with images.

4.)    Footer – This would include the clubs name, address, links to social media and internal links.


LAYOUT 9

The type of layout I chose (highlighted in blue) resulted from the type and amount of content I had to display. Once decided upon, I began designing, using tables in Dreamweaver. This general layout, remains consistent throughout the website. Of course, each page’s “main body” is presented differently, but the overall layout remains constant.

I decided upon using a flat information architecture. This meant I arranged webpages as peers, making each page accessible from each page. This structure works, as the site is relatively simple, with only a few standard headings (Home, Committee, Fighters, Media, Faq.)

If I consider an alternative, say Trinity College Boxing Club’s website and its dual navigation bars with drop down menus, I see a more hierarchical approach. If it where the case that the site had a particularly deep hierarchy, I would have employed a different structure. I would also have employed a “breadcrumb trail” or a “site map.” It was due to the small information architecture and simplicity of the content that I made our decision.

I used tables in the creation of the navigation bar. By doing this I was able to have the background of the cell different colour when the user was on any given page. This in turn will work as a reminder to the user of what page they are on i.e. current location within the site.

My use of roll over text colours on links allows our users to know exactly when there mouse is over a link. In this way, the navigation bar serves a dual purpose, it is used both to display clickable links and also indicates current location.

I had debated whether or not I would have the navigation bar along the top of the site or along the side. The reason for choosing between these too is that in general user’s eyes will first be drawn to the top left hand corner of the page so I felt it important that the user immediately sees what pages are on the website. I chose the top of the screen under the banner as I felt it would coincide more with the use of a footer on the bottom of each page which also contained links to each of the pages on the site.

LAYOUT10Informative Content / White Space

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough

~Albert Einstein

It was my intention to display the information in a logical, succinct and easy to understand manner. I sought not to fill up every inch of the page with content, but rather add text and where necessary, perhaps add an image, or other media. Well distributed content means less clutter. The idea is that it is ok to have blanks, in fact it actually emphasises the evenly distributed content on the page. This is referred to as white space.

I sought to provide concise data and give the reader the option to explore in more detail by e.g. following a link to the blog.

Effective use of images/animations

The site does use several graphics which are visually appealing but also functional.

For examples of functional graphics, see the header, DCU Boxing club logo, which not only acts as the Title but also acts as “back to home” link. Also, the existence of hyperlinked widgets for social media websites is an effective means of display. By displaying well known logos (e.g. WordPress) the user is confident in knowing where the link leads (“Guessability.”)

I assigned ALT text to each graphic to give a description. This is useful in different ways, e.g. if the image does not load, the user will still know what it represents and also, when the sites goes live, it will help in terms of search engine optimisation.

It was always my intention to using media sparingly so as to avoid clutter and enhance loading times.

The main image file types I utilised where PNG (Portable Network Graphics) and JPEGs (Joint Photographic Expert Group) formats.

PNG for the title header as it compresses the file but this uses lossless compression. This image is the most prominent in the site and thus its quality (pixilation) should remain high. The image, at a glance, gives the user a clear insight into what the website is about. The use of the DCU logo informs students of the club’s affiliation with the University. The PNG format will allow for excellent integration with our grey background.

One problem I encountered was that PNG formatted images are not recognised by Internet Explorer 6. For this reason, I decided to reformat the Title image to GIF (graphics interchange format.)

JPEG for all other, smaller images. I decided pixilation is less important for these images and so decided upon using lossy compressed JPEG images. User can access Pixie account for better quality viewing of these photos.

On the media page I have only used one embedded YouTube video, this was to decrease loading time for the user. It will give the user more visual aid about the club and below the links to the YouTube account and the pix.ie account will guide them to where more media can be seen in the video sparked interest.

In terms of applications, I have embedded one Google calendar and one Google Map.

As DCU email is now run by Gmail, each student can integrate the calendar with their email account, at the click of a mouse. The Google map, allows for directions, and visual geographic representation, including that of Google street view.

Screen Resolution

It was impossible for me to know the screen resolutions of our users. To eliminate horizontal (left or right) scrolling, I designing the site for 640 480 resolutions and each page is less than 600 pixels. I understand that users like to scan pages, and prefer not to scroll. This said, users are more inclined to scroll up and down than left to right.

My screen design is still rather effective at higher resolutions.

Background Colour and Data Visualisation

I felt from the start that a light background with darker text would be easier for someone to read off a screen. This assumption was reinforced when I asked fellow class mates to look at a few of the alternative colouring schemes. One of my alternate background was a light pink colour. One of my class mates responded to this by saying pink signifies femininity, and femininity is not associated with boxing. It is for this reason that I sought to limit “hot” colours – bright colours like pink or orange are not associated with boxing. I ultimately decided on a grey/silver background.

Also, by implementing a plain background, it emphasised the subject matter. Had I included a dynamic background it is likely the text would not stand out to the extent that it does now. All of the trial users agreed that, the text readability, in terms of foreground/background contrast was good to excellent.

Typography / Text Readability

LAYOUT11My next step was to decide on font. Given the colour of the background I felt the best colour and the easiest to read was a standard black font. After asking some fellow class mates the majority agreed. I then sampled different fonts with are background in order to see which would be most user friendly. After much deliberation I decided that I would use times new roman for a majority of the text on the site, the reasoning behind this was that each character in within this font is unique which would lead to less confusion and give the user the ability to read faster. In saying this I did decide to use Arial in the home page header so to make it stand out more from the rest of the text. We also took this approach for the opening statement under the header.

I encountered a problem when I tested the site on a Macbook. I discovered that Apple computers display fonts at 72 dots per inch (dpi), whereas PCs display fonts at 96dpi. As I was designing the site on a PC, I took this disparity into consideration, by making text slightly bigger than was originally intended. I upgraded from text size ten to twelve.

Consistency

As previously mentioned, the sites’ architecture does showcase a high level of consistency throughout its pages. Colour, Font style and size and location of links also remain relatively constant throughout.

Simple / Natural Dialogue

Nielsen (1993) writes “the ideal is to present exactly the information the user needs ~ and no more ~ at exactly the time and place where it is needed.” Effective dialogue can positively affect usability and facilitate in creating comfort.

Speak the user’s language

Nielsen (1993) writes “the ideal is to present exactly the information the user needs ~ and no more ~ at exactly the time and place where it is needed.” Effective dialogue can positively affect usability and facilitate in creating comfort. Furthermore, I aimed to; Speak the User’s Language.

When I first undertook the task of building this website I needed to focus on the targeted audience. As the topic of the site was the DCU Boxing Club I knew that main target users were current students at DCU who had an interest in boxing. They were not the only user though as I felt secondary school students with an interest in boxing and who were contemplating coming to DCU for further study we’re also a target user. I write in a very casual, informal manner in a bid to emulate the laidback, fun nature of the club.

The Committee page offers an insight into their personalities. The intention is to create an open environment and encourage members and non-members to get more involved. Further outreach, in this manner, can be seen in the WordPress blog.

 Memory Load

The effective navigation facilities I implement facilitate in reducing user’s memory load. The navigation bar shows what page the user is on and how to select other pages. When a user hovers over a link, it becomes highlighted.

It is near impossible for a user to get lost in, or becoming confused about the architecture of this site, due to its simple design.

Provide Feedback

Features such as the aforementioned navigation bar, are important it informs users where they are or where they are going. Also, I took great care in ensuring that our page titles are specifically related to their associated content.

Short-Cuts

I feel complex sites which host large quantities of data may benefit from introducing short-cuts. As the site boasts a small amount of content, I feel shortcuts,( if at all possible given the one-click navigation that is already in place)  might even cause confusion.

The only short-cut in place is the “back to home link” in the title image.

Error Messages

Nielsen (1993) discusses error messages as providing two initiatives to response. The first instance being that the user has encountered a problem, should this problem not be solved, the user will likely exit. Secondly,  it offers an opportunity to assist the user. I have conducted much testing and tried to eliminate errors. I have however, included ALT text wherever necessary.

User-Driven Errors   

I understand the importance of preventing user driven errors in enhancing usability and building better affiliations with users. The continuous feedback I welcomed from those around me, throughout the design and implementation stages have likely assisted in such error elimination.

Reversal of Actions

For this site, a simple click on the back up button will reverse any action.

Evaluation

It should be noted that I embraced other’s inputs from the planning stage right through to the later implementation stages. As I designed the site in DCU labs I had the constant resource of the students around me, which I regularly called upon. In fact it was a fellow classmate, during a usability test, who suggested making the title logo linkable to the home page. DCU Boxing Committee and it’s members were also called upon, to provide content and to give opinions on design spec.

Upon completion of the website (first draft) I went about designing a survey(http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/LBZ5RR9). This consisted of 7 questions, 6 of which were multiple choice and one which required user feedback. When asking individuals to complete the survey I made sure to ask different kinds of users, with regards computer proficiency, so that the results were not skewed. I sent this survey to 17 people, of which 10 replied. The results are graphed below.

SURVEY12 SURVEY13

SURVEY14A priority for the site was not to overload the user with textual information for this reason I didn’t change the information as a result of this survey. What I did do to combat this was to give a link to the Word Press account, this give the user a place to access more information through blogs written by the committee and members.

As a result of this question I felt it import to enlarge the images which were external links so that more users would be confident in using them. I felt that it would not look good on the site if these images were larger on every page so I kept small images on the footer of every page and enlarged the images on 2 pages; home and media, as I felt the social networking sites would be most sought after on these pages.

Prior to the results of this question I did not have all of the pages of the website centred. The pages were aligned to the left. As a result on larger monitors there was a lot of blank space to the right of the page. Now, each page is centred so that it is even on any monitor type/size.

SURVEY15

What would you change about the Website? (6 of our 10 surveys had answered this)

  • “A little more content perhaps.”
  • “Excellent site, for the next step you could look at integrating the WordPress account with the website.”
  • “I wouldn’t change a thing , I find it is very easy to use and to navigate. I like that its linked with social networking sites such as facebook as that is very important now as nearly every person has one, especially college students. I think it provides very relevant information also.”
  • “Change the alignment of the page”
  • “More Content”
  • “Possibly include phone numbers for contact details”

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————

Interaction

I tend to approach certain tasks, where there is no impending deadline, a little sporadically. Noting this, from personal assessments, I decided it necessary to put in place a structured plan for implementing the website. I had learned from a college module the importance of drawing up a “Design Checklist” (See Appendices) which would ultimately act as a framework / guide throughout the process.

As a key objective of my initiative was to increase interaction amongst members, I set about establishing and integrating various social media platforms.

Prior to my work, the Club had a Facebook presence. Click below:

facebook 16Initially, I was delighted to inherit this, as it gave me a new way of communicating with members (previously solely through email). However, I quickly learned that a problem existed. As it was set up as a group, it would be run by nominated administrators. I began to investigate who had set this up and who had the password. Eventually, I discovered that the group had been established by a former member, whom had emigrated to Australia and was noncontactable.

As such I went about establishing a new one, and used my DCU Amateur Boxing email contacts to spread the word about the new Facebook. Click below:

facebook 17

This time it would not be a group. By having the chance to “like” the page, I felt it would offer great amplification thus making the club more visible online. It also offered me a new channel upon which to contact members. It became especially useful in sending messages, for example where training time changed. It was also used well, where we organised for members to purchase DCU Boxing hoodies.

I also set up a WordPress blog.

My intention here was again, to increase interaction, and to get members more involved. I had emailed (and facebooked) the group to let them know about the blog. I also stated that if anyone would like to “jump on board” and contribute I would gladly give them the password.

I blogged about big boxing matches that where coming up or had just happened. I had hoped this would enhance the community that is the club.

Click below:

wORDPRESS 18I also set up and utilised a DCU Amateur Boxing Youtube channel. I would attend the training sessions with a camera and take some footage, which could then be uploaded onto the Channel. I also used this channel to post key training tips for the members, e.g. webinars on foot movement. Futhermore, I used it to highlight some excellent boxing matches, which related to whatever we were learning in the classes.

Click below:

youtube 19I also established DCU Amateur Boxing’s own Pixie gallery. Pix.ie is an Irish owned photo sharing site similar to that of Flickr. I brought my camera to training sessions and uploaded the content here. I also informed members and committee (via email and facebook) that they too could upload photos. All they would have to do is email their photos to the account and simply validate their own email address.

Click below:

PIX20

Conclusion

It was my intention to continually consult and apply the design principles and usability guidelines set out from the beginning. This blog discusses the rationale behind my design and also it’s evaluation.

My next initiative will be in introducing embeddable Google Gadgets into the site. There are plenty of, easily embeddable “gadgets” which relate specifically to boxing.

Click Below:

gadgets 21Above, are example of numerous boxing gadgets which could be included on the www.DCUBoxing.com website. By including gadgets, I would also be actively encouraging link building. This should then improve the site’s PageRank.

In fact, there is an opportunity for me to investigate developing a DCU specific Google Gadget which may be embedded on the website and also other’s WebPages. Such WebPages (e.g. of other DCU clubs and boxing websites, may avail of a free DCUAmateurBoxing widget, which would, again, increase inbound links and add to the overall Online PR footprint.

Another change I will make, to better use this site as a communications device, will be seen in the embedding of Google Translate in the site.

Although it is a reasonably realistic observation to assume that future members will have a good grasp of the English language (studying in Ireland) it is true that a large proportion of current members are non nationals. Particularly well represented are Polish students. The coach is from Georgia and has limited English vocabulary.

Thus I will next embed a Google Translate widget onto the website. This will be conducted in the same manner in which I embedded the Google map and Google Calendar. Should a member click it, it will translate the content to e.g. Polish. It would then appear as below:

TRANSLATE 22

Survey

SURVEY 23

Website Infrastructure

page1

page2page3page4page5

References

  • Nielsen J. 1993. Usability Engineering. Academic Press, Jamestown Rd, London.
  • Social Media Marketing Industry Report 2009. How Marketers Are Using Social Media to Grow Their Businesses. 2009: Social Media Examiner.
  • WordPress. (2010, December 14th). About WordPress. Retrieved December 14th, 2010from WordPress> Blog Tool and Publishing Platform: http://wordpress.org/about/

Books:

  • Nielsen J. 1993. Usability Engineering. Academic Press, Jamestown Rd, London.

Lecture Notes:

  • Lee H. Usability for Web, Lecture Presentation, October 2010. School of Computing, DCU.
  • Lee H. Usability Guidelines, Lecture Presentation, October 2010. School of Computing, DCU.

 

I have worked with numerous companies, assisting them with various Internet Marketing strategies. I have consulted and implemented; Search Engine Advertising and Search Engine Optimization campaigns, as well as Social Media and Online PR strategies.

Although less active in this space now (due to work commitments) I wanted to put out a blog highlighting the benefits of Search Engine Advertising, particularly for Irish SME IT companies.

In my job, as IT Recruitment Consultant, I work with IT companies of all shapes and sizes.

I find that, particularly with start ups and SMEs, there is a strong consciousness of search engine optimization. That is to say that, companies are aware of the importance of appearing on the first page of Google, and are taking measure to rank more effectively. However, a lot of these companies are not investing in Adwords strategy.

The “B2B” IT industry are among the highest users of Google Adwords. As such, for any company in this space not using Adwords, they may be losing out to competitors whom are.

A lot of companies website are becoming central to their customers purchase process. I look at some of the clients I am working with, a lot of start ups, eg: in the Cloud Computing space, can offer free trials of a SaaS from their website. Therefore, driving traffic to the website is often important. With better quality, and volume of traffic to the website, this will compliment the free downloadable trial initiatives, and could ultimately build sales and market share.

Whatever the company’s strategic objectives are for their website, a well conducted Adwords strategy may help.

Using Adwords is tried and tested. For any IT company in Ireland who have not at least considered using Adwords, then they should review their options.

Companies can accurately measure and track the quality of their advertisement spend. The advantage for IT Companies lies is gaining extensive reach, whilst the marketing spend is focused and measurable.

Adwords are cost effective, particularly as you can only pay for those which are actually clicked on  (Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising  is a non-interruptive form of advertising that activates only when a search for particular keywords is made.)

As such, why not at least try it, tip your toe in and see where it takes you.

This blog may be useful for those IT companies who are interested to learn more about Adwords.

I have included below a report which I completed for a Dublin based IT company in 2011. This covers a pre campaign and post campaign report. Note, I have censored the company details, and renamed them as the fictional; DBIT Company.

Click Adwords Report for Dublin based IT Company to read.

I’m always coming up with ideas me, some of which I’m working towards commercializing at the moment. For instance, I’m working towards an initiative which will see the gamification of public transport, through the use of smart phones, location based services, QR codes, social media and other cool stuff. I’m also working towards establishing a new payroll software system. One of the ideas that I had, yet ultimately decided not to pursue however, is that of a face recognition app. The main reason why I didn’t bring it any further was because that it has been done. Check this videos out, very impressive stuff!

I initially looked at the product concept which entailed designing and subsequently bringing to market a functioning facial recognition product to be used by smart phones. The application, which would be 100% opt-in, using Augmented Reality to scan an individual’s face, retrieves that person’s identity and returns back links associated with that individual. Whilst computers do not possess an innate ability to recognize and distinguish between faces the company must embark on various techniques to best match an inputted image, to a specific profile of an individual. Techniques such as Gabor Wavelength Transform combined with various algorithms facilitate the mapping of face images based on key features of that face. It is such concise measurements which would allow for accurate retrieval of profile information. I would have intended on developing a fresh dataset for face recognition, to assess their algorithm’s recognition rate and refine accordingly.

I began thinking about the idea after attending a seminar; the Search Marketing Summit in Bangalore, India. At this seminar, I had taken hand written notes based on each speaker’s presentations, including speaker’s professional background, contact details, twitter accounts, blogs and company websites. I stored such information in a centralized location; a hand written notepad. After losing my notepad, I began sifting through my wallet to try and find business cards and also began searching through the event’s twitter hash tag. With a keen interest in Augmented Reality, I began to contemplate ways of easily accessing individual’s information. The concept then is based around a face recognition platform which offers a snapshot into a subject individual’s online presence and also the opportunity to easily connect via e.g. email, social networks or other websites. A quick Google search told me that this was actually already being developed. Even still, it intrigues me and I wanted to investigate…

The overall objective of the system then, is to adequately design a functioning facial recognition product to be used by smart phones.  The system would also facilitate a call to action via various “click to follow” links. Such activities would be conducted in real time and unlike various “life-logging” techniques, does not aim for data recall. As such it would be used, not as a remembrance agent but rather act as an information retrieval tool, based on live encounters with individuals.  Anyway, I had conducted some research, found it really interesting and rather than letting it go to waste, I thought I’d put it all together and post a blog. The following blog is thus based on research into image based human and machine recognition of faces.

The proposed process then relies on the ability to detect a face (face detection) and then measure the various features (face recognition.) Face detection software is well developed and is already installed in most cameras and indeed smart phones.

The product functionality would allow for excellent facial recognition accuracy. In-built face detection seeks to detect a face and then extract only that face from the image.

Humans have always had the innate ability to recognize and distinguish between faces, yet computers/smart phones do not posses such innate capabilities. As such various challenges and constraints exist.

The existence of False Accept Rate (“FAR” – falsely indentifies an individual) and False Reject Rate (“FRR” – enrolled individual is not found) can reduce the accuracy of results. The aim then lies in designing this system to offer a highly accurate means of identity verification.

Identification problems may be encountered where the scanned face (input) is unknown (does not correlate to any stored faces) yet the system reports back a false identity from its database. This could be seen where a user scans the face of an individual who has not signed up to the opt-in service.

Verification problems may arise where the system must confirm or reject the claimed identity of a user’s face. It should seek to eliminate any avoidable fraudulent behaviour and as such may perform random validity tests. For example, a linked website may be perform a command, like momentarily adding a line of code to a website, uploading an image onto a social network site or simply responding to a validation message sent via email.

Limitations may be encountered in the form of functional constraints; e.g. inadequate sampling, variances in face composition.  Challenges would be encountered where the level of tolerance of specific variable exist. For example:  facial expression and pose, accessories such as glasses or jewellery and the level of controlled lighting (illumination).

With the diffusion of any new product, especially technical, various adoption hurdles may be encountered.  The lack of a critical mass user base may itself hinder its adoption. The book; “Technology Analysis and Strategic Management” highlights four variables critical for gaining market acceptance; 1.) technological competence 2.) strategic use of technological competence 3.) market resistance to adoption and 4.) perceived value of the innovation.

My proposed system would have operated on an Augmented reality platform e.g. Layar and would require both individuals; “the Searched” and “the Searcher” to have an opt-in account.

To best present a clear functional description, the process would be described in light of all input and outputs required by both parties; the Searched and the Searcher.

The Searched

Smartphone and Layer users can log onto the website. The new visitor then selects “Create New Profile.” The User would be asked to provide five different face shots. Using a device with an inbuilt camera or plug in webcam, a target space would open in which to place the face for the photos. User would take and submit one face-on expressionless photo and one face-on with a smile. Next the user would upload left and right profile shots.

From here, a series of complicated algorithms would not only crop and align the images but also extract the facial region rendering it ready for further analysis. Algorithms begin to map each of approximately 80 nodal point of the face. For example, the proportional distance between the eyes, and the length and definition of the jaw line. This data would then be stored as a unique numerical code. Finally the user would be asked to take another face shot, this time to act solely as a profile photo. (Sample photographs would be provided throughout each stage.)

Research by Hesher et al. [2003] explored the merits of using various images as discussed above. The back end system would analyze images of different sizes and with different facial expressions. The existence of additional images resulted in an improved recognition rate as it offered the probe image more chances to make the correct match.

The aforementioned photographs would represent the individuals “Biometric Signature” (D.M. Blackburn 2001) and would be stored in a database.

An approached named Elastic Bunch Graph Matching (EBGM) would then be utilised. Gordon et al. [1992] discuss using algorithms to conduct a curvature-based segmentation of a face.  The EBGM concept then works on the understanding that each face profile would have many non-linear characteristics, some of which were earlier mentioned as challenges (e.g. expression, pose, illumination). To target such challenges, the system would use a technique named; Gabor Wavelength Transform. Taking the aforementioned nodal information from each of the four photographs, the algorithms would project the face onto an elastic grid. As such it would use depth and an axis of measurement after extracting properties which offer curvature and metric size properties. Such data would then be stored in the systems database. This technique would result in proportionately lower false reject rates and crucially to Smartphone users, would also facilitate non frontal face recognition.

Source: National Science and Technology Council (2006) Face Recognition

The algorithm used can be continuously fine tuned for best accuracy of performance. For example, the above technique would use distinctive features such as; where rigid tissue is most apparent, as seen in the nose, chin or eye sockets. Such features are not only unique to an individual but also are unlikely to change over extended periods of time.

Next, the user would provide links for associated websites; e.g. personal website, twitter account or blog site. The user would then be given 160 characters to insert a biographical description. This profile would not affect the user’s privacy settings for each linked site and it is up to the user to decide what level of content is made available. The option to pause an account would also be included; this may be utilised where the user would prefer to remain incognito. Once the setup is complete the user would be asked to download the application and can now also use the service for searching others.

The Searcher

The “Searcher” would scan an individual’s face, with their smart phone camera lens. The application would detect the face and extract it from the background. After recognizing and analyzing various features, the computer algorithm would “normalize” the image so it represents the same format (e.g. size/resolution) as the images held on the database. This data would then be sent to the database as a search query. A graph matching algorithm incorporating relational constraints would be utilized to find the corresponding profile for the probe image.

The main advantages of the system lie in its accuracy and efficiency of use. Previous face recognition systems have faltered as they relied on one 2D image to compare against another 2D image which lay in the database. As discussed the system, which incorporates graph matching, allows for greater variances in image conditions. This is especially pertinent for Smartphone users who would use the application in different and non-controlled environmental settings yet would still be ensured of achieving effective and accurate recognition.

Additional functionality would allow users to pause and resume their account upon a click of a mouse or a touch of a screen.

Incremental improvement could be realised in terms of information retrieval. Collateral information such as demographics – age, gender, race as well as speech may be incorporated to refine search results. Furthermore, as both parties are Smartphone users, the search algorithm could call upon GPS/Location Based Data to better match queries. 

Some disadvantages may include time lag for enquires and the incremental expansion of the database. The discussed “elastic grid” process required for 3D face recognition requires more computational effort then standard 2D-2D recognition systems. Although this could imply more accurate results, a pay off may be made with process time. A key selling point would be in attaining real time information retrieval so the load time may pose a challenge.

Also, the lack of an extensive database may hinder the system’s functionality. Alternative means of expanding the database could be achieved by altering algorithms to scan images e.g. across social networks, again on an opt-in basis.

Furthermore, this system requires, for privacy reasons, both parties to have signed up to this opt in service. Therefore both parties must be users of Augmented Reality platform, Layer.

I would now evaluate the concept. Facial Recognition has been studied for years, and its potential applications are wide spread. This said, many functional and operational constraints exist and generally such technologies have failed to reach a critical mass (Zhao et al. 2005).  This discipline has become one of the most prominent areas in computer vision, leading to the development of numerous face recognition algorithms.

There is a range of databases which can be used for the evaluation of such face recognition algorithms. It is the case however, that many of these databases offer a wide range of images per subject but have a limited number of subjects. On a positive note, it does appear that the use of various algorithms can offer a high quality match rating. (In a study carried out by the National Institute of Standards for the American Government, it was found that facial recognition systems using EBGM showed an accuracy of between 87% and 90%.)

One means of assessing the efficacy of a face recognition algorithms then would be experimentation with pre-defined and publicly available face datasets. These include JAFFE, ORL and FERET.

The FERET program for example, was first introduced to the face recognition community, as far back as 1993, as an evaluation tool for algorithms. This dataset includes 2,413 still facial images which represented 856 independent facial images from different individuals.

There exists however, a deficit of appropriate datasets for 3D face recognition. I would propose to approach Academic partners (e.g. Clarity, DCU) to help in this regard. It is then proposed that work begins putting together a fresh dataset for 3D face recognition. Indeed, the student population could offer an excellent test-bed for assessing such research.

When designing such a dataset I would seek the following:

  • Extensive number of subjects with excellent demographic variances
  • Small amount of sensor specific artefacts
  • Excellent spatial resolution e.g. depth resolution of 1mm+
  • Images of a subject with various facial expressions
  • Images of a subject recorded over extended intervals of time

It is clear that extensive research is ongoing in this particular field. However, it appears that research published comes from disparate sources and often does not offer forward the mathematical algorithms with which it discusses.

For this reason I would have considered publishing the dataset, making it available to the overall research community. A collaborative approach could facilitate the assessment of the state of the art in face recognition. This approach could also have helped me understand and better interpret any statistical significance of other’s research. This could allow better understanding of the different performance measures of various algorithms and refine the process accordingly.

It was mentioned earlier that the website would ask for four subject images and an additional profile image. One such image was to map the smile of an individual. This is due to the observation that non-convex facial regions (mostly bottom half of face) are more likely to change shape when considering variances in facial expression. The implication could then be that it is more difficult to achieve a match where the subject is smiling. The action then taken was to record data of that individuals face whilst smiling.

However, research by Chua et al. [2000] suggests an alternative method to approach expression change. This would see, only the more rigid elements of the face being analyzed (from below the nose up through the forehead.) This would form a key hypothesis whilst conducting an evaluation and assessment of the process.

I will now discuss The Business Case of such a system… Recent times have witnessed surging interest in mobile augmented reality. The ability to retrieve information and display it as virtual content overlaid on top of an image of the real world is a natural extension to a mobile device equipped with a camera and wireless connectivity.

The primary aim of this project would be to adequately design a functioning facial recognition product with the use of a Smartphone. The target market therefore would consist of any individual who wants to appear more accessible online or those whom find out and communicate with such individuals through Augmented Reality.

Ultimately, this offering could be used for those whom are not yet close contacts e.g. – eliminating the need for business card exchanges or alternatively close contacts e.g. who may use it for faster access for communication, consider a faster way of sending an email, without inputting email addresses.

There are currently approximately 1.3 million operational smart phones in Ireland. As of Q1 2010, the highest users of smart phones can be found in the 18-35 year old bracket.  This particular group is said to boast the highest share of ownership of the android and IOS devices. This is significant as Android and IOS are said to be the two most prominent operating systems used to run Augmented Reality Platforms. (Kellogg, D. 2010).

A secondary aim would be in profit generation. Despite the widespread proliferation of smart phones and the gradual adoption of Augmented Reality, I would imagine any company designing such a system would experience a period of unprofitability, maybe over two years or more.

If I did go ahead with the concept, I would ideally like to to launch it (in three months) during its beta stage and offer it as a free download. This would not only incite the active building of a critical mass but would also facilitate continuous user feedback. This strategy would be applied for twelve months. After one year, the improved product would be sold at a nominal once off download price of €10. The Vendor would likely take approximately 10% of this fee equating to €1 per download. After a further nine months all commercialisation, research and development costs incurred would have been covered and the company would begin to operate as a profitable enterprise. 

There would exist many opportunities for future collaborations via strategic partnership or joint venture initiatives. Such initiatives would see this process be integrated with such offerings as Foursquare or other social networks which operate via mobile.

Many high potential start ups become the subject of high profile acquisitions and should an offer come along, it may be considered. Indeed, as mentioned, a company named Polar Rose was recently acquired by Apple. Polar Rose main operations where concerning a face tagging plug-in application for social networks, however, they have recently been reported as working towards a similar facial recognition system.

Also with an envisaged increase in Augmented Reality users, the potential for Revenue generation via advertising could emerge. However, advertising could add undesirable clutter to the user interface and negatively affect user experience.

Further research, as outlined previously, would be needed in order to ascertain the feasibility of such a concept. There exists, like most innovations, many risks which would be further outlined in later research. One threat could be seen where other commercial entities, e.g. Polar Rose, may use a first mover advantage to gain a highly dominant market share. Such competitive forces would act as a challenge and not necessarily a restrictive force. It’s a really interesting space, can’t wait to see how this one plays out…

Second Life & I

Second Life is a three-dimensional (3D) electronic environment where members can socialize, hold virtual meetings, or conduct economic transactions — Wan & Braman(2009)

In 2003, the Californian software company Linden Lab opened its virtual world to the public. Second Life is based on a unique concept that goes much further than all other MMORPG s (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) in that the entire content of this synthetic environment is user-generated. In addition to the option of buying and selling land, Linden Lab’s service includes complex 3D modelling tools, a powerful scripting language and the possibility to use streaming audio and video. Second life is being used for various commercial purposes. From a digital media and communications standpoint, it facilitates e-commerce and can form a platform for digital marketing activity.

Some time back, it was in December, I attended the “Getting Started with Second Life Workshop.” Organised by and held in DCU, the event opened with a brief introduction to Second Life and Virtual worlds. Some real life effects where eluded to as where some commercial applications. Following this, all participants began to set up their own, free, Second Life accounts. I opted to use my personal laptop so first off I had to install Second Life. Next, I went about creating my profile and also crafted my own avatar. I had some fun when creating my avatar, experimenting with different clothes and hair styles. Participants all began in the same location and from here where given great freedom to explore the virtual world. Most participants found it relatively easy to assimilate and found the basic commands (e.g. direction prompts) came rather naturally. Other activities included communicated with other avatars and even building objects in the various free sandpits. As all users where new, they were restricted to some extent as they had no currency (Linden Dollar).

I was presented with an excellent introduction to what Second Life is and how it works:

Basic membership is free, premium membership is (US$ 9.95) allocates land to the resident

 

Residents can explore, socialise, participate in individual / group activities, travel the world (or ‘grid’) and create & trade virtual property

 

User generated content

                   -Residents build objects using primitive 3D modelling tool

                   -Functionality can be added to objects through Linden Scripting Language

                   -Users retain ownership rights of objects they create

 

Linden Dollar (L$) – currency of second life

                -Used to trade goods, land and services with other users

                -Goods include buildings, vehicles, devices of all kinds, animations, clothing, skin, hair, jewellery, flora and fauna, and works of art

                -Land is a scarce commodity which can be bought/sold or rented

                -Services include camping, working in stores and entertainment

 

Users can exchange L$ for US$

                        -Current exchange rate of L$204 = US$1

 

A small fraction of users derive an income

Avatars

                          – Can be made to resemble real user

                          – Can fly or teleport to any location

Communication

                          -Local chat – public local conversations

                          -Global instant messaging for private conversations

                          -Voice chat now available

Land Ownership – fees

                         -Land can be purchased from Linden Lab or privately

                        -Premium membership gives 512m2 free from land use free

                        -No upper limit on land ownership – upper limit a user will pay US $195 for their first 65536m², and then US$97.50 per each additional 32768m² of land

 

Upon entering the lab, I had thought of Second Life as a Gaming platform. As a child I regularly used the game; “Sims” which has a similar look and feel to Second life.

My initial feelings towards using Second Life where not immediately positive. I held an air of scepticism, especially since I heard this has been around since 2003. My feelings where thus pessimistic, in so far as, even after eight years, this has yet to reach a critical mass. At least that’s what I thought, it was my assumption that this had not scaled particularly well. I had also heard that Google had (at least for the moment) given up on their pursuit of Virtual Worlds. Google Lively was considered a failed venture, is no longer supported and was abandoned. This fact alone, that Google, the defacto web application firm, are not involved, signalled to me a pessimistic view of their merits.

As a technology enthusiast I was aware of the platform but had rarely encountered any peers whom used it. I approached it cautiously. Highly stressed with college and personal responsibility I had an attitude of, “I have enough trouble managing my first life never mind a second life.” I also noticed early on that, with such an immersive technology lay a wide scope for addiction. I have a tendency to be distracted and feared that Second Life may offer an unwanted escape route, which could place additional strain on my college workload.

Furthermore, the servers in DCU had trouble handling the additional volumes attributed to a lab full of Second Life users. The fact that we continually found ourselves logged out made me feel not only frustrated but that the platform itself was unstable. I had also read about users experiencing difficulties in payment-process systems. I had also read about the possible wide-scale money laundering activities which may occur, due to the fact that it is difficult to trace the Linden Dollar paper trail. Also there is a treat that stolen credit card information can be used to purchase Linden Dollars.

The one user that I had known of had told me about various negative traits including; overload of cybersex predators. Second Life has taken some measures to abolishing such stigmas (which could scare away businesses and individuals alike) such as banning gambling and some especially offensive pornography. This however, angered that particular individual as, he felt Second Life where abusing their power, as Second Life users own the virtual worlds they create and thus may feel alienated by such activities. Noticing such pessimism, I sought to set it to a side in order to first gain a better understanding of what Second Life is, what it does, and how it could affect me as an e-commerce student.

I was aware that Second Life has its own currency, that of the Linden Dollar. Users can thus buy and sell to one another directly, using the Linden, which is exchangeable for real US dollars and other currencies such as the Euro based on live time currency exchange rates. I was surprised however to learn that in the year 2009, the total size of the Second Life economy grew 65% to US$567 million, about 25% of the entire U.S. virtual goods market. Furthermore, Gross Resident Earnings were at approximately $55 million US Dollars in 2009 which constituted an 11% growth year on year (wn.com).

The reason I took part in this activity is essentially down to curiosity. I am a tech enthusiast but not only this, I also seek to become a next generation marketer. I felt it my duty to investigate all arising opportunities for which could be used for commercial (especially digital marketing) purposes. I also feel that Virtual Worlds could help me towards my most immediate goal of completing my Masters, particularly where considering the concept of immersive learning.

Although the media interest in virtual worlds seems to be to be dwindling (rarely here of them on tech websites I would regularly frequent)  Second Life does hold considerable potential. As a next generation marketer, I must concern myself about where such technologies will be in the next 5 to 10 years.

Speaking of the media, the news media company; Reuters, experimented for a limited by employing a Second Life journalist. This employee reported only on news which occurred within Second Life and rather not reflecting upon real world news.

Upon further research, I learned of high adoption in virtual worlds amongst children, e.g. Disney’s Club Penguin, Barbie World, Habbo Hotel and Stardoll. With the upcoming generations already immersed in Virtual Worlds, this may indicate a higher propensity to adopt the more mature platform of Second Life in the future.

Such demographic trends coupled with technology development (e.g. potential integration with Facebook, Google Earth, Google Maps, and Google SketchUp for 3-D modelling) could facilitate future exponential growth in this area. The conclusions I can thus draw is that, as an e-commerce student with a keen interest in digital marketing, I must keep my finger on the pulse.

Another reason I sought to use Second Life was in pursuit of immersive learning. Particularly helpful to me in my bid to learn Mandarin Chinese, I could use this platform to assimilate in a virtual Chinese culture.

Furthermore, as Virtual Worlds are a social phenomenon, they oft serve as arenas for the promotion of offline political and social agendas.

Social worlds are increasingly serving as arenas for the promotion of offline political and social agendas. Reactions to the war in Iraq ranged from a “Support the Troops” promotion by Worlds.com that featured free VIP accounts for U.S. military members to protest-related activities conducted by the anti-war group “Polygons for Peace” in there.
The use of social worlds as activist arenas was ramped up in 2004, as the highly charged political climate in the U.S. during an election year has inspired several citizens to take real-world political campaigns online. Examples include in-world campaign headquarters and voter registration booths for U.S. presidential candidates in Second Life, the live streaming of the presidential debate between George W. Bush and John Kerry and an entire “Virtual Votes” world launched in 2004, as a forum for political debate.

It could also be linked to the concept of teleworking. IBM for instance use Second life for many functions, for example, alternative to conference calling, they hold event seminars and also is used for staff training seminars. As a former IBM employee I know they use Second Life to promote interaction within its own corporate community (employees, customers, business partners) often regardless of geographic and organizational boundaries. IBM also uses it to engage in-world builders and scripters through their more recently launched IBM Codestation, which serves as a forum where users can access shared resident-created chunks of code.

One simple function IBM use Second Life for is in the hosting of business meetings and conferences, which eliminates the real expenses of physically travelling to a real world location.

In fact, when I was in India this year, I asked an IBM Bangalore employee if she uses Second Life. I thought, it could be used effectively here as they have constant communication with Western counterparts. It transpired however that this employee was unaware, perhaps because of the under optimized broadband infrastructure in India.

Many large corporations are using Second Life for various business processes. For example, a Second Life user can go to Dell world, pick and customize a laptop, and purchase it. This physical product would then be delivered to that users address. Other leading corporations using Second Life include for example; Loreal, Dior, Diagio, American Apparel, Coca-Cola, Toyota and Vodafone. There are now multiple cases of Linden Dollar millionaires in the sales of art, games and virtual land. There is even a known instance of two avatars meeting in Second Life which led to a Second Life Marriage, followed by a real life marriage. Furthermore, a second life “cyber-sex” affair has also led to a real world divorce.

It is apparent however though, that such optimism is held within societal silos. Academia in general, have been relatively slow to publish more non abstract, focused research into the area. In a 2010 interview (Komplett) with Dr._Theo_Lynn, he highlighted this.

“I think first of all it’s very difficult to do research in this area as it’s largely phenomenon which you’re looking at. You’ve a choice, if you want to write and research about it then it’s difficult to get publications to publish in because it’s all so new, you’re coming up with new hypothesise and you don’t have a lot of quantitative research behind it. So went tend to get half the class thinking this is really interesting and they like what we’re doing and then the other half is saying there’s no 20,000 surveyed on this topic so there’s no basis for what we’re doing.”

Before signing up to Second Life, I had been unaware of the real differences between Virtual Reality and Virtual Worlds. I was also a little confused about how augmented reality fits in this picture. What I found was that Virtual Worlds on rely on engaging the user emotionally and mentally rather than sensorially, which is the way of virtual reality. This concept of virtual reality is similar to that of augmented reality, such as various games on the Xbox Kinect console. This concept of Augmented reality holds particular significance when used on mobile devices, as they can facilitate location awareness, e.g. daft layer application.

Upon entering the workshop, I had though of Second Life as a game. What I now know is that Second Life is in fact a Multi-user Virtual Environment (MUVE). It is like a game, but it is not technically game based. This is because it lacks pre-defined goals. All the content in Second Life is user-created, and each user makes of their experience in it what they will. Second life then would best be classified as a simulation platform.

Some of my pessimism has been overturned also. I feel that, Virtual World could be on the verge of greatness. I can now also envision Google making a future comeback into this realm. I can imagine something like Google Street View on a GPS-equipped smartphone. This could be used where standing in front of a building on a downtown urban street. The smartphone user would then look at the device and see an image of the same building. By tapping on the image, information on all the businesses that are tenants in that building, with links to their Web sites, phone numbers, reviews of retail establishment, Standard & Poor ratings, blog posts and newspaper and magazine articles about them, YouTube videos, and more could be made visible. This is similar to Augmented reality but could be adapted for a fresh virtual world platform.

A key point then is that Second life lacks interoperability. If, for instance, it was interoperable with Facebook and Twitter, this would offer excellent amplification and thus may increase adoption. Furthermore I can imagine a future laptop Facebook application with a camera visualizing my IM chat and a mobile Facebook application with the camera augmenting your reality.

I can even imagine Virtual world being used by social networks as a new means of information access/retrieval. Imagine teleporting to say, the search marketing summit in Bangalore, India, in order to ask a niche question about say a specific search engine algorithm.

There is no doubt that the proliferation of mobile web is making the internet a more immersive experience. For example, Twitter’s real time micro-blogs are already blurring the line between real world and 3g web. 3D web then has also become prominent across social network platforms with the proliferation of sites such as Facebook, e.g. Farmville is an animated virtual world.

I feel that despite the many flaws, there still exists huge potential for Virtual Worlds. The future of Virtual Worlds may be the wide scale adoption of second life or perhaps something else altogether.

The result of companies adopting a presence in second life has been discussed. I have highlighted how Second Life is being used as an advertising platform.

From a marketing perspective, a companies presence may make them appear “cutting edge”.

It also allows access to a new online society where publicity is cheap and the demographic is edgy and computer savvy. It may also offer an opportunity to have rich discussion with customers, employees and other stakeholders, in a more intimate way then email or phone communication.

This advertising platform has been applied in two main ways; 1.) Online stores and 2.) Contextual Advertising.

Evidence of companies build online stores include:

– L’Oreal – makeup for avatars

– Dell – build your own virtual PC with L$ or buy a real PC with $

– Pontiac – take a virtual test drive in a customized Pontiac

Evidence of contextual advertising is widespread. For example Volkswagen use it rather cleverly. In this case they use billboards. When the avatar chats the billboard “listens” and displays related advertising.

Also noted was the fact that many companies have promoted new products and services through SL press conferences, e.g. Sun Microsystems and Cisco. It is also commonly used for providing seminars, group meetings and employee training, e.g. IBM. I ponder whether or not there is scope to use Second Life as a credible platform for conducting research e.g. qualitative research such as focus groups.

I have spent many hours within Second Life. I travelled to Martial Arts and Boxing Gyms to discuss topics of interest with like minded individuals. I attended live concerts by real life bands. I was however also approached multiple times with lewd advances but I didn’t take too much offence. The idea of a user generated world run by the creators intrigues me. Ultimately though, I will likely spend only limited recreational time on Second Life in the future. The main purpose of these activities will be in keeping an eye on developments as I do feel Second Life as digital media tool holds hold increasing merit.

My Second Life experience had it all, from weird and wacky encounters (e.g. one of my contacts is a vampire, apparently)  to real life immersive learning.

As mentioned, I used Second Life as a means of immersive learning whilst learning Mandarin Chinese. This can be linked to an ongoing project of mine towards personal development and as such will continue to utilize Second life in this regard.

For example, one group that I joined was that of “The Chinese Chat Club.” This groups purpose is in attracting people from all walks of life interested in learning and practicing Mandarin Chinese. Every Sunday at 6pm (Second Life Time) group members meet for one hour to help improve their spoken (text) communication.

Also in Second Life, Monash University’s Chinese Island was very helpful resource and help me use the language. It also has some very interesting information regarding Chinese customs, culture and history. See below some screenshots of my Second Life activities. Note the t-shirt I was awarded after graduating from the school’s introduction programme.

My China Village will be my next in Second Life port of call. This service will further help me in acquiring a greater competency in communicating via Mandarin. Rather than merely letting learners loose in virtual China, this company have designed a pedagogically-equipped virtual environment to which they say maximizes learner experience and learning. One way they achieve this by giving native speakers monetary incentive for peer evaluation.

When I first enter MyChina Village, I will take an external assessment to measure my proficiency. MyChina Village will then provide me with language quests for my level. Each quest is then tied with a functional task called CanDo statement. Examples of CanDo statements would be “I can give directions in Chinese” or “I can express my emotions and feelings in Chinese.” These CanDo statements will thus serve as a guide for me to perform self-assessment, monitor my progress, and receive peer feedback.