MUSE guides visitors to Granville Island

April 07, 2005, vol. 32, no. 7
By Susan Jamieson-McLarnon

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Scenario: The relatives have come to town and are asking for a deluxe, guided tour of Granville Island. And you can't do it.

Solution (in the not-too-distant future): Lend them your cell phone, or personal digital assistant (PDA). It can lead the way.

Between March 31 and April 17 visitors to the Vancouver market can participate in the prototype testing of the Mobile MUSE re:call project. Mobile MUSE (media-rich urban shared experience), the first Canadian project of its kind, is developing new applications for the world's millions of cell phones and PDAs.

After signing out a PDA from the project desk in the Granville Island Net Loft opposite the food market, research participants can explore the west side of the island (the device senses where they are and updates based on location), consult the screen for interesting facts about nearby buildings and shops, see what's playing at the theatres, write a review, share opinions, or find the closest place for coffee.

Julie Zilber, co-director of 7th Floor Media, a program of Simon Fraser's faculty of education based at Harbour Centre, leads the team developing re:call, one of two initial MUSE projects funded by Heritage Canada. MUSE is the brainchild of David Vogt of UBC, who proposed the private sector/academic research network to devise content applications beyond traditional voice and text for the mobile communication environment. Other re:call technical partners include Exponentia Inc. and Tejinder Randhawa, a researcher at BCIT.

“By the time the prototype projects were selected in September 2004,” says Zilber, “we had done quite a bit of conceptual work to imagine an application embodying all aspects of memory: historical and current, public and private, personal and professional, individual and collective. We had a very short development time frame. So, it's been a little ambitious to create not just the functionality, but also all the content. It's been a bit crazy.”

For Zilber, one of the most interesting aspects of the prototype is the personal journal, where users create the content. “This is the part I think is the neatest. You can look at stuff, make notes and take pictures. And everything you look at or create, including any reviews or opinions you publish, is automatically recorded for you in your personal electronic journal.”

Richard Smith of SFU's school of communication, leads the research on MUSE user experience. “The other teams are creating applications that will let people have a rich media experience. My job is to try and understand that experience,” he says. “The usual surveys won't work. But we have a questionnaire designed to ask meaningful questions about media experience. We are looking for the unexpected outcome of technology. What human beings love to do most is communicate. So it's particularly important to know how communication might be experienced.”

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