Thursday, 11 November 2010

TEDx and the City (Leeds) Part 1

Emotional memory and the empowerment of individuals through open data sources seemed to be the theme of the third TEDx conference in Leeds, held in The Mint in Holbeck.
The following is a mixture of my notes and thoughts following the event.

Megan Smith, a visual artist originally from Canada, opened TEDxLeeds with an emotive and personal journey from Ottawa to Armley.

It started with a map of where she grew up, with a singular arterial road. Points of reference were drawn based on memories and people. This in itself was visually interesting as a piece of art, but it wasn’t the aim of the image.

Her journey continued there the discovery of Canada and her disillusionment caused by a heavy handed response to a peaceful demonstration she was observing and the subsequent government denials of the event.

Her journey then takes us to Leeds where she felt the need to discover her new surroundings. The more densely packed urban environment means that she felt it would be harder to understand the area in the same way.

Using blogs, mobile technology, social mapping and GPS in 2005, she embarked on a project to collect suggestions of things to do, see and events to experience in Leeds. The project not only helped her to discover Leeds but also enabled other people to discover the more secret side of Leeds that some locals might not even know.

This emotional mapping offers something more than geography, enabling people to come together to share experiences.

She left us with a lesson from Peruvian Economics. You can’t change the world – but you can have an impact on how people experience it.

The second presentation by Julian Tait dovetailed neatly, further exploring emotional mapping. Using the sat nav as an example, he suggested that it guides us through the landscape without reference to names, places, historical places of interest, experiences, memories and much more.

He started, though with a history lesson contrasting two ideas of the state – in the United Kingdom the nation state based on the ‘vulgar’ English as a common language and the empowerment through knowledge and learning. The other situation was the Italian city states which had free trade and exchange of ideas that gave rise to the renaissance.

The use of emotion mapping (following people round cities with monitors to gauge emotional response) can show how people feel about it. Responses to leisure and environment are not the whole story as we spend time in work or doing tasks that aren’t enjoyable. By seeing how good and bad experience map themselves, we can start to see how we can improve the cityscape.

The opening up of data means that other forms of maps can be created and shared. A UK company can now make maps of trees in San Francisco without ever having been there. Centres of data are being created in an echo of the renaissance. In the Britain the renaissance came later due to the difference in language.

The problem is that the American, Canadian, European standards of data capture and use are different using different systems and a common language is needed to empower the masses.

Susan Williamson breathed a strong breathe of fresh air into the world of retail marketing analytics and understanding trends.

Her approach is different from the majority in this area. Instead of looking for broad statistics looking for shallow trends, she advocates looking very narrowly at a few people to get a deeper and richer understanding.

Rather than a tick box approach to finding out what people like, it’s about finding out what individuals really do and why they behave in that way. It is an approach I used when in radio. Rather than look at the ABC figures, think of a particular listener and talk directly to them.

Retail is about finding the right mix of products for a particular space and this doesn’t have to stop in the real world. Space can also be virtual. It might be easier to find the pub regular who has seen the establishment over 40 years than a user of a website set up three years ago but it is possible.

An idea needs to be visualised and brought into the reality of the shopper or user.

A case study on Rolex saw the company look to capitalise on the Bond brand. The Rolex comes well down the list of essential Bond items so a good idea misses its target. The way to capitalise is to look further up that list and use the Bond brand that purchasers might think was pure Bond – like gadgets.

Rather than thinking about aisles and psychological theory, you to understand what goes on in a buyer’s mind and give them what they want rather than what you want to sell. It sounds simple but is far from simple.

Another case study showed how a council wanted to develop a cultural centre. They proposed building a new facility and targeted certain groups they felt would benefit. Actually talking to people meant they realised there was no need for any buildings. Assumptions about venues, accessibility and the knowledge locals had were far from the mark as were assumptions about what they wanted.

A cultural quarter turned in to something that more resembled a cockroach and the emphasis on whom the events were for changes too. And not one new building was created as the venues already existed.

The final session in the first half saw Usman Haque talk about Pachube and how his business has been created out of a need to create inter-connectivity. But Usman was clear the ‘smart’ technology was nothing without the intelligence of the user. To have a smartphone doesn’t make you smart but using a smartphone might enable use to use its feature to your advantage if you understand the technology.

On one level Usman was unsure of what Pachube (pronounced Patch Bay)actually offers but on another level he knew it was about making sensors and devices easily accessible, often using six sense technology.

Six sense technology enables users to view a virtual world laid on top of the real world on devices like iPads or phones. Point the device at a temperature sensor and you can read the temperature not only now, but over the last day, week or month.
By making the data sources connect with easy to read dashboards, you can help various data streams come together to make a new improved service. I personally thought of two services that did this – Traffic-i which uses the data from the highways agency to offer real time traffic services and the Weather Pixie, a great site using weather station data and mashing them into avatar weather pixies who tell you the weather conditions.

But he advocated going one step further, may be offering a logistics firm details about traffic and weather to better predict their delivery schedules.
People also want to do different things with data and the tools have to offer different services:

• Visualisation – showing what the data means
• Controlling – enable users to vary a sensor or device depending on the results
• Mapping/tracking
• Pipes/ mashing – bringing two sets of data together to form a new stream
• Output tools and alerts
• Feeds and search functions
• Mobile applications
• Augmented reality
• The ability to query data

There is also an element of democratising data that is often lost. Creating such links shows how other people can use your data in new ways to produce new services which may help you – or just help others. For example, seeing how much energy a company uses might lead to people being able to suggest how you can lower your energy costs and save money. Relationships can be created between diverse groups can take place creating horizontal integration.

Co-operation and democratisation isn’t straight forward. I agree with the principle but in reality it can be used by pressure groups to sling mud rather than help, but at the same time my view is it’s worth the risks. It is the same argument with opening communications channels and the fear and risks are often never realised whilst the benefits are greater than first thought.

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