Hi, I'm Billy Spitzer, Vice President for Programs, Exhibits, and Planning at New England Aquarium. We're very pleased to have our work featured in NSF's Media & Informal Science Learning website, and hope this discussion will lead to useful feedback for us on it, as well as to new potential collaborations/partnerships for us as we continue to develop our new media presence. Here is a topic on which we would love some ideas and further conversation: We have had overall very positive user feedback on the mobile tours and the liveblueinitiative.org site... but we are looking for suggestions on how we might increase participatoin by visitors, potential visitors, and virtual visitors. Thanks, Billy
One thing I can suggest, if you're not doing it already. It looks like you are capturing email addresses from people who are making commitments to a particular area of ocean. I would suggest regularly emailing the "Ross Sea community", or the "Bay of Fundy community" with news about what's happening in those parts of the ocean (i.e. in addition to the regular aquarium newsletter you're already letting them sign up for). Actually, what I would email is just teasers about what's happening, and make end-users click links to go back to the Ross Sea or Bay of Fundy areas in Live Blue to read full/complete (news) updates, at which point you'll be bringing them back to your site (from which you can get them to click on other things, like promotions for new exhibits, gift shop opportunities, and the like). To give the updates a real grassroots feel, you could also include in these emails some teasers for the best new "live blue" commitments made by new community members in the specific area they "belong to."
Overall, it just feels like if I'm going to make a commitment to protect a specific piece of the ocean, it would be good to hear what's going on there (the more specific to what I chose to protect, the better, though of course you probably can't tell anyone what's happening at 'their' specific GPS coordinates). And it seems to me like if you do this, you not only get a good shot at bringing them back to your site on a regular basis, with all that implies, but you upgrade the value of 'planting the flag' in the first place, in terms of what the users 'get back' for doing this--e.g. you bring the experience closer to what people get from sponsoring a child in another country (i.e. the moral equivalent of regular letters from the beneficiaries).
If you don't have the manpower to do this yourselves, I'd be really surprised if there aren't advocates out there for each of these areas who would love to have lists to regularly mail to. You'd obviously have to set up some ground rules for what could be mailed, and let people opt in to receive the updates (I'd default this opt-in to yes--who isn't going to want to hear news about an area they've gone to the trouble to sign up to protect?), but other than that...hope this is helpful...
I think the videos are very well-done and engaging. I like Blue Initiative, too, but wanted to point out one small problem with it that could be dampening participation. When you go into the map of the area you're interested in, you're told to click on a place you want to protect. But as you move your mouse over any of the areas, the cursor is an open hand shape, which typically tells you only that you can use the mouse to drag the map (and, in fact, you can), not click on it. It doesn't turn into a pointing finger (indicating you can click) unless/until you move the mouse over one the spaces (cubes) on the map that has already been claimed by someone else. It took me a while to figure out that I could click on an open part of the map with the open hand cursor--I thought I could only claim the places that had already been claimed (because those were the only places where the cursor turned to a pointer), and each time I tried to claim one of those places, I just saw someone else's claim statement. I kept trying to click on them, hoping to get to a deeper level of the map where I could really choose a spot (i.e. where the cursor would be a pointer throughout the map). If you need to leave the cursor as an open hand so people can drag the map, maybe you can make the "click on the map" text flash on and off to make it clearer that this is really what you're supposed to do (open hand cursor notwithstanding), and maybe make the text even clearer, e.g. "click on any *open place* on the map."
Billy and New England Aquarium Constituents, First off, congratulations for creating a fantastic set of media learning services for the public. The videos I viewed were engaging and interested as well as unique with regards to the focus of content. The concept of being able to tap into these informational videos while at the aquarium using the map and personal phones is a great idea and I would imagine would increase aquarium attendance. While I'm sure many of the 18 and up crowd will have phones to use at the aquarium, I'm wondering if the younger crowd (who are a technologically savvy generation that may not be allowed to have the most advanced phones by parents) may benefit from access to a "loaner" in-aquarium video device to use along the mapped tour. Additionally, by having a "mini-video" device that people can rent for their visit (similar to audio tours in some museums in nature), you also advertise the fact that the videos exist to all aquarium visitors by having a visible "rental station." I know this may be an additional expense, but perhaps something a grant could support. As far as increasing public awareness of this website, perhaps by posting one listservs (marmam is a good one to aquire interest from the marine mammal world), potentially attending local science teacher functions/conferences via a booth or presentation and perhaps informing other local education institutes of its availability. I am also very impressed by the liveblue initiative website. The concept is create because it makes something the general public is already passionate about, personal. I agree with the previous comment about setting an announcement or update system to let people know what's going on in the region they've selected to support. This may be the method by which collaborations with other scientific organizations nation and worldwide may be beneficial. You could contact institutes or researchers that conduct research in these areas and pass along any news they may have, or even copies of their articles (or at least, links to their articles). The nature of the liveblue site could also allow it to be a hub for scientific information on the particular regions. Instigating site specific blogs or "information marketplace" components may also increase the frequency of virtual visitor returns. Additionally, the use of google earth opens up the potential opportunity for incorporating other google earth information into these particular maps. For instance, thedeepness.org is coordinating the upload of scientific information for all oceanic regions, as a service to the public via Google Ocean. This information is geographically specific and encourages any and all researchers to add their informaiton (e.g. underwater volcano, research on inhabitants of a specific coral reef, etc). Perhaps by including these informational links in your map, you could a) connect with researchers to find out more about the scientific progression in the region and b) provide another reasons for liveblue participants to return to the site. Once again congratulations on this wonderful success and best of luck with getting the word out there! Cheers, Liz Zele Marine Ecologist and Educator
One of the founding members of our community, John Carpenter, was the brains behind a couple of really ground-breaking mobile games not too long ago, namely Swordfish and Torpedo Bay. Both are GPS-based, or were--they were a side business for a Canadian company that got swallowed by another company that decided it wasn't interested in mobile games, so I'm not sure there's still any way to access them. But let me describe them in the present tense anyway, in case they are available somewhere, as they should be: In the case of Swordfish (which has won a number of awards), there are virtual fish at specific GPS locations. As you walk around wherever you live, you can "cast" your mobile device in hopes of hooking one (which may happen if you're close enough to a location the fish are designated to be--a sonar-like device helps you home in on schools to go after). In the case of Torpedo Bay, your mobile device is a warship interacting with enemy ships lurking at various GPS locations near where you live--other locations in your neighborhood provide virtual ammunition refills and opportunities for healing and/or repairs. Some descriptions of Torpedo indicate the game even used the contours of neighborhood buildings to locally define land and sea, but I'm less sure of that (I'm not that into first-person shooters, so I never played it).
What I am wondering is if it might make sense for you'all to come up with some kind of GPS-based mobile game (clearly the marine metaphor is one that comes naturally to the genre--the goals could simply be more peaceful) where a lot of the GPS action takes place in and around the Aquarium to keep pulling players in. Or, if the cell coverage isn't really good enough for that in your building, perhaps you could regularly generate new elements for the game (new tools, new equipment, new artifacts, new modules) that people can have beamed onto their mobile devices to help them play or expand the game, but then have the beaming stations only located in the Aquarium, so players have to keep coming back to your physical location to get the latest features (alternately, they could potentially unlock them online as well, but only if they've acquired a certain status level in the game, so that you get a lot of virtual visits from those who can't get to your place, and a lot of physical visits from those who can--and don't want to wait to achieve those status levels to get the latest goodies). I love the videos, as Liz and one of the other posters do, too--I think you've really done a great job making them engaging, and I love the concept of their mapped use within the building itself--but I think you should be thinking about adding more interactivity to your mobile strategy (by the way, is there a mobile version of Live Blue? I can access it on my iPhone, but it doesn't seem optimized for that).
In any case, if you'd like an introduction to John (Carpenter), let me know (he's now CTO of another mobile company, mob4hire, that does mobile application testing, so he might be a good person to weigh in on what you've already got as well)
Thanks to everyone for your positive feedback and suggestions. Tom--I do like the idea of a location-based application, though I'm not sure we could pull it off within the confines of our relatively compact building (within a rebar reinforced concrete shell which isn't great for cell reception, etc.). You are right that our current tour is not really interactive. At this point, it's really more about telling a compelling story that is inspirational and informative -- then encouraging people to make a commitment and share it via the live blue initiative. We had some ideas about using text messaging to allow for some interaction, bu't haven't had the time or funding to really pursue it yet. The idea of "casting" for a virtual fish is pretty neat, as is the idea of having new modules that you get on-site. We do have a "mobi" version of our website running, so you can access the tours on-site directly from a mobile phone. We thought about doing an iPhone app, but have put that on hold for now since we thought the mobi version would reach more people. --Billy
Liz -- We have considered having "loaner" devices, but have struggled a bit with the logistics and cost of doing this. I agree that it would probably help increase both usage and visibility of the tour. I like the idea of getting a grant for this. And, I really like the idea of expanding the live blue site as a hub for research and conservation -- that is very creative! Thanks, Billy
Noah -- Thank you for the feedback about the live blue interface, I agree that it is a little confusing and will pass your comments to our web team. --Billy
Mike -- I agree that we do want to build a sense of community around the sites that people commit to protecting, although we have been wary of "pushing" too much -- perhaps we have been too cautious. For now, our challenge is just to get people to click through to the several steps needed to get to the last screen -- we'd like to make it even simpler without making it trivial. --Billy
Do you know from your tracking which steps you are losing people at (I assume you've got something like Google Analytics running on the site that can tell you this)? That would be useful for all of us to know, in terms to trying to guess what might help you get more users to complete the steps.
A couple of preliminary thoughts for you in the meantime. First, the home page for Live Blue, gorgeous as it is, might be too static--this is usually more of a problem for getting repeat visitors than for getting people to jump in the first time, but having a dynamic, moving rotation of enticing promos (like we have on the home page of this NSF site) overlaid on the existing interface could potentially help you get more clickthroughs.
Second, I agree with Noah that you could definitely be losing people in the process of selecting a plot area because of cursor confusion. Another possibility is that there may not be enough 'pay off' (esp. for kids) for selecting a specific area. Some users may be hoping and expecting to get images, video, and/or text about the specific point they clicked on (as it stands, no matter where you click on, it looks like you get the same generic image and text about the entire area). Of course, it's not realistic that you could provide a different pay-off for every point on the map, but maybe there could at least be different pay-offs for different regions (of each map). And maybe, in all cases, there could be additional sound or (animated) visual payoff so the user feels more like they've accomplished something by making their selection. One other specific thought along these lines--what if you gave everyone who puts down a marker the option to create a "congratulations" or "welcome" message to others who choose to protect the same area (e.g. to others who also choose to put down a cube in the Bay of Fundy), and one of these messages (or a rotation of them) is randomly drawn to show up whenever another user puts down his/her cube? By the way, it might help to have something more thematic/aquatic than a cube as the marker, though I understand there aren't a lot of shapes that are readable at that size.
As far as the last screen goes, I feel like the fields you've asked people to fill in on the last screen are pretty minimal as is--you've set minimal expectations for "why live blue" by the small field size, and even given them the option of using a pull-down to generate ways they're living blue so they don't have to think of something to say. But there is at least one possible stumbling block vs. completion of this screen that I can see: some people are always reluctant to cough up their email addresses, especially if there's no reason given why they should have to do so. Currently, you've got email address as a *required* field and no reason provided as to why the user has to provide it--that might be worth re-thinking, particularly the fact that there's no reason given, since right now at least some of the people filling this out who do want to complete it but don't want to give you an address are giving you phony email addresses or email addresses they never check because they don't know why they should give you their real one. If you put a little hyperlinked "why?" next to the email request, and have it pop up a little window (when clicked) with the reason you're asking for the address, that could help with getting completed forms (and real addresses) from people.