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Business Model Musings for Cultural Engagement

The business model is dictated through an observation of what potentially might work, as this has not been validated in actual experience.  One of the concerns that many of the arts organizations had was that in a limited world of time and money, both the MetroCode and the PocketCINE did not stand out in terms of what would be "high value at low cost" to the participating arts organizations.  They perceived it as an initiative that would take time away from other resources and could potentially cost more than they had. 

One of our issues was that the budget that we had for each project was relatively modest, which should have allowed for several projects to occur, but in fact the concern from the organizations often was that the money was not enough.  

It is a truth that in many arts organizations trying to help a small project is a lot harder than doing a large project, just simply because the time and resources are almost the same for a small or large project in terms of the financial reporting that are required.  

However, that being said, the business model really needs to be based around a service that is easily accessible and as much self-service as possible.  I personally felt that a MetroCode model where somebody could upload and create their own MetroCodes using a simple web based interface, uploading their audio or video files in a fast and convenient way, could be an excellent model. 

Sharing Stories about Cultural Engagement

Here are some personal reflections on the cultural outreach.

•    The interesting aspect of these projects was in the relationship between the arts communities and the technology providers.  Although arts organizations are fundamentally innovators, technology is not always seen as an easy or simply adaptable factor.  Many of the arts organizations that we spoke to, after an initial enthusiastic response, fully considered the impact and staff resources that running with a project such as MetroCode or PocketCINE would entail and started to get cold feet.  Many of the organizations we spoke to evidenced some concern that they didn’t have any “technical” staff on board that could successfully manage such a project.  Even though the reality was, was that the technology would be handled by the network provider, there was concern from the arts organizations that the technology would be too difficulty or too troublesome to manage.  

•    Another aspect was in terms of the technology itself.  We did not have a clear enough value statement that the arts organizations could quickly understand and apply.  Even though we were fairly confident that the values and benefits were spelled out, we should do a better job at explaining the benefits and explaining the overall impact.  There were certain unknowns, for example, how long would it take to record the different message for any particular MetroCode project?  This was an unknown that was impossible to quantify before going ahead, and even though we were able to do some guesstimating, it did concern some arts organizations.  

•    Timing is everything and especially with arts organizations that have a busy schedule of production.  If we were going to engage the arts organizations, we should start at least a year ahead of time and to allow for the full integration of potential technology within the production.  The most important aspect of this would be also to prepare and lessen the opportunity for failure in terms of giving the arts organizations enough time to work this into their marketing budget in terms of time and resources.  

•    Another issue that occurred was the relative sophistication of some of the arts organizations in dealing with their marketing collateral material.  Many of the organizations received compensation for funders, sponsors and other partners in return for the display of their logo on other promotional materials.  This was a problem in that there was some expectation from our network partners that they would get recognition on different pieces of marketing collateral that the arts organizations were considering.  While this was not a huge issue, it did result in some confusion from the two parties in reaching a negotiated settlement because of differing expectations about what the value of this project was.  We could have done better to assign a dollar value to the project and propose that as an aspect that the arts organization would be receiving in terms of benefit.  

•    The technology itself suffers in terms of how it can be presented.  There were implementation issues that arose and some of the bugs, quirks, different ways of doing things, were not immediately clear.  One of the problems in working with new technology is there are many ways to implement and to present this to different arts organizations.  Arts organizations would probably be better served by having a fixed product offering that would simply just provide a very straightforward value proposition that is clearly explained.  

•    In terms of actual numbers and promotions, the numbers were not high in terms of the actual people that clicked through and went through to the different aspects of MetroCode and PocketCINE; however, we understand that this is an emerging market and to understand the use of these aspects should be followed up on with some further research.  It would be interesting for example to see if there were ways to contact people that use the system and to enquire about the relative success or interest level that was sustained for the different projects.  

Impact of Cultural Engagement

Arts organizations, as mentioned, are very innovative in their very nature.  Engaging audiences in this time and age require many different kinds of marketing approaches.  One of the ones that we felt would be most successful would be to try and understand how we could use innovative cell phone technologies to attract and engage audiences. 

One of the interesting things of this was using MetroCode to develop and deliver a number of different events using a form of talking posters.  This was done because talking posters are fairly straightforward in terms of the technology required and seem to be a fairly easy sell to understand to any user.  This was furthered by the evidence from the original arts project that MetroCode did with the Sculptural Biennale, where a user could, by inputting a specific MetroCode into their cell phone, receive information about a particular sculpture. 

Overview of Cultural Engagement

The Mobile Muse Project was designed to be an innovative approach to providing cell phone innovation to different target audiences.  The project that I worked on was the Cultural Outreach, where we looked at involving cultural groups with using innovating cell phone technology.  The inspiration for the project was to engage community culture groups in working with innovative technology to further their own strategic and tactical goals in delivering their services, productions, and other artistic practices to the general community at large.  The different aspects of the project involved connecting and engaging community cultural groups, understanding their requirements and then providing a potential project partner from Mobile Muse’ different network partners and see through the project through implementation to delivery. 

Connecting the Dots :: Speed Dating Culture and Technology Innovaters

As I mentioned in my last post, MUSE II was designed with cultural engagement at the core of our whole plan. The biggest challenge in doing leading edge research within our mandate was finding the right cultural groups who had existing content and audiences, as well as the interest and capacity to experiment with new mobile technologies, and then connecting them with leaders in mobile technology innovation who could pull projects together. With an end goal of inspiring innovative project ideas that are both innovative and culturally relevant, we needed these two groups to collaborate. As folks from these sectors don't tend to naturally collaborate, some MUSE-Matchmaking was in order. 

Cultural Engagement at the Core

Mobile MUSE has always been about the intersection of mobile innovation and culture. While our mission has been to build a vibrant mobile content industry in BC, our funding priorities have always been to do so with a strong focus on ensuring cultural organizations benefit from this economic growth. This means helping create true collaborations between technology providers and cultural organizations. Not an easy task when you are dealing with bleeding edge research!

I’ve been involved with MUSE since its inception, and was asked to become part of the leadership team for two reasons: to ensure the prototype ideas MUSE developed had a strong grounding in the needs of the cultural community, and to use my background and network in the community to successfully plug community organizations into MUSE.   

The Grid: a metroCode work in progress

Going back to the earliest days of Mobile MUSE our tireless leader David Vogt had a vision for an 'Art Grid', a digital framework through which the public could tag and curate art in public spaces -- sanctioned or unsanctioned -- so theoretically anything from a permanent art installation to a particularly evocative tree)

metroCode's work with the Vancouver Sculpture Biennale has been a step in this direction, with a cell phone tour that offered participatory features such as voting and commenting via voice, text message, or multimedia message. In terms of uptake of the participatory features voting was the most popular (approximately 5% of those who dialled into the system cast a vote for their favourite sculpture), with voice messages falling a distant second, and virtually no uptake on the text or multimedia commenting. As
the rich media add-on was approached as part of the applied R&D side of Mobile MUSE we are able to assess the relevance and feasibility of these types of features for future implementations and further refine our work in the area of mobile user experience.

In parallel with the professionally-created content that constituted the bulk of the Biennale cell phone tour, metroCode worked with new media students from UBC and SFU on a pilot project called The Grid. The results and additional background on the project can be found here:

The idea behind Grid is that of a digital creative commons, a place where anyone can use their portable/mobile media device to post rich  media content about places and things that they find interesting and/or significant. The content can then be accessed by passersby, on their cellphones.  At present, unless there is physical signage of some sort that marks a site or object of interest a passerby would not know that content exists in that place. With the Biennale sculptures there was official physical signage (the result of an apparently a long, involved process with the Parks Board and the City, something that the organizers of the art exhibit dealt with, vs metroCode).  Most of us are familiar with projects such as Yellow Arrow (, in which a more 'outlaw' approach to marking locations is taken. Our dilemma is that it's difficult to be both government funded * and * outlaw.  (Pick one or the other...or prepare to incur the wrath of the side you didn't pick.)

An alternative to physical signage would be electronic alerts, an area that is being investigated by the team at the MAGIC lab at the UBC. The idea here is that in lieu of plaques or stickers pings or pop ups on our mobile devices would let us know that we have entered a rich media content zone. And if we're interested we can explore things further. Again, a nice theory but how many pings and pop ups could you endure before they became a nuisance factor vs an enhancing experience. So perhaps the issue becomes one of customization and information management; e.g. only alert me when i'm in a content zone related to sports, or local history, or modern art. The trouble here is that serendipity is removed from the equation, and one of the key features of urban life is happening upon things we don't expect to. Unpredictability. Otherness. What the heck was that-ness. These are complex issues to factor into our design decisions and certainly ones that are worthy of further examination.  In the meantime we invite you to check out our pilot project of The Grid, courtesy of metroCode and the students of Communications 386 (SFU, Fall 2006) and UBC's Multimedia Certificate Program (Fall/Winter 2006). 

A downloadable map that identifies the locations of the community-created rich media content will be posted shortly. We encourage you to sample the very thoughtful work that has been created, whether on your cell phone or on the web (where we promise the carriers won't sting you).

For those wishing to add their own content to The Grid, we have made a style guide available online at

MUSE 2: it ain't over till the fat lady sings...metroCode and the MUSE mini projects

For MUSE 2 metroCode worked with Jason Mogus and Phillip Djwa to help fulfill the project's cultural engagement program, providing mobile strategies in collaboration with local arts and culture groups. Our first project was with local independent music label Mint Records, for their "Ridiculously Early Christmas Party", held the first weekend of December 2006.  

The metroCode / Mint cell phone campaign was hosted by guerilla journalist and Much Music personality Nardwuar the Human Serviette and featured musical selections of each of the bands performing at the event, general ticket and event information, and a special Christmas clip from rapper Snoop Dogg, (introduced as 'a guy who says ho ho ho all year long').

While at UBC why not check out metroCode's GreenMUSE prototype...

March madness continues at metroCode..this week we have also launched a cell phone prototype on the UBC campus via a partnership with Mobile MUSE, Industry Canada, and UBC's Design Centre for Sustainability, publishers of the Green Guide (

Next Five: Future of the Industry

As John and I finish off our Mobile Muse blogging (for the time being, anyway) the time is right to look towards the future. Without claiming to be experts in this industry, we will try to use our imagination and passion for all things mobile to try to guess the things to come. Here are my top five predictions for Canadian wireless industry for the next five years: