cultural impact

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').

The future of persuasion is mobile...or is it?

"The future of perusasion is mobile", or so says BJ Fogg, head of the Persuasive Technologies Lab at Stanford, and chair of last week's Mobile Persuasion conference that I was fortunate enough to attend.

Fogg's work centres around what he terms persuasive techhnologies and the resulting field of "captology, which he explains as follows:

Like human persuaders, persuasive interactive technologies can bring about positive changes in many domains, including health, business, safety, and education. With such ends in mind, we are creating a body of expertise in the design, theory, and analysis of persuasive technologies, an area called “captology.” (from

Unbeknownst to us at Mobile MUSE we too have been working in the field of captology, creating, studying, and evaluating applications in the emerging mobile field.  Of course the word 'persuasion' comes across as heavy on the marketing speak, but like it or not whether we talk about contextualizing, interpreting, or guiding, we are nudging people to come over to our point of view.  And when communities get involved the persuader moves from being an individual to being a group. The dynamics are a lot more interesting, and that's a big part of why we all do what we do. If we were merely trying to distribute coupons for retail products and services (not that there's anything wrong with that) things would be much more straightforward.

Fogg himself said that his epiphany came at the moment at which he made the leap from the supposition of the 1990's that the future of technology could overlap with marketing persuasion to the supposition of the 21st century that the future of persuasion is mobile. A bold statement, and one that bears further scrutiny.

The Mobile Persuasion Conference ( brought together computer scientists, social scientist, content creators, and businesspeople, in order to create as broad a snapshot as possible of activities in the mobile space in February 2007 and where the sparks of interest and viability seem to be.

Interestingly, in the course of a day long conference featuring dozens of speakers, two panels were devoted to the field of mobile technologies and health care/lifestyle management/personal performance coach. I'm not personally convinced that my cell phone reminding people to not eat a slab of cheesecake or smoke or have that 2nd martini is going to make anyone comply, but who knows a) there may be a business in it and b) mobile devices may indeed be so personal and unique from other technologies that they do have the ability to alter people's behaviours in ways other technologies haven't. time will tell.

I'll share some highlights from the conference that are relevant to the various projects and groups affiliated with Mobile MUSE and if you're interested in learning more just drop me a line ( or google away.

Justin Oberman, whose day job is at Rave Wireless talked about mobile phones for social change (his after hours job), citing the central role of cell phones in stirring up social change and influencing political behaviour; he referenced projects such as People Power 2 in the Phillipines in 2001 and the Ukraine's Orange Revolution in 2004. And of course we're aware of the very impressive results netted by the Get Your Vote On team in the provincial election of 2005, if I recall correctly. Justin made some really great points about the uniqueness of mobile experience, some of which may seem obvious but they're certainly worth repeating. 

1) at present the carriers' concerns are 90% voice traffic
2) that SMS is not email; you can't compare 160 character communication to a full message
3) mobile is not the internet; it is about the immediate, about simple co-ordination, about the ability of each  mobile user to be a personal broadcaster
4) that mobile is best for mobilizing those who are already persuaded (vs using it as the primary tool/channel for making the persuasion happen)

Marcus Yoder of then spoke about social-cause based networks for the world's youths, such as, in which they partnered with a local media outlet (San Francisco's KRON), encouraging citizen journalism by setting up an email account ( to which people could send media from their phones directly to the broadcaster. In terms of persuasion and lobbying Marcus said he believes that 2 minutes of video is more powerful than 10,000 signatures.

On the formal research side Mirjana Spasojevic (ex of HP now with Nokia) encouraged us to think uniquely mobile, vs thinking of the cell phone as a mini PC. Some of her current work looks at when the mobile form factor is an advantage, not a liability, such as being able to use our cell phones to take a photo of a bar code, something not possible with a desktop machine (unless you want to carry it to Safeway).

Adobe also had representation at the conference, with designer Josh Ulm talking about the importance of not just creating usefulness, but also desirability. We need to thrill the user (ring tones, for better or worse, are a prime example of this; they create an emotional response/connection for users). Josh also made the very salient point that the mental model when navigating the mobile device is very different from the mental model when navigating the web. Case in point: compare Yahoo's web portal to their new mobile "Go" service.

So, what are the common themes and challenges that emerged? There were a number that I see as relevant to our various endeavours at Mobile MUSE, such as:

- the importance of ease of use/usability for all ages & backgrounds
- the walled garden approach of the carriers has to change
- 'empathic design' was a hot topic; applications and devices that coach and feed back
- personal identity management or "peer-suasion" as it was called; this is not traditional data mining by marketers, this is P2P data; eg my pal Steve knows that I like X and therefore makes that recommendation to me, based on his knowledge of my tastes and preferences.
-and finally; people don't want to admit they're being persuaded. 

So, who's convinced?


Our devices, Our selves: a peek into the future from Nokia & UBC

This past week UBC's CS department hosted an industry colloquium focusing on Human-Computer Interaction (more info at:, featuring CS faculty member Karon MacLean and Nokia user experience team member Ryan Opina. 

Ryan Opina, part of the user experience group for the Nokia N Series, raised some very interesting points during his presentation...points which map onto the metroCode team's experience in a somewhat paradoxical way...for the moment anyway.

Seeking consumer pain in a mobile world

For the cultural engagement strategy aka the MUSE mini-projects we have been developing and deploying new features of metroCode, in the hope of

a) learning more about what a template looks like so that arts groups and individuals can freely access the system and effectively metroCode themselves and their events;


b) making ourselves confront the difficult question: where's the business model in all of this?

On the one hand the MUSE consortium has been funded and is therefore obliged to leave a legacy in the form of a mobile platform for the arts and culture community in Canada. On the other hand the individual project teams have been challenged to come up with a model for sustainability beyond the funding period.

Our Elf-xecutive Director (and cool, free things)

Merry Christmas everybody.

I am compelled to blog today as a meme is upon us. For the past two days I have been receiving and sending multiple 'elf yourself' elves. For those who haven't seen this cool little online tool yet, it's at the Office Max was originally sent to me by a friend in the states and within 24 hours everyone was doing it and talking about it. Within seconds it allows you to turn anyone you've got a jpg, friends, bosses, Osama Bin Laden for that matter, into a good time holiday guy or gal.

It's incredibly charming, ridiculously easy to use, and for our purposes raises questions about low barrier technology, pricing models, and what it takes to get the public 'on board' with new media activities.

Here's a sample, involving someone we all know and love, and trust me, it's worth clicking or pasting the URL into your browser if you must.

Just imagine the impact this type of application would have if on mobile devices, if it was this easy to use (it takes less than 30 seconds to create) and was free of charge.
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