X|Media|Lab Melbourne: Martha Ladly, Mobile Experience Design

Again apologies to Martha about not getting this up sooner, but I’m glad that I’ve had some time to digest what she was saying and also do some casual surfing to explore the projects that she was talking about. Twenty minutes is difficult to get a sense of the breadth of work that she’s done.

I met Martha at the opening drinks of X|Media|Lab and really liked her ideas about digital storytelling and emerging mobile applications.

By way of introduction to her talk, she talked about how she got into design. She played in bands and designed album covers. OMG, Martha designed the Power, Lies and Corruption cover for New Order. She worked for Peter Gabriel for 10 years and designed 50 album covers for his Real World label including Sheila Chandra and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

In 1992, Peter Gabriel wanted to create an interactive CD. She worked on the Eve CD-ROM project with Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. I actually have Eve. It’s a fascinating interactive experience. You can’t really call it a game. It’s more of an experience. They also created an interactive CD called the Ceremony of Innocence based on the Griffin & Sabine books.

She now works with a group called Horizon Zero, a monthly web publication. They have created digital documentaries. They had a lovely project called Murmur in the Market. It was about a neighbourhood, Kensington Market, in transition, and they recorded stories about the neighbourhood that were overlaid on a hand drawn map of the neighbourhood. I like the flash-based map navigation, and the audio works well in the player that they developed.

I especially like the audio segments that have street sounds and give me an sense of the bustle and activity in the neighbourhood. One of the common mistakes with audio is to only do the interview in a nice sound-proofed studio, but if you’re trying to evoke a sense of place, it’s always good to have ‘nat-sound’ or ‘wild track’ to set the scene for listeners. In London, I often go and buy lunch at the market in Leather Lane around the corner for our offices. There is a great street vendor who has a wonderful sing-song quality as he hawks his wares. His voice falls up and down in pitch. “TOP QUALITY (then low) get it here. ONLY BEST BRANDS (then low) three for a pound.” I’d definitely add that as a transition between more set piece interviews, and a good directional microphone can keep the voice of the subject in focus while letting a little street sound bleed through.

Back to Martha’s talk…two years ago, a group got together about how to move mobile experience forward. She is working on the Park Walk project. They are telling stories about Toronto’s High Park using mobile phones with GPS units. They also play a game called “The Haunting” with Mont Royal Park in Montreal. They have also done some great stuff in Banff called Global Heart Beat. As people move through GPS zones, they find out about the animals that live in that habitat.

Mobile technology can bridge the gap between virtual and real, and she highlighted, Blast Theory, a group of artists in the UK that have produced video games based in real space.

She talked about some open-source technologies such as Arduino, an open-source prototyping platform. (She mentioned quite a few, and I’ll mention a few that I know of as well, including OpenMoko and their Neo open-source mobile phone. I am also thinking about trying the GP2X handheld game. It’s not a mobile phone-data device per se, but it’s very extensible, possibly a bit beyond my meagre tech skills but worth a play. I like the fact that you get a fully operational Linux device that can actually be used as a full-fledged pocket computer.)

I’m going to paraphrase Martha. Mobile has yet to hits its stride, but it has a lot of technologies that could be used to tell location-based stories. GPS, cameras and bluetooth all have application that is only being explored. From my point as a journalist, I think this is an area rich for exploration as far as newsgathering. Possibly in the future, information will delivered across cities based on not only subject relevance but also local relevance. As I said, lots of area for exploration.

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