Games Based Learning: Alice Taylor

Alice Taylor, Commissioning Editor for Channel 4 (and Wonderland blog) talked recently at Game Based Learning, looking at how gaming enables Channel 4 to engage with their target audience of 14 to 19 year old. But also looks at how gaming mechanisms can be used to engage large numbers with an educational agenda.

Video of Alice Taylor

To see the full selection of videos go the the Games Based Learning forum. I’d also recommend Matt Mason’s talk on pirating and how it adds value to the original, touching on how game modding evolved.

Pivot – interesting data navigation from Microsoft Labs.

Pivot is a tool for browsing large collections of data, such as Wikipedia, and really shows the value of a good API and semantic data.

It contains a filtering system on the left to help you dig into and out of the data, combined with a smooth zoom interface as we’ve seen implemented before in Seadragon and Photosynth and some very familiar browser elements such as tabs, most visited history on your homepage and bookmarking. It offers a very visual way of interacting with large data catalogues, such as movie databases or games catalogues, through film posters and game covers, something that I really love.

You can see Gary Flake demonstrating Pivot at the TED conference in Feburary here:

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The interface is lovely and it does open up new ways of interacting with these large data sets, but there does seem like some work has been done to prepare the data for use in Pivot, to make it more visual, such as the very way the different endangered species are shown, or the Wikipedia categories are visualised. This isn’t a bad thing, but it does mean if the data isn’t already visual as with films or games then there is an interesting piece of design work to be done to take full advantage of this browser. I’d love IMDB to get an API as this would be an amazing way to navigate their site.

While I instantly enjoy the visual navigation style, this is still far from replacing my usual browser, because while it allows me to interrogate the data in new ways, I am not sure I would use this new way of examining data for the current sets available, after all I tend to dip into these data heavy sites only when I have a specific query on something, where searching is much more appropriate than browsing. While I do think that the way we search and find data will change dramatically I think this sort of interface could really come into it’s own on the sites I tend to browse, such as Amazon or Facebook and I think it could offer a really interesting dimension to Twitter.

Google Wave

I loved the Google Wave demo, but probably for all the wrong reasons. I loved the fact that it was an honest demo, ok so that means it breaks, but I prefer to forgive a few bumps in the demo than see canned demos that are so slick I'm left wondering if it was all faked up.

Google Wave made a lot of noise when the demo video was released, and understandably, anyone with an ounce of geek in them keeps an eye on what the big guys are up to. I love how Chrome has changed the way I browse the web and I'm interested to see how Wave might change behaviours too.

For the most part Google Wave, while technically a huge accomplishment, is really the next generation of the web (whatever we might call it), it is a natural evolution from where we are now.

I like the concept of simultaneous conversations; I’ll often have at least two concurrent conversations with an individual via instant messaging, and being able to thread that could be really useful. However I can imagine not wanting to share everything I type straight away. I find the thinking time typing allows me to be really useful. Interestingly I might not turn off the functionality – and give the game away – but rather think more before I type. Typing becomes more transparent like talking, but still lacks the other sensory cues we use in communication.

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I’m interested in the concept of collaborative working, with multiple people working on the same document at the same time. I can’t think of another example where people could work so dynamically together in a virtual space. However this level of collaborative working raises its own issues. The goal of any collaboration needs to be clear for it to be effective, but this is even more so when working in the context of Google Wave.

Enabling sharing of photos, media and information is a fundamental part of how we interact online. Wave seemed to offer some some nice tweaks to improve this experience. But the demo didn’t really explore for me the relationships between the people that are interacting. Are they all already established contacts that are part of your network? How to you grow your network? It maybe that you don’t, that you just use existing networks such as Facebook and Twitter and consolidate them in Wave, but for such an application that is fundamentally social it would be odd to not support a means of growing your network in a more direct fashion.

Overall Google Wave looks very impressive; it has certainly broken some technical barriers and shown us what the next step for the internet holds for us. But for the most part it is an evolution, rather than a paradigm shift. Although I imagine it will change the way we collaborate online and our expectation around web interactivity and responsiveness.

Create your own Photosynth

Microsoft have released a demo of Photosynth that allows you to create your own experiences. It still only works in Internet Explorer and requires a plugin to view. But I've been waiting for ages to have a play with this technology. It is amazingly simple to use, you just add a selection of photos of your subject and you are away, there is no labourious stitching of photographs required, it works out where they all fit in the scene.

I decided for my subject I'd take the popular Flickr topic of photographing your workspace. I've always felt my desk is a bit of an adventure (mess) and one simple photograph could never allow you explore its landscape in the same way I do. So I've made a photosynth of my desk here:

Photos are so much easier to take and store, they are on almost all mobile phones and services such as TwitterPic and Flickr show how taking photographs has become a normal way to document any event. When there is such a rich source of information, new ways of using and exploring this data is really interesting. If we think about how Google have recently had cars driving around the UK to map the streets for Google Maps, this effort and expense could be made redundant through the power of crowd-sourcing the photographs/data and applying a technology such as Photosynth. While Google just captures that street at that single point in time, this technology could also allow you to manipulate the time you are viewing that moment at. For instance if we take a popular tourist spot like St Paul's Cathedral, this has been photographed millions of times, so you could choose to not only experience it from a contemporary set of photographs but also using historic data, to experience the view in the 1920's for example.

Banking as a Service

Managing our money is dull, so it is only when the situation is dire that it becomes important enough that most of us are actually willing to do it. Usually it sits on that long list of good intentions, somewhere under painting the bedroom.

Unfortunately in a recession we need to manage our finances and anything that can make that task easier is fantastic. I have already talked about services that can help us manage our finances. But none of these services are offered by the banks themselves. Egg and First Direct offer a limited aggregation service, but with none of the additional functionality of Wesabe or Mint.

So if I start using a third party tool to help me manage my money what does this mean for the banks? Now I no longer need to visit my bank's website to check my balance, my relationship with my bank becomes increasingly filtered through my money management tool of choice, which is a one stop shop for my financial information, currently needing only to visit my bank's website inorder to perform a transaction.

To my mind the banks have a choice; they can either decide they want to retain their direct customer engagement on-line and compete to keep customers engaging with them directly, or alternatively they can outsource the customer experience to third party services and consider the approach of offering Banking as a Service.

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Essentially banks offer services to store and move money securely. If we consider the concept of Banking as a Service, like other Web Services it would allow third parties to transact and store money, using appropriate protocols over the Internet.

Currently there are several existing Web Services that enable money transfer, including Amazon Flexible Payment System and Google Checkout, but both these systems still need a bank to actually support the service. PayPal is probably one of the largest on-line money services but it is deliberately set up so that it isn't a bank and as such it doesn't come under the same regulation as banks, so there is less protection for its customers increasingly retailers are becoming unhappy with its service, but there are few alternatives.

If a bank were to offer BaaS, concentrating on the core business and enabling features such as Faster Payments would create a competitive advantage over existing services. It could also offer better connectivity for third party sites such as Wesabe, enabling them to access the financial data in more robust fashion, for example using OAuth.

If banks are not willing or capable of improving their customer engagement, but would rather concentrate on their core business, then they should do so, but they are wreckless to do so while remaining blind to the context and opportunities of the Internet as it stands now and in the future.

Seadragon on the iPhone

Microsoft has released it's first iPhone application and its a good one. Some of the more interesting things that are coming out of Microsoft labs are Photosynth and Seadragon, you can see an excellent demo of this at a TED talk from 2007:

In brief Seadragon allows you to zoom quickly and smoothly through a great deal of visual information, so much information infact that when I originally saw the demo I assumed it was a little bit of demo magic being worked on a very high end computer. The zoom interface of Seadragon would seem like a natural fit with the multi-touch interface of the iPhone, but I had always thought that the iPhone did not have the necessary computing power to run such an application, thankfully I was wrong.If you are lucky enough to have an iPhone or iPod check Seadragon out and let me know what you think.