Work with urban communities

During the past week we’ve introduced the CoMeUp system in two small workshops for Helsinki citizen activists and urban environment interest groups. Participants included members of Kotikaupunkipolut walking paths group, HePo Helsinki cyclists group, and Pohjois-Haaga neighborhood association. In these sessions, paper and digital prototypes of mobile and desktop interfaces supported informal dialogue and idea generation. Participants reflected on existing mobile tools they have used (such as the augmented reality app Wikitude and locative media collections that use Citynomadi). They also shared printed materials (maps and guide books) that have been used by their groups.

Some conclusions from the workshops:

1. CoMeUp supports small communities that need to collaboratively document the urban environment. The features developed so far for the CoMeUp platform, such as supporting all types of media collections (photos, audio, video), collaborative commenting, and possibility to export media in various formats, have been deemed useful. New features could be developed, such as:

  • The possibility to import existing data sets (such as public services or commute information), so that they could be supplemented with community-specific knowledge and media using CoMeUp.
  • The possibility to include media to the comments.

2. There is a need for sustainable project-based research. Projects such as CoMeUp need to develop better models for sustainability after project funding ends. For example, taking into consideration revenue logic should be addressed early on. There could be an interesting role for municipalities in providing services for supporting urban communities in maintaining platforms relevant to their activities.

Finally, we also briefly discussed the Citizen Toolkit activities that were kick-started as part of the CoMeUp project and received funding for this coming year from the Innovatiivinen kaupunginosa project.

 

Experiments during Cleaning Day (Siivouspäivä)

Cleaning Day, or Siivouspäivä in Finnish, was started for the first time in Spring 2012 in Helsinki, and was a big success. The idea, initially thought of by Pauliina Seppälä and friends, is simple: on Cleaning Day, you can set up a little flea market anywhere in the city, where you bring your old things and sell them or give them away. The Cleaning Day website provides a map interface where you can mark the spot of your own stand. During the second Cleaning Day on the 8th of September 2012, and thanks to collaboration with the City of Helsinki Public Works Department, the marking on the map is automatically considered as being pre-approved placements of sales spot, without any separate official permit needed.

Cleaning Day sewing workshops in Helsinki city center

Andrea, from our team, has been active in Siivouspäivä from the very beginning and knew the core group of people organizing it. We decided to propose to some of them to test our prototype for the CoMeUp App during this autumn’s Cleaning Day. Pauliina and Jaakko joined in and we provided them with one Samsung Galaxy and one iPhone complete with the prototype App and a working mobile internet.

Pauliina and Jaakko getting acquainted with the CoMeUp App one day before Cleaning Day

The mobile interface was still crude, but easy to use

The App work as followed: after initializing it, one could choose to take a picture, record audio, record a video, write text, or choose any of the above from existing galleries on the mobile phone (e.g. older pictures). Once the media was recorded or chosen, it could be identified by text to be inserted in a field (this text could be the title or  free form tags/keywords, or even hash tags – Pauliina and Jaakko used it mostly as a free tags/keywords and hash tag field). A list of pre-defined tags used by the Cleaning Day map interface users was also available, and tags could be picked from it.

Hash tags could also be used as signs on the stands

We also wanted to test briefly could there be any potential in using QR codes, but only staged some situations where we thought they could be used, in order to discuss the possibilities later.

A QR code for a specific location during Cleaning Dy could lead to a list of activities happening there, or to the list of objects being sold in the surroundings.

Some weeks after the Cleaning Day was over, we chatted with Pauliina, and later with Jaakko. The experiment clearly got them thinking about the potential of taking photos of the stuff that would be used during Cleaning Day, beforehand, as a way for people to browse what would be sold during the Cleaning day. Moreover, people could also document the stuff that had not been sold during Cleaning Day, so that others who might be interested in it, could later trace them. This photo documentation in a sense would extend Cleaning Day to  before and after the actual event. We will take these thoughts with us now and think of the next design steps and continue our collaboration with the Cleaning day people!

The prototype for the web interface

During October however, Joanna and Sara have to take a little break from CoMeUp to focus on their doctoral and masters thesis respectively! Aapo will continue to work on the mobile App. We are also hoping to organize a hackathon (à la Restaurant day hackathon, but for Aalto students!), probably February/March to get interested students from Aalto to develop the CoMeUp App and maybe a variation of it, which would especially address the Cleaning Day needs. We also plan to test the new iteration of the prototype with Kotikaupunkipolut (Home city paths) activists. Stay tuned!

Spring updates

Aapo and Joanna have been working on the mobile app (which we might eventually call ComAp… we’re still debating this). It is based on an initial prototype done in collaboration with students from the T-76.4115 course at Aalto SCI. The first App was build for Android. The one we have now has been build using Phone Gap, which means it is adapted for multi platforms.

Mobile application

 

Web interface

The App makes it possible to collaboratively create geo-referenced text, photo, audio and video entries around a topic of interest for communities. The idea is that this collected media would then be collaboratively handled and analyzed online, i.e. viewed, edited, categorized, so that it can eventually be used as a material for discussion and collaborative work. We are especially interested in researching how this can work with urban communities wanting to affect their everyday environment and eventually work with city officials and planners. We are also not using the cloud, but rather examining the idea of a community server, where communities have more control over the media content they produce and share.

Our user interface designer Anne Luotonen will join us during the month of June to develop the mobile app user interface and ideas for the web interface. Media lab student Sara Jacobsen will then take over in Autumn.

Wireframes for the user interface

Wireframes for the user interface