Making location-based activities with ARIS


I’d stumbled upon ARIS about a year ago but never had a chance to try it out until recently. Given that I’m now doing workshops on geolocation stuff and I’m presenting at an Enhancing Fieldwork showcase, it seemed the right moment to try. 

ARIS is a free tool for creating location based “games” that can be accessed and played via an iPhone app. It’s similar in many ways to HP’s Mediascapes that I did some stuff with back in Sheffield a few years ago. It’s been designed by a team based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Using a Flash based editor on your desktop you add “objects” to a Google Map and then set the behaviours for each of them. Objects can be:

  • Items – virtual objects that can be picked up and stored in the iphone app’s inventory, or carried and dropped by players
  • Plaques – information and media (audio and video) pop-ups, perhaps telling you about a location or giving you new instructions
  • Characters – essentially virtual people that you can programme with branching converstaions for a player to interact with.

Each of these items can include “requirements” so that they behave in a particular way. For example a character won’t appear on the map for a player to talk to until then have picked up a certain item.

Objects and the tasks and behaviours surrounding them can then be grouped into “quests”. So, to complete a quest a player has to find a certain number of items, talk to various characters or visit locations etc; there then might be a follow-up quest to complete, and so on.

When the player is out in the field using the GPS-enabled app, they access the game on the server (you need internet connectivity) and away they go. As they get within a defined proximity of an object, the phone will vibrate and give off a (pretty loud) tone. They then view the plaque, pickup the item or interact with the character. The player can see a map of their location and the game can be played blind or the designer can choose to reveal the location of some or all objects.

Another neat touch is that the app allows the player to take pictures or record audio within the game. In the mock-up I did I had a “Will Allen” avatar pop up while I was outside Haymarket Metro instructing me to take a picture of a particular statue. Once I’d done that, the avatar popped up again to confirm I’d done what he asked. Neat.

You can find much more detailed info on their site and get started here.

Some random initial thoughts:

  • There’s obvious applications for enhancing fieldwork, either from the point of view of giving students added information about the locations they are visiting or going to the other extreme of highly interactive stotytelling activities like the Dow Day “participative documentary” example on the ARIS website.
  • The ability to easily create dynamic objects is a step forward from the clunky (but pioneering) Mediascape.
  • I designed my game to have a mix of objects that were viewable on my iPhone’s map all the time along with others that were hidden or appeared after completing a task. Having a completely invisible game is likely to lead to confusion. At least consider having a starting location marked.
  • It’s just about simple enough for more able school students (and I guess most FE and HE students) to be able to create their own content. You don’t need any web development skills.
  • I think I prefer this sort of approach to other AR apps like Layar or Junaio. They’re difficult to create stuff for and cost to publish.
  • The iPhone is a much more reliable and enjoyable device for this than those nasty EDA things we used to use for Mediascape!
  • Having said that, the GPS isn’t pinpoint accurate so I had to include a fairly large margin of error (30-40m) on the placing of the objects. Having the game in a built-up environment also created problems for the GPS accuracy. Not insurmountable, but I think these games are likely to work better wheer they range over a wide area.
  • Having the iPhone as the only device that can run it is a real barrier. They suggest a possible solution for mifi and GPS-enabling iPod Touches but I’ve no idea how well these things work. An Android option would also be good but a web app would be even better.
  • I encountered a few server errors and app crashes when testing mine. I was still able to complete my “quest” but it was enough to make me feel jumpy about running this sort of activity with large numbers of students.
  • Planning and testing are really important to ensure functionality but also comprehensibility. Do game players understand what they have to achiveve and how to go about doing it? It could easily get frustrating for players without clear directions.

For all it’s problems, it’s still really good.There’s lost more stuff I’d like to try with ARIS but for reasons of time I’ll have leave it there for now.

Leave a comment if you’ve had any experience with it.

Hmsg Spiral maps

John Johnston has recently blogged about a mapping project called Hmsg maps that’s worth a look.

It’s an elegant bit of digital storytelling from Charles Veasey and J. Craig Thompson where they traced a spiral shaped path from a key location in New York State, collecting audio and video and then mashing it together into a custom-made web app (using ActionScript and the Google Maps API).

Here’s the blog post and the actual project.

It’s wonderfully immersive in the way it gives multiple perspectives on a contrasting variety of locations (first person and and birds’ eye point of view, audio).

John has done his own using Javascript with a detailed explanation of how he did it.

Theres something about these videos of stillness that give a real flavour of the locations, making them great storytelling tools.

It may not be as immersive but it would be possible to do something similar straight out of Google Maps using the My Places function or Google Earth. Use the drawing tools to draw your path (spiral like they’ve done here, or perhaps a transect, zig zag, whatever). Once you’ve captured the media in the field, upload them to YouTube and embed them in placemark description boxes.

It would be a much cruder solution but more accessible to people without the web dev skills.

Facebook Killer, qu’est que c’est? Fa fa fa fah, fa fa, fa fa fah fah.


Google+ has been causing a bit of a stir over the last week as people with invites have been putting it through its paces.

I don’t have an invite. šŸ™

But then, neither do the other people in my core network.

Watching the tweets come in about how people are finding it is fascinating. While nobody that I’m following has gone hugely ape over it, the responses seem to range from “meh” to “interesting”. No one has been outright hostile as far as I can see.

I was interested in this post from Read/Write Web about the possibilities (and limitations) for using Google+ in school. It seems like it’s not offering anything revolutionary in itself but the collection of tools in one place with eventual support for Google Docs etc puts it in a powerful position.

Also, check out Tom Barrett’s post on the subject.

Doug Belshaw highlighted the influence on our collective online lives that Google could wield if Plus takes off.

The other theme of note is the inevitable “is this an Facebook killer?”.

Why is it that for some new technologies to have been judged as successful they need to have obliterated the competition? Do we apply that reasoning to newspapers? Chocolate bars? If we’re worried about concentration of our online data in the hands of a couple of corporations then having a broad spectrum of platforms is surely more healthy. 

Of course, networks work best where people flock together and Facebook’s 600m users make quite a flock. Also, quite a lot of my personal experience over the last few years is catalogued in Facebook and I’d be loathe to abandon that record.

A few years ago, the mobile operators were forced to introduce number portability. It was apparent that mobile telephony was as essential tool for people and to facilitate competition the networks were told to allow users to carry their number onto other networks. Arguably, some people’s social network activities are now as important as their mobile phone.

Would this be possible on social networks? Not easily. Platforms operate in such a variety of ways that simple transferability isn’t possible. Transferring data between eportfolios or VLE’s is hard enough. Also, the comparison doens’t quite work as we might be consumers of social networking but we’re not necessarily customers so social network providers are under a different set of obligations.

What I would like to see is a SoMe ecosystem that evolves to facilitate easy movement between platforms and a greater measure of compatability between them. It’s not really in the best interest of the likes of Facebook but I can dream, can’t I?

In the meantime, I’m off to set up a support group for learning technology people that didn’t get their early invites for Google+.

I think I’ll do it in LinkedIn.

Image credit: Ripples by Cappuccino_iv – By-NC-ND

With social media, “We are the product…”

Hat tip to @sboneham for tweeting this one.

Douglas Rushkoff talks about the lack of public understanding about what technologies like Facebook are for; allowing companies to monetise the data that we willingly surrender to them.

I’ve heard Miles Metcalfe say something similar; along the lines of “if you’re using a technology, and that technology is free, then you’re not the customer. You’re the product.”

Rushkoff’s argument is neatly summarised in this promo for his book.

It’s an interesting, critical view on what web 2.0 has actually given us. We’re using it to create connections and prduce our own content but in ways that also created a valuable resource for other organisations that can be bought and sold.

It’s a trade off between having access to these tools and resources and handing our data over to the likes of Google, Facebook, Twitter etc. If we’re happy with that trade off then fine, but we should at least be aware there’s a trade off.

Or, as Rushkoff suggests, develop the skills to shape the tools ourselves.



What’s your social media exit strategy?



As part of ourĀ Netskills workshopĀ on using social networking for community participation we haveĀ guidanceĀ on putting together a social media strategy, involving aims, outcomes, methods, individual responsibilities etc.

One question I want to include in the future isĀ “what is your exit strategy?”Ā It’s not so much, how will you withdraw from social media entirely, but have you considered what happens when the community you are engaging with stops using the platform you have invested so much time in establishing yourself on (Facebook, for example)?

Myspace was never widely used by education institutions as a way of social networking but they are a good example of how an established platform canĀ wither awayĀ in the face of the alternatives.

Google+Ā is picking up momentum and Diaspora is just round the corner. They may become anything from “the next big thing”, through “just another option”, to “big white elephant”. With discussion of Facebook “peaking” it’s worth acknowledging that the social media landscape will probably look very different in 2 years’ time.

As part of your planning, have you considered the fact that you might have to change horses mid race at some point? Do you have resources in place to let you do that should you decide to? How do you rebuild your valuable network quickly on another platform? How will you protect, archive or transfer the data you have in the old platform? Do you avoid putting all eggs in one basket so that you can simultaneously run a number of networks?

What other questions should we consider when building flexibility into a social media strategy?

Image: Exit by Endemoniada – By-NC-ND