Categotry Archives: Media Platypus

Yeah, Pokemon Go Is A Real Virtual Thing


Posted on by

A photo of a gravel street in Old Sacramento with a cartoon figure superimposed on it.

Rhydon has been seen near the Eagle Theatre in Old Sacramento State Historic Park. Beware!

A screenshot showing the Pokemon character "graveler" in front of a steam locomotive

Graveler in front of a steam locomotive at the California State Railroad Museum.


The social media landscape changes so quickly that it’s been difficult for the Media Platypus-ers to keep up with the rapid pace of things. Mostly it’s incremental– changes to Facebook algorithms, reading the extra ninety six pages of the latest ITunes Terms of Service Agreement, and wondering whatever happened to the first part of 2016.

But then comes Pokemon Go, and this seems to be a game changer. A silly game app with ridiculous characters that for many of us harken back to early childhood (or early parenthood) has come back, not to haunt us with memories of bad animation, but to get us out of our chairs and into the real world while searching for a virtual one. What a concept!

For the two or three people who have not heard all of the babble, Pokemon Go is an app for Androids and the iOS platform that puts you in a virtual reality platform on your device. Using your camera and the device’s GPS capabilities, you hunt for various creatures from Pokemon (Sand Shrew, anyone?) and in the right place you’ll find them and have various interactions, battles, and all sorts of nonsense that to the people around you who aren’t playing, will look really, really weird.

This really isn’t the first app that puts virtual reality aspects into historic areas. My historian friend

screenshot of the Ingress app, showing green and blue abstract polygons over a streetmap of a portion of downtown Sacramento California.

Ingress activity in downtown Sacramento. Who knew that there was such turmoil in our State Capital?

Kyle is addicted to Ingress, from the same developer, and in fact the Poke Stops in Pokemon Go are really the same thing that portals are in Ingress. I’ve actually used Ingress and as a result I understand even less of it (and it drains my phone battery,) but it involves portals and power sources that are constantly being seized by either the green or blue guys, and it just depends on what side you’d like to be on. The “adults” who are into Ingress can be also seen exploring historic areas and places they might not have otherwise explored, but rather than chasing silly cartoon characters, they are much more intelligently looking for portals and power centers to seize from the other entity.

I’m officially old these days, so it makes no sense to me, but with age comes perspective (I made this part up) and as an observer and a person who specializes in communication and enlightening people’s worlds, I’m delighted to see these things, even if I think they’re stupid. Why? Because they corollate with a theory I developed about geocaching in the early 2000s, about using technology to get geeky people away from their screens and into the outdoor environment that I think that everyone should be intimately acquainted with.

Without going into detail, I have tech-obsessed relatives who began geocaching, accidentally went outdoors, and without even knowing it, developed walking muscles, got tans, and learned about the natural and cultural environment while finding caches. Today I have a brother-in-law who is a world-class cacher, with thousands of caches to his credit, but he’s still very much a geek, and proudly so.

Pokemon Go is doing the same thing in a much more socially engaging way, or at least it’s really caught critical mass in a way that geocaching just hasn’t. It’s both funny (go to to read people’s complaints about sore legs from too much walking while playing Pokemon Go) to experiences that are directly useful for interpreters ( in that Pokemon Go (and Ingress, and even another app called “Tour Guide” can help you learn about the cultural environment you’re in.) It seems to me that the opportunity to link Pokemon Go and other players with our parks and historic sites is just an opportunity begging to be exploited.

This isn’t to say that these are appropriate everywhere, and indeed, the administrators of Arlington National Cemetery and the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. have asked people to respect the character and purpose of their sites by not engaging, and honestly I think that it was really stupid for Niantic and Nintendo to populate those sites with Pokemon characters (plus I wish that there was an opt-in/opt-out choice for businesses and landowners) but I’d prefer to dwell on the positive.

On the Facebook Group #diginterp, I asked the question of whether Pokemon Go was a problem for interpretive sites. Overwhelmingly, the answer has been NO! I think that a lot of interpreters and social media types are embracing the opportunity to engage with a new audience segment, sometimes even when they bump into you while staring at their device.

As always, I don’t know what will come of all this, but it’s a great new avenue into engagement. I just hope that we can come up with something that’s a bit more attractive than gravelers, sand shrews, and rattata!

Is blogging dead? Or just this one…


Posted on by

My appetite for consuming blogs has seriously waned.  Seriously. It’s a rare occasion that read a blog post from headline to comment line. I usually scan a headline, and maybe click on a link if it teases my taste buds but I generally just take a quick bite and move on.

Although when I do come across an interesting one, I dive right in and come out on the other end as satisfied as if I’d just consumed a giant slice of chocolate cake and a large glass of spicy red. I found this one ‘A teenager’s view on Social Media; written by an actual teen’ was a pretty good read, even worth a second helping.

Conversely, it seems I’ve not been cooking up many new blog posts either, and it seems I’m not the only one. Have you noticed? It’s been nearly a year since MP’s  last article – and we have a multi-national team of bloggers. Where did we all go?

Priya Florence on WPeka says “As long as there are readers, there will be bloggers.” So Media Platypus readers – are you there? Do you still have midnight cravings for another missive from the Media Platypus team?

In my head I hear your faint echo of a reply… (I have a very vivid imagination).

quote on wellington waterfront.

But I’d rather have your comments. Yes this blog has been a little less than “best practice” lately. But I know for a fact that social media is still high on many an interpreter’s list of something that want guidance and help on.  And the ethos for 2016 in ‘blogging’ circles is to publish long content less often – quality over quantity.

Huffington Post says;

“… to build a successful blog you just need to become a curator of information for a specific community. What you need to do is, focus on a niche audience, discover their needs and give them valuable information and services.”

But enough about what Huffington P says. What should Media Platypus say?

Our niche audience is interpreters. You are our audience.

Our content focus is social media. So we’d like you tell us a bit more about what you want to know.

What information would you like from us?

  • Case studies?
  • Ideas or opinions?
  • Innovations in technology or evolutions in new media?
  • How to 101?
  • The basics or the latest trends?
  • How to use hashtags? (#lotsofquestions).
  • My new favourite recipe for chocolate cake?

Tell us in the comments, or on the Media Platypus Facebook page. Let’s get some great conversations happening. Then we’ll come up with a plan for action for the coming year.

Food poster.

Oh and by the way, if you want to know who we are, you can find out more here

Selfie-help – can selfies make a meaningful contribution to an interpretation toolbox?


Posted on by

I’m looking for some selfie-help.

During a recent briefing for a new interpretative project I started thinking about selfies.  It’s not such a jump – the project is a new walking trail with a target audience of youth, families and first-time hikers. The trail has cell coverage for most of its length. My client briefing me pointed out a natural feature that was a popular spot for photos and when she said; “I don’t like the idea of people with their cell-phones out in the natural environment;” my response was, “but they’ll be doing it anyway so why not use it to our advantage?”

Selfies used to be considered bad taste; the exclusive domain of self-centred narcissistic teens on Myspace. But a social media culture shift has occurred, and everyone is doing it. Higher quality shots are possible, helped along by the advances in the photographic capabilities of cell phones; with specific selfie apps soon following.

Even I must confess that both my current Facebook and LinkedIn profile pics are selfies.

Even I must confess that both my current Facebook and LinkedIn profile pics are selfies.

Selfies at their core are self-portraits. People have been painting, drawing, photographing themselves since we used to live in caves. Selfies say “I was here”. They are people-focused and not much of a step away from what tourists have been doing for years – taking photos of themselves at places they have visited to ‘capture memories’.

According to Wikipedia the Oxford English Dictionary declared selfie ‘word of the year’ in November 2013. According to Google 93 million selfies are taken every day on Android devices. And in March 2014 a selfie broke the internet when a selfie taken by Academy Awards host Ellen DeGeneres was retweeted over 1.8 million times in the first hour of posting (yes we hear about this stuff, even in the antipodes).

We have seen their power used for evil; that bad taste still rises in your throat when people take selfies that seem to be at odds with the place, events and environment.  

New Zealand’s national museum Te Papa freely admits that sculptures and paintings are being damaged by people backing into them for selfie shots. But that hasn’t stopped them from allowing – and in some places encouraging – their use.

“We want visitors to be able to take pictures and share their experience with friends,” says a spokesperson in this media article.

Shantytown long-drop photo opp...

Shantytown long-drop photo opp…

So how do we harness the selfie phenomenon to help facilitate interpretation? Or should we even try? A quick search and brainstorm came up with the following examples of selfies in interpretation, and some thoughts:

Interpretive sites have often encouraged photographs as a way for visitors to interact with their exhibits – see the Shantytown example above. Te Papa has gone so far as installed a mirrored selfie wall.

Encouraging visitors to share their own selfies on a social media platform is a common marketing tool and creates a community of common experience. Could this be done while on the trail perhaps at one of the huts?

This life-sized ranger sign at the glacier below has unwittingly become the co-pilot in many a tourist selfie. So perhaps the same idea could be used to introduce an historic figure at one of the huts or shelters along our trail?

This life-size ranger was intended to draw attention to safety warnings.

This life-size ranger was intended to draw attention to safety warnings but is now featured in many selfies

Check out this instagram – if Laura Ingles Wilder took selfies

What about an app that reveals a ghost figure from the past if you take a selfie at a certain spot? Or some other information at pre-designated, beacon-marked spots?

I’d love to hear from anyone who has attempted these or any other selfie ideas and are willing to share their experiences. Selfie-help – all shares welcome!

Which platform to use to display your selfie community?

Which platform to use to display your selfie community?

Why Do We Always Need to Change?


Posted on by

Photograph of a sign in a store window that reads "FREE WIFI & INSPIRATION"

Seen at the REI Store in Roseville CA

Back in May, I talked about some of the hyperbole that constantly surrounds social media trends. If you follow these trends at all, you’re always hearing that [fill in the blank] is now the hot platform, what you know already is obsolete, and there’s something magical that will answer all of your needs just around the corner, especially if you’ll fund my kickstarter account!

In the meantime, the most popular and commonly used platforms are constantly changing things, seemingly to maintain hipness and interest plus deal with constant lawsuits over privacy violations and patent infringement. Less popular ones do the electronic equivalent of throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.

I used to think that a lot of this stuff is done just to tick me off. I really loathe it everytime a platform innovates, and Facebook is the nadir of this annoyance, I guess because it’s the most pervasive platform out there. I hate it for the same reason I hate video games. I never get the doggone thing totally figured out! Just when I feel like I know what’s going on, here comes a shift; a new reality.

Much as it might annoy me, though, these platforms have to innovate constantly. Part of it is litigation. It’s common knowledge that Facebook, Instagram, Google and other platforms are constantly being sued for privacy violations. As a result, they change the way they collect, display and use information.  It’s not benign or necessarily corrective, by the way. Rather than really address privacy issues in a way that most people would be happy with, the changes often just provoke frustration and tick people off. Most recently, privacy settings have changed on personal pages. This and several other things have been explained by Information Week.

They like to change how information is laid out on the platform too. It was just a couple of years ago that Facebook did a major redesign to incorporate cover images. and switch over to a two-column layout. Milestones also appeared, allowing you to highlight significant dates. Nearly everyone I talked with about these things hated them, but we adapted.

Another reason for this constant innovation is to better monetize the platform. It’s one of the things that virtually all of us, I think, totally disregard about social media. Regardless of whether we’re providing content as an individual or on behalf of an interpretive site or business, we are performing unpaid labor for the platform’s owners.

Let me rephrase that. Without our content, Facebook, Instagram, Google +, Foursquare, Tumblr, or whatever has no content to draw viewers. No viewers, no eyeballs, no advertisers, no Silicon Valley, no Mark Zuckerberg, no… Hey, wait! This could be just great! I’m going to set up a Meetup group so we can plan this, and then send out evites, and…


Al Jazeera has a great opinion piece written by E. Alex Jung called Is It Time To Quit Facebook? where he makes his case pretty well. You may have heard about the research project that Facebook used us as Guinea Pigs for, Emotional Evidence of Massive Scale Emotional Contagion Through Social Networks. You can read the “editorial concern” in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences for yourself to learn some of the details, but essentially Facebook played everyone who uses the platform by selecting post types that you and I would receive, determining (duh) that happy posts make us more engaged, while sad or non-happy posts decrease our engagement. This might sound kind of silly and obvious, but it’s not if you understand that we are not only an audience, but also unpaid content providers for some of the richest and largest content providers in the world. The study, while verifying something that seems obvious, also gives license to social media platforms to target what we will see, to drive more engagement and therefore sell and charge more for ad content.

How does this concern us, aside from the obvious? Well, for those of us who provide content on behalf of an employer or a beloved interpretive site, perhaps some of our most intellectually important posts are not “happy” enough, and won’t be seen by a large part of our desired audience.

The work we do as interpreters is not at all related to feeding tame deer and reveling in nature’s beauty. Well, part of it is, I guess, but in addition to the “happy” stuff we also interpret tragedy, death, greed, horror, accident and natural disaster. If we don’t, but they are part of our story, we do a disservice to our audience and stakeholders. Who is the world is Facebook or whoever to censor or diminish distribution of what we feel is important to get out to our audiences? Who gave them the right?

I’ve previously opined that social media is the equivalent of a public utility. They are pervasive, ubiquitous, and necessary for a lot of people to keep up in a fast-paced and modern world. I was wrong. A public utility normally provides a level of service commensurate with our ability to pay for the services. My water service won’t be diminished by my mood or the colors of the flowers in my garden. My electricity won’t be cut off if I like to burn lights all night, and my satellite provider won’t change my channel lineup based on what they think I should see. How can social media providers then, filter what I see versus what’s put on the platform and offered for viewing?

They are the owners. We are the unpaid employees, and we are at least partially, suckers for agreeing to be in servitude to them.

I’m not quitting social media; it’s simply too much a part of my life, and it’s definitely a part of my work. I’m not happy about it though.

Is social media a format option for inclusive interpretation?


Posted on by

Lisa’s research and end question about ‘great online exhibitions’ has prompted some interesting thoughts, and also more questions…

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Norwich Castle and Colchester Castle’s battlements and dungeons in the UK were amongst the flurry of virtual tours created around 2004; at the time heritage sites were addressing their then new legal duty to provide access to services with reasonable physical adjustments. When alterations were deemed to impact unduly on the fabric or nature of the place, site managers and digital designers worked together to create virtual tours. These were sometimes interpretive and with choice of communication formats with subtitles, British Sign Language and audio description. Others simply offered a visual tour thru’ the lens of a video camera or the latest 3D modelling fly thru’.

Today 10 years on digital and social media present a broader than ever range of ways for visitors to access heritage interpretation and engage with their history. From Brighton and Hove Story drop mobile App to downloadable audio description for blind and partially sighted visitors to the Natural History Museum, London’s newly refurbished Volcanoes and Earthquakes gallery.

It is an exciting time for opportunities to integrate new interpretive methods with inclusive choice of communication techniques, flexibility and accessibility options. Everyone uses a different range of audio, haptic and visual communication techniques.

However, it still requires a further shift from App and virtual options being considered as only an alternative format, rather than integrated choice. Apps are used as a starting point for museum or heritage sites making interpretive material available when they cannot afford to provide devices for audio description, British Sign Language (BSL), Easy Read tours or large print captions. It is not equal access if this is the only way to access these formats but is a way for visitors to access interpretive material. At the end of the day inclusive design means equality of choice and flexibility in what is on offer.

The Association of Heritage Interpretation (AHI) presented a session on digital interpretation at the annual Museums + Heritage Show in London, UK. One of the key messages was to choose digital technology because it is the most effective way to engage visitors and make interpretation accessible, not because it’s new. The same goes for virtual content and design.

An interesting AHI LinkedIn discussion has recently raised questions about whether to choose subtitles or BSL for an interpretive App. The responses highlight the inclusive approach being to provide choice with both: Some people who use English as their first language may require and use subtitles, but for those who use BSL as their first language the subtitles may not make spoken words accessible. The choice is needed.

In the discussion trail also raises more detailed considerations in creating the BSL presentation:

  • Signs vary regionally therefore for a local history museum it will be important to commission a BSL presenter who knows the local signs.
  • Someone with expertise or at least familiar with subject is more engaging. Shape, City Lit and Tate Modern undertook a project to explore and agree art related signs, how do you sign ‘Impressionism’ and ‘modernism’ or any newer art…ism to be understood and consistently used.
  • Equally a railway or science museum audience would benefit from a presenter who is also a subject expert or enthusiast, familiar with specialist terms.
  • When commissioning a BSL presenter the best are deaf people who use BSL, a sign language interpreter is a different role.

…and don’t stop at the AV screen have you taken account of the full exhibition text for someone who uses BSL as their first language and written English is their second or third language?

The Jodi Award has celebrated several excellent projects for social media and online access ranging from BSL tours to communication format for a broad range of learning abilities. A key aspect of these projects is the central involvement of deaf and disabled people in their development and delivery .

Accessibility options won’t fix it all either but can offer flexibility in

  • image/text magnification;
  • visual contrast;
  • labelled images and content menus indicate content;
  • touch sensitivity adjustment;
  • button or tactile as well as flat-screen interface;
  • audio or haptic as well as visual instruction/interaction;
  • also budget, plan, design for and commission
  • audio description, British Sign Language and Easy Read.

Check and enable accessibility options, also let people know their options and provide options not covered by this such as audio description, British Sign Language and Easy Read.

So as while many streams of thought were prompted by the May Blog, the overriding point is the scope for social media interpretation to integrate and increase choice for interpretation (not just as an alternative); also in creating social media platform or App ask people what works for them and follow-it through to detail design of interface and content.

Cassie Herschel-Shorland

21 July 2014

Cassie is a Committee Trustee for the Association of Heritage Interpretation

The Association for Heritage Interpretation is a key forum for anyone interested in interpretation – the art of helping people explore and appreciate our world.

AHI believes that interpretation enriches our lives through engaging emotions, enhancing experiences and deepening understanding of places, people, events and objects from the past and present.

AHI aims to promote excellence in the practice and provision of interpretation and to gain wider recognition of interpretation as a professional activity.

Facebook Isn’t Dead, And Ethan Rotman Should Not Be Coroner


Posted on by

Last month, Ethan Rotman delivered the Saturday keynote for NAI’s Region 9 workshop in Chico, California. Ethan is the principal of iSpeakeasy, a communication consulting firm. He spoke about the need to embrace innovation in Interpretation, and how if we are to succeed and remain relevant, we need to understand and take advantage of innovation and new technology, to meet our audiences where they live in a communications sense. During this really great and fascinating talk, Ethan casually mentioned “besides, Facebook is dead…” and then continued on.

I really like Ethan, and in fact, I treated him to lunch the day before, partly so I could pick his brain for free or at least for only the cost of a BBQ chicken. Ethan is whip smart, he’s quick, capable, and I suppose he makes a decent living by helping to teach both interpreters and non-interpreters how to communicate well. He’s also very confident and has the certainty of knowing things, when I would probably not be nearly as certain. Doubt is a very important part of my life and my worldview. For instance, although I firmly believe that the Cubs will win their division, grab the NL pennant and go on to a well-deserved World Series sweep in four games, I’m plagued with doubt. This is also true with Ethan’s pronouncement of death on the world’s dominant social media platform.

We’ve alluded to constant change being a given in social media and technology here on Media Platypus many times, and even for old-timey technology such as Facebook, a lot of things have changed in its ten-year history. Targeted ads, selective posts, a seemingly slow but inevitable march toward ‘pay for prominence’ in posts, apparent disregard for user privacy, the stupid layout changes, all of these things seem to tick people off. A Princeton study claims that Facebook will lose 80% of its users in the next four years. They compared the growth curve of Facebook with that of an infectious disease, and that based on their methodology, Facebook peaked in December 2012 and has been declining ever since. This makes logical sense– after you’ve captured nearly everyone in a very short time, your growth potential is severely limited. So, maybe Ethan’s more of an epidemiologist than a coroner. Hmm.

The Deadspin blog is a lot more certain and bombastic. In their piece, Facebook is Dead, Drew Magary is just as certain as Ethan, but I discount a lot of this because Deadspin is one of those smarmy trends-blogs where writers seem to confuse being clever with being insightful. Saying “I don’t use Facebook anymore because anyone with a brain knows that Facebook is terrible” really doesn’t help me understand anything except why I don’t read Deadspin very often.

A much better article is available at (sure hope I spelled it correctly,) The End of Facebook, that discusses FB’s most nefarious problem, the truly weird relationship between ‘likes’ and actual engagement. It’s been pretty well established that for many pages, many of the ‘likes’ are phony, particularly for paid promotion. This is why on some of my agency pages we often see that we have 35 likes when only 26 people have seen a post. Over time, whether you know it or not, your posts are going to fewer and fewer of your friends, on purpose. I won’t take your time here to try and explain it, but take a look at the videos on the blog page. If Facebook is dying, this seems like a type of suicide. It’s also a poor model of communication.

I’m trying to insist that Facebook isn’t dead, because I think that it’s reached the functional equivalent of a public utility—an awful lot of us use FB not only to keep up with our friends and let them know what we’re up to, but also to learn about news and current events, make shopping and lifestyle decisions, and plant our own feet in a virtual public square. Still, I’ve got that nagging doubt that Ethan is blissfully deficient of. If I want and need Facebook to help me understand the world around me, yet it’s filtering what I see based on what I already like, am I putting myself in an echo chamber?

I have several friends who have consciously stopped using Facebook, mostly because it takes up too much of their time. I’ve had relatively long periods when I’ve consciously stopped posting just to see if the world ended (hint: it does not,) but still, FB overall is a convenient place for me to see a bunch of stuff, most of which is unimportant. As I’ve mentioned before, I really don’t care what you’ve had for dinner, and I generally don’t care how your doctor’s appointment went unless you coughed on me last night. I really do care what those rascally politicians are lying to me about, I’m very interested in a clever and droll turn of phrase (which, oddly enough reminds me of the wag who dogged the tale,) I love seeing really great examples of the wonders of science, and I greatly appreciate seeing a lot of life’s minor miracles and truly generous things done by everyday people. I’m also incredibly interested in the season’s first sighting of a red flicker at Sutter Buttes, or a short video of spring melt in Yosemite Falls, and finding out a wonderfully superlative yet unknown historic tidbit at an historic site. For me, Facebook and other social media help make my life more complete because of these things.

A list of things that people want Facebook to do, and not do

A griping Facebook meme found on the KMPH 26 Facebook page.

Ethan concentrated his talk on innovation and embracing change. Facebook is definitely NOT innovative these days, and it lost it’s edge years ago. We know this because we see t-shirts with the thumbs-up logo on them and sitcoms often have Facebook jokes. Plus, our moms have accounts, and every doggone business you’ve ever seen has a Facebook page, most of which are useless. It’s this ubiquitous nature of Facebook that I think means it’s still relevant to us in the communications business. It’s a lot easier for me to send someone a Facebook message than to open my email program, sort through all of the spam and then find my friend I need to contact, and I’m pretty sure that he or she will see FB before they’ll see my email.

If I’m doing these things, it’s likely that many of my park visitors are doing the same thing too. This is the public utility function of Facebook. Like it or not, FB is still the most obvious place to engage and reach out to our visitors for the time being, and that’s why it’s still important, as least for me and my employer. There are many other amazing platforms that do amazing things—Pinterest, Snapchat, Vine, Twitter, Tumblr, Kik. Google + (yes Paul!) and on and on. All of them have advantages, plus all of them have the same obsolescence factor going on. To remain relevant, to remain interesting, and to retain users, social media platforms need to continuously innovate and change, but the very change that’s required to attract users and “enhance” our experience is also alienating to many users. Chicken, meet egg.

Each one of these tools can and will become obsolete. Ethan is right—we need to understand, search out and embrace innovation, and at least some of this is technology related. We still need to be intelligent and skeptical and back out once in awhile just to see if we’re still in the forest or just looking at a lone tree.

Oh, and just in case you’ve heard the hype about YouTube being the second most-used search engine in the world, try not to suffer through this:

Connecting in our Parks


Posted on by

There’s a major controversy in Canada right now. No, not Mayor Rob Ford’s new crack cocaine video. No, not the bloated dead whale in Newfoundland that is a ticking timebomb of exploading gases. No, not the U.S.’s fight with Canada over who should have to claim responsibility for Justin Bieber. This controversy came to my attention when looking at the “What’s trending” box on Facebook.  It said, “Now Trending: Parks Canada”

“Parks Canada? Trending? Seriously?” I asked myself.

Yes, our government agency that manages Canada’s national parks and historic sites was suddenly in the news and all over social media. Why? Because they are looking at installing wifi hotspots at 150 locations throughout the system.

wifi parks

Now, just to be clear, there are a couple of key points to understand. We are talking about wifi hotspots – areas of a few hundred metres where people can access the internet on their devices. Just like a coffee shop. Or an airport. And, these hotspots will only be in specific locations where people gather – such as visitor centres, townsites, and some campgrounds. It will not be available across hundreds of kilometres of wilderness.

Regardless, this story has exploded, and there are very strong comments about it. Here are just a few I pulled from Twitter:

“If you wanted proof that city folk are ruining the world, they’re installing wifi in Canada’s national parks.”

“I think the fact that Parks Canada is even considering wifi in our parks shows what our society values more.”

“Wifi does not grow in parks, so wifi should not go in parks.”

Even 92-year-old author Farley Mowat chimed in with this subtle comment: “It’s a disastrous, stupid, idiotic concept and should be eliminated immediately.” Of course I responded on Twitter by saying, “Funny, I hear the same response from people his age about the internet in general.” But, I digress.

Celebrated Canadian Author Farley Mowat is 93 years old

Celebrated Canadian Author Farley Mowat is 92 years old


At first, I was quite taken aback by the controversy of this issue. But, after reflecting on it overnight, I can see a few reasons the issue has generated such a strong, guttural response:

Story Framing by the Media

In almost all of the media treatments I’ve seen (newspaper, television, online), the story begins somewhat like this: Imagine you are enjoying the serenity of one of Canada’s pristine national parks, when suddenly the silence is interrupted…” The media has purposely framed the story to cause conflict. They suggest that the mere presence of wifi will prevent others from enjoying the solitude and peace of nature. Well, of course people are upset. The media is inciting the public by creating a conflict where one doesn’t actually exist.

Clash of symbols

The public outcry may be a result of the personal symbolism of national parks. Many people see national parks as pristine wilderness – small islands of purity that have to withstand the constant onslaught of human presence and activity. They naturally see this as just another modern intrusion that threatens what a park means to them. Rational or not, this is viewed as a threat to something they hold dear.

Cell phone vs. Wifi

Much of the controversy revolves around cell phone use.  And towers. Comments are flooding in about people not wanting to hear a phone ring 50 kilometres into the backcountry trip or massive cell towers on top of every mountain. Even one of the large television channels had this as the story title when reporting: “Call of the Wifi? The Government plans to erect cell towers in national parks.” This shows a real lack of understanding of the issue. Wifi and cell networks are different. There are no towers going up for a wifi hotspot, and people’s phones are not going to suddenly start ringing because they are in range of wifi.

Need to control

This is where I have a hard time understanding much of the reaction. So many people are rejecting the idea because it doesn’t fit into their opinion of how people should connect with nature. I have heard and read comments saying that if someone needs the internet, they don’t belong in parks. Parks are about disconnecting. People shouldn’t bring that stress with them. The only way to experience nature is through solitude. You get the point. I may agree with some of those feelings on a personal level, but I would never impose that on someone else. Much of the negative reaction I’ve seen shows a bizarre need to control how others connect with nature. To me, it reeks of arrogance and elitism: “The only way to experience nature is the way that I like to experience nature. If you don’t like it, stay away.”

People’s travel habits have changed. The ways that people connect and learn have changed. And, there are many groups of people that are underrepresented as visitors, that may come if their needs are addressed.

How will wifi help? Someone can check the weather to decide what activity to partake in. They can book a canoe rental or a hotel room online. They can download a Parks Canada app that they didn’t know about before arriving. They can use birding apps or plant identification apps on their smartphone or tablet. They can take photos of and report sighting of rare animals. They can let their loved ones know they arrived safely. They can post a selfie to show what an incredible time they are having in nature. They can send a digital postcard. A work-at-home parent can take their kids to a park and still check in to the office. The list is endless…

As I have said before, maybe we should be less judgemental about how people should connect with nature, and just be happy that people connect at all.


After chaos came community, creativity, and connectivity


Posted on by


I live in Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand. It’s a city that three years ago was struck by a series of devastating earthquakes; the most serious on 22 February, when 185 people died. Our central business district and several outlying suburbs where reduced to rubble.

Three years on, Christchurch has been named the world’s second-best place to visit in 2014 by the New York Times. Living here, it’s hard to understand why; I mean the place is a mess! Of course, one-in-100-year rain events are not helping either, for a city with a compromised storm water infrastructure…

As part of its feature  “52 places to visit in 2014” the New York Times called Christchurch a “city in transformation”, experiencing a “rebirth with creativity and wit”. 

Institutions like the Christchurch Art Gallery have looked for alternatives while doors remain closed – using blank walls and spaces to create “outer space” exhibitions. And with a lot of our heritage buildings reduced to rubble, there has been an increased interest in documenting and sharing heritage resources online.

Public artwork by Wayne Youle; photo Jared Cantlon.


Some of the positive, interpretative outcomes of tragedy – both live and digital – that have grown from the rubble over the last three years include:

Cool online maps

Quakemap – this became the go-to website for all Cantabrians, with people flocking to Quakemap after every aftershock. This animated map shows where rumbles are centred, their depth and magnitude with a series of colour-coded spots. You can look back and watch series of shakes by timeframes of your choice. Conceived and developed by Paul Nicholls of the University of Canterbury’s Digital Media Group (Christchurch).

More recently, Google map-based resouces help tourists find the ‘Neat Places’ in Christchurch, to make the most of a visit to our torn-up town.

Strengthening communities and individuals

Neighbours who may have never spoken before turned to help each other post-earthquake. Many of these communities continue to support each other through the rebuild, via neighbourhood forums and events. The Rebuild Christchurch website offers a tool for people to build an online community, based on their neighbourhood.

The internationally acclaimed Student Volunteer Army was a social media movement that mobilised over 11,000 students to assist in the clean-up of Christchurch. It began with one young man starting a Facebook page to generate and guide volunteers amongst his peers. The group is still active, and were out in force this week cleaning up after the latest storm. In 2012 Sam Johnson was named “Young New Zealander of the Year” and Prinz communicator of the year and is a compelling speaker on using technology for social change.

Digital archives – sharing the stories

The collective experiences of a crumbled city are being collated via several portals, several under the auspice of the University of Canterbury’s CEISMIC Canterbury Earthquake Digital Archive project.

Quake Studies is CEISMIC’s formal digital archive to document the Canterbury earthquakes by collecting reports, documents, stories, photos and film to be available to researchers in perpetuity, access-controlled.

Quake stories is for more personal stories, memories, experiences and photos of the Canterbury earthquakes and how they affected people, including the aftermath and ongoing story of the rebuilding. It’s described as a living memorial.

When my home shook is also personal accounts, but aimed specifically at school children, years 5-12, as a part of the recovery process.

Kete Christchurch is a creative commons digital archive compiled by Christchurch City Libraries, and includes several kete or “baskets” of knowledge, including the Christchurch earthquakes.

History these days is told via multiple voices.

New apps and innovations

CityViewAR is a mobile Augmented Reality application that allows people to see how the city was before the earthquakes and building demolitions. Using an Android mobile phone people can walk around the city and see life-sized virtual models of what the buildings looked like on site before they were demolished.

HitLab have taken this even further and used CityView AR to test their ‘Googleglasses’ – the first truly wearable computer for the masses. CityViewAR on Glass also shows panorama images taken after the earthquake, allowing people to look around them and use the head-tracking capability of Glass to see a full 360-degree photo of the city damage.

High Street Stories – NZ Historic Places Trust collaborated with HitLab and NV Interactive to create ‘High Street Stories’ website and a smartphone application, with over 100 stories of the central Christchurch street’s past. Users can wander around the area using an android phone or mobile device and see images of the now demolished heritage buildings and the precinct as it was before the quakes whilst listening to history and anecdotes about life in the area.

High street Stories

Read more about High street Stories in the summer 2014 issue of INNZ Insights

Creation of new groups, trusts and organisations

The response of many individuals after the earthquakes was to do something creatively positive and gather in the energies of others. And because the projects were all temporary by nature, it was a license to ignore the fear of failure – it was just about having a go!

Gap Filler –  temporarily activates vacant sites within Christchurch with creative projects for community benefit, to make for a more interesting, dynamic and vibrant city. Wall murals, poetry, sound garden, pallet pavilion (an open air events venue) and Dance-o-mat are some of the groovy projects, with the latest join the portfolio – the Inconvenience Store – selling things like ‘eyes in the back of your head’!

Greening the Rubble – sticking true to Christchurch’s soul as The Garden City, Greening the Rubble was a grassroots movement to create temporary gardens and public green spaces in vacant sites. Hero projects include the Sydenham Street Coffee Zone, Sound Garden, Nature Play Park, and Pod Oasis.

Children play in Greening the Rubble's Nature Play Park while buildings are demolished around them; photo S Mankelow

Children play in Greening the Rubble’s Nature Play Park while buildings are demolished around them

Ministry of Awesome – watering the seeds of awesome in Christchurch, Sam Johnson and others created this organisation to gather ideas and inspiration, and create events to provide opportunities to see some of those seeds take root.

Yes life has changed since the earthquakes of 22 February 2011. I still have to drive a long way to buy milk as our dairy and supermarket have gone. I can get lost in my home town as every street corner looks the same and there are road works at every turn.

But there’s a ‘new’ creative Christchurch amidst the rubble and vacant spaces. It’s a blank page and we’re colouring flat out, without worrying about going over the lines.

I live in Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand. Come visit.

Lorde! New Zealanders talk funny … ah where is that again?


Posted on by

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players…” William Shakespeare

Lorde performs on September 28, 2013 at Showbox at the Market during the Decibel Festival in Seattle, Washington; photo Kirk Stauffer.

Lorde; photo Kirk Stauffer.

Our whole country has gone Grammy-mad this week, after Kiwi teenager Lorde won two awards. All our news programmes, radio, social media networks are a buzz with this achievement.  There’s no mistaking the fact that she has become world famous in New Zealand. Even her fingernails have their own twitter account.  There hasn’t been this much hype around one person since… well since Peter Jackson won his first Oscars!

Watching the awards show I learnt three things:

  • Americans really know how to put on a good show.
  • Celebrities are experts at using twitter
  • Being famous does not automatically make you funny.
  • Music is the one universal language.

OK so that’s four things. But the last one got me thinking. It got me thinking about culture and communication. And the challenges of getting it right when your audience potentially is the whole world.

How does an awkward teenager from a group of islands somewhere near the South Pole co-write a song that explodes across the globe, in a way she described as mental”? (Yes New Zealanders talk funny). Well, you can read how she did it in this interview with her manager; “How to make it big online”.

Social media has bought people around the world together, regardless of cultural differences and geographic boundaries – creating a global village. It exposes us to new ideas and differences of opinion. It encourages interactions, conversation, debate. It’s a powerful tool. No wonder interpreters are drawn to it like moths to Tilden’s flame.

The downside to all this sharing is that sometimes its hard to maintain a unique voice. Despite the distance, NZ is heavily influenced by all things American, especially in the entertainment industry. This point was bought home to me when listening to my five-year-old talk to her friend during imaginary play – they were talking for their make-believe characters with American accents! Bits of our own culture are being ‘acquired’ too – there’s an American company called Kiwi, unashamedly named after our national bird, and someone in Germany trademarked the name Moana – which means ocean and is a popular girl’s name for our first peoples – Maori.

A lot of the content shared online by interpreters is written and this is tricky too – with slang, colloquialisms and spelling differences even between countries that use the same language. You may have noticed I like to spell programme with two mms and colour with a u.

So with all these extra challenges, how does an interpreter communicate successfully via social media? The advice from Lorde’s manager is that success for a musician starts with a good song. The same goes for interpreters.

Start with core principles.

  • Make it enjoyable.
  • Make it relevant and meaningful.
  • Make it organised and thematic.
  • Make it personal. After all, if its not personal, its not interpretation.

Lorde has struck a chord that has resonated around the world, by writing about what she feels and what she has experienced. But she is a real person, and that’s where it starts – she’s keeping it real. And we are prodigiously proud of her.

Check out some other kiwis doing their own version of her Grammy-winning song. (I didn’t say it was good.)

Lorde's home town sign is altered in a play on the lyrics of 'Royal'.

Lorde’s home town sign is altered in a play on the lyrics of ‘Royal’.

Musings on Amazing Technology


Posted on by

Edited Jan 23 to fix broken link

If there’s one thing that we like to emphasize with Media Platypus, it’s that technology is just a tool for interpretation. Technology is never a substitute for good subject matter and development, and it isn’t a substitute for using good principles—being thematic, being factual, connecting with the visitor, and being relatable to people’s lives and experiences.

Having said that, learning about and playing with technology excites my inner geek. Publicly I love to work on my little farm and eat the fruit that we grow, to mill lumber from the trees I fall. I love to make sawdust in my shop, and both delicate mechanisms (such as pocket watches) and brute force engineering (such as steam locomotives) seem to fit my desired ethos by being both visually interesting and a form of problem solving—to tell the time, build a mechanism that counts regular intervals that you can understand. To travel several hundred miles, create a contraption that uses the expansion of boiling water to make steel wheels rotate on strips of steel. Very kinetic, very direct, very understandable, even if both are awe-inspiring in their physical ingenuity.

Technology seems, in contrast, to be a bit like junk food. It’s fun and intriguing, but ultimately to what end? Just how many interpretive sites have you visited where the “high-tech” stuff is mostly broken, or seems to have been jammed in whether or not it seems appropriate? I’m guilty of this myself. I really like using QR codes for “added value” interpretation, but generally I’m light on adding the value. In a current exhibit that I have something to do with, we have a so-called interactive where a visitor pushes a button to show a graphic tracking the development of railroads in the 19th century, but we used an old junky laptop that doesn’t allow the display to work in quite the way it was quite intended. We are, in effect, using technology for technology’s sake, rather than using is to properly communicate what we would like to say. It does the job, but not as well as we would like.

With all that as prologue, I recently ran across several genuinely astounding examples of technology being used in advertising to captivate, provoke and amaze. I have to credit Robert Krulwich, who writes the NPR science blog Krulwich Wonders, for writing about these ideas. Mr. Krulwich is a science writer, not an interpreter, but what he discusses here are advertising ideas that use technology to reach four interpretive goals:
• Provoke the viewer’s interest
• Using drama, uses wonder, uses the viewer’s imagination in artistic ways to captivate and enthrall them
• Using fantastic, virtual experiences to relate to the viewer’s everyday life and experience, or perhaps their dreams for the future.
• Goes way beyond mere information, but conveys valuable information in compelling and thought-provoking ways.

Take a look at the three videos that Krulwich highlights. I’m not surprised that they are all British—there are many astonishing examples of brilliant British advertising. They are amazingly creative, often edgy, and nearly always fun. As communicators, the creative people who developed these campaigns are simply brilliant.

However, closer to home, I was blown away a few years ago when I traveled through the Hartford Connecticut airport on the way to the NAI National Workshop. Those of you who flew in just have to remember the wonderful interactive video display for Traveler’s Insurance. It has no point except to reinforce their brand name, but it does so brilliantly. Take a look at the engagement of passers by:

At the time, I just filed this away as a cool moment, but just a few years later, interactives such as this, or this really interesting (and again, British) McDonald’s interactive

get me excited about logical possibilities because they are are getting simpler and less expensive to create for interpretive sites.

Things like these specific examples may be still a bit more sophisticated and involved than many of us might want to conceive of or implement, but the same technology that I still think is sort of mental junk food is often astonishingly inexpensive and rapidly advancing, and this will benefit many interpreters and institutions that need to stay relevant and vital to successfully communicate with our visitors. What used to cost a fortune now is within everyone’s reach, and the trend will continue. Just consider what your smartphone can do today compared to the cost and complexity to do the same things in 1991:

1 2 3 4 5