Digital Memory Project development

I have been leaving my website in the cold, but with good intents. I have been working closely with my awesome team members to develop clear visions and directions for the Digital Memory Project.

Nicole Nie Jiaqi and I had just reached a milestone in our ethnographic studies within the local heritage community! We figured that with regard to “memories,” the heritage community is second to none in remembering, researching, writing, and sharing history. Nicole did most of the fieldwork at Bukit Brown ( and other heritage activity sites. And we did find much social practices that are informative to our development team. For example, many community volunteers were initiated into the heritage scene after joining trail tours! We are delighted to find evidences like this to show that trials which we have experienced at museum and as tourists are actually quite central to heritage work. This excitement is amplified through the many meetings with selfless, engaging, and friendly people in the scene–people who against all odds devoted their time to fight for what is left of Singapore’s highly business-driven cityscape.

Having worked out the project vision, the Digital Memory Project is in development pipeline! The project now consists four components: an app for navigating user created trails (CrowdTrails), a website for creating trails (CrowdScribe), a public display to experiment with novel interactions (Discovery Wall), and a backend to service these frontends (Hive) (yes, the term Hive is a tribute to the game I love–StarCraft II). Xavier Roman is leading the programming work for CrowdTrails, and Kasun Karunanayaka is leading the programming for CrowdScribe and the Hive backend. See below for a sketch of CrowdTrail app UI by Kelvin Cheng.

All these frontends are centered around the activities of trail navigation and creation. For example, the CrowdTrails’ UI design (see figure above) will foreground trails in a user’s locality. A trail is a essentially a line that links up places of interest and adorned with a compelling story. Thus, what the UI will show is a network of meaningful stories which, when taken together, will serve to expose a locality’s history. Are you interested in witnessing sights and sounds of any of these stories? Look it up with CrowdTrails! We believe that the map-based, on-demand, and user-created content will appeal to heritage learners or tourist who want to find out grassroots’ perspectives of these places.

CrowdScribe webpage, the sister product of CrowdTrails, will allow trail creators to network with other creators while developing their own trails. In the heritage community, trails development is very much peer-to-peer and social. In the process, historians, geographers, journalists, and tour guides actively share data and compare notes. We wish to develop a tool that support such collaborative work.

I am truly excited. In the coming weeks, I will be working closely with the team to iron out the nuts and bolts of these tools.

Cscw 2013

I am attending the Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work 2013 in San Antonio, TX from February 23 to 27.  I will be pesenting a paper on Starcraft and learning that I wrote with Tim Young. I wrote a summary post here.

A Delicate Tension: Where Gaming and Education Intersect

Stephen Paolini is an active StarCraft II participant, and also doing exceedingly well at his high school. Interestingly, this unintuitive combination (video gaming+good grades) may be linked to his upbringing within in a video game family with supportive parents and siblings. We invited Stephen to share his story at the CLRN Blog:

The Digital Memory Project

I am currently leading The Digital Memory Project at the National University of Singapore. It is an interdisciplinary collaboration with Kelvin Cheng and Xavier Roman Martinez. Here’s a short description:

“The Digital Memory Project aims to digitize “memories,” so that past events are more effectively collected, shared, and get passed on from one person to another. In this project, we will develop media platforms that solicit digital memories from “crowds,” whom will create, edit, and remix these memories. We will explore innovative uses of gestural and mobile interaction techniques for users to interact with and present these memories on large public displays.”

I will use this space to provide future updates on this project.

The Dynamics of Culture Change, by Bronislaw Malinowski

Old books sometimes give us surprisingly timely insights into current research questions. A question that is important to digital media research is to think about all the changes brought along by digital technologies bringing changes all around us. I read an old text written by Bronislaw Malinowski in 1945 that touches on some relevant subjects. Here are some of the excerpts:

[C]ulture change is a permanent factor of human civilization, it goes on everywhere and at all times. It may be induced by factors and forces spontaneously arising within the community, or it may take place through the contact of different cultures…

The anthropologist is becoming increasingly aware that the study of culture change must become one of his main tasks in field work and theory. The figment of the “uncontaminated” Native has to be dropped from research in field and study…

The very essence of history is that it has a future as well as a past. If anthropology has been very often an escape into the exotic, history has often remained the shelter for those who prefer their past dead and buried to tradition alive and active.

The above statements contain several parallels with the rise of interest in cultural studies and cultural diffusion and fusion in Human Computer Interaction.

For those who might be interested in performing “commercial ethnography” instead of “academic ethnography,” here might be something to rethink this dichotomy:

[T]here is still a strong but erroneous opinion in some circles that practical anthropology is fundamentally different from theoretical or academic anthropology. The truth is science begins with applications… as soon as the theory is true, it is also “applied” in the sense it is experimentally confirmed.

The likely truth is that theories sometimes get forgotten, until they become useful again.

Wikinomics and its discontents

I enjoyed very much the insights offered by Dijck and Nieborg in their paper titled Wikinomics and its discontents: A critical analysis of Web 2.0 business manifesto. See

The authors made a close reading of discourses describing media users and their roles in the new media. They argued that discourses of Wikinomics, We-Think, and participatory culture, are making claims that are being accepted universally and unreflectively. These influential works had attempted to lead us into a “new world” which boundary between media users and the media companies is blurred. Without paying attention to deconstructing the differences between the roles of users and other new media actors, we are straying further away from understanding the very “new world” we thought we have understood.

A highly recommended reading!

“The Second Enclosure Movement” by James Boyle

At times we come across an idea we really wanted to share despite all the mundane distractions. Here is a 2003 paper by James Boyle titled the “The Second Enclosure Movement.” He discusses issues we are facing in balancing the older Intellectual Property regimes against the rising user creativity. I especially like Boyle discussing I.P. as a regime to protect the “noblest of human productions” which should be “free as air.” But there is little clarity to how we can balance the playing field due to the lack of understand of the myriad of “public domains” we are trying to protect.

User Creativity, Governance, and the New Media: Examining user-created contents from an ecological perspective

Social studies of the New Media often focus on the user side of the equation, while overlooking product developers and designers as key actors. This special issue, that I edited with Bonnie Nardi, put together papers from a multi-disciplinary team of prominent researchers including Dan Burk, Jordi Comas, Mimi Ito, Hector Postigo, Walt Scacchi, and Ted Tschang. I hope that the papers would provide alternative lens for examining New Media development.

See full issue.

Abstract of the special issue:

In this special issue, we present a multi–disciplinary perspective of the emergence of user creativity in new media. The papers were written by researchers in anthropology, sociology, media studies, law, computer science, and management studies. The authors examine the roles of users and commercial actors in the new media, and help answer critical questions on intellectual property, ethics, practice, and governance. Taken together, the papers expose a complex, mutable, creative ecology influencing new media product development and practice.