Selected Projects / Looking Back
So where do we go from here. I’m not entirely sure.
All I can offer is a sense of where I’m coming from and the idea that by themselves a website or app is not particularly interesting. The success or failure of a given project rests in its affordances and the potential for social connection or engagement. The tech is only as good as the capacity to engage or excite users around a specific context or content assemblage.
Let me give you 3 examples of projects I was/am involved with:
The least satisfying of these three projects is probably the most powerful and technologically sophisticated: Maraya. The resources—time, money, energy—that went into it versus its impact are nowhere near where I (or any of the key stakeholders, including my collaborating partners M. Simon Levin and Henry Tsang) anticipated or imagined should be.
Without getting too technical, I should point a few aspects of this site:
- It has a custom designed (Flash) visualization tool capable of allowing for on the fly layering, filtering, resizing, spinning of at least six videos.
- This site was built in Drupal 7.0 and allows for intergration with Facebook, Flickr,
- It is designed for user generated content and seeding with thousands of images and video generated in five years of researching relationships between Vancouver and Dubai.
- It is also driven by public programming in two gallery / museum spaces: namely Centre A and Museum of Vancouver (MOV).
As far as websites go, marayaprojects.com is a pretty good one or at least should be. The problem is that the complexity of the software and scope of the project are somewhat baffling to users. While we’ve had some success using the site in workshops and as teaching tool, it falters in terms of the good old fashion usability.
Nevertheless, we are continuing to build it out. And there is still the hope that it will be taken up. Given the strength of imagery and ideas generated by students, I am optimistic about its future.
The next project, Current 2.0, is an Emily Carr University-based multiplatform design journal that I had the privilege of working as an faculty/editorial advisor.This journal is part of the upper level design curriculum and driven by faculty-student collaborations and labour.
The end product is exemplary. The functionality and the integration of the different components—print journal, blog, iPad app—provide an excellent model for thinking about to cross-platform publishing.
In terms of visual impact, it looks great. From an editorial point of view, however, Current needs to evolve. The strength of its form has significant potential in terms of content. From my point of view,Current will flourish if and when it begins to reach larger audiences
I would like to see it driven by the interests and dialogues that are beyond the purview of the institution or class. I really want to see what happens as the content begins to really push the form, to disrupt the smooth transitions between platforms, to disconnect it from the original design brief in a way that gives it a life of its own.
Speaking My Truth
The final example is speakingmytruth.ca This is an online platform for Speaking My Truth: Reflections on Residential School and Reconciliation. A collection of texts taken from the Aboriginal Healing Foundations Truth and Reconciliation 3 volume research series, with texts edited by Marlene Brant Castellano, Linda Archibald Mike DeGagné, Jonathan Dewar, Gregory Younging, and Ashok Mathur.
Speaking My Truth was selected and fronted by Shelagh Rogers, and it has been pitched at reading groups across the country.
In many ways, this is the least ambitious of the three sites and possibly the most successful. I’m not saying that because I played a larger role in its design, build, and implementation. Given the strength of the AHF material, vision of the editors, and talent of my collaborators (web developer Karen de Luna and designer Anja Braun), the success of the site seems inevitable. (I might even be the weak link.)
Nevertheless, this basic static site has been effective. In less than 6 months, it has enabled the distribution of nearly 11 thousand books. Given that 5 000 is a best seller in Canada this is no minor feat. It has also helped to kick start a discourse discussion of Residential Schools across a wide cross-section of Canada’s reading public—in book clubs and church groups, but also among health care workers, advocates and educators.
Granted the success of the site has something to do with the fact that the books are available free of charge, and that the AHF has been able to support their production and distribution. Yet there is more at stake here than free books.
I’ve come to think about this site as a component or platform in an open source publishing venture, which unlike other examples from the open or free software movement, is grounded in bricks and mortar, or print and paper. Based on the success of this site we are now working to put all 3 volumes on line in various forms.
From these, and other examples, I’ve begun to think about the need to stop over emphasizing the digital realm, to stop thinking in terms of new code and new software program as providing the fix. It seems that we need to give up on a blind faith in what Wendy Hui Kyong Chun calls ‘the logic of “sourcery”’ (qtd in Tkacz 99) or a reductive belief in the power and ubiquity of software.
The crux of my dilemma, how do we manage to work in this new context. I don’t have any clear answers and I’m hoping that as we come out the other end of this workshop/incubation process we might have a glimmer of how things might work. What might someday be possible? Or even better, what we might want.