Location based and engaging – telling stories through your everyday world

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I will hazard a guess that very few readers of this blog missed that Pokemon Go was a bit of a success last year. It was great fun. For a while, for me, but for far longer for other people. And if Pokemon Go showed one thing, it was that Augmented Reality could work extremely well as long as the incentives were the right ones, the technology worked and the stories told were the right ones.

A little more than 1 1/2 years ago we started sketching out an idea for location based storytelling. We wanted to see how we could tell stories connected to certain physical spots. We wanted to see what kind of interface would work best, what kind of stories we could be telling and how we could produce it all to work as seamlessly and naturally as possible.

Having teamed up with the organisation Folkhälsan we were granted some experimental funding to create a pilot project. Folkhälsan already had a location based story – or rather, quite a few – namely walking guides to the city of Vaasa, where we are located. These were available in paper form and as PDF:s online, and had been written by volunteering seniors. The stories were about famous people, buildings, statues and events from the city’s 170 year history (the original Vaasa was built in the 17th century, but the whole city was burnt to the ground in an accident in the 1850s. Due to the land rising 1cm per year the old city had been becoming detached from the sea, slowly but surely, so a new city was built on the actual coast).

Now, we have a solid TV background – among other backgrounds – and we know that a well produced video is pretty effective in conveying messages and information. So that’s what we did; translate the existing guide to a script for TV. Casting the right guide we walked the route and recorded her telling the stories associated with each interesting spot. Then we merged the two – the video based stories and the location based app.

We did some thorough testing on our solution together with our partners over at Experience Lab. The results were overwhelmingly positive. For example, the survey answers below, plotted out (in Swedish, but I’ll translate).

screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-18-18-02

This shows that the test persons feel that the app is in the middle between technical and human (top row). Furthermore it is simple, practical, clear, predictable, easy to use, professional, stylistically pure, inclusive, “doesn’t push me away or draw me near but is places in the middle”, “is slightly demanding but not too much” and is creative, captivating and innovative.

Pretty neat.

We’re now in talks with multiple interested parties to create similar solutions for other places, other organisations and other events. Looks like location based storytelling is the way we want to move!

What have we learned over the course of working with this solution? At least three things:

  1. There is no such thing as “too simple”. Not when it comes to apps, and especially apps that are to be used by anyone with a smartphone, while they are walking around town. We changed, and changed again, to whittle away all redundant things from the app. Still there are some of them there, but way less than before.
  2. There is no such thing as “too personal”. When you tell a story, don’t be afraid to be familiar with your audience. No one minded our guides having a personal touch and directing their talks directly to the viewers – instead, when the guide was omitted from one or two points of interest, the audience missed her and asked for her.
  3. There is no such thing as “too thorough”. At the very last minutes before submitting to the App Store and Play Store we were tweaking small things, removing and adding as needed. It simply pays off to use test persons to tell you what works or what doesn’t – when the people have downloaded your app, it had better be flawless and in line with expectations. You will most probably not get a second chance.

Vaasa Walks are available on the App Store here and on Google Play Store here.

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