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Below The Surface

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Voices Nominated for Social Media Favorite

Mashable, a social media blog site, has declared June 30th as Social Media Day internationally. "Social media has changed our lives. It has not only changed the way we communicate, but the way we connect with one another, consume our news, conduct our work, organize our lives, and much more. So why not celebrate?" Meetups have been scheduled all over the world to bring social media users to celebrate their networks.

In Burlington Vermont, @DeepDishCreates and @winwinapps have organized a day long series of events to celebrate. A number of tweetups throughout the day, a local scavenger hunt to various business (including ECHO!) and the crowning of a King, Queen, Business and Organization who are savvy social media users.

Guess what? Voices for the Lake has been nominated in the organization category for ECHO Lake Aquarium & Science Center! You can help us win the crown by casting a vote and then coming to celebrate with us at the Bluebird Tavern tomorrow night.


ECHO is also a part of the Scavenger Hunt with local businesses. Collect items from each of the businesses and participants will be entered to win some very cool prizes given out at the Bluebird Tavern on June 30th. ECHO & Voices for the Lake are putting up a goodie bag as a prize which will include an ECHO membership and a Sony Bloggie video camera. You can find details here about participating in the Scavenger Hunt.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Website Launch - It's now all about YOU!

Earth Day was a grand celebration yesterday as we launched the new Voices for the Lake website.Voices for the Lake now provides a place where you can view stories from people all over the watershed and share your own values and perspectives. This innovative, evolving website is truly about your voice as it begins to build an archive of personal stories to affect change improving the health of all the water that flows into Lake Champlain.

Check out some of the press coverage we received about the launch:

WAMC Northeast Public Radio

WPTZ Channel 5

Burlington Free Press - Green Mountain Sunday Section

Friday, December 4, 2009

Voices For the Lake Online Survey

We're in the midst of our second survey with help from the Vermont Center for Rural Studies. Building on what we learned last year from the annual Vermonter Poll, this year's survey focuses on behavior changes and how people get information about local issues and the environment.

We've matched this online survey with a phone survey. I think the comparison of the two surveys will be fascinating and provide a great deal of insight about how Vermonters use the internet especially as a resource for information. Results will be posted on the blog as soon as we have fun crunching the numbers.

Just like many water droplets becoming one large body of water, your contribution to this survey will help create a stronger program for Voices For the Lake and ECHO. I hope you'll take 15 minutes to complete the survey and then pass it on to someone else!

Click here to start the online survey!

Thank you! ~Bridget, Voices For the Lake Manager

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Rockin' the Vermont Tech Jam

When I arrived in the office this morning I was asked "So, how'd the Tech Jam go yesterday?" My response, of course, was "It rocked." What else would you expect out of a jam session? Yesterday, my team and I attended the third annual Vermont 3.0 Innovative Tech Jam as an organization demonstrating the innovative use of technology.

Cathy Resmer of Seven Days, which sponsored the event, had called me weeks ago with the idea that we should be there because she viewed our project as a unique use of social media and video capture. As I thought about it, I figured I might be able to use the conference as an opportunity to talk up the second year of our project and feature some of the things we've been experimenting with in terms of video and social networking.

Thankfully the video capture kiosk fit in my little orange car, so I was able to hook it up at the conference venue and upload video live from the Jam to our YouTube channel. Along with the kiosk I brought the Acer Notebooks I've been using in the outreach programs, stacks of the recent State of the Lake Report and the quick response codes we've just started experimenting with.

The kiosk was a big hit with the highschool and college kids visited the booth. Adults were a little more wary of recording themselves, but still found the touch screen kiosk and the ability to upload directly to YouTube intriguing. As I talked about the direction of the project with people over the next year, the new microsite with a map mashup and the exhibit with touch screen map like the newsteam at CNN, I got exactly the response I was hoping for - a kind of "Whoa, ECHO's doing that? Cool!"

What seemed to create the biggest buzz for us at our booth were the beetags or quick response codes we brought. I got turned on to quick response codes or QR codes from visiting other science centers and then later from some ideas our marketing department had been playing with. As the project collected more video stories from the kiosk and from the interviews this summer, I was looking for ways to bring the videos to the exhibit floor and connect them with current exhibit pieces or aquaria.

I've gained a great deal of ideas from two art museums when it comes to quick capture video and the use of video both online and on the exhibit floor at ECHO. In a previous post on video capture, I talked about both the Brooklyn Museum and the Mattress Factory. Both these art museums blog and use Twitter, so I began to look through their archives. No need to reinvent the wheel, right? And wouldn't you know the Mattress Factory (MF) had just launched the use of QR codes to reduce the use of paper pamphlets at their gallery. Brilliant! Jeffrey Inscho who handles PR and Social Media had led the project and was blogging on his experience.

With the help of a how-to post from Jeffrey, my team member Linda Bowden and I worked to pull together a few beetags or codes to test first with staff and then coincidentally just in time for the Vermont Tech Jam. Our goal is to use the beetags to link a video from the Voices for the Lake project with something on the floor at ECHO. For example, we have a tank of Brook Trout and a video of a flyfisherman who started a water monitoring project on a favorite fishing river. Placing a quick response code next to the tank will link people to the video on our YouTube channel and the visitor can watch it right there at the tank.

At the Tech Jam, the beetags were a big hit. Most people had never seen them before. What really rocked was that the Jam's twitter feed #vt3 had folks talkin' up the beetags, so we actually had folks approach the booth with their smartphone in hand asking "What's this I hear about beetags?" I used my Blackberry to demonstrate if folks didn't have a smart phone and those that did were able to upload the app then capture the code and watch a video. In November we hope to beta-test some beetags with a variety of display designs on the floor at ECHO.

What I got out of the Tech Jam is this: ECHO has something really innovative going on with the Voices For the Lake project. And, it's unexpected. ECHO is known as a children and family place, and this use of technology both online and as an exhibit will appeal to a different demographic. With the second year of our project kicking off, I'm really looking forward to the launch of our website, the new exhibit and the opportunity to play and experiment with technology.

~Bridget, Voices For the Lake Manager

Monday, October 19, 2009

Joining the Innovation Jam

Voices For the Lake will be packing up all our video capture equipment and bringing it to the Vermont 3.0 Innovation Jam! The video capture kiosk will be taking a ride off-site to capture video for our YouTube channel's playlist. We're excited to be a part of the jam session this year as an organization using social media to inspire stewardship. Drop in on our booth in the exhibit hall and check out our video capture equipment and hear about the plans for the Voices For the Lake exhibit this spring.
~Bridget Butler, Voices For the Lake Manager

Friday, September 25, 2009

What I Learned this Summer

I was on the road this summer hosting library programs for Voices, attending watershed meetings at the both ends of the Lake, and capturing stories from folks working on watershed issues. As it is with any new project or program there is a great deal of tweaking that happens as you encounter hurdles, barriers and challenges along the way. Here are some reflections on what I learned this summer.

If You Build It, They May Not Come - The model for collecting stories in the communities throughout the Lake Champlain Basin involved working with libraries to offer a program to discuss watershed issues and collect stories about the local watershed. All the libraries I worked with this summer were very excited about the project, they were fascinated with the use of technology to tell stories. The bummer part was that no one came. It didn't matter how much press we got for the program, people just didn't turn out. As the librarians expressed to me this is often the case, offering programs for adults can be a hit or miss endeavor. I did have one library with participants, but they came to share historical stories. I gave it a go regardless thinking I would figure out a way to spin the stories back to conservation. This experience revealed another flaw in the program design, the process of interviewing people to capture their stories. Not one person wanted to use the laptops with the quick capture software, they all wanted to speak one-on-one with me. Which brings me to my next lesson...

Stories Are Personal - Even before going into the libraries, I began to set up one-on-one interviews with folks who were recommended to me because they were doing interesting work in the watershed. It took a while to cultivate these contacts. Explaining the program, talking to potential interviewees on the phone, and finally scheduling a time to meet. People were sometimes apprehensive about being videotaped, or they weren't sure their story was worthy of being shared and then - they just plain didn't know me! Stories are personal. If you think about sharing your summer vacation adventures, who do you tell? What's the setting under which you recount these adventures? Who do you share the most detailed information with? I needed to build trust with each person and meet them in a place where they felt the most comfortable. With some interviewees, I spent the day with them. We went to favor spots along rivers, looked at project sites they had managed for restoration, or paddled the bay where they were pulling invasive plants. We got to know each other and only then did the camera come out to capture their connection with their watershed. Back to the one library that had folks show up - now imagine trying to interview ten people one at a time in an hour and a half. Not very comfortable, we didn't have time to get to know each other and then there's the task of editing the video. Which brings me to...

Keeping it Simple - With a video capture project you need equipment to record an interview and software to edit the resulting video. There are numerous types of camcorders from big television type cameras on tripods to hand-held camcorders to a digital camera or smart phone. Keeping in mind that most people have some apprehension about being on camera and the idea that we want the project to be easily replicated by another organization, I looked for ways to keep the process simple. I settled on using the affordable Flip camera to record interviews and, even though I took a few classes with Final Cut Pro editing software and had a friend tutor me as well, in the end I returned to iMovie on my Mac and Movie Maker on my PC at work. The Flip HD cameras have worked out wonderfully. True, the audio can be a challenge as there isn't the capability for an external mic, but I've learned how to work within it's limitations. The small Flip camera also seems to be less intimidating to the interviewee. When I sit down to talk with someone the camera becomes less of a distraction and we fall into a relaxed conversation. It produces great looking video, it's easy to carry in the field, and with the USB port it's easy to upload the video to my computer. Editing was a barrier for some time as I struggled using Final Cut Pro. My learning curve wasn't as fast as I wanted and with the video queue growing I couldn't keep up. And then it dawned on me, I was the perfect example to learn from. One of the barriers to the project itself is helping to encourage people to become creators. I am an eager creator yet still a novice. Why not use that as a model for our project's audience? Once I let go of trying to use more advanced video editing software I realized the advantage of using the basic software. I am now approaching the capturing of video in the same way that I expect the general public to approach creating video. Basic editing software like iMovie and Movie Maker are now standard programs on computers. Flip cameras and smart phone video recorders are becoming more popular; just look at the new iPod. Voices will now be looking at ways to empower people to use the tools they all ready have and will be helping them develop the skills they need to use these tools to become creators and ultimately contributors to our project.

My biggest lesson of all this summer was how to constantly and confidently reassess and redirect. Barriers turned into hurdles, challenges were met or were not met but were always used to move the project forward. I'm reworking the outreach approach for year two, continuing to play with the emergent technology that seems to be changing each day and looking at how to empower people to use this technology to share information.

Voices is about to move into year two of the project which includes launching a submit-your-own-video webpage and the design and installation of both the online and on-site exhibit. Looking forward to it!

~Bridget Butler, Voices For the Lake Manager