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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

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Champ Tag: The Results

Three weeks ago, we began an experiment to study the reliability of visitor tagging, in relation to our "Champ Problem". At the time, I pulled numbers for the previous three weeks, and said I'd be back in 3 week with new numbers to compare. Well, those 3 weeks have flown by, and so it's now time to take a look at the results!

There were two questions I was looking to answer with this experiment. The first was whether the tags we present to visitors before they tell their story influence what they tell us about. We already know how many people talked about Champ overall during the control period (20), and we know how many people talked about Champ for the question we modified during the same period (9). We can therefore evaluate the influence by comparing the numbers we get from the test time period. The second question related to how accurately visitors tagged their videos. Could we automate a response based on how someone tagged their video?

Before we start looking at data, there are a few things we need to be aware of. First, ECHO's "Champ Week" just so happened to fall into the middle of my test period. With presentations and activities going on in the building talking about Champ, it would not be hard to imagine some inflation in numbers. Second, visitation and kiosk activity during the two time periods was not identical. The total number of videos recorded decreased 25% in the test period as compared to the control period. Clearly, the Champ tag discourages people from using the Kiosk! (Or maybe not...) Regardless, we need to be expecting up to 25% fewer videos about Champ during this time period in comparison to the previous time period, just because there were 25% fewer videos overall.

To start off, we'll look at survey responses. The "What would you like to talk about" poll is asked before visitors record a story. If the visitors abandon the recording process after that, or indicate that they are a child without an adult present, their poll response still counts, but they don't show up in the actual video counts. During the three week test period, 9 people selected Blue-green algae (1 recorded a video; it was not retained, because it consisted entirely of the top of someone's head as they repeatedly said "Balls"), 5 selected Invasive Fish (1 recorded a video, it was not retained, because it was a young child asking how many fish are in Lake Champlain, a question which has been asked and answered several times already), and 3 selected Phosphorus or Nitrogen (1 recorded a video, it was not retained, as it contained a child repeating "I like mud" over and over). The infamous "Something Else" got 26 selections (3 videos recorded, none kept.) and finally, the new "Champ" selection, got 41 responses (8 videos recorded, none kept on Kiosk).

The first interesting thing I've noticed is that we did not keep a single video for this question in all 3 weeks! During the control time window, we kept 10 of 26 videos recorded. During the test period, 14 videos were recorded, and we kept 0. This drop, of 46%, is higher than the overall drop in videos recorded (25%).

So, now that we've got THOSE numbers out of the way, lets get back to our two main questions. During our test period, we had 13 videos recorded about Champ, 6 of which were on the Researcher question. This is a 35% DECREASE over the previous time period. If I subtract the 25% decrease in Kiosk usage, we're still getting 10% fewer Champ videos overall than before we added the tag. The decrease in people asking researchers about Champ (That's the question we modified) was 33%, very close to the overall decrease, and still above the 25%. While far from conclusive, this initial research does not suggest that including a tag for a topic causes an increase in people talking about that topic.

Our second question was on accuracy of tagging. 100% of the Champ videos on the researcher question used the Champ tag. However, two videos using that tag did not make it into the YouTube playlist. Most likely, these videos didn't even mention Champ, and I just cleaned them up without realizing. While user sorting is successful, the moderating step wasn't taken care of - and that comes as no surprise at all, as there doesn't seem to be any way to convince certain people that their jokes aren't funny enough to feature on our Kiosk.

So what is next? Nothing right away. I'm going to leave the Champ tag in place on the question, and continue to monitor videos which use it. At some point, I will probably modify the upload script to place videos with that tag in the appropriate playlist, but I want more than 3 weeks of testing before I take that step. For now, I'm off to review the latest videos!

~Travis Cook, Information Technology Coordinator

Monday, July 27, 2009

Champ Tag: An Experiment.

What would you ask a researcher about Lake Champlain? If you're anything like the typical visitor to ECHO, you'd ask about something else. (Yes, I have had questions literally asking about "something else".) We give visitors 3 different topics that they can ask researches about, including Blue-green algae (102 selections), Invasive fish (73 selections), Phosphorus or Nitrogen (62 selections). If none of those match their question, they can select a 4th option - "Something else" (520 selections).

Of course, if you've read my previous post and done the math, you'll notice some inconsistencies in numbers. How can we have 757 selections, but only 269 videos recorded? Your response is saved as soon as you select it, but you have many options to abort recording your story afterward. If I filter it down to only people who have recorded a video, we have 25 responses for Blue-green algae (of which we kept 6), 21 responses for Invasive Fish (of which we kept 7), and 18 responses for Phosphorus or Nitrogen, of which we kept 4. The remaining 205 responses all chose "Something else" - and we kept 56 of them.

So, what can we tell from these numbers? Either we aren't offering the right tags, or visitors are not selecting the correct tags for their videos. As this Kiosk is meant to be an important prototype for our larger exhibit, I feel it is important to correct this issue while we still can test. After all, a map where the only way to get any videos to pop up is by using the tag "something else" isn't going to work.

I've used the YouTube channel to gather some additional data on the problem. I chose this, rather than trying to do an exhaustive analysis of all videos recorded, because a) it was a lot easier, and b) well, did you see reason a? The YouTube channel contains two things. Good videos, and Champ videos. So, I've taken the last 20 videos answering the "What would you ask a researcher about" question, and analyzed the response for tag accuracy.

Tag - Topic
Something else - Question about Champ
Something else - Researchers should communicate stewardship to boaters, not just farmers.
Phosphorus or Nitrogen - Fertilizers containing Phosphorus and Nitrogen make our local lake smell!
Something else - How many types of fish are there, and have any gone extinct from Lake Champlain?
Something else - How old is Lake Champlain?
Something else - Are you studying if Champ is real?
Something else - Is Champ real?
Something else - Is Champ real, or related to a Sturgeon?
Something else - Is Champ real? What is he?
Something else - How polluted is the lake in comparison to other lakes?
Something else - How long does Champ live, and how many eggs the female lay?
Something else - Does Champ live at the bottom of the lake? Is he Blue?
Something else - How long has Champ lived in Lake Champlain? What does he eat?
Something else - Why is the lake blackish, and not blue?
Something else - How did the Champlain Islands get their names?
Something else - How much pollution could you clean up in one day?
Something else - Do you ever plan on going on a really big search for Champ?
Something else - We love Vermont. Honor your ancestors.
Something else - Asking about Champ.
Something else - Do you ever find sea creatures in Lake Champlain?

So, what can we determine from this data? Well, as you already knew, everyone wants to talk about Something else. But what are they talking about? Half of them are asking about Champ. Pollution appears to be another theme, and while they don't all show up on YouTube, I can assure you that more than one person has asked how old Lake Champlain is, and how many different species can be found in the lake.

The next step was to filter this data into a time period. Between July 6th and July 27th (the past 3 weeks), 9 people asked researchers about Champ, and 20 people recorded videos about Champ.

So, with all this data in hand, the great experiment can begin.

Every time we get a Champ video, I have to do a few things. First, we remove it from the Kiosk. These aren't the kind of questions we're looking to gather for researchers to answer. Then, I have to remove the videos from the VFL playlist, and manually add it to the Champ Playlist. Why not let the visitors do this themselves? I could change the script to place videos tagged Champ onto the Champ playlist automatically. I could even set the kiosk to hide those videos by default, so I could review them less often (For example, each Monday morning, or Friday afternoon).

Based on this, I have decided to add a Champ tag to the list of possibilities for the researcher question. Over the next three weeks, I will evaluate what happens. Do the tags shape what people are talking about? Will we get more Champ videos than in the previous 3 weeks, because people see the tag and think "I want to talk about Champ!"? How reliable is visitor tagging? Will visitors use the tag? Will visitors misuse the tag?

Check back a little after August 17th to find out!

~Travis Cook, Information Technology Coordinator

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Kiosk Report: 1000 videos in!

On the afternoon of October 30th, 2008, Suzanne Levine, a researcher from UVM, joined Lifelong Learning Coordinator Linda Bowden and myself in ECHO's community room to record the very first video on our Kiosk. A week later, the Kiosk was on the floor, capturing our first visitors. Things got off to a bit of a slow start. The microphone wasn't sensitive enough and the speakers had been covered by a graphic wrap, making them almost impossible to hear when there were kids in the building. The Kiosk also started off with 5 questions. By Mid-December, we'd solved many of the issues, revised the questions (and reduced the number down to 3) and things were looking up. By years end, we were up to 124 videos recorded.

In April, I posted about how, as of April 11th, things were about to change here at ECHO. I'd expected a noticeable increase in videos. On April 11th, we had 722 videos. Things didn't quite go as I'd expected. The massive school group rush that we get between April and June did not fill up the Kiosk like I anticipated it would. Our daily video count didn't really start increasing until late June.

On July 3rd, the 1000th video was recorded.

I'd have posted about this sooner, but the truth is, I wasn't watching the numbers, and I missed it. I'd had dreams about waiting behind the scenes with Champ and Linda holding a giant Photoshopped cake, ready to jump out as soon as video #1000 was saved. Alas, I have missed yet another good excuse to eat cake. As a sort of belated celebration however, I do have some interesting statistics to share! (Yes, I know, not nearly as tasty.)

Since the Kiosk was launched, we've recorded 1071 videos.

Of those videos recorded, 361 of them have been retained on the Kiosk.

Of those videos recorded, 137 have also been placed on our YouTube Channel.

Of those videos on the YouTube channel, 43 went onto our secret Champ playlist - which was created soon after we started sending all videos to YouTube. These videos don't meet our requirements to be featured as part of the VFL project - but we wanted to keep them around to give everyone a look at some of the creative responses we get almost daily. (76 Additional videos have also been kept in my personal "best/worst of" folder. The collection as a whole is certainly R rated - for just about everything that can earn videos an R rating. Some day, I hope to release a compilation video.)

724 of our videos feature youths.

124 of our videos feature teenagers.

126 of our videos feature adults.

97 of our videos contain a mix of the above. This is usually a parent and a toddler.

Our most popular question, with 441 responses, asks "What favorite experience or memory do you have of Lake Champlain?"

The second most popular question, with 361 responses, asks "What is the top reason people should protect Lake Champlain?"

The least popular question, with 257 responses, asks "What would you ask a researcher about Lake Champlain?"

If you've done the math and are about to point out that we're a bit off someplace, that's because 37 responses were to the two questions we decided to eliminate early into the project.

The largest percentage (38%) of videos kept are for the question on memories of Lake Champlain. The second largest (31%) is the question on top reasons to protect Lake Champlain. The lowest kept video percentage (30%) went to the least popular question, "What would you ask a researcher...", most likely due to everyone asking the researchers if they've seen Champ.

29% of Youth videos are retained.

36% of Teen videos are retained.

56% of Adult videos are retained.

374 People wanted to talk about Something Else. Most of them were probably Champ.

Most people shared memories of Summer, with 213 videos. Next came Winter, with 90. Mud season, Vermont's famous 5th season, got 62 responses. Spring - the less muddy parts of it at least - got 53. Fall got the least hits, only 27. Don't worry Fall. I still love you!

While English is by far the leading language, we have had videos in both French and Spanish. I've also heard visitors from England, Ireland, Scotland, and Australia.

Finally - in the time it took me to write this post (which, admittedly, did suffer from some disruptions) - five more videos have been recorded.

~Travis Cook, Information Technology Coordinator

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What I Learned in Vlogging Class

This video was made in a four session class I just completed at our local cable access station Vermont Community Access Media (VCAM), in Burlington VT. The class was on vlogging or making video blogs. The video above was edited together by the class using Final Cut Pro and was recording using a Flip camcorder.

I'm working on learning as much as I can about both video capture and editing for VFL. I have very little previous experience editing video. I had messed around with some footage off my digital camera. That being said, the process of figuring out how to do what I wanted to do with the footage was not fun and the end product was fairly lame.

However, I bought a Flip camera earlier this year for both personal use and for VFL and really enjoy taking video now. The next hurdle was learning how to edit. For a while I used iMovie on my Mac at home and really liked what I was able to do with it in terms of editing. You can see an example from a previous blog post What is a Healthy Lake? and from our video about the Missisquoi River Basin Association tree planting day. But, although iMovie was working for me, I wanted to kick it up a notch so I signed up for the class at VCAM.

It's important for me not only to learn video capture and editing skills, but to note during the process what it's like to be the learner. I'm striving to use simple (and affordable!) video capture and editing equipment and software for VFL to establish a baseline for a project like ours. I think we could easily purchase a fancier camcorder and get into equally fancy editing software, but the project needs to demonstrate that it's replicable. Likewise, I could go crazy with lights and sets and make-up for capturing stories or get really high-tech with editing those stories, but it's more important to get the stories out there. Being a beginner and learning new skills will certainly help me to share this project with other organizations interested in using video capture for their organizations.

I'm about to embark on our first library programs this week to capture stories and I'll be using Final Cut Pro from now on to edit. Come back to the blog again for a post on how the capture sessions work out and some of the things I learn as I launch into this new phase of the project. Wish me luck!

~Bridget Butler, Voices For the Lake Manager

Thursday, June 4, 2009

What is a Healthy Lake?

This spring I contracted the Center for Rural Studies to include two questions in their annual Vermonter Poll. I had to come up with two questions that would help inform the Voices For the Lake project. Just two - that's a bit of a challenge, huh? The purpose of the VFL project is to help raise awareness and inspire people to make a difference by helping improve water quality in their community. As this stewed in my brain, I began to think about what the perceptions were of water quality. How did people in the Lake Champlain basin see the Lake? What were they thinking?

Jessica Hyman from the Center for Rural Studies helped me work through all this and come up with my two questions for the poll. What she helped me realize is that I needed a baseline to start from and then the next generation of the evaluative process for the project could build upon this first poll. I didn't want multiple choice, I didn't want to feed them answers. I wanted the pollsters to tell me something. And they did.

My first question was very open-ended. What defines a healthy lake? Respondents were asked what words they associated with a healthy lake.

  • 42% used the word CLEAN
  • 25% referred to supporting FISH, PLANT or ANIMAL LIFE
  • 17% used POLLUTION FREE
  • 16% said CLEAR

Other words used were SWIMMABLE, AESTHETICS, ALGAE/INVASIVE FREE, DRINKABLE, EDIBLE FISH. And get this - HEALTHY ECOSYSTEM and HEALTHY SHORELINE. Hmm, great answers, right? What I got out of this though is that I still need to ask more questions. Like: What does clean mean? What is pollution? What is healthy?

Again, perceptions. I could tell you what clean water is. I could give you a text book definition of pollution and then again, water pollution. But what I really want to know, what I really need to know in order to have this project reach it's goals is: What do the people in the Lake Champlain Basin think these things mean?

VFL Team member Linda Bowden helped me bring this question to the guests at ECHO during Earth Week. We had a blast running around with video cameras recording responses to the question of the day which was, what three words would you use to describe a healthy lake?

Here's the result:

This exercise of asking one question to a number of people and capturing their answers on video was informative in a variety of ways. Approaching people is tough, some wanted to talk, some didn't. We wanted adults to answer the questions, the adults were more keen on having their kids answer the question. The answers came quick, they were brief (which made editing easy)...and then there's the challenge of editing! So, lots to think about. And lots to think about before I hit the road to capture video at local libraries and other community events. I'm playing with a set of questions and statements to use to frame interviews as we move forward with collecting stories about the watershed. Check back in again to the blog and our YouTube page to see what we've come up with...

~Bridget, Voices For the Lake Manager

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Record your story!

~ Travis Cook, Information Technology Coordinator

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Adventures in Kiosk Land

It's mud season here in Vermont, which means Earth Weeks and Mudfest here at ECHO. It means something else as well. On April 11th (the Saturday before our two-week festival began), Kiosk Season begins. What's that? It's the time of year lasting from early April to late August when the daily admission to ECHO is high enough that Kiosk usage is almost guaranteed.

The interesting thing is that, before the Kiosk really takes off, we need to reach a certain "critical mass" of people in the building. Before that point, videos are rare. After that point, we get 15 to 50 per day. That range seems to depend more on WHO is in the building, and not HOW MANY. Once we're above the critical point, we will get videos, and adding more people to the building doesn't cause there to be any more videos.

In preparation for this busy season, we've been making some new and exciting changes. Here's a rundown:
First - All videos recorded and kept now go to YouTube. - Previously, you could choose whether you wanted to send you video or not. If you chose not to, your story was destined to live out a boring life on the Kiosk, and then get deleted after enough new videos had been created. Too many awesome videos were being lost to this. Now, videos will live long, happy lives, reaching out to a worldwide audience on YouTube, where we and others can comment and respond.

Second - The "checkout" procedure has been cleaned up. The number of questions being asked has been reduced. If an adult is not present videos are no longer being kept. Everyone who records a video is required to supply an e-mail address where we can contact them.

Third - The E-mail sent to visitors has been improve. Previously, e-mails sent to visitors who recorded stories on the Kiosk simply contained a link to their personal photo and audio. Now, they not only include that, but they also mention our YouTube channel and Website, and encourage people to check them out, look for their video, and comment on others. I think this is an imporant thing to help drive people toward Stewardship beyond their visit.

Fourth - We've cleaned up the YouTube titles and descriptions. The original version of the YouTube Upload Script would set a video's answer (For example: Summer) as the title, and the question (What favorite memory do you have of Lake Champlain) as the description. This got especially bad when the answer was "Something else." Now, we use the Question for the title, and in the description, we quickly describe the project, give the question, give the visitor's answer, and then provide a link to our website for people to learn more.

We've already seen some changes happening, and hopefully, at some point in the future, I'll be able to do a post with some interesting statistics and analysis.

~ Travis Cook, Information Technology Coordinator

A Tale of a Table

Earlier this week (ok, I admit it, it was a month and a half ago...) I mentioned I would be writing a followup post all about some mysterious room in the Newseum, back when I was attending WebWise 2009 in Washington DC. I've been a bit busy since then, but I wanted to get back to that before I moved on to other things. Here's the story:

The room I'm talking about is the The Bancroft Family Ethics Center - located on Level 2. The large object in the center is a table with computer screens rear-projected onto the surface. It's part of a game in which you grab little reporters who are roaming around the surface, drag them to your editing area, answer a question about an ethical situation, and, if you get the answer right, contribute a story to the paper in the center. There are two teams, and the first team to fully complete their paper wins.

For example, when I was playing with the table, I dragged over a question similar to "You're the editor of Paper X, and learn that the reporter you've assigned to cover a story about a corrupt mayor is now having a romantic relationship with him. Do you pull her from the story?". Having watched a few too many James Bond movies, I said no, got the question wrong, and all the little reporters booed me. Oops.

So, what does any of this have to do with Voices for the Lake? Well, as our primary video editor, I frequently have to ask myself... if I find out that one of our video contributors is having a romantic relationship with invasive fish, do I pull the video?

Actually, no. I mean yes, I'd probably pull the video (This is one video topic I've yet to come across... although I'm sure it will come up eventually.), but that isn't why I'm interested in the room. I'm more interested because, as part of the Voices for the Lake project, we're building a giant, interactive map of the basin - to show where all the great stories we're collecting are talking about - and we don't know where to put it. Part of the trouble of finding out where to put it is that we also don't know what it will look like, and one of the ideas that has been tossed around is that it should be built into a giant interactive table.

Rather than touching the table itself, all you have to do is wave your hand over it, as you can see in the picture. When your fingertips (or camera... basically any point) gets close to one, they hook on, and you can drag and throw them around. A camera above the table, combined with IR lights IN the table, work together to make it all happen. To find out more about how it works, check out this Video Blog from the Newseum itself.

Also located in the ethics center are little workstations with touchscreens, speakers, and headphones. In their case, the activities on these workstations are seperate from the table. In our case however, I can't help but imagine navigating around a map on our table, finding a cool story that you want to watch, and then dragging that story over to a workstation. Once you've done it, you walk over to the workstation, and begin to watch the video. After you watch it, you could then be presented with the ability to signup with one of our stewardship partners for more information, or to actually get involved with a solution.

For example, I walk up to our map table, look around, find my house, find my favorite little swimming spot on Lake Champlain, and see that, nearby, someone has recorded a video about a toxic bluegreen alge bloom they saw. I drag the video over to workstation #1, and then walk over to the workstation to sit down and watch it. When it's done, I'm given the option to request more information, where I can enter my e-mail address and get a message with some more details on bluegreen alge. Or, one of the options at the end of the video might say "Learn how you can help monitor alge blooms." If I click it, I get another video, recorded by a scientist, talking about how citizens can signup to collect samples all around the lake, with information how how to get started. From story to stewardship.

Apparently, the key to frequent blog posts is keeping them short. On that note... "Publish Post"

~ Travis Cook, Information Technology Coordinator

Friday, April 3, 2009

Lessons from The Pike

Photo: Courtesy of US Fish & Wildlife Service Photo Gallery; Robert W. Hines

I could have a smashing video in here of the experience I'm about to type out to you. But I don't because I didn't have my video camera. Lesson learned: ALWAYS have your camera with you. You never know when you are going to stumble on a story for stewardship. I'll do my best to describe it to you, but man, I am kickin' myself for not having the camera.

Yesterday after work I went to look for ducks in St. Albans Bay State Park. As I pulled over on the side of the road, there were two other cars parked there and two men standing along the edge of the wetland. These two men were staring into the water and they had rifles.

As I walked away to do some birding, I was running through all the potential game they could be going after and reconciling that with the current hunting season. Nothing fit. Not duck season (phew!), didn't know if there was a muskrat season, couldn't think what else they could shoot. But, by the time I walked back from my birding adventure, I had an idea of what they were "hunting". I was excited. If they were hunting what I thought they were hunting, this was gonna be good. I had to ask one of them, I had to find out. And I knew if I was right I was going to be sorry I didn't have my video camera.

Coming upon one of the hunters, still standing there gazing down intently at the water's edge, I said, "Excuse me, sorry to bother you. Could I ask what you're hunting?" Now I wish I could type in a Vermonter accent because its a rich, rural, relaxed jumble of sounds. (Arrg, camera!) But, this weathered older man told me he was hunting pike and not having much luck. YES! I was right. Cool! And it's at this point I really wanted my camera because we got into a discussion about shooting pike.

A little background for you: A pike is a fish, apparently they are tough to catch. Pike shooting is something unique to northern Vermont and New York and Lake Champlain. There is a season - middle of March to the middle of May. It is thought that it evolved from the Abenaki using spears to fish for pike in this region. This odd hunting season has been written about in the New York Times.

But the story, oh the story I could have captured on video. He told me he had been hunting pike for more than 20 years. He told me how sweet the meat was and how they were great to eat. He invited me to see the pike in the trunk of his car that his buddy shot earlier that day. Beautiful, beautiful fish.

I had a hard time focusing on the conversation at points because I kept thinking how great this would've been to capture on video. And, then how would I ask permission to do that? Even if I had the camera would I have had the guts to ask, "Would you mind if I captured our conversation on video?" How do you out-of-the-blue say, "This is so cool, I want to be able to share this with others."? What would he have said? Would he have let me record him?

I've been thinking about how the Voices For the Lake project could use a story like the pike hunter. ECHO stands for Ecology, Culture, History, and Opportunity: doesn't this story have a bit of each? Couldn't I find a way to connect fisheries biology and conservation with this story? How could it be used to find agreement and common ground on a practice that is potentially polarizing? How does a guy like the pike hunter feel about the health of the Lake? of the fish?

Storytelling is powerful! Sharing experiences is powerful. This is what Voices For the Lake is all about. A good story can reveal itself at any moment. My lesson learned from the pike hunter is not just to bring my camera next time - but to be bold enough to ask questions, to really listen, and to be open to all stories about how we enjoy Lake Champlain.

~Bridget Butler, Voices For the Lake Manager

Monday, March 23, 2009

Water You Think of This?

Here are some interesting pieces I've come across recently online.
~Bridget, VFL Manager

5 Wartime Water Conservation Posters : What would "recession" posters look like?

Robofish Sniffs Out Pollution : Would Lake Champlain benefit from robofish?

Social Objects Stimulate Stranger Conversation : What object reminds you of Lake Champlain?

Friday, March 13, 2009

ECHO - It's Not Just for Kids Anymore

One of our challenges with the video capture kiosk at the aquarium is audience. ECHO, like most science centers or museums, attracts a family audience. I could go even further and say that it attracts a mommy & me audience: moms with kids mainly under 5 years old. Recognizing this, ECHO has made it a priority to reach out to an older demographic. The audience for Voices For the Lake (VFL) is teens & adults.

The challenge is to get the parent/adult visitors to see the VFL kiosk as an interactive experience for them. Most of the videos we get are recorded by kids; say 65%. The other 35% are recorded by teens or adults. I'd like to see this tip a little more towards the 50-50 split.

Here are some questions we are asking ourselves. We'd love to hear your thoughts.

How do we encourage parents/adults to record their story and not just their kids?

How do we get parent & child to record together?
(we had a suggestion of two stools at the kiosk instead of just one)

Will signage help?

(The kiosk sits by itself looking over the Lake. No current signage.)

Should we change the location?
(suggestion to put it on our Emerging Threats workbench which is heavy in adult content)

A couple of examples for you:

This one is typical of a family interaction. The parent is out of the frame of the camera, but is prompting their child on what to say. This clip is different in that the parent visibly joins in the story. We get many "parent whisperer" videos.

This mom actually filmed one with her preschool aged son and then recorded this gem herself.

Friday, March 6, 2009

LakeStewardship Blog: EPA Launches Water Quality Video Contest

LakeStewardship Blog: EPA Launches Water Quality Video Contest

Here's a great post on a really cool contest that will be taking place over the next month. Get your videos in!

I can't wait to see the results! ~Bridget, Voices For the Lake Manager

Think Voices should do something similar for Lake Champlain?

Web Wiser

It's Friday. A whole week away from the WebWise gathering in Washington, DC last week and I'm still trying to process everything I gained from the conference. It's a challenge coming back from an event like WebWise, especially if it's done really well. Your mind is busting with new ideas, contacts, programs and projects you want to learn more about, books you need to read, people you want to talk with again.

So, how about a brain dump of why I am WebWiser after hanging with the museum & library folks last week:
  • Many museums and libraries at the conference were looking at how to bust into the social media or new media scene. Concerns about branding, content, control were expressed. Voices has been grappling with these as well and what I heard from the panelists jibes with the decisions we've made. Check out one of the best presentations on this very theme by Michael Edson, the Director of Web and New Media Strategy for the Smithsonian Institution.
  • Patrick Whitney, Dean of the Institute of Design at Illinois Institute of Technology said: "Everyone wants change but they don't want to do anything differently." That's just a thinker for those of us throwing ourselves into the Web 2.0 world.
  • As we introduce new social media tools like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc. to our patrons, make it easy. Bring them along with you so that you build and expand your online community rather than targeting only those that are "web-savvy". Great example from the Columbus Center of Science and Industry (CoSI) is their Share tab on their website.
  • From participant Aaron Schmidt "Social media is like a free kitten. Easy to get one, but then you have to take care of it." Managing and monitoring your social media tools takes people, time & a commitment to keeping a true dialogue alive online.
  • LISTEN-JOIN-CONNECT-LISTEN MORE-EXPERIMENT I'll keep this mantra in my head as our project grows, especially the experiment part. Some things work, some don't, some take a bit of tweaking and that's a part of how we're learning to deepen the experience for our guests both at the aquarium and online.
I can hear the back-up warning beep as the dump truck of WebWise deep thoughts keeps unloading more, so I'll stop here. Just like Travis, I've got a queue of post ideas now and I can't wait to share more. I want to thank everyone at WebWise, it was a fabulous and mind-blowing three days. I'm all ready jonesin' for more! ~Bridget, Voices For the Lake Manager

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

WebWise 2009, or, What I did on my spring vacation.

I awoke this morning to one of those sure signs I was in Vermont - visible breath in my bedroom. It was hard not to miss that lovely 60 degree spring-like weather of Washington DC, just under a week ago. Perhaps this would be a good time to introduce myself. Hi, I'm Travis Cook, Information Technology Coordinator here at ECHO. I'm the T in our tasty BLT team. That's me in the tomatoish red. Bacon, err, Bridget is the one in the green, ruining the acronym metaphor. My role on our team is to coordinate all of the fun technical aspects of this project, identifiable by their use of other acronyms, like API or PHP.

So, you might be wondering, why did Mr. Tomato go to Washington? You might also be wondering what exactly is going on in the picture up above. I'll let you figure out that second one on your own, but if you need a hint, think "3 second self-timer." The first question is what I'm actually here to write about. Besides the nice weather, we went to Washington DC to participate and demonstrate our Voices for the Lake project at the IMLS Conference, WebWise 2009: Digital Debates.

While I'll let Bridget get to the real, umm, "meat" of the debates, I wanted to drop in and offer my perspective as well, and try and lay down a bit of a roadmap for some upcoming posts. It was nice meeting a number of you in the Museum and Library fields. The next time Bridget sends me a link to the latest blog posting on Museum 2.0 (Who is already talking about one of the interesting things we both observed - the use of the technology-facilitated backchannel), I've got a face to put with it. I also enjoyed Michael R. Nelson's Keynote Speech, The Cloud, the Crowd, and the 3-D Internet - Implications for Cultural Organizations, and left wondering how we should balance the use of the cloud - YouTube - vs. storing our videos on traditional servers here at ECHO. Look for a post on that at somepoint in the future.

Touring the project demonstrations, it didn't take long to pick up on one phrase making a repeated appearance - "Google Maps". I'm not just talking about what Bridget was saying, either. Everywhere I went, someone was finding a new use for the API or even the interface, ranging from the Civil Rights Digital Library - who have tied it into the search results to give a graphic sense of where events occure - to Developing Advanced Technologies for the Imaging of Cultural Heritage Objects - which allows you to navigate historical objects and artifacts in 3D, using an interface very similar to Google Earth.

When we were presenting, I had a number of people interested in how we were able to use our Kiosk to automatically upload videos to YouTube. I've taken note, and will be devoting a whole post to that soon, so if that interests you, keep an eye out for it. If you watched our demonstration and didn't have a chance to get your question in, by all means, embrace that backchannel again and drop us a comment or email!

Finally, while in DC, we got a tip that the Newseum - located just blocks away from our hotel - had something we should check out. While it's temping to think they might have meant the section of the Berlin Wall, the awesome view of the city from the 6th floor balcony, or the emotionally moving wall of front-page headlines from around the world following 9/11... what they really thought we should see was located on the 2nd floor, in the center of a fogged glass room. Check back later this week to find out what it is!

~ Travis Cook, Information Technology Coordinator

Friday, February 20, 2009

Travel Writer Disses Lake Champlain

Uh-oh! Bad press on the state of Lake Champlain. And it's created quite the buzz in the papers and online. Check these out:

Candy Page's Blog @ Burlington Free Press She's got the conservation scoop.

Matt Crawford, Outdoor Writer Burlington Free Press For the sport fishing perspective.

Montpelier's Times Argus for the smack-down at the Capital with the Conservation Law Foundation

Vermont Public Radio's Interview with Greenberg

Peter Greenberg's Website with his Vermont controversy thoughts

So here's my question: How do you take bad buzz and turn it into good vibes to inspire stewardship of Lake Champlain?

~Bridget, Voices For the Lake Manager

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Video Capture is Like a Box of Chocolates never know what you're going to get. Sorry, had to do it. Maybe it's the chocolate hang-over I have from Valentine's Day, but I can't seem to shake the analogy. Part of what is both exciting and challenging about providing our visitors with a place to record their stories and have them go directly to our YouTube channel is that sometimes you bite into that dud chocolate you just don't like.

It's one of the most common questions I've come across when talking about the Voices For the Lake video capture kiosk. And, I'm not alone. I've been following the Mattress Factory and Brooklyn Museum's quick capture projects; the same concern has been expressed.

Ah, but that is part of what is exciting. It's quite fun to come back to the office on Monday morning after a busy weekend at the aquarium and go through the videos that have been left at the kiosk. And I'll admit, they don't all measure up to what I have created in my mind as the ideal - the dark chocolate caramel, if you will.

What I learned from watching the other two projects was not to be afraid of the dud chocolates. My team and I are constantly reminding each other that it's an experiment, it's a prototype, and most importantly, it's an iterative process. It's okay to go back and tweak things a bit so that we can get a better result. We've reworked the framing questions on the kiosk, developed a flowchart for filtering videos, we've even moved the kiosk to different locations. Each tweak has us asking: Will this result in videos whose content is on target and rich with personal experience?

For me, personally, there have been a couple dark chocolate caramel videos at this early stage in our project. I'll let you decide for yourself at our channel. But for a little fun, here's one that's like - a chocolate covered marshmallow for me. ~ Bridget, Voices For the Lake Manager

Friday, February 13, 2009

Conservation & Social Media

Can social media be used to raise awareness around a conservation issue?

Let's go one step further

Can it raise awareness AND inspire stewardship?

Well, I'm about to find out. And I'm hoping you'll stick around to find out with me.

ECHO's Voices For the Lake project which I manage just completed setting up what I am calling our "social media empire" online this week. You can find us on Facebook, on YouTube, on our website and on this blog. It's the foundation for an ambitious project that is using the stories of folks who live around the Lake Champlain Basin in VT and NY to answer those two questions above. Social networking will be the tools we use to share these stories and create some buzz about the health of Lake Champlain.

What can you expect from this blog?

Well, I'm finding this project fascinating in a number of different ways...the social media concept itself, the act of asking people how they feel about Lake Champlain, the issues surronding the health of the Lake, the overwhelming number of Web 2.0 tools out there, the communities & groups involved in being stewards of the Lake...

I could keep going on and on and on. And apparently, I now have an outlet to do just that. My team and I have been working on th
is project for only a few months but we've had so many great discussions & challenges with this that I am relieved to have a place to unload, share and hopefully receive some feedback about the project.

Looking forward to splicing into the blogsphere!

Good stuff...
Voices For the Lake Manager