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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

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