Jan 012012

Originally published Oct 2011 in Wired Magazine ‘Change Accelerators‘ by Gary Hayes 4 of 5

Image by Gary Hayes

When planning your next holiday to London with the fam, don’t forget to sync up your iGlasses and load up the London experience packs. On arrival, slip on your augmented reality sunglasses and take a look around: Roman-era London appears before your eyes. Slaves and gladiators walk through the streets and chariots rush past. You can add your own comments leaving virtual “We Were Here” graffiti for all time. The experience is part documentary, part user-generated narrative, and entirely pervasive. In other words, augmented reality meets living history.

In our everyday lives, we engage with stories in many ways, whether it’s eye-to-eye contact with a stranger that sparks an instant connection or a well-crafted movie or TV show. But what if we started experiencing those stories in the outernet’s layers?

While online networks are evolving traditional entertainment, such as TV and web series, we are also witnessing the rise of a new form of media called “augmented reality storytelling.” I’ve dubbed this new form of diversion ’ntertainment, as a shorthand for immersive augmented reality entertainment.

At its broadest level, augmented reality is about enhancing the physical world through digital elements, such as images, sound, and information. Now technology is enabling us to further situate and layer our digital stories in places where other narratives can’t reach. Right now, we see this happening when someone holds up a camera on an iPhone or tablet and shares objects or stories from the real world.

The opening Roman London example is based on an existing service called Londinium, which is a collaboration between the History Channel and the Museum of London using augmented reality video layered over real-world streets to re-create an alternate history. Coincidentally, London is also used as a site in the globe-spanning Ghost Tours 2.0. Haunted London encourages visitors to explore the city’s eerie side using locative AR (augmented reality). Likewise, another situated project is Witness, which draws participants into the dramatic and seedy underbelly of criminal Berlin. In this case, players are the hero: They watch graphic video scenes at different city locations and are then sent detective challenges to uncover the truth. But here’s the twist: The story might just bite you back! Augmented reality games and stories can even get physical, like the recent example of Chelsea FC playing the world’s largest Space Invaders game in a stadium using projection AR.

Gaming is leading the way. New consoles, like Vita, allow users to literally take game characters orreality fighters into the streets. Other gaming advances like AR games on Nintendo’s 3DS start to recognize place markers placed around a player’s city, transforming screen-based MMORPG(massively multiplayer online role-playing games) into an LMMOG (location-based massively multiplayer online games).

Augmented reality storytelling is starting to appear across our smart GPS mobile devices. Several marketing campaigns are taking the initiative by spearheading real-time AR challenges, such as Vodafone’s Buffer Monsters, which challenged German smartphone users to download a mobile app to capture virtual creatures and win a lifetime plan. This is only one example, other AR advergames encourage users to competitively run around cities on scavenger hunts for real-world prizes, such as the Droid Bionic AR Game. Similarly, this October, Gundam, the Japanese anime giant, release an iPhone/iPad app called Gundam Area Wars. The game uses the devices’ camera and gyroscopic sensors to show life-size 3D models situated in the player’s real-world landscape.

Given these above examples, I return to my earlier travel scenario and I wonder how commonplace it will become for people arriving in a new location to start experiencing it through augmented reality storytelling and gameplay? The traditional guidebook has already morphed into digital form. The Lonely Planet is already a downloadable app. Is it a big jump to imagine AR and location-based storytelling won’t soon allow travelers to engage history on a whole new level? One might even argue a deeper and more meaningful one than just the 2D sightseeing experience of looking at crumbling ruins. So many guidebooks have been written on the principle of making history come to life—AR actually makes it possible.

One could even take this one step further and question, why do we need to travel at all when we have our own personal Holodecks at our fingertips? Fast Company recently reported on Tour Wrist, a virtual tour that lets iPad users move around a global location with unlimited zoom and freedom. “Travelers” are virtually transported to that place and able to immerse themselves in it becoming the hero in a remotely situated, digital storyworld.

Finally, in the near future, we might all have the capability to create duplicates of our surroundings in 3D for others. This Microsoft R&D initiative to map the world uses the fastest selling piece of tech on the planet, the Xbox Kinect. This would allow everyday people to create unlimited user-generated 3D AR—foreseeable as easily as snapping a digital picture. In addition to this, there is a saturation of location-stamped social stories inside services, such as Google Earth, TagWhat, HistoryPin, Facebook Places, CheckIn+, Foursquare, and Gowalla, among others. What will result from all these stories becoming interconnected and navigable using AR devices?

From that point on, we will be co-creating an augmented entertainment eternity. Together. Will you be a part of it?

Dec 112005

Joshua ©Gary Hayes 2005I often refer in my presentations to Akimbo back in May starting to deliver vlogs (videoblogs) via its IPTV service in the US. It is pretty revolutionary that alongside and at the same level on the EPG as CNN, The History Channel, BBC , Cartoon Network and Turner Movies we get personalized stories from individuals. Check out the recent additions on MyAkimbo.

It comes as some surprise then that TiVo, regarded as the granddaddy of the Personal TV Recorder are starting this week to trial the Rocketboom service. Rocketboom is described on the TiVo research site as

Rocketboom is a three minute daily videoblog based in New York City, covering a wide range of information and commentary from top news stories to quirky internet culture. With a heavy emphasis on international arts, technology and weblog drama, Rocketboom is presented via online video and widely distributed through RSS. Now, Rocketboom is available on TiVo as part of the TiVo Video Download Trial.

There is a polished feel to some of the vlogs posted on Rocketboom, and it sits somewhere between professional vox pops and citizen journalism with an element of ‘reality-driven’ drama. There is also the likeable (albeit US centric) charisma from the likes of Steve Garfield in Boston or Annie in LA that make this kind of vlogging very accessible to mass audiences. The frozen pizza cooking story from Annie would not appear on network TV, for example! Yet we also have the likes of Zach Braff of Garden State fame doing the vlog thing too – directors who like to keep it real, are. So perhaps the likes of TiVo and Akimbo allowing this kind of videojournalism to exist alongside the mainstay of network TV is a significant shift in consumer demand. After all UGC (user generated content) is all about real life (most of the time) rather than artificially scripted and reconstructed versions of it we get on mainstream TV – which is now becoming rather tired after 50 years of structure, reality TV can only go part of the way to reflect the real world. It is the real world that can only do this, not execs trapped in network TV politics.

There are a range of ‘enabler’ vlogging sites springing up that realise the potential to draw in audiences once lively, bright talent gets hold of DV cameras and starts creating real life narrative. Freevlog is one of the leaders at the moment – allowing normal people to tell their stories. The audiences for these stories is increasing as dramatically as the readers of normal ‘text’ blogs – so much so that it does beg the question when will TV ratings start to ‘really’ suffer due to this left field competition. Some say that has already started to happen but I feel it will be a slow erosion of the aggregators of professional storytelling content.

I for one appreciate more and more the honesty of people reflecting their lives, the social documentary, the personalized view of reality. Traditional journalism is being eroded by millions having access to the technology to capture what is happening (advances in mobile phone video particularly) and even more the ability to professionally edit then publish – outside the past of entrenched scarcity of traditional broadcast channels.

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005