Content management and delivery tools for indie ARG producers

Alternate reality games and other kinds of distributed story/play projects place heavy demands on their creators’ abilities to manage and deploy content. To meet these demands, many commercial ARG developers have built proprietary software packages that streamline and automate the process of managing and delivering content (for more on this [and much else — including many useful resources for independents] see Christy Dena’s post, “Cross-Media Management Technologies”).

A few years ago, these kinds of systems were out of reach for most DIY designers and artists. This is no longer the case. Thanks to freely-available social media, mobile technology, and web publishing tools, ARG producers with shoestring budgets can now roll their own custom ARG management and delivery systems.
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I met Eric Gradman at a meeting of the recently-formed Transmedia LA group; his enthusiasm and sense of humor are as infectious in person as they are in his work. Gradman’s “uncomfortably augmented reality” project, CLOUD MIRROR, is currently on show at the Sundance festival.

The CLOUD MIRROR is an interactive augmented reality art installation… Live video captured by a camera and is re-projected on the wall behind the camera, functioning like a “magic mirror.” But the CLOUD MIRROR software alters the images on the way to the screen. It runs an algorithm that tracks faces from frame to frame and also examines each frame for 2D barcodes printed on attendee badges. By pairing each face with a badge, and each badge id with a database row, the CLOUD MIRROR can identify by name whoever is standing in front of the installation.

The CLOUD MIRROR then augments each frame, adding a thought bubble to each face in the image. The contents of that thought bubble are selected from a set of “tags” associated with that person. Tags come from various sources, including Facebook, Twitter, and SMS data.

When registering for the event, attendees were asked to optionally provide their Twitter name, Facebook profile ID, and to answer the question “Where is your favorite place in LA?” In the weeks leading up to the event, the CLOUD MIRROR software sent a friend request to any attendee that provided that information. The poor trusting souls who accepted this request had their personal profile gently data-mined. Specifically, the information captured was “Facebook updates,” “Twitter updates,” and “Facebook relationship status.”

CLOUD MIRROR also capitalized on peoples’ innate desire to embarrass their friends by allowing anyone to anonymously “graffiti” in a thought bubble by sending an SMS message to a special number containing the target’s unique badge ID. (monkeys and robots)

Update: Eric’s documentation from Sundance and his reflections on some of the privacy implications of the project.

Futures Thinking

UK social software consultant and writer Suw Charman-Anderson, working for the Carnegie Trust UK, has been conducting some forecasting and scenario-making research concerning the future of social technology and the Internet. Her enormous mindmap of keywords and phrases associated with where things might be heading in the next 15 years is definitely worth a look, containing as it does a bevy of bite-sized-yet-thought-provoking future-visions like “personalized manufacturing”, “crime based on openness” and “consolidation and closure of news outlets.” Also worth taking a look at is a series of interviews Suw conducted wherein she poses thoughtful questions about the future to a variety of scholars, entrepreneurs and activists, including JP Rangaswami and Ross Mayfield. These interviews are each individually quite edifying, as is the base set of questions Suw asks — indeed, these questions are an excellent starting-point for any discussion of the future, and so I post them here (see the Carnegie Trust’s “futures thinking” page for more on this methodology):

1. Predetermined driving forces
What forces appear to be predetermined?
What changes in the broader environment appear unavoidable?
What assumptions are these changes based upon?

2. Uncertain driving forces
What might happen over the next 15 years that would affect social technology?
If you could have any question answered about what will happen by 2025, what would it be?
How uncertain are they?
Which are becoming more certain?

3. Wildcard events
What type of unexpected developments could totally change the game?
What could undermine existing assumptions?

4. Connections and criticality
Are any of these driving forces connected?
Which are the most important?
Which small changes could have big consequences?
Which of these driving forces are critical?

(Strange Attractor)

CBC interviews Clay Shirky

This week on Spark, a feature interview with Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. Clay and Nora talk about the pros and cons of social media, new online business models online, and how big change comes from human motivation, not shiny new technologies. (

Download the podcast here (.mp3)