Com Me – tools for creative citizens

July 11th, 2012 by Jerome Turner in Creative Networks Hyperlocal | no comments

On 3rd July I attended the launch of two new projects, Community Media Toolkit and Placebooks. Both dealt with issues around computer literacy and how community-based digital media can be deployed in areas of low/no network or wifi coverage.

Placebooks comes from Dr Alan Chamberlain’s work at Nottingham University’s Mixed Reality Lab, and presentation slides can be found here. See also Bridging the Rural Divide. In essence, it allows users to create guidebooks in areas where network coverage is poor, so visitors can preload the content to their devices before visiting.

But what really excited me was the Community Media Toolkit, in part because we so often hear of new ‘toolkits’ or ‘tools’ which simply turn out to be a set of guidelines or paper based materials. In this case, the toolkit is a series of interconnecting digital products, appropriately designed for the communities they were aimed at:

  • Com-Phone, an app that can be downloaded and used on their existing Symbian phones
  • Com-Tablet, a respository and media hub that can be installed within the community and takes into account the need to free up storage space on participants’ phones
  • Com-Charge, a solar powered portable charging station on wheels
  • Com-Cam, an elegantly lo-tech method of sharing mobile content (and more)
Community Media Toolkit diagram

Diagram showing the relationship of the various parts of the Community Media Toolkit


But aside of the original community requirements and scenario that led to the design, the project’s interesting on a wider level, and in other contexts.

  • The Com-Phone user interface is very stripped down, a graphical rather than text-based interface for media creation. It would be interesting to see how this is ‘read’ by various users – those it was initially designed for in those ‘developing world’ village communities. They maybe do not bring what we might think of as a conventional knowledge of tools such as video shooting/Audioboo, etc. What expectations do they have, if any, of media creation tools? How do they respond to creating slides with audio, where we might be used to shooting video? It is likely that the interface is well tailored to their expectations, and can be quickly learned.
  • There has apparently been a trial in homeless communities, where people have the mobile technology and may ‘check in’ to a centre , and can leave their stories there. What is the wellbeing effect here, if not functional?
  • What is the wellbeing effect in general? Of sharing, of such self-expression in these, or any communities?
  • What functional applications are there in communities? There was some description of the Com-Cam unit being used very innovatively and unexpectedly for document sharing.
  • I showed my three year old son the Com-Phone Android app. He performs for it in a way he doesn’t for a simple photo or video. He knows that if we take a photo of something, we then talk about it, and his sentence structure and delivery is far more deliberate and considered than when he usually speaks, so he has a real sense of curation and performing here. I imagine a day at his nursery creating what we call ‘films’ with all his friends.
  • Com-Phone applies well to citizen journalism – it can be downloaded for free, is easy to use and allows for immediate content creation on the fly. After taking one photo a far more relaxed audio interview can take place, without the phone pointed at the interviewee, also easing up the load on the interviewer.
  • By default, a media file using one frame creates lower file sizes than video. What is the value of a ‘talking head’ interview where nothing much happens beyond lips moving – even with significant compression, this file will be larger.

The Com-Phone developers are currently working on some issues around the video export of what they call the ‘narratives’ made with the app, but once these are overcome, we may see it being used in some of the above contexts. In the meantime, it is downloadable for Android only, although Picle is a similar but slightly different app for iPhone.


Com-Phone screenshots

Various images of the user interface for Com-Phone

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