Inter-active: learnings from the first Digital Writing Residency

Posted on 27 February 2014

The act of writing is a solitary endeavour. Often, so is reading. Creating RobotUniversity—the first project produced through the Digital Writing Residency—was far from a solo effort. Presented across three projectors and 12 touch screens and using six Microsoft Kinect motion controllers, engaging with this interactive narrative is definitely a public affair.

The Residency, a joint initiative of the Queensland University of Technology and the Australia Council for the Arts, allows a writer to create a site-specific narrative project for The Cube, a digital interactive learning and display interface housed at the QUT Science and Engineering Centre in Brisbane.

‘Creating for this kind of environment is part writing, part digital development,’ explains inaugural residency recipient and project manager of Robot University, Dr Christy Dena, ‘but it requires rethinking both.’ ‘When you are an author, you spend most of your time alone, getting your ideas down. There’s a lot of flexibility,’ Dena explains, ‘You read over what you’ve written; refine some parts, remove others. Then you read over it again. Things change.’

But there are practicalities that come with presenting work on this kind of technology, at this scale, and in a public place. Add to this a six-month turnaround and you have a very different set of working conditions to what most writers are used to.

‘For starters, you are not working alone,’ Dena says, ‘You are directing a team of other creatives—that might include a programmer, sound designer, composer, concept artist, environmental artist, animator and a 3D modeller—to help you realise your project.’ Keeping your project on target becomes as much about managing the people as it is about creating the storyline. ‘One of the biggest challenges I find with digital projects is dividing time between writing and design tasks and organisational and creative directing duties,’ Dena said, ‘This means I never have dedicated writing time.’

Factor in the time that programing and development takes as well, and your writing time is even less. ‘Writing for an interactive experience isn’t as simple as saying, ‘I want it to do this’,’ Dena says, ‘Every movement, gesture, sound, no matter how small the action, takes your team of creators time to program, animate and render.’ This means locking down key aspects of the narrative, such as characters and setting, early in the project lifecycle.

‘There is a lot of risk associated with working this way,’ Dena says, ‘You’ve committed so much of the project before really knowing if anyone cares about what you’re making.’ There are a range of technical considerations: how people will interact with the screens (including their predisposition toward familiar pinch and swipe gestures common to smartdevices) as well as how they might respond to the narrative prompts on screen. Then add spatial considerations such as the natural circulation of people moving through the space and the desire paths they use to navigate, as well as factors such as natural light and ambient noise, and you have to be open to more than just guessing how things will work. While many writers labour over each word painstakingly before showing the finished product to anyone (even their editor!) Dena had to be more open to presenting early iterations.

Dena explains, ‘You can’t really work in an environment like this without being willing to release parts of the project.’ The idea of publishing your rough drafts on a public noticeboard would probably invoke an anxiety attack in many writers, but as Dena notes, ‘Creating on a large-scale environment like this means what we see on our desktop computers doesn’t correlate. So from day one playtesting was scheduled on a frequent basis. We put up the messy and awkward early.’ While Dena had some reservations about sharing work-in-development in other projects, this prototyping-led approach to creative development gave her an opportunity to surveil how people were reacting to the characters, settings, plot devices, and design as the project went on.

The Digital Writing Residency isn’t just a different way of writing. It represents a different way of designing and presenting immersive interactive experiences. ‘Robot University doesn’t follow the current interactivity conventions of The Cube,’ Dena says. But, for The Cube, that is the point.

‘The Cube uses interactive technologies and compelling projects to foster an interest in science, technology, engineering and math,’ says Lubi Thomas, Senior Curator at QUT and custodian of The Cube. ‘What we realised from the Residency was that hooking people into anything beyond surface-level shallow interactions needs narrative and storytelling,’ Thomas says, ‘Narrative allows for a deeper engagement through extending the time spent people spend with the work and facilitating a richer level of interaction. Having Christy here has shown us different approaches to project development and working methodologies that will enrich our own project process for The Cube.’

This evening Robot

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University will be officially launched at The Cube and is on public display from Friday 28 February at The Cube. Applications are now open for the next Digital Writing Residency. Applications close on Thursday 3 April 2014. The Literature Board of the Australia Council provides $20,000 to each residency.

This article was first published on Artery, published by the Australia Council

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for the Arts. Image: University installation, The Cube, QUT. Courtesy of QUT.

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Brandis not “persuaded” by fair use, wants three-strikes

Posted on 14 February 2014

Comments made this morning by the Attorney-General Senator George Brandis at the Australian Digital Alliance Forum at the National Library of Australia cast further doubt on the likelihood of fair use being introduced in Australia. Echoing comments he made in the Senate yesterday, Brandis’ renewed dismissal of fair use comes just one day after the tabling of the Australian Law Reform Commission’s Copyright and the digital economy inquiry (ALRC Report 122) in Parliament. One of the recommendations made in the report is for the introduction of fair use. “I remain to be persuaded that [fair use] is the best direction for Australian law,” Brandis said.

While fair use has been taken off the table, Brandis did leave open other areas of reform of the Copyright Act. “I am convinced that we can do much to improve the way

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copyright works” he said,

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committing to a “shorter, simpler and easier to understand” Act under an Abbott Government. Brandis also pushed for a Copyright Act that is technology neutral.
Brandis also took the opportunity to target copyright piracy online. He flagged potential changes to intermediary liability, including placing more obligations on ISPs, as well as graduated response. Brandis also discussed introducing a Federal Court power to force ISPs to block access to infringing websites.
The full text of George Brandis’ speech is available on the ALRC website.

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ALRC release final report for copyright review, recommends fair use

Posted on 13 February 2014

The final report of the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) copyright inquiry, Copyright and the digital economy (ALRC Report 122), has been tabled in parliament today. I haven’t read it in detail yet, but the big takeaway is the recommendation that, ‘The Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) should provide an exception for fair use.’ While the recommendation to introduce fair use is the hot topic, the report also makes a number of recommendations in relation to other important areas, including:

  • statutory licences;
  • quotation;
  • private use and social use;
  • incidental or technical use and data and text mining;
  • libraries and archives;
  • orphan works;
  • education;
  • government use;
  • access for people with a disability;
  • retransmission of free-to-air broadcasts;
  • broadcasting; and
  • contracting out.

Attorney-General and Minister for the Arts, Senator George Brandis, has already reportedly labeled the report and its

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recommendations ‘controversial’. Brandis is opening tomorrow’s Australian Digital Alliance Forum at the National Library of Australia where Professor Jill McKeough, the ALRC Commissioner in charge of the Copyright and the digital economy inquiry is also speaking. I am in Canberra for the event.

The report, which comes after 18 months of consultation, was provided to the Attorney-General’s Department in late November last year. The ALRC has published its full report (HTML, PDF and ePub) and a summary report (PDF)

↷ Here’s what I have been reading about the ALRC Copyright and the digital economy inquiry:

★ For a full list of links see bookmarks tagged ‘#copyrev’ on my Delicious.

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Will Australia tune into iTunes Radio?

Posted on 11 February 2014

Australia may be the second country to have access to iTunes Radio, Apple’s internet radio service, but how will it fair in a market with well established competitors? Undoubtedly the Apple and iTunes brands carry clout, but with Spotify, Rdio, Pandora and Google Play Music All Access all already here, plus Samsung and Sony’s offerings, and Beats Music replacing MOG, the Australian market for both personal music streaming and internet radio is pretty full.

Apple launched the new service (which plays back from within iTunes) in Australia today, less than six months after the service debuted in the United States with the release of iOS 7 on 18 September 2013. It’s a welcome change to see a major content player releasing a service into Australia quickly, a market that is is regularly left behind—yes, I am talking about you Google!—when it comes to the release of new digital services.

Available on iTunes for iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Mac, PC and Apple TV, the service boasts over 100 stations including “… stations inspired by the music you already listen to, Featured Stations curated by Apple and genre-focused stations that are personalised just for you” or custom stations based on an artist you select (but I am not sure if you can create a station based on a single song). It also provides access to exclusive music experiences including ‘First Play’ exclusive premieres, iTunes Sessions live recordings and live streaming from special events such as the iTunes Festival. And of course, this all sits alongside iTunes’ impressive music catalogue.

From today, Australian iTunes users should see the new service on the iTunes desktop and mobile apps. The free version is ad-supported. It also limits the number of tracks you can skip. If you pay for iTunes Match—AU$34.99 (including GST) per year—iTunes Radio is ad-free.

But it is interesting to know if the service makes any money. Music specific services like Spotify rely on ad revenue and subscriptions. Google charges a specific fee to get Google Play All Access. Ad-free iTunes Radio is bundled in with iTunes Match, leaving just ad sales and purchases to raise revenue. Attracting advertisers shouldn’t be hard, but iTunes Radio doesn’t have the membership numbers that Pandora does. Equally, recent survey data indicates that music purchases from iTunes Radio are impulsive and sporadic, making forecasting difficult. I suppose it’s a nice addition to the iTunes offering, even if it doesn’t make much money in the end.

If you are outside Australia and the United States, Apple says other countries will be added soon.

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have been reading about iTunes Radio’s launch in Australia:

★ For a full list of links see bookmarks tagged ‘iTunes Radio’ and ‘#Australia’ on my Delicious.

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Endnotes 24 January to 2 Febraury

Posted on 2 February 2014

Monday 24 January–Sunday 2 Febraury 2014
So Facebook announced its first standalone app, Apple got hit with a new damages claim from their ebook price fixing scandal and designer Richard Clarkson releases information about his 3D-printed inflatable flowers. Here’s a sampler of what came through my feeds this week:


The Facebook Creative Lab have announced details for thier first standalone app, Paper. It’s a reader app for iOS which will be released on Monday 3 February 2014 – but only for United States users :(

↷ Read my post about Paper, and here’s what I have been reading about it:

  • Introducing Paper – Stories from Facebook, Facebook, 30 January 2014
  • With Paper, Facebook just blew its own iPhone app out of the water Dieter Bohn on The Verge, 30 January 2014—Bohn argues that visual and UX design of Paper might be so appealing that it becomes the preferred app for many Facebook users: “Once you’ve used it, you may never want to open the standard Facebook app again. It may not replicated every feature of Facebook’s main app, but it does fulfill the majority of people’s needs. Simply put, it’s much, much better.”
  • “Paper” Is Facebook by Another Name. That Might Be a Good Thing. Will Oremus on Future Tense (Slate blog), 30 January 2014—Oremus sees Paper as a “different use case” for Facebook: “The Facebook app works best as a simple tool for checking in on what friends are up to, or to quickly share your own photos or status updates and see what your friends are saying about them. It’s great for pulling out of your pocket and glancing at the little “notifications” icon to make sure you haven’t missed anything important. Paper, meanwhile, may be better for the occasions when you actually have a little time to read some articles, watch videos, and so forth. It represents a way for Facebook to go after the Flipboard audience without detracting from the utilitarian functionality of its main app.” He also sees the customisability of Paper as a way to cut through a News Feed “… cluttered with junk and social detritus.”
  • Meet “Paper,” Facebook’s New Answer for Browsing — And Creating — Mobile Media Mike Isaac on re/code, 30 January 2014—Isaac writes about Paper’s use of themes, and how this makes content on Facebook more discoverable: “The site has a wealth of public content on its network… But until now, there hasn’t been an easy way for people to find it.” Paper “… plug[s] your existing network into a new interface for discovery”, something and the main Facebook app just isn’t cut out to do.
  • How Facebook’s Paper could replace Flipboard … and Facebook Keith Wagstaff on NBC News—Wagstaff adds that Paper could be an attempt to shift the relationship between Facebook and news readings. At the moment many users incidentally get their news from Facebook—clicking through to articles shared by their friends when they weren’t specifically looking for news content. Paper “… could be the company’s bid to get more users to come Facebook directly for news.”
  • Facebook is launching its own ‘retweet’ button Ellis Hamburger on The Verge, 30 January 2014—Ellis discusses the introduction of a one-click share feature likely to be part of Paper when it is released.

★ For a full list of links about Paper, see bookmarks tagged ‘Paper (app)’ in my Delicious.

Apple ebook price-fixing

A new class action has been undertaken against Apple on behalf of consumers affected by Apple’s ebook price-fixing scandal. Relying on findings in the successful antitrust action instigated by the US Department of Justice, this claim seeks at least $280 million in damages (but argues that this amount should be tripled). This claim is separate to the damages hearing stemming from the DOJ’s action.

↷ Here’s what I have been reading about it:

  • Apple hit with $840 million damages claim for ebooks price fixing Carl Franzen on The Verge, 1 February 2014—Franzen Provides an overview of the new claim against Apple: “Using evidence presented during the course of [the US Justice Department's successful antitrust lawsuit against Apple] last year, attorney Steve Berman begins by arguing that Apple owes American ebooks customers a bare minimum of $231 million in damages, and probably far more money than that.”

Blossom – 3D-printed inflatable flowers

Richard Clarkson created a series of mixed material 3D-printed inflatable flowers as part of his studies at the School of

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Design at Victoria University of Wellington. 3D-printing isn’t new for sure, but this is the first time that someone has used a 3D-printer to create an inflatable object – that I am aware of anyway!

↷ Here’s what I have been reading about it:

★ For a full list of links about Blossom, see bookmarks tagged ‘Blossom (project)’ in my Delicious.

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