After batting around a few ideas as to what to do for my final project in my Augmented Reality (AR) class, I concluded to take one of my published print works (Avenue of Armies: Civil War Sites and Stories of Luray and Page County, Virginia, 2002) and expand it digitally, with AR playing a major role. After all, I’ve accumulated a considerable amount of content/narrative since publishing the book, and weaving a good part of that into a digital supplement, seemed like an innovative way to create a “digital second edition” (or as I’d like to think, “augmenting the reality of the book”). The problem that I faced was the short time frame in which to weave some magic. So, in consideration of the timeline, I targeted only two chapters. Therefore, the malleable content at the center of it all exists in the key words in these two chapters, which would serve as “rabbit holes” to take readers to additional content built into the digital supplement.
Basic Building Blocks of the Project (AR and digital)
As I began thinking about how this expansion would move along, I continued to obsess over the Blippar AR experience. The idea of pointing the camera of a smart phone at a monument (or other historic sites), while key words fly at the reader as to the various meanings behind said monument intrigues me.
The problem is, however, Blippar is a “closed-loop” system in which the words that “fly” at the reader have been limited by the Blippar folks. The optical identification system they’ve built not only has a limited vocabulary (and limited ability to read various meanings into an object), this limitation also stymies any hope of originality that a Blip-builder might want for his/her particular project.
Therefore, in that Blippar wasn’t an option, I thought I could still take from the “Blippar experience” and build something similar via hyperlinks, but still using AR when possible. I could, for example, insert key words into the digital feed that I think might be meaningful in expanding a tourists/readers understanding at historic sites, or in images within the book, from their armchairs. Yet, unlike Blippar’s “word-build, following the “flying word” experience, I’d develop a different way in which readers could further engage the key words I present.
With Blippar not being an option, I decided to go with Aurasma as the AR app for the project. Even so, the use of this app does not come without problems of its own. First, as this is an app that is only functional with the Droid Operating System, anyone interested in experiencing the digital supplement to Avenue of Armies would be limited to Droid users, only. Second, the Aurasma experience isn’t exactly a seamless and clean experience, though this may be attributable to me not quite mastering the app as an AR-builder. Finally, in my opinion, the number of potential experiences seems rather limited in Aurasma and could become rather experience-diminishing when employed on a large scale (even in the creation of our class Augmented Reality Game/ARG, augmented reality experiences were relatively limited). These were considerations which I carried with me, into further developing the project.
Apart from the AR app, the additional content/narrative I wrote/write for the digital supplement has been/will be placed in a blog (Avenue of Armies: A Supplement To the Page County Civil War Tour Book) which I created (and to which I actually contributed very little, over the years) – specifically to supplement the book – in 2008. While I have linked to previous posts within this blog, all new material will be created in pages, not blog posts.
Weaving Interaction into the Project
Providing additional information for a reader/tourist to read is fine, but it really doesn’t tap into the potential of an experience being fed by the digital world. In the print form of Avenue of Armies, readers have the opportunity to read content I’ve written, and interact with historic sites (when they experience the “in-the-field tour”). Yet, with the digital aspect of the project, I should be able to increase the potential for interaction with the respective sites, additional content provided in the digital writing space, and with other readers who experience the sites and/or digital content. Specifically, by setting-up the digital supplement via the Avenue of Armies blog (mentioned, above), each “post”/mini-narrative also includes a comments section, whereby readers/users are able to express their thoughts and opinions regarding the physical historic sites and/or supplemental information I’ve provided.
Furthermore, in that the “considerable amount of content” I’ve built-up over the years, for the most part, exists in four other blogs (and has been available to the public for the last eight years), I thought, instead of copying and pasting old material to a new blog setting, it would be best – in the interest of interacting with others who have already commented – to link to the pre-existing posts and blog pages found in the following blogs:
Apart from the Avenue of Armies blog, the only blog in which content will be added is the Heritage and Heraldry blog, where content already completed (in previous newspaper articles that appeared from 1997-2010) will be added to pages which will be hot-linked to the Chronological List of Articles page.
Creating “Rabbit Holes“, “Easter Eggs“, and Immersion (hopefully)
Using indexed words from descriptive sections within the book, I created “rabbit holes” (reader “funnels”/entry points) leading into content within the digital supplement. By limiting to simple words or small groupings of words, and not embedding the hyperlinks in the mini-narratives, but in beneath, I believe (meaning I have yet to find the theory that supports said belief) I’m creating a clean, minimalist opportunity for interaction with the reader/user. A reader can decide for him/herself which path to take, and can judge whether or not the “Easter eggs” they find in subsequent tiers are pleasant surprises/additions to their desire to know more. Likewise, interpretation is limited to that particular subject; the reader is not overwhelmed with content (too much interpretation). Furthermore, my decision not to embed the links in the text goes hand-in-hand (I think) with a less intrusive/overwhelming approach to the tourist/reader. I also believe (though, again, looking for supporting theory) the less invasive approach to the tourist/reader better facilitates an immersive experience, both at the historic sites and in other settings, via the print version of the book.
In Tour (Chapter) 13 of Avenue of Armies, for example, one of the five historic sites (1. The 1918 Confederate Veterans’ Monument, 2. Luray Train Depot, 3. Inn Lawn Park, 4. Barbee Monument, 5. Green Hill Cemetery) listed is “Inn Lawn Park”.
The block of text for Inn Lawn Park has fifteen key words from which I can expand the user experience.
As shown in the screen image, above, one of the links I’ve created (so far) is for the Rosser-Gibbons Camp, Confederate Veterans. When this link (and others like it) is opened, another page is revealed (“tier 1”) where there will be narrative specifically relevant to the key word found within the narrative, and then additional links leading to content which did not appear in the printed book. The following reveals the page seen after clicking the hyperlink for the Rosser-Gibbons Camp:
Though I’ve only created one link for this page so far, the link “Page County Confederate Veteran reunion travels outside Page County” is relevant to the mini-narrative as the sentence “Over the years following the camp’s organization, camp members attended a number of reunions, both in and outside Page County.” sets an opportunity to create that link. Additionally, as I pointed out in the previous paragraph, the first set of pages reached after using key word hyperlinks created from the print version of Avenue is “tier 1”, but that next level is “tier 2”. Each successive level is numbered accordingly. I did this to eventually see how many levels would be necessary to include all of the content I’ve written over the years that is relevant to Page County and the Civil War. No matter how many tiers it may take, the objective is to find connection points via the key words that appear over each tier.
Still, I did find it necessary to create new links (see New Features), as seen in the bottom portion of the page for Inn Lawn Park:
The reason for these new links is that, in looking back, at no point in time in my original print version of the book did I mention sites relevant to slaves, Southern Unionists, or Union veterans who relocated to Page County after the war. Furthermore, my decision to place all three of these within the Inn Lawn Park page centered on veterans, veteran reunions, and also provides an opportunity to enter a discussion of Southern Unionists (Southerners who remained loyal to the Union). The last link on this page is probably familiar as it is the same link added to the Rosser-Gibbons page, but has relevance on this page also as it is the key site in the county where Confederate veterans held reunions until the late 1920s.
All said, however, I’m particularly pleased with the the entry point for the Luray “Slave Auction Block”, as it is located at Inn Lawn Park, can be used as an AR feature, and allows an entry point for inclusion of a massive amount of content I’ve written about since 2002.
While I’m very pleased to be able to offer a counter-argument to what is provided on the interpretive marker, in both AR and digital text, this set of five entry points to the tier 1 interpretation provides over three dozen (and growing) articles I’ve linked so far, and a number of newspaper clippings that feature stories relevant to slavery, back to the 1830s.
I don’t anticipate users will go to a great deal of depth when physically visiting the historic sites, but I do believe, curiosity being piqued in the tour, some will continue their “tour” via the armchair, by going through the additional links and AR features which will be built into the digital experience.
On the Ground Floor and Expanding this Project
While it was my intent to create supplemental, digital extensions of two chapters of my book, I realized the additional content I can feed into the project is so extensive that it would be best to narrow my objective to tackling only one chapter. Even then I realized linking content and adding new pages would require substantially more time than I had left. In turn, I stepped away from the ballooning content and moved to this reflective essay in order to have an explanation for what was completed so far.
Despite the end of the semester, I plan to continue to work on this project and expand it to cover the entire book. By doing so, not only do I breathe new life into a fourteen year-old book, but I can also add context to many of my blog posts which, despite categories and tags, in their current environment, do not provide the learning (reader understanding of the expanse of content and the author’s position on various topics) environment that I had hoped to create through blogging. The inter-connectivity in this AR/digital webbing project may offer a better solution for the assembly of works.
When the digital supplement has been completed for the entire book, I will need to print bookmarks (used as inserts within the books sold from that point forward) to make readers aware there is a digital supplement to the print version/first edition of the book.
That’s all fine, but where are the AR experiences?
As I stated in the beginning, in the end, the project was much “less AR, and a lot more digital”. Nonetheless, there are sixteen “auras” created with the Aurasma app. Seven are accessible from the actual historic sites, “in the field” (including two auras at the site of the Luray “Slave Auction Block); nine are accessible from nine of the ten photos within the book (the Luray Inn aura will be created after I create the link to which it will lead), in Tour 13; and one is accessible from within the Barbee Monument page in the digital tour. There will be more AR features in this project, but at this point in development, AR apps are a feature of this digital supplement as opposes to “THE FEATURE”. While they provide interesting opportunities for small-scale interactions, those interactions are not seamless and, I believe, would become monotonously repetitive if overused. This would not only impact whatever immersive experience one would hope to create, but would place more labor on the user, distracting from the overall interactive experience, with the historic sites and with others, via the comments sections in the mini-narratives.
As a colleague has suggested, the companies that have provided us with AR apps are holding back. At this point, in what we can experience through the apps, we’re only getting “breadcrumbs” – a mere fraction of what is the real potential of AR.
As ever, “this and that” may look “cool”, and I might think or believe building features in certain ways will reach readers/users more effectively, but there’s always that question in the back of my head, “Yes, but what theories support your beliefs?” The academic field might be wide open on this, but I’m anticipating those in an audience who would like to know why I think something would work, and not just that I thought it would. No projections without supporting theory and/or usability testing, I suppose.
All said, however, I think I’ve fallen back heavily on chunking/Miller’s 7+/-2 rule. Essentially, less content, especially in a digital environment, goes a long way. Yet, somewhere in the middle of all of this is a little of what I’ve read from Ian Blogost… procedural rhetoric and theory behind persuasive games. Though I’m not creating a game in what I’m doing, I think I can take relevant theory from both. In short, I need to read more Blogost to figure out… how. I’ve got a lot of ground to cover.
Also, this is where I reveal my tremendous intrigue with short-term and long-term memory, cognitive learning, and best practices in immersion, all to create the optimal interactive environment, with history as the content. Using digital feed and, yes, even AR, I’m looking for the best way to reach a person and make them consider the complexities in historic content; projecting objectivity to an audience to encourage them to look at history objectively, for all its angles.
Though, as I’ve said earlier, I’m not completely finished with the digital supplement to Tour/Chapter 13 of Avenue of Armies (adding more links, better photographs, fine-tuning links, etc.), for those who want to give what I’ve got, so far, a whirl, enter here.