Transmedia Analytics

In the spring ’14 semester I coached the project Transmedia Analytics, a collaboration between interactive production company Submarine, University of Amsterdam, and MediaLAB Amsterdam.

This project goal was to capture a variety of data points from two interactive web based documentaries (The Last Hijack and Unspeak) and present these data in a way that allows the producers get an understanding of how audiences engage and interact with their creation, and enrich the user experience accordingly. This resulted in a custom designed analytics dashboard tool: Figures. The progress of the project was documented on the students’ project blog.

Working with dynamic data without any coders: mission impossible?

One of the biggest challenges in this project, apart from the fact that working with data requires a pretty radical shift in your thinking and modes of interpretation (more about that on the project blog), was that we didn’t have access to a coder in the team. We worked with two excellent designers with some data visualisation experience, and two students with a background in media studies (new media), with no design skills or technical background. Not a small detail if you want to build a live dashboard for data interpretation.

Empowerment through coding

We had some help of Bernhard Rieder from the University of Amsterdam to get some of the backend engineering done, but somehow we had to figure out how to enable those dynamic datavisualizations. Within the first month or so, the girls agreed they would do whatever it took to get down with the code, and learn HTML, CSS and Javascript: specifically D3, the library for manipulating data. They went nuts on W3Schools and codeacademy and worked a lot with my colleague Tamara to get used to ways of thinking in code: how do you organise the work? How do you break it down? Why is syntaxis the way it is? I loved how they worked with paper to suss out these abstract concepts, it helped a lot in making it a collaborative learning process rather than an individual one facing a screen.

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Making-do is a virtue

Two cultural studies students with zero coding experience built the entire dashboard with a bit of help from two colleagues to setup the back-end and data handling. How does that work? I think making-do is a key concept here. When facing a task, and being supported to just get going, have some help in keeping it small and manageable before getting on with the bigger problems, can get you a LONG way. They kicked ass and they made the whole thing work by making-do with whatever skills they could learn online, and by being incredibly resourceful. Thanks to the right kind of support from teams, coaches and partners, this team managed to pull off a project that was doomed to fail without a coder on board.

Students: Sieta van Horck, Anne van Egmond, Geert Hagelaar, Yannick Diezenberg. Researchers: Stefania Bercu, Bernhard Rieder (UvA). Tamara Pinos & Emile den Tex (tech support). 


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