NYC Taxis: How Data Tells the Story

As our semester winds down, it’s intriguing to see in current media where data analysis and storytelling intersect. One such project where data is being used to tell an interesting story is NYC Taxis: A Day in the Life.

According to Adam Clark Estes of Gizmodo, NYC Taxis: A Day in the Life is, “24 hour’s worth of data from 30 different cabs in New York City. That includes not only information about where the passengers get picked up and dropped off but also stats on money collected broken down into fares, taxes and surcharges.” The data is then used to create a visualized look at these NYC taxicab trips on a map of the city.

Bloomberg.com’s Tom Randall gives more information about exactly how the data was captured explaining that a GPS tracking system records all the raw data, which includes trip, fare and passenger information. The project was the brainchild of Chris Whong, “a self-described mapmaker, data junkie and civic hacker,” states the Bloomberg.com article. Whong works with other “civic technologists” to turn public data into projects according to his personal blog.

The result is a fascinating and even mesmerizing look at just how Taxi cabs in, arguably, the largest taxi cab market in the world, travel throughout a single day. It’s incredible to see a cab travel back and forth from Manhattan to Brooklyn to Queens and back, while also recognizing a trip’s start and end point and the route taken to get there.

Photo credit: NYC TLC 2013 taxi tripsheet data

Photo credit: NYC TLC 2013 taxi tripsheet data

The above chart comes directly from the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission, which they posted to their Twitter accounts as they try to get into the data game as well, according to Bloomberg.com. It shows what’s probably obvious to native New Yorkers – it’s extremely difficult to find a taxi during the afternoon rush hour. Author Randall explains, “The green line shows the number of taxis at any given time; the black line shows the average occupancy rate.”

Randall continues with the warning, “Big data doesn’t always turn into big solutions. Taxi rush hour is still a problem.”

That maybe true, but if I learned anything from this course over this summer, it’s that the first step of correcting any problem is identifying the problem itself. Sure, the data doesn’t always provide a clear solution, but it does tell a story. In the case of NYC Taxis: A Day in the Life, it’s the story of how Taxis in New York City travel, which is intriguing. Sure, not all data is as fun to look at like the above chart provided by the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission.

But a data set shown via a digital storytelling technique such as a visualized, animated map and a website could be something special. As Randall concludes, “Sometimes there’s value – or at least a little fun – just in seeing how the world moves.” And I could not agree more.

References
Estes, A. C. (2014). See how much of NYC a taxi driver sees in a single day. Retrieved, 2014, Retrieved from http://gizmodo.com/how-much-of-nyc-a-taxi-driver-sees-in-a-single-day-1604813865

Randall, T. (2014). A mesmerizing look at 24 hours in a new york city taxi. Retrieved, 2014, Retrieved from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-07-14/let-me-out-here-one-taxi-24-hours-of-data.html

Whong, C. (2014). FOILing NYC’s taxi trip data. Retrieved, 2014, Retrieved from http://chriswhong.com/open-data/foil_nyc_taxi/

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Is interactive fiction the next big trend in digital storytelling?

Last week, I clued you all into Spotlight Stories, Google’s interactive short films for mobile devices. This week, a NYTimes.com article, “Text Games in a New Era of Stories,” describes another new innovation in the area of digital storytelling: interactive fiction. This week, a NYTimes.com article, “Text Games in a New Era of Stories,” describes another new innovation in the area of digital storytelling: interactive fiction.

Author Chris Suellentrop discusses a new iPad story titled, “Blood & Laurels.” Written by interactive fiction author Emily Short, the story was written using software called Versu, which was designed by Short and Richard Evans who worked on artificial intelligence of games such as Black & White and The Sims 3. Versu is an engine for telling interactive stories in which, according to Versu.com, “Every person in a Versu story is modeled with AI that gives them unique personality traits and inclinations. They remember how the player has treated them. They can become your friend, your lover, your mentor, your worst enemy.”

The iTunes purchase page for Blood & Laurels describes the story as, “the eight hundred and twenty first year of the city of Rome, a year of bad omens and unrest under a bloodthirsty Emperor.” And interestingly enough, “Blood & Laurels” is categorized under “Games” in iTunes.

Suellentrop adds, “At almost anytime in Blood & Laurels, the reader – or it is player? – can press the “Act Now” button to direct the main character to do something or press “More” to keep reading.”

He continues that “Blood & Laurels,” however, made him feel, “more like an improviser than a reader,” as the story offers a number of menu options the reader can choose for a character. The options included talking to another character, pretending nothing happened, eating and more.

In his conclusion, however, Suellentrop states that, while Short is a good writer, those who simply want to read a story should just buy a regular book. But he does add, “What Blood & Laurels offers is one of those quintessential video game moments, a first glimpse at something on the horizon,” which is something that as new platforms for digital storytelling emerge cannot be denied.

But what might be most intriguing from the NYTimes.com article is the discussion of why Short decided to write interactive fiction rather than conventional stories. She says, “I found myself frustrated that I couldn’t write multiple versions of the same scene.” Short wants the reader to have a more conversational relationship with her story.

As a storyteller, what do you think about an interactive piece of fiction? Do you ever feel the need to tell multiple versions of the same scene in a story? If so, does interactive fiction seem like a way to accomplish that?

References

Suellentrop, C. (2014). Text games in a new era of stories. Retrieved, 2014, Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/07/arts/video-games/text-games-in-a-new-era-of-stories.html?_r=1

Zines live on because of digital, not in spite of it

Those born within the last ten years might not ever come to know the importance of a zine. What’s a zine? It’s defined by Merriam-Webster as, “a small magazine that is written by people who are not professional writers and that usually has stories about a particular subject.”

Zines reached their height of popularity in the pre-internet days of the early to mid 1990’s. They were essentially fan-made magazines for the ‘90s punk and hardcore punk music scene. They often included band interviews, record reviews, news articles, lists and even opinion columns. As Jason Heller explains in his article, “With zines, the ’90s punk scene had a living history,” published in October of 2013, “Before the Internet began to supersede them in the late ’90s, zines were the blogs, comment sections, and social networks of their day.”

According to Heller, a few zines, “served as flashpoints for entire subcultures-within-subcultures, from rowdy garage-punks to vegan anarchists,” in addition to a platform for up-and-coming writers of the time.

Currently the blogosphere has become a hot bed for music journalism. So, where does that leave zines? These days, zines are often seen as offline, low-cost personalized magazines. Rookie Magazine, an online publication for teenage girls, explains that zines, “…usually deal with topics too controversial or niche for mainstream media, presented in an unpolished layout and unusual design,” in their 2012 post, “How to Make a Zine,” which also offers step-by-step instructions on how to make one.

But where do zines fit in the current digital landscape? According to Justine Hyde’s recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald titled, “Zines defy death by digital,” zine popularity is increasing in Australia because of the Internet and social media rather than in spite of it.

Hyde writes, “Zine makers have embraced Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram to engage with their readers. Etsy, an online arts and crafts e-commerce site, features their latest zines for sale.”

It’s an interesting premise to think of in an era in which newspapers are dying because of digitalization of information. Zines, a do-it-yourself, print and handmade medium, are actually embracing online as a form of engaging and promoting to potential readers. In fact, Hyde’s article is itself a preview of an upcoming zine festival in Australia, which is titled, “Tonerpalooza.”

However, don’t think it’s only overseas that zines are still making an impact. Zines are an important part of the United States’ underground media history. In fact, DePaul University’s Library has a special section dedicated to Midwestern zines from the past 10 to 14 years. And as of last month, 3rd Language, a “Chicago queer artist/writer collective,” held a “Insta-zine-ing workshop,” according to an article on GapersBlock.com.

While it seems that print and online are often sparring partners, it’s encouraging to see how a print medium can survive while embracing digital.

References

Dajska, E. (2012). How to make a zine. Retrieved June 15, 2014, Retrieved from http://www.rookiemag.com/2012/05/how-to-make-a-zine/

Heller, J. (2013). With zines, the ’90s punk scene had a living history. Retrieved June 15, 2014, Retrieved from http://www.avclub.com/article/with-zines-the-90s-punk-scene-had-a-living-history-104206

Hyde, J. (2014). Zines defy death by digital. Retrieved June 15, 2014, Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/zines-defy-death-by-digital-20140613-zs78g.html

The Roots of Digital Storytelling

Digital storytelling is a hot term, used so frequently in the media, over social networking, and even in the classroom nowadays. However, even 10 years ago, digital storytelling was not a term many were familiar with. 

My personal introduction to the notion of Digital Storytelling occurred in the early summer of 2005. With a dandy Suma Cum Laude BA in Cinema from the San Francisco State University, but no green card at hand (i.e. bye, bye paid position), I was desperate to find an internship that would further my knowledge of filmmaking. Luckily, my knowledge of digital editing in Final Cut Pro got me an intern position with the Center for Digital Storytelling, in Berkeley California. 

The name of the organization made some sense to me at the time. Logically, I could grasp the meaning of the words Digital and Storytelling, but logistically I didn’t really get what it meant. Little I knew that the technique of digital storytelling will influence the way I made my own film from then on. 

The Center for Digital Storytelling (CDS) is a non-profit organization, established by Joe Lambert, and the late, Dana Atchley, in 1994 (Lambert, p. 10). the CDS offers workshops locally, nationally, and internationally; teaching people of all walks of life how to produce meaningful and professionally-put 3-5 minute digital stories, created over  a period of 3-5 days (Lambert, p 39). The motivation behind the work of both Atchley and Lambert, is the notion that everyone has a story to tell. Fundamentally, this type of storytelling evolves from cultural activism of 1960s (Lambert, P. 2). While the experience of storytelling is not only validating, authenticating, and profound, but also absolutely integral for healthy leaving. “We can live better as celebrated contributors,” says Lambert. “And we can easily die from our perceived lack of significance to others, to our community, and our society.” (p. 3)

The ability to produce stories by each and everyone of us results from the technological revolution we’ve been experiencing since the early 1990s, to which Lambert refers as “Digital Tsunami of 1992.” (p. 8) This was an exiting time of initial collaboration between visual artists and computer engineers, discovering the frontiers of multimedia. Certainly, the rapid technological developments of the past two and half decades gave us a multitude of digital tools to produce short stories that we can write, develop, digitize, edit, and distribute — without going a step away from our personal computers. Furthermore, the vast benefits of digital storytelling are valued and eagerly promoted within educational circles. For example, today’s educators can create digital stories supporting the material taught in the classroom, and expose their students to creating such media, by using internet-based, free tools, like Zimmer Twins

Nonetheless, digital storytelling holds even bigger potential for personal transformation. It is not only the relative ease with which a digital story is manufactured that is enticing to folks. According to Lambert, “a tremendous play space” is made by fusing digital photography with non-linear. It not only “enlivens” people’s relationship to objects, but even transcends their experience. (Lambert, p. 9). 

I can attest to this statement personally. As part of my internship with the CDS I was lucky to participate in all aspects of their work, including joining on and supporting ongoing workshops. Indeed, the stories produced in only  3-5 days — often by folks who have no previous knowledge of digital editing — were astonishingly professional, and incredibly profound. 

Here’s moving and very early example, by Monte Hallis from 1993, produced in a digital storytelling workshop.  

In fact, CDS’ approach to, and their socio-political view of storytelling has majorly influenced the way I use digital media and make films. 

Other incredible films produced by CDS workshop participants can be viewed on their YouTube channel

 

References:

Lambert, J. (2009). A Road Traveled. Digital storytelling: capturing lives, creating community (3rd ed., ). New York: Routledge.

Lambert, J. (2009). Seven Steps of Digital Storytelling. Digital storytelling: capturing lives, creating community (3rd ed., ). New York:      

       Routledge.

 

 

Digital Storytelling and Tourism

One area that digital storytelling is having a profound impact on is tourism. According to the article, “Digital storytelling to help boost Nepal’s tourism industry,” published on May 28, 2014, on ShanghaiDaily.com, photographer Jay Poudyal is generating interest in Nepal travel with his website StoriesOfNepal.com.

Poudyal started the website in October of last year with the hope to, “showcase the real pulse of Nepal’s cities and villages through the unadulterated stories of ordinary people.” StoriesOfNepal.com offers striking photography and short profiles of Nepal citizens living their daily lives. This view of Nepal is different than the all too often seen “images of poverty” and “political infighting” often associated with the country. Poudyal grew his site substantially through social media, and the Facebook Page for Stories Of Nepal currently has over 43,000 “Likes.” Pouydal has even bigger plans for StoriesOfNepal.com as he is planning to, “travel to all of Nepal’s 75 districts and publish a coffee table book.”

But digital storytelling to promote tourism is not only an international practice. The Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York, began using mobile technologies to engage tourists in the Greater Rochester area in 2013. In collaboration with VisitRochester, students and faculty at RIT designed a mobile experience called, “Brick City Tours,” which uses “a location’s history, storytelling, culture and arts to create personalized tour experiences and educational opportunities.” The technology works by automatically sending bits of history and culture to a visitor’s phone either by text, phone call or even augmented reality.

After the tour is over, the mobile technology then gathers, “both visitor and professional content to create souvenirs based on the specific places each person visits.” These souvenirs include postcards, photo books, posters and more.

In a keynote talk at ITB Berlin, a travel trade show, Ross Borden, co-founder of independent travel publication Matador, discussed his company’s success using digital storytelling in creating, “custom content and advertising campaigns.” Borden spoke to the decline of traditional online banner ads, and instead, stressed ad targeting and producing custom content that is engaging, shareable and authentic. Additionally, in his talk, Borden laid out a 14-point strategy for marketing tourism with digital storytelling, which included points such as connecting with influencers, picking great titles for posts or features, and striving for 100% originality in content.

In the age of digital media, simple ads that encourage tourism might not have the impact they once did. Instead, locales can aim to become tourist destinations by utilizing emerging technologies and digital storytelling platforms that engage potential tourists.

References

Abruzzini, B. (2014). Digital storytelling to help boost nepal’s tourism industry. Retrieved June 10, 2014, Retrieved from http://www.shanghaidaily.com/article/article_xinhua.aspx?id=221096

Alcos, C. (2013). Digital storytelling: The new face of the travel industry. Retrieved June 10, 2014, Retrieved from http://matadornetwork.com/pulse/digital-storytelling-the-new-face-of-the-travel-industry/

Bureau, S. (2013). RIT enhances the tourism experience with mobile innovations. Retrieved June 10, 2014, Retrieved from http://www.rit.edu.flagship.luc.edu/news/story.php?id=50062