I met with a New York City tour guide named Barry Feldman with the hopes of getting another take on my project and hopefully a story or two. Barry was incredibly helpful. He and gave me some insights into collecting stories from people and also helped me to think of numerous people and organizations to speak with throughout the city.
Barry first suggested that I split everything up into a few geographic areas around the city to focus on. He also thought that I should focus on speaking with two groups in particular: the older people that have been living in these neighborhoods for a long time, through many different changes, and the younger people who have moved in more recently. At first, I wasn’t sure about this, but after speaking with a number of people, I realize that changing neighborhoods are always on everyone’s mind and that it is a good way to get people to start talking about the places they live and work in.
Lower East Side
In the Lower East Side, he suggested that I speak with the Angel Oreansanz Foundation. Angel Oreansanz is a Spanish sculptor who bought an old synagogue in the Lower East Side to use as his studio in 1986. He also suggested that I speak with the people that started the Tenement Museum. A specific event that he suggested I look into is the Eggrolls, Egg Creams and Empanadas Festival in June in the Lower East Side. The festival celebrates the cuisines and cultures of the Chinese, Jewish and Puerto Rican immigrants that have called the Lower East Side their home for many years. Barry also suggested I look into Chinese American Community Centers and talked about the Museum of Chinese in America on Centre Street in Manhattan.
Barry also recommended that I speak with the owners of Russ and Daughters to hear more about the history and mission of the store throughout its lifespan in the city.
Brooklyn Heights is where I have lived for the last four years and Barry told me a bit about the area’s history. In 1965, Brooklyn Heights was established as the first “Historic District” in New York City through the Landmarks Preservation Act. The city approved the designation after many blocks in the neighborhood had fallen into disrepair and the neighborhood began to resemble a slum. Neighbors rallied to make sure that these old, historic buildings weren’t knocked down to build new, modern buildings. Barry suggested that I try to find people in the neighborhood that might remember the fight and might be willing to talk about their experience with it.
Barry also suggested that I speak with the Brooklyn Historical Society and the Brooklyn Women’s Exchange. He even suggested that I walk around the promenade on a nice day with a tape recorder. Another interesting landmark in Brooklyn Heights is Plymouth Church, which was very involved in the abolitionist movement. The church’s basement has elaborate tunnels that, at one time, housed slaves traveling north on the underground railroad.
DUMBO and Vinegar Hill
DUMBO has had many galleries move into the area and Barry suggested that I speak with the people in these galleries. Many of these galleries are in the building on Front Street and he suggested that I visit these galleries and ask them about the types of art being shown, the artists that are showing their work, what people come to see the work, etc. Barry also noted that these galleries and expensive businesses that DUMBO is known for now are in stark contrast to the people in NYCHA housing nearby. Barry said that I might want to talk to these people to get their take on the changing neighborhood as well. I definitely think that would be interesting, but am not sure how exactly I’d go about that sort of conversation.
Barry also recommended that I speak with the owners of Grimaldi’s Pizza and Juliana’s Pizza and ask them about their famous rivalry… I love this idea because I moved in right before Juliana’s first opened and was hearing about it all the time. I definitely sided with Juliana’s, mostly because I didn’t want to wait in the giant line at Grimaldi’s. However, now both lines are pretty long.
Barry also said I should also talk to St. Ann’s Warehouse, which just moved to a fancy, new location nearer to the water and Jane’s Carousel just next door.
Upper West Side
First, Barry told me to contact one of the neighborhood preservation groups like Landmark West! or the West End Preservation Society and tell them about my project, which I think is a great idea. I should also look into these types of organizations in other parts of the city as well.
Barry also told me to go to Zabar’s on 80th street on a weekday afternoon at about 2:00 pm and I would find a group of old ladies that meet up to gossip about the neighborhood. He said that they would definitely be willing to speak with me and tell me a story.
Barry then suggested that I check out (and eat at) an old, Jewish deli called Barney Greengrass on 86th and Amsterdam that specializes in smoked fish and has been around since 1908!
Barry volunteers at the NY Common Pantry and suggested that I come along with him one week and speak with some of the employees there about their experiences.
Upper East Side
Barry suggested that I contact the Friends of the Upper East Side organization about how that particular neighborhood has changed over time. He also suggested that I look into the many museums up there and attend the Museum Mile Festival in June.
Barry said that it might be interesting to contact the National Arts Club, which is directly across the street from Gramercy Park, the famous, exclusive park that you need a key to get into. The Players Club is a “private social club” founded by none other than John Wilkes Booth’s brother, Edwin Booth, in 1888. Barry suggested that I ask both the National Arts Club and the Player’s Club about their and the park’s relationship to the surrounding neighborhood.
Barry suggested that I go on the Harlem House Tour in June where homeowners in Harlem open their historic houses for people to see. Barry said that many of the homeowners are very enthusiastic about talking to visitors about the neighborhood and might have interesting stories about the neighborhood. He also said I should check out Marcus Garvey Park and see if anyone there would talk to me. He also said that perhaps a church or two would speak with me as well.
I recently met with Hanna Griff-Sleven, a professor who teaches a course called “Oral Histories of the Lower East Side” in Eugene Lang College at The New School. She works at the Museum at Eldridge Street, which is a beautiful synagogue that was brought back to life and made into a museum after decades of disrepair.
Hanna worked on a native iPhone application that is similar to Storyportal. The app is called “Storywalks” and was made to record the history of the Museum at Eldridge Street. As the user walks through the space, they can first choose a level of the building to start in, either the balcony, main sanctuary, or lower sanctuary. Then the users sees the blueprint of the floor they are on with a number of dots that they can click on. Each dot has a different story associated with it and the story has to do with that specific location in the sanctuary. When the dot is tapped, the user can hear the story associated with that specific location.
I felt that the Storywalks app was incredibly successful. After spending about an hour listening to many touching, personal stories about the space, I really felt a great connection to the people that prayed there.
I went to Hanna for advice on how best to gather interesting oral histories from New Yorkers. Hanna had a number of great suggestions and tips for approaching the story collection portion of the project. My main take-aways from our conversation were to develop a clear, concise elevator pitch of my project, to personally interview people to get the best storytellers and to focus on the way I prompt storytellers.
First off, Hanna said that I needed to come up with a simple way of explaining my project that everyone will quickly understand. She said that it should be one paragraph, like a 30-second elevator pitch. I’m definitely working on a clear and succinct way of explaining the project to other people and will continue to focus on this.
Hanna suggested that I speak with people personally to collect stories. She suggested that I center my project around a certain location or locations and actually interview in these locations. A good way to do this is by speaking with business owners of well-known New York City establishments like Roni-Sue’s Chocolate Shop on Forsyth Street or The Bitter End Coffeehouse near NYU.
It’s All About the Prompt
Hanna explained that the types of stories that I gather will be completely dependent on the way I prompt people. Hanna said that I should ask very specific questions about these specific locations. She suggested that I research the history of these different areas. This way, I will know specific facts about the locations I focus on – like events that took place there or the different populations living there – and can come up with more effective prompts because more specific prompts elicit better stories.
Hanna also thought that focusing on Sports, Music and Foodie Culture of New York City would probably inspire some fun and interesting stories. She explained that a lot of her family members are very interested in NYC sports history and have great memories of the Dodgers winning in 1968. She also suggested that people might have cool stories about the Beatles at Shea Stadium in 1965. She also pointed to Mimi Sheraton’s Food Stories and Melissa Clark from the NYTimes food page.
Hanna also suggested a number of specific venues, businesses, and people to speak with about the project. These include Roni-Sue’s Chocolate Shop on Forsyth Street, Essex Street Market, The Chelsea Hotel, CBGBs in the East Village, Café Carlyle on 76th St, The Bitter End Cafe in Greenwich Village, The Apollo Theatre, Lincoln Center.
Below is a video I created to explain the experience that I envision for the app.
The video features the fabulous acting skills of Nithya Asokan and Tim Flood. Camera help by Mark Geiger. Featured Stories by Jill Shtulman and Nithya Asokan. Music by Podington Bear.
After the Science Fair, I re-vamped the current user journey to incorporate a number of insights that I gained, like the map.
User’s experience when they listen to a story:
- The user navigates to the web application in the browser.
- The user sees a map with markers marking a number of nearby locations
- The user then chooses one of the locations and walks to that location
- The user is instructed to put on their headphones
- The user sees a large “play” button on the screen
- The user taps “play” and hears the story about that location
User’s experience when they leave a story:
- The user first calls the number (347) 620-1249
- The user hears the Points of View hotline greeting and instructions
- The user records the story and it’s location after the beep
Below are the user’s experience mapped out as images:
Amazing NEW precedent called “Recalling 1993“! The project makes use of old telephone booths around the city and allows users to hear accounts of New York City from 1993 which tell a very different story from the NYC we know and love today! Droga5 put together the project for the New Museum! Check out the project below…
Last week’s “Science Fair” style user testing session went pretty well and gave me a number of insights into what is and isn’t working around my project.
Users know what to do..
The one thing I was sure about after the science fair was the fact that users seemed to know what to do when they got the app in their hands. Nobody was confused about how to navigate through the app.
People seemed very interested in there being a social aspect to the app… Numerous people said they wanted to be able to “follow” certain people on the app so they can always hear that person’s new stories. Although I think this is an interesting idea, I don’t think that making the project a social media experience is the way I want to go.
People also suggested wanting to at least be able to respond to another story. I really like this idea of a social-media-like experience. Some thought that I could ask for perspectives on a specific event – like September 11th or Occupy Wall Street. This might be an interesting way to get many points of view of the city. This was a direction that I had initially thought about when I began the project last semester… Maybe something to consider now…
Users Want Choice
Users also wanted to have a choice as to what they can listen to. The way I have it currently set up is that the app scans for nearby stories and just plays whichever one is nearby. However, nearly everyone wanted to choose which nearby story they’d listen to on a map. I hadn’t built in a map because I wanted people to just hear the story they were closest to, but I can easily incorporate a map without it getting too much in the way while users should be listening to stories.
Users also suggested that I add a skip button in case the story they’re listening to isn’t interesting or worth hearing. I’m not sure what I think of a “skip” button – on one hand, it makes sense… but on the other, it sort of defeats the purpose of the app. It again allows people to pick and choose which points of view they even bother to listen to. But maybe that’s okay?
Framing the Story Collection
Almost everyone I spoke with asked me how I was planning to guide users to actually submit interesting and compelling stories. This has definitely been the most difficult part of the app so far… My plan after speaking with a number of people is to come up with questions that might elicit interesting stories about the city, like “What’s the weirdest thing that happened to you in NYC?” or “What drives you crazy about NYC?”
Tevin suggested that I could provide people with statements that sort of get the user going. He used something like “What really makes me happy is…” and “What I really want to see changing is…” He said that he found that he was simply starting them off to reflect in their own way.
Hsuan also suggested that I look at Jonathan Harris’ ted talk where he discusses why people are willing to tell stories. She also suggested that I look at cowbird.com.
Colleen cautioned me to think about the worst thing someone will do with an app and prepare for that. To get some help, she suggested that I speak with people who do improv or storytelling and see if they have any suggestions for prompting people to give better stories. She also suggested I look at Story Corps, Object Stories, and the “Journey” game.
Super Simple UI
My prototype for the Science Fair had a super simple UI with a black background and white text and buttons in the middle of the screen. One turquoise bar ran across the top of the screen. Umi suggested that I look at other very simple and successful apps, like Digit or Snapchat. Tevin suggested that I look at an app called “Music Memos” for super simple UI inspiration. He also liked the UI of the PHHHOTO app and the Tumblr app.
People want Feedback
People aren’t so sure if they like the anonymous aspect of the app. Tevin, for instance, wanted to have some sort of feedback from the app about whether someone actually listened to his story or not and I’m not surprised. I feel like this is a pretty common expectation that we have today. We use things like Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram to build and solidify our place in social structures. However, this is something that I really want to challenge! I really don’t want this project to be about how many listens or likes my story got. It’s not about that. It’s sort of like doing something to do it. And maybe someone listens, maybe they don’t.
Users Like the Mystery of Phoning in their Stories
Nearly everyone liked the fact that users need to call in their stories to submit them. Typically, you’d see an app having you record something right from your phone, but having people call stories in is a very different, almost analog type of interaction.
Users Don’t Like the Name
Multiple users didn’t like the name “Points of View” so much. I am definitely not set on it, but I don’t have a lot of other ideas. Tevin suggested playing up the fact that you are actually calling in a story. He liked something like “Call New York” or something to do with the anonymity. He felt that I need to come up with a striking name and pair it with “cool” branding in order to give the right vibe.
Anyway, there were a lot of interesting and helpful insights that, I’m sure, will result in a better, more clear direction!
- How much space do you need: Provide exact dimensions, and a 3d digital model of your ideal exhibit.
I will need about 5 feet of width for my exhibit and about 3 feet of depth for my exhibit.
I plan to use one of the D12 telephone booths (if this is okay) and then a small 4 ft tall, 2 ft wide, 2 ft deep white pedestal with information (I will construct the pedestal and paint it white). If possible, I’d like to mount a small monitor to the wall to play my demo video (if I can’t wall mount, I plan to place the monitor on the pedestal)
- Furniture and Build Needs? Pedestals, tables (with dimensions-and material preferences) chairs, curtains, mannequins, pipes or a grid to hang your work, any kind supports. Note that you will need to provide special furniture and installation materials-make sure you check with in with the thesis installation committee to make sure that they are in accord with your specifications.
I would like to use one of the “telephone booths” here in D12… (not sure if this is allowed? )
Telephone booth dimensions:
– 85 inches tall (7 feet, 1 inch)
– 33 ½ inches wide (2 feet, 9 ½ inches)
– 33 ½ inches deep (2 feet, 9 ½ inches)
Next to the telephone booth, I will have a small pedestal-like table that I will construct and paint white. Dimensions: 4 ft tall, 2 ft wide, 2 ft deep
- Presentation technology? Audio (players, headsets, stereo domes to localize sound, speakers), LCD screens or projection surfaces. Does your project need to be screened in a theater as part of the time-based thesis projects?
I need the following technology for my project and will be providing everything myself:
– headphones (2 pairs)
– dvd player
- Connectivity: Will your piece be web or mobile platform-based? What are your server or Internet needs?
My installation will be web-based and will require an internet connection.
- Electricity and lighting needs: special lighting instruments (you must provide), describe all power and cabling needs, number of outlets and possible additional power.
I believe I will need four outlets and plan to bring the necessary extension cord and power strip to use in the show. I will also need to provide an additional light source inside of the telephone booth and plan to use battery-operated lights that I can install on the ceiling of the telephone booth.
- Describe how people will interact or contribute to the installation or experience: one by one, or as a group of spectators;or by individually downloading an app; or by watching a screen in a booth or in a theater; or playing a game on a screen with one or more players; or a individual reading on an I-pad, etc.
Users will enter the phone booth individually (or, possibly, as a group of two?). Inside, there will be a phone receiver that users can hear some of the stories that users have left throughout the city. Users will also be able to use the receiver to record their own stories as well.
I see this installation as a way to get visitors to the exhibition excited about the project and hope that this installation would encourage users to record their story so they can hear it on the app.
Next to the phone booth, I plan to show an informational video about the project (with headphones for viewers). Since the web app is geo-location based and needs to be accessed outside of D12, I will also provide instructions on how to access and use the web app in the field.
- Participants: Do you need “plants” or actors to demonstrate or perform the piece and how it works?
I don’t anticipate needing anyone to demonstrate… I will provide very specific instructions for visitors.
- Timing: how long is your experience whether individually viewed, or a presentation of a fixed length?
I want users to spend the amount of time that they need with the project, but only one (or maybe two) person(s) can be inside of the telephone booth at a time. I’d imagine users wouldn’t take more than fifteen minutes at a time.
- Signage: Do you need any special signage or accommodations to hang signage?
No special signage.
Points of View is an interactive mobile walking tour that allows the inhabitants of New York to explore the city in an intimate way. Participants will listen to stories that other New Yorkers have left around the city and can also leave their own personal perspectives throughout the city’s landscape.
Call (347) 620-1249 to submit YOUR story about New York! Please be sure to leave the story’s location at the beginning of your call! You can use cross streets or an address. For example: “Fifth Avenue and 27th Street” or “212 West 31st Street”.
I have been struggling with my method of obtaining stories. I initially wanted users to be able to use the app to actually record stories from users. However, I’m having a difficult time getting this to work in the browser on a smart phone. Unfortunately, it seems that one is only able to access the camera (both still and video) of the smart phone through the browser.
To work around this, I’ve set up a phone number through Skype that users can call and leave their story through. This is working pretty well and people seem willing to participate in the project by phoning in their responses. I’ve had to set up a method of capturing the video files that Skype gathers (for some reason skype only records .mov files – even if they are only audio) and converting them to Mp3 files.
The main drawback with this approach is that the audio quality isn’t great. You can hear the audio for the most part, but there are times that it becomes difficult to hear what the speaker is saying. And, when considering the fact that users will be listening to these audio files in loud, busy places, it might become even harder for them to hear what’s being said.
So, I think I need to work on a few other methods for collecting sounds. Next, I will experiment with Google Voice. I had a lot of technical problems setting it up, but it seems to be working now.
The *new* number to call and leave a story is (347) 620-1249.
NOTE: If you leave me a story, please be sure to include the location that the story took place at the beginning of your message. An address, like “25 East 13th Street in Manhattan” or cross streets, like “Broadway and 59th Street” are perfect!