Seen any of these mounts around campus? There are ten of them in locations across the three campuses.
- Rogers Hall
- Conference Center (existing)
- Templeton (outside each of council chamber, fields, and the bookstore)
- JR Howard
Within a couple of weeks, they will hold 42″ TVs that will show you upcoming events specific to their general location (e.g. the ones on the law campus will favor law events, but not be exclusively law events).
Why Have Digital Displays?
Having a events display system such as this is not a new concept to an institution like ours, nor even higher education. What is different about our system is how we are building it.
Typically, when you want a system like this, you go find some big vendor that sells you some extremely proprietary and complicated system, that on top of those drawbacks costs you an arm and a leg. Needless to say, we didn’t go for it.
Nonetheless, when the undergraduate-led common hours came to a conclusion that it would be great to reduce paper use on campus, Michael Ford (and later Celestino Limas) rekindled an effort to see if with a greatly reduced scope, we couldn’t use some form of digital messaging to help solve at least a portion of the issue. (Although none of us expects to replace paper posters, we might reduce our need of them.)
A Second Round, A Smaller Scope
Another round of polling the vendors with the reduced scope and yes the prices were much, much better, but the software was not. These systems we demoed, they had the ultimate in controls, bells a whistles. You could allocate the ability to manipulate the system on an extremely granular level. You could pull in CNN or the New York Times. You could show your YouTube videos. And of course, it could (for an extra fee) pull in data from our space reservation system (vEMS). It went on and on.
The only thing was that as part of our reduction of scope — in other words, what needs the system had to meet — many of these bells and whistles were irrelevant. For instance, we only want to show our own content. We know you aren’t likely to stand in the middle of the hall watching CNN when you can get it on your phone.
But more important was that since we de-coupled event space reservations from event promotion two years ago, Michael cut the need to have vEMS integration, we only needed to be able to absorb feeds from our web content management system LiveWhale — since any public, or LC community event would likely have a LiveWhale event already. And that was enough to create a germ of an idea in my head.
I asked the question: why work so hard to have a system which will take those feeds, have to work to absorb them, change them, etc. By adding another layer atop the content, it was adding another system to support, train on, and a rather extensive time cost for the curation necessary to keep the system fresh, the absolutely essential element to keep it relevant to that person walking by the screens.
Such a system could only be inefficient — and being trained in economics I dislike few things more than inefficiency. The hang up that kept the inefficiency present was the idea that most people think software like LiveWhale as being immutable, but in fact quite the opposite is true.
Since becoming a beta location for LiveWhale over two years ago, we have forwarded countless suggestions back to WhiteWhale that are now part of LiveWhale. (These are our own suggestions, as well as many from our 800 plus LiveWhale website editors here at Lewis & Clark.)
Further, in the next few weeks we will launch LiveWhale Places, a joint project of Lewis & Clark and WhiteWhale to bring geo-location to LiveWhale. And I personally have written a number of modules and code for LiveWhale for Lewis & Clark, including the main public events calendar and the recently published LiveWhale Push. (As it happens, both Places and Push will be utilized by the new digital displays.)
So, I suggested we cut out the middle man and build a small application for the screens that will interface directly with LiveWhale. We would use LiveWhale to handle any curation and authority for posting, since it already does that for individual websites and the main public events calendar.
And in the end, we are getting these digital displays for the cost of the equipment (comparable to the vendors, if not less) plus installation (again, comparable). The cost of my time is the only other expense and while not trivial given our new media project list (in econ-speak, it’s the opportunity cost of what I could otherwise be doing) it’s not a huge time investment. It’s a little bet and this system is at least tens of thousands cheaper than the alternatives.
Prototype to Beta
Now, when it launches around the beginning of the semester, it will be beautiful (yes, I’m biased) but it will be beta. It will be a simple display of the next 30 events — or what can roughly be seen in a five-to-ten minute rotation — one at a time. (Both key stakeholders and PubCom’s own design group have participated in reviews as I’ve designed and coded the prototype.)
However, it is real-time. Create a new LiveWhale event now and if it’s happening on campus within the next few minutes, it will be on any appropriate screens. If you’re standing in front of the screens and have a smart phone, there will be a QR Code to get you to the event page on the website for more details or to RSVP.
And if you’re in the majority and don’t know or care about QR Codes, there will be a website where everyone will be able to go to see items they saw while passing a display but didn’t stay around for, or to look ahead. And while a number of us will be watching, if you do find something offensive, you’ll be able to flag it there too.
So — look for these digital displays in the fall and be sure to give us feedback about them (or comment here). As I highlighted above, like all our other apps and software, this will not stand still and if you have a great idea, we’ll act on it and incorporate it into a future upgrade of the displays.
And be sure to give Michael a high five the next time you see him.