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A peek at the new “Cat Spanish” app from Memrise. We’ve only just begun playing with it. Will report back later when we’ve worked with it for a while (mainly Rose; she’s the one learning Spanish), but it’s safe to say it’s a hit so far. Conversational phrases with amusing kitty photos: you have us at hello.
It's hard to know which note-taking or journaling app is right for you 'til you give a few a try. After using Day One, Noteshelf, and Penultimate, I have a better idea of which one suits me the best (I think).
Screen shot of the apps we suggested for toddlers and preschoolers.
How often have you been asked “Can you recommend apps for my child?” If you haven’t had that question yet, it’s probably just a matter of time as more families and schools acquire tablets that they need help figuring out. I’ve been getting that question with increasing frequency at my library over the last couple years and have had conversations with parents, kids and teachers about apps. While librarians have access to a few great professional review sources, it can be really frustrating for parents who are looking for curated lists of app suggestions. The typical app review website can be difficult to slog through and the reviewers’ qualifications are often ambiguous. Cen Campbell of Little eLit has been working with librarians and others in the early childhood education field to develop an app recommendation, curation and evaluation tool, which is much-needed and I’m looking forward to seeing the final product. However, even with better online tools, there will still be demand for one-on-one advisory that helps people find the right apps for their specific needs. And that’s where we public librarians come in! “App advisory” is a natural extension of services we already provide to our patrons, like readers’ advisory. To help satisfy this need, my library introduced a series of app advisory programs this fall, called “Appy Hour.” The concept is that we provide food–“app”etizers!–and show patrons a variety of apps around a theme. (I can’t take credit for the cute name or concept; a bunch of other libraries have used the name over the last couple years.)
The Operation Math app, which was a big hit at our program. It’s math meets a James Bond-esque spy.
Last month, another children’s librarian and I did our first Appy Hour on “Kids’ Apps (For Parents to Know About).” Our adult librarians will be doing sessions on “Librarians’ Favorite Apps for Adults and Teens” and “Library Apps” later this fall. For the program on Kids’ Apps, I started by briefly going over a few websites I like to recommend to parents for finding app reviews. Then it was time to get to the apps! We provided a handout with about 50 apps we selected, divided into three groups: toddler/preschool, grades K-2, and grades 3-5. They were on a variety of topics, from alphabet apps for the younger kids to math apps for the older kids, and across a range of price points, although most were in the $1.99-$3.99 range. We focused on apps for Apple devices because that’s what we have at our library, but about half were also available for Android through Google Play. We projected our iPad and demonstrated how to use about 15 of our absolute favorite apps, pointing out why we selected them and highlighting some of the features. Because the patrons couldn’t see how we were manipulating the apps (they could see the projected screen, but not the iPad screen itself), we described what we were doing as we went along.
Little Fox Music Box app, a fun app for preschoolers.
We got a very positive response to the program and our patrons seemed happy with our suggestions. It also ended up being a great way for us to gauge our community’s needs; we learned more about what types of apps our patrons are interested in and at what price point. With this knowledge, going forward we’ll be better able to anticipate and respond to our patrons’ app advisory needs.
Are you doing app advisory, either as a program or informally, at your library? Tell us about it in the comments!
Liz Fraser is Children’s Librarian/Technology Coordinator at the Ela Area Public Library in Lake Zurich, IL and is a member of the Children and Technology Committee.
My first post back in July was about how to get tablets for your library. Now I present to you the basic set-up and results of our new service from the glorious benefits to those pesky pitfalls.
Once our proposal was approved, we got the ball rolling with (1) publicity, (2) setting up security restrictions, and (3) downloading apps onto the iPad. We approached publicity in a variety of ways. First, we set up teaser signs at the Apple Stand to promote the up-and-coming devices. We then printed out our Apple Stand rules just to give people an idea about how to interact with the iPads (these would then stay up when the iPads were available). We sent a press release out to the newspapers and we put an alert in our newsletter.
Are you ready to get your iPads ready for public use?
Set restrictions (Settings–>General–>Restrictions) to secure iPads from wandering fingers. Although patrons can still access your settings menu, there can be no permanent damage done, such as accessing your account, purchasing apps, or setting up an email.
Gather admin apps into one folder and put on second page. Unfortunately, you cannot delete these apps from the iPads, but, once your restrictions are set, even roving fingers won’t be able to do any damage to them.
So we had chosen our list of apps and now I needed to get them onto all 5 devices. From my first time buying apps (and a few revisions later) I created a detailed record of the steps I took (document found on my personal blog). I did this because I would be sharing the responsibility of purchasing apps with 2 other team members.
So we finally made it! All our apps were bought! All our settings were set to maximal! The mounts were newly gleaming and ready! But would people actually like them as much as we hoped? Would parents sit with their children and be engaging with their children and the iPads?
At my library, patrons were quite appreciative of the new activity to do in the library. We have three mounted in the Early Ed room and two behind the desk for in-house use only. The mounted ones are definitely the way to go. Our iPads behind the desk have only checked out 6 and 7 times since August 1, but the mounted tablets are used all the time, oftentimes having all three in use.
There were a few unexpected trials to test our diligence and our patience but we continue to persevere. These included:
Creating an iPad troubleshooting document for staff to use (if the problem is not too complex)
Dealing with unattended children at the iPads. This is a tricky situation. There are usually three situations with three responses:
Sometimes the child might be completely unattended in the library and she finds a fun toy to play with while her caregiver is off in never never land. It is explained to the caregiver that they need to be with their 7 and under child at all times while in the library (a long established rule). They must also sit with their child while at the iPads because the devices are expensive, they could unintentionally alter the settings, and we encourage parent-child interaction.
Other times, the child may be old and responsible enough to use the iPad alone while his caregiver is looking for books in the same room or doing a puzzle with the younger sibling. So far, we have had no problems with children mishandling the iPads. They are typically entranced and respectful of the technology. Also, the way the devices are mounted discourages shaking and dropping (because you have to reach to touch it and it is not in your lap and you don’t have to hold it up).
If the child is toddler/preschool size (size works, quizzing everyone’s age all the time does not) then we identify the parent and explain to them that the devices are expensive. They can also unintentionally alter the settings so they need to sit within touching distance of the child. And look! There are headphones for you, too!
Unfortunately, for the times a child plays with the tablet by herself (while the adult is nearby), this does ignore the purpose of the iPads as educational tools to be shared between child and adult. We encourage shared time when we can but we are not a police force and choose to pick our battles.
So, what will you have to do to maintain this service? Your monthly duties will include (1) buy your apps, and (2) update iPads with current iOs software (about quarterly). An overview of your weekly duties include: (1) clean screens with alcohol/water mix, (2) manually close all apps, (3) delete all pictures and reset background & lock screens to default picture, and (4) ensure that all apps are in their folders.
It’s honestly not too bad once you set it up. My biggest piece of advice is staying organized and keeping detailed instruction sheets. Keep at it, I belieeeeeve in you! Please ask me about any of the particulars and you can find more details and documentation on my personal blog at www.librarybonanza.wordpress.com.
Kelsey Cole is a youth services librarian at the Fremont Public Library in Mundelein, IL. For more details on this process, visit her personal blog at www.librarybonanza.wordpress.com for more than you can imagine.
Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.
If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We all have only one life to live on earth. And through television, we have the choice of encouraging others to demean this life or to cherish it in creative, imaginative ways.” Fred Rogers
When Mr. Rogers looked at the new medium of television in the 1950s, he saw nothing of value for children. But instead of writing it off, he saw the potential of the new medium to reach children and crafted an entirely new approach and way of using television. That is the model that I look to in using technology with children. Do you approach new media with fear or look for the potential, for “creative, imaginative ways” that enrich life?
Many librarians are familiar with and emphasize the five practices of ECRR2 (Every Child Ready to Read 2) in library programs. Can we highlight these practices with intentional use of technology? These would be good ways to model best practices for parents and caregivers.
Visit the Fred Rogers Center’s Early Learning Environment or Ele (pronounced “Ellie”) for short. Here you will find a variety of media focused on improving children’s language and reading skills. You can create your own Ele, search by age, activities (talking and listening, reading, writing, playing, arts, math & science) and media type (books, videos, games, songs, interactive tools, mobile). The Ele brochure notes that “Talking is teaching. Talking with children is a great way to support early literacy skills. For every activity on Ele, we provide suggestions on how to talk about it, and why it matters.” The Ele is a wonderful resource to recommend to parents, teachers, child care providers and others in your community as well as to find some of the best media you can use yourself.
Try the Everyday Grooves app (free) from the Fred Rogers Center which provides catchy songs to accompany everyday activities and help parents create a sense of routine for their children. Examples include getting dressed, bathtime, brushing teeth, clean up, and my favorite, “We Like to Read.”
Sing along with Grow A Reader (free) from the Calgary Public Library which includes videos of 25 different action rhymes and songs. Features some pretty awesome librarians too!
Does your library subscribe to Tumblebooks? Have you ever used one in a storytime? Incorporating one can be a great way to make patrons aware of a library resource that is often underutilized. In storytime I like to show the print book and then the Tumblebook. In a read-aloud Tumblebook, the text appears on the page and words are highlighted as the book is read aloud. The other day I was helping an ESL tutor find materials and she was delighted to discover this feature. She explained that parents of the children she tutors want to help their children learn English and understand the importance of reading aloud, but they do not know how to read English themself. The Tumblebooks can make it possible for these parents to read aloud with their children.
Explore the International Children’s Digital Library (free, there’s also an app!) This one-of-a-kind library is devoted to children’s books from around the world, many of which are not available in any other format, in many different languages. The site’s interface is designed based on research by children — thus you can search by color of cover, and other kid friendly ways..
Touchscreens are great for those little hands that don’t have the fine motor skills to use the mouse or even grasp a crayon yet. Squiggles! is an open-ended app that encourages creativity. When children are done and press go, their scene comes to life, teaching them that the marks they make are meaningful. (free)
Storybird is a website focused on storytelling (free, with registration required). A variety of artwork in different styles is provided, and you write the story. This tool is great for parents and preschoolers to explore together. Suggest starting with just three parts – beginning, middle, and end – to help young children begin to understand the structure of a story. I encourage children to think of their story first, before using the computer. Then, choose artwork. Children can tell the story (talk!), while the adult responds, prompts as necessary and transcribes their words. My son’s preschool teacher took the time to ask children about what they drew and wrote the words on the back of their artwork. These words explaining his first scribbles were his first stories. Storybird is another way to create stories and since they are digital, can be easily shared with family far away.
It’s all about creating a story, with children helping choose items for the story, and starring the Pigeon of course. Children have more control depending on their age: at the most basic level, the egg, the app uses shake and create technology, whereas the chick allows children to make choices. They can also record their own voices and make as many silly stories as they like.
Alien Assignment is an “augmented reality” app from the Fred Rogers Center (free). Children must interact with their environment to accomplish their mission of helping the aliens fix their spaceship. It has a scavenger hunt feel, where children must take a picture of “something you sit on” so the computer can fix the captain’s chair, or take a picture of “something smelly” to fix the garbage disposal. This app requires getting up, moving around, and talking with an adult . . . and it’s really fun!
Families will enjoy the wonder of the day from Wonderopolis (a site created by the National Center for Family Learning “to help you find learning moments in everyday life”). Curiosity, the desire to learn, begins with wonder . . . and this is a great place to start.
Technology changes rapidly and there are so many choices facing parents today that it can be overwhelming. The latest guidelines on media use by the American Academy of Pediatriacs state that “Parents, educators and pediatricians should participate in media education, which means teaching children and adolescents how to make good choices in their media consumption.”(See more at: Managing Media) Librarians can help parents discover some of the best resources out there. Media literacy skills can be built along with early literacy skills. We can encourage parents to be involved with their kids media diet, to ask questions about what they are doing, and most of all, to explore new media together. In the midst of it all, we can continue to talk, sing, read, write, and play with young children.
There are so many animation apps out there that it’s easy to forget a time when the most basic software wasn’t affordable. Within today’s wealth of tools, Loop (available for $0.99 on iPad) stands out for its spare, hand drawn interface and simplified features. Created by Universal Everything, it allows users to trace over video frames, choose pen widths and do some quick-and-dirty onion skinning.
What I like most about this app is that it was inspired by UI designers who like to use pen and paper during the creative process. For many non-animators, animation is a key tool in the ideation process–there are times when a sketch just isn’t enough to convey a vision to your team. Loop values fast sketching and expressiveness over polish, making it a potentially valuable tool for animators and beyond. Visit the Loop gallery to see how people are using the app so far.
The Nightjar is a game unlike any other I have ever played. It is set on a spaceship that has experienced a catastrophic failure and is slowly drifting into a black hole. Alone on the ship in the pitch black, you (known as “The Passenger”) must try to navigate through this darkened environment on the basis of nothing more than the sounds around you. You are guided by two voices, one is the voice of the ship’s computer and the other is the voice of a man who says he is part of the team on the way to rescue you. But, who should you trust? And, how long will you be alone?
Despite its understated graphics (you really only see bars of light representing your footsteps and an arc of light that you can swipe to turn to the left or right), the game manages to be extremely engaging and creepy. As is befitting of a game that makes use almost exclusively of sound, the sound effects are quite impressive. The game requires headphones and once you have put yours on you will understand why as the sounds appear to surround you. Listen to your own footsteps change as you traverse different surfaces and build a mental image of your surroundings as you hear doors open ahead of you and close behind you. It is hard to believe how much imagery the game designers have been able to pack into these 3D sound effects and it is definitely the most impressive part of the game.
A screenshot of The Nightjar
Beyond these unique gameplay elements, this app also offers a lot for genre fans, from the science fiction concept of trying to escape a dying spacecraft, the horror elements inherent in creeping through a pitch black and possibly hostile environment, to more specific references to pop culture. Fans of the Portal series will almost certainly see echoes of GLaDOS in the voice of the ship’s computer which frequently points out facts that you may prefer to ignore (such as how cold it is in space and how you shouldn’t trust what you hear) and fans of the BBC’s Sherlock may be excited to discover that the mysterious figure who may or may not be trying to help you escape from the ship is voiced by none other than Benedict Cumberbatch.
Nightjar is one of the most unique games I have found for mobile devices; I found it both interesting and entertaining. I’ve tried the game on both an iPad and an iPhone 5 and while it works on both, it is actually quite a bit better on an iPhone (at least on my iPad it occasionally crashed between levels). I am typically hesitant to try apps that aren’t free and even more hesitant to recommend them here, but if you are gamer who is always looking for games that make use of new and unique elements, Nightjar is definitely worth its $4.99 price tag. Check out the game trailer below:
Our name reflects more than just a love of bivalves, although we’ll never turn down a dozen Bluepoints. Actually, Oyster takes inspiration from the famous literary line, “the world’s mine oyster.” All the pleasures of reading are yours for the taking, no matter where you go. The only thing missing is the dark ‘n’ stormies.
What books will people read when presented with more than 100,000 choices?
With the new Oyster service, readers can pay $9.95 a month to get unlimited access to a collection of more than 100,000 books–giving us a glimpse into what books will be popular with this new model.
Last night, we browsed the service to find out what are the 15 most popular books according to the site’s calculations. Although the Oyster has only been running for a short time, it is an interesting collection of books. Above, you can see a screen-grab of the 12 most popular books.
The right book for the right child at the right time.
- Anne Carroll Moore
Starting with Anne Carroll Moore, the first children’s librarian at the New York Public Library, one of the most important roles we have as children’s librarians has always been to get great books into the hands of young people. As the definition of “book” changes, Moore’s quote might be modified today to read “The right content in the right format for the right child at the right time.”
The mission behind our work has changed over the years, from the Progressive Era “Child Protector” librarians, to the “Child Advocate” librarians of the 1970s, and now, as content shifts from print to digital formats, we have a new responsibility in making sure young people have access to the best possible content whatever the format.
When I started as Assistant Professor at Kent State University’s School of Library and Information Science in Fall 2012, one of my charges was to help train our future children’s librarians to critically evaluate digital content—from apps, to transmedia, to multiplatform books—so that they in turn would be able to weed through the massive amount of content currently available, and think critically about their purchasing choices.
My course “Youth Literature in the Digital Realm” is designed to help future librarians become savvy consumers and critical evaluators of digital content, knowledgeable about the production process, and excellent presenters of all things digital. Some of the questions we explore during the semester include:
When is a digital format better than print?
How do digital formats blur traditional roles of content creators, librarians, and readers?
What are the legal, ethical, cultural, and sociological issues in reading in digital formats?
Do digital formats erase (or enhance) the digital divide?
If the content in question was first published as a print book, does making it digital enhance the reading experience?
Picture books exist in many formats, from 32-page hardcover books, to board books, bath books, and pop-ups. Apps represent the latest trend in picture book content, and there are many excellent examples out there. One of my favorites is Bats: Furry Fliers of the Nightby Mary Kay Carson and published by Story Worldwide and Bookerella. The complex, multi-tiered content in this example makes for a rich reading experience, and it is clear that this was created as an original book app.
But what about when digitization of backlist titles primarily focuses on gamification of the reading experience? One such title is the highly gamified Peter Rabbit app, in which (as my colleague Junko Yokota has demonstrated) a splatting blackberries activity distracts from the story. I wonder what Beatrix Potter—or her dear friend Anne Carroll Moore—would think about this one?
Marianne Martens is Assistant Professor at Kent State University’s School of Library and Information Science and a member of ALSC’s Children and Technology Committee. You can read more about her work at mariannemartens.org, and she can be reached at email@example.com.
Both include new writing from each author, along with lots of images chosen by the authors. Atwood’s Flipboard is based on her new novel MaddAddamm, and Martin’s is a collection of all things related to the author’s worlds. These Random House publications are included in sections curated by Flipboard’s editorial team. App users can discover the magazine in sections including: books, culture, tech, and Flipboard picks. In addition, Flipboard is promoting the new publications with an exclusive “Red Couch” interview with Random House authors including Atwood.
Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that George R.R. Martin curated the Westero Flipboard magazine.
[Burton] teamed up with business partner Mark Wolfe, obtained the rights to the brand andlaunched the Reading Rainbow app. The free app, published by RRKidz, features more than 300 books, and 50 video field trips as well as classic clips from the TV show aimed at kids aged 3-9. According to iTunes, users have accessed more than 3 million books and video field trips in less than a year since launch.
The powerful app began as Writely, a start-up acquired by Google. In Quora post, one of the Writely co-founders of discussed what it was like to start working on Google’s suite of work apps. AppNewser has all the details:
On Quora, one reader asked: What is it like to sell your company to Google? Writely co-founder Sam Schillace responded with a frank email, explaining what it was like when Google acquired Writely in 2006. Google would use the writing app as a cornerstone of the Google Docs project–building the company’s free set of work apps.
Do you like reading eBooks on your iPhone or iPad using Amazon’s Kindle app? Then here’s a tip, don’t download the latest update 3.6.1. This advice is coming straight from Amazon. The company posted this note on the app’s listing in iTunes: “There is a known issue with this update. If you are an existing Kindle for iOS user, we recommend you do not install this update at this time.”
While looking at my publisher’s website, I was surprised to see that my app for the iPad, The Sister Exchange, was nominated for the 2012 Cybil Awards.For the uninitiated, the Cybil Awards are literary awards put out by Children and Young Adult Book Bloggers. You can find out more about the award and the finalists at http://www.cybils.com/2013/01/the-2012-cybils-finalists.html#more
While I didn’t win any awards, it was nice just to be in the game.I was happy to see my app next to so many other talented authors, illustrators, developers and publishers who had the vision and drive to take an enjoyable story for children and take it to the next level.
To see The Sister Exchange for the iPad, (an enjoyable little app if I do say so myself) please check out the link below.
Has your instagram stream been inundated with Neutraface-laced images the past few days? If you’re wondering why, it’s because House Industries just launched an iPhone app. The new app allows users to create, edit and share photos with select House fonts and Photo-Lettering alphabets. Three fonts - Plinc Swiss, Bubble Gum and House Slant are included with the initial download. Additional fonts, including Neutraface, can be purchased for 99 cents. Download it for free at the iTunes store.
I’m reviewing some new apps for GeekMom, including one I think is going to be quite popular: Mystery Math Town from Artgig. You may recall that I gave high marks to Artgig’s Marble Math & Marble Math Jr. over at Wired a while back. I’ll link to my Mystery Math Town review when it goes live, but I thought I’d give you a heads-up. Fun, absorbing, and is proving an engaging way to slip in some math-fact practice for my Beanie-and-under crew. Including Huck. You can customize for addition, subtraction, multiplication, single digits, double digits, etc.
Yesterday Rilla and I needed to choose our next read-aloud. We decided to spread all the contenders out on my bed. Turned out there were a lot of contenders. I see a couple of repeat-requests snuck in there. (Odd Duck, for example—a graphic novel by Cecil Castellucci, art by Sara Varon. Rilla adores it.)
(I rotated the photo so the titles would be easy to read, and Facebook friends thought I was displaying a giant wall display. I wish!)
After much deliberation, Rilla chose a new arrival, The Big Bad Wolf Goes on Vacation (which I’ve now read aloud three times in two days—once each to the 9yo, 6yo, and 4yo), and then settled in for Ramona the Pest. Her first acquaintance with Ramona. That perfect first sentence—”‘I am not a pest,’ Ramona Quimby told her big sister Beezus.”—had her at hello.
So, I'm waiting for Animoto to finish mybooktalk previewI show when the kids are all coming in. As I'm doing that, I started thinking about all the sites and apps I use or think about using when I begin creating my booktalk. So here are some you may find just as amazing to use as I do.
Online image editors:
Thanks to creative online genius,the perfect image editor was born! PicMonkey allows users to upload and modify images from cropping to color to frames and so much more! I use it when creating my book trailers to add depth and complexity to just another flat image. And the extras are awesome! Create/add zombie, vampire, and ghost features as well as themed backgrounds and textures. This is a go-to must have website. Currently, it has no app, but some things are better to manipulate online.
Need to find something out of the ordinary to use for your blog, presentation or to share? Imagechefmay be the answer to your needs. Creates anything from personalized notes to word mosaics to so much more. And it's all free! And this site has a companion app, so either way you can create and share.
Video creators, web-based and app-based: Gotta love Animoto! If you haven't used it for awhile, you're in for a nice surprise. The reconfiguration now includes different video styles, awesome CC music, and instant social media sharing. As always, you can include video and text into this. Worth the price (but you can get an educator discount!) No wonder this is a cornerstone of technology for education! Animoto has an app but search in the iPhone section. Currently there isn't one for the iPad.
If you want to try something new without the headache of learning a difficult platform like Adobe or Sony, make your way over to ProShow Web. Their free account allows users to create a full-on video or trailer with a lot of the intuitive bells and whistles of other video programs. The only caveat is the free version will only allow 15 photos, but text is unlimited. I made a full trailer using Proshow with really excellent results! There's an app for that as well
And the fun continues with those powerful little creatures called apps... This is what I have in my photography folder on my iPad, and I use these for personal and educational use. The sky's the limit on these!
Image Editing Tools ColorBlast!Lite: allows you to upload and create a beautifully modified picture that contains color within a black and white photo.Post it on social media or email to yourself. It's addicting!
Instagram: enough said. Contains several filters to give you boring picture pizazz and pop! When you create an account, you can also view it online but only if it's a public account. Allows sharingand email
Photofunia:Take a pic and instantly make it into so many other items, including billboard signs, book pages, magazine covers, and so much more. Also includes many filters you can use within categories. Save, email or share via social media. This is SUPER fun!!
Pho.to Lab: does the same thing as Photofunia and is an excellent alternative. Just have fun with this and the creativity and imagination will begin to flow.
Snapseed: The ultimate in photo editing on your iPad. Contains many tools to edit and diversify your photo. The best way to learn this is download and play with the image already provided. You'll be hooked. Hands down my favorite image editing app.
Pixlromatic: take an image, choose from the many options of filters, backgrounds and frames, and you've successfully modified it into something gorgeous!
Video Apps Vine: Got six seconds? That's all you get with this nifty video app. Video what's most important to you and Vine creates a collaged video worthy of sharing. You can share or embed them as well as create your own account. People are doing some pretty cool things with this app!
VidRhythm: Okay, I don't use this when creating book trailers, but I had a blast creating one! You pick the song, style, and follow the directions while recording. The end result is, well...just see for yourself :)
Picture Collages Frametastic: You decide what frames, theme and images to use, the app will put it together for you. Simple as that.
PicCollage: like frametastic, you can build a collage from your pics, Facebook, or camera. Then put in some text, add stickers and your collage is done. Even more than that, with creativity, you can make a quick infographic to send out and share.
Diamond Street is the second in a trilogy of books by Rachel on London streets. On Brick Lane was the first and both will be followed by a volume on Portobello Road, also to be published by Hamish Hamilton. Find out more about Rachel by visiting her site.
After receiving the
fantastic news in 2012 that my application to the Arts Council to produce a
digital app to coincide with the paperback edition of my latest book Diamond
Street: the hidden world of Hatton Garden had
been successful, I have spent the best part of a year working in collaboration
with an amazing team of experts in the digital media, film, design, literary
and historical fields to produce this new media project.
development of a digital app may at first seem like an odd choice for a non
fiction writer with absolutely no experience of or skills in this type of
medium but from the first time I heard about GPS technology being used in
locative apps, I immediately recognised what a great tool this could be for me.
I have always worked in a very multi-disciplinary way, having trained as a
sculptor before becoming a writer. My creative practise currently involves
writing of course, alongside walking, intensive archival research, photography,
audio recording, painting, site-specific art installationsand making short
films. The multi-media capabilities of a digital app seemed to offer a good way
for my readers to experience my work not just as a printed text but also
through digital space, new media and in real time.
starting this project I spent a long time imagining what a digital app could
offer that a printed book could not and how new technologies could be used not
to replace but to enhance and support a book.
wanted the app to offer new insights for my readers into both the stories in
the book and the places and people I have written about. I’m really pleased to
say that after a lot of hard work I really do believe this has been achieved.
Mainly due to the exceptional team I have been collaborating with who have made
this magic happen.
Work on the app began with paper plans, budget
discussions and meetings with Simon Poulter, Metal Culture’s digital arts
officer who was co-producer of the project. We brainstormed on my original idea:
‘to pick up on traces of the history of the place as you wandered around, with
images, audio and text being activated by geo-technology.’
We literally ripped the printed book apart and imagined these pages being
scattered around the Hatton Garden area, transformed into different digital
media, which would then beactivated as users passed by specific locations. The
idea was to develop an experimental drift through an area, rather than a
guided, chronological linear walk.
Ripping the book apart – September 2012
From paper designs
formulated during this process we developed the rough outline for a design for
both the virtual (armchair version) and the GPS on location versions of the
The next stage of the
development involved intensive meetings with Phantom Production who produced
and mixed the extraordinary sound files for the app. Phantom consist of an
amazing team of audio producers headed by the multiple-award winning sound
artist Francesca Panetta, who runs the Guardian’s audio team. Francesca was one
of the first to work on this type of GPS activated app (Soho Stories App).
Her knowledge and expertise has greatly enhanced the project and through
Francesca I was introduced to Calvium, app developers based in Bristol, worldwide
leaders in the field of GPS activated apps.
Before working on the back
end of development I spent a considerable amount of time storyboarding
the app. I found this a painful process, after five years of researching the
area and its history and a book’s worth of material gathered and more, it was
hard for me to cut this down. I eventually decided on 12 different story zones,
which take you through the story of the historic quarter of Hatton Garden, from
its time as a medieval rural monastic landscape in the Fleet Valley, to its
transformation in the nineteenth century into a jewellery quarter and the
contemporary story of the place today.
Even though I had already conducted hundreds of
hours worth of audio recordings of people who work in the Hatton Garden
jewellery trade, it was decided these needed to be re-recorded. The quality of
my recordings was just not high enough for the project. So I contacted a number
of people who had been involved in the book, from Iain Sinclair, to geologist
Diana Clements, to orthodox diamond dealers and sewer flushers and then BBC broadcaster India
Rakusen re-recorded my interviewees. These recordings were then mixed with
bespoke soundscapes and music to create 12 beautifully produced and extremely
high quality sound files, which really form the core of the GPS experience. As
you walk around with your smartphone in your pocket and your headphones
in your ears the secrets of the streets around you are revealed. Have a listen to some of the sound files we used on the Diamond Street App here.
spending a lot of time in different archives, deciding on which images to use
in the app and editing down some of the text from the book, we had all the
content ready to go. The next stage got a lot more techy! In November 2012 Simon
Poulter and I attended an intensive training day with app developers Calvium
learning how to use Calvium’s specially developed platform for GPS located apps.
collaboration with Phantom Production and Calvium we decided on location zones
and then placed the sound files and images within these zones. A period of
intensive testing ensued, with extensive notes on any issues on site (such as
leakage of sound files from one zone to another, or places where sound files
overlapped) being taken and then reported back to Calvium who made continual
adjustments to the back end of the app. There were many small problems to iron
out and a lot of testing was needed before the app was working well. Most of
the testing took place throughout the coldest winter on record and I can’t say
it was all an enjoyable experience, but hearing those stories come to life in
place as I wandered around was undeniably really exciting, a very contemporary
way of conducting pyschogeography in place.
really did jump into the deep end with this project. I had to learn a whole new
language fast, as developers and digital artists asked me questions about
‘front ends’ and ‘back ends’, ‘story zones’ and ‘location zones’. To try and
explain what I mean, below is a screen shot of the ‘back end’ of the app in
Appfurnace build (back end), showing the sound and location zones of diamondstreetapp. The diamond icons represent sound files
Alongside intensive testing
on location we began to develop the designs for the armchair version of the
app, which eventually became a swiping timeline through the stories in the
book, with embedded text, images, films and sound.
I’m delighted to say the Diamond
Street App has now been published and is available
as a free download both in the iTunes store and for the Android market. I’m
really excited about the project, which I hope has achieved its aim of giving
readers a much deeper, interactive, dynamic and live experience of the
locations, people and stories described within my printed text.
me, working for the first time with these new mediums has completely altered my
outlook on digital publishing and the potential of using new media to connect
with new readers and audiences. I’ve found the collaborative multi-media way of
working both really exciting and really challenging and whilst I’m looking
forward to some quality time alone with my computer, cracking on with my next
book, I can certainly imagine working on more digital app projects in the
Gigglebug, a newly released iPad app from Finland, uses infectious laughter to encourage social play among children. Through touching and swiping the screen, players can tickle various 2D animated characters to make them smile and laugh. This sort of interactive, responsive play is irresistible to kids, and elicits a reaction that may or may not be desirable to parents:
Infectious laughter has proven to be a guaranteed form of entertainment—how else could videos of laughing babies have 60 million views on YouTube? Several cartoons, toys and other products have found success in using laughter, such as Sesame Street shorts and Tickle Me Elmo.
Then there’s Sh-h-h-h-h-h, a clasic Tex Avery cartoon about a man trying to escape the constant laughter and noise of his surroundings. The soundtrack of the cartoon comes from the early-1920s Okeh Laughing Record, a bizarre recording that features a man and woman laughing uncontrollably.
Gigglebug also features lush watercolor backgrounds and laugh scenes that are fully animated with quality not often seen in 2D animated apps. Not surprisingly, the app was developed in part by Helsinki-based Anima Boutique which has extensive experience producing animation for entertainment purposes. They are simultaneously developing Gigglebug as a children’s TV series. The success of another Finnish creation, Angry Birds, appears to have normalized the idea that a successful app can lead to cross-media adaptations on more traditional platforms like TV and film.
There are plenty of GIF-making apps out there, but none compare to the Internet-ready capabilities of Glitché. Developed by designer Vladimir Shreyder (also spelled Schreider), the app comes with tons of filters and makes it easy to alter, animate and share your own images. The best part is the simple interface, which enables easy frame-by-frame manipulation and sharing across most major social networking sites.
Glitché is as easy to use as it is addictive—I made this GIF in a matter of seconds and then had trouble putting my phone down. A few of the filters even create some extruded, 3D visuals; I took a picture of my laptop keyboard and quickly turned it into this bizarre thing:
Glitché also feeds into the retro-Nineties aesthetic that dominates certain pockets of the Internet. Glitch art and datamoshing, which carry with it a curiously nostalgic vibe, have spread across visual culture, and increasingly entered the mainstream, whether in Kanye West music videos or David OReilly’s recent Adventure Time episode called “A Glitch is a Glitch.” Apps like Glitché not only make it easier to experiment with looped animation, but also enable a wider audience to participate in major digital art movements.
In conjunction with the release of sci-fi graphic novel Anomaly, an app (for iPhone/iPad/Android) brings the book’s characters to life through augmented reality technology. As seen in the trailer, the user points his or her smartphone at the pages of the book, transforming two-dimensional static characters into fully animated 3D models with interactive features. Additionally, the app reveals plot details and images that cannot be experienced through simply reading the book.
Augmented reality, defined as a screen or other device that overlays computer-generated data onto the real world, has been around for a while, with Google Glass being the most recent and talked about iteration. But augmented reality has never quite caught on with the mainstream, perhaps because there’s an underlying Minority Report-like creepiness that’s unsettling for most. But if you move past that, augmented reality could become a promising experimental playground for visual artists. At the very least, as is the case with Anomaly, it has the potential to offer more opportunities for collaboration between storytellers, illustrators and animators.