Thursday, April 9, 2009 4/9/2009 1200pm

I talked to a Finn with stranger-chat. He was really nice.

Connecting to server...
You're now chatting with a random stranger. Say hi!
Stranger: Hey!
You: Hey man!
You: What's up?
Stranger: nothing much
Stranger: u?
You: the usual
Stranger: yeah
Stranger: from?
You: Seattle
Stranger: cool
You: how about you?
Stranger: Helsinki Finland, far away
You: Finland is awesome
Stranger: have u been here?
You: I really want to go
You: and I own a nokia
Stranger: u should, its nice
Stranger: cool
Stranger: i've always wanted to go to seattle
You: I studied scandinavia in college
Stranger: cool
You: seattle is real nice
You: lots of Finns
Stranger: wow, i did'nt know
Stranger: is it summer over there?
You: spring
Stranger: here its still cold
You: cloudy and a bit of rain
Stranger: we have still some snow
Stranger: :D
You: how do you feel about Karelia?
Stranger: well, its sad because it was part of our culture...but nothing you can do about it
You: yeah, it is sad
Stranger: we still want it back:D but its impossible
You: Russian would never give it back
Stranger: no they wont
Stranger: they've ruined it, they dumped nuclear waste there
You: oh really?
You: that is terrible
Stranger: yes, it was on the news
Stranger: long time ago but still
You: yeah, that is really awful
Stranger: the lakes are toxic now
Stranger: but we still have our beautiful nature over here
Stranger: thousanda of lakes
You: there is a river near seattle that had a nuclear power plant on it
Stranger: thousands
Stranger: oh?
You: and it got really contaminated
Stranger: thats sad
You: yeah, it was near an indian resevation too
Stranger: oh, that sucks
You: so what drove you to talk to strangers?
Stranger: i don't know...first time here, but it seems there are a lot of idiots here, you not of course
You: haha, yeah
You: its easy to be an idiot when its anonymous
Stranger: but i like to learn more about people and other countries
Stranger: true
You: I am really interested in why people talk to strangers
Stranger: yeah?so whats you theory?
You: I don't think people do so enough
You: I work in a museum
Stranger: true, they never do on the streets, but here it's so easy
You: and my job is to get people to interact with eachother
Stranger: its funny
You: I know!
Stranger: oh, cool
You: so this is like a safe place
Stranger: yeah, funny indeed
Stranger: imagine how the world would be if we would talk like this outside, face to face?
You: I think th world woould be a much better place
Stranger: thats so true
Stranger: we acctually have much in common with other people, it doesnt matter wat country, sex or culture
Stranger: what
You: I think talking to strangers is the best way to get new views, and at the same time understand how similar we all really are
You: exactly
Stranger: but in our country it would be considered strange and weird to talk to some stranger
You: Same in the US
Stranger: yes, i get your point
Stranger: this is a good idea
You: The only people who really talk to strangers on the street are considered "crazy"
Stranger: this website
Stranger: true, how has that happened?
You: I think people are just nervous about interacting with others
You: especially outside
You: it is different in a bar, or at a party
Stranger: yeah, its funny that we need alcohol to talk to people
Stranger: ridiculous if you think about it
You: it is!
You: When I meet someone friendly on the street and have a conversation it makes me feel so good
You: but at a bar, it feels forced until you're both drunk
Stranger: thats happens so rarely nowadays, but thats makes it even more special
Stranger: true
Stranger: sorry abouy my english, its not so perfect:D
Stranger: about
You: its really good, actually
Stranger: have you met any finns before?
You: A few, yeah
You: I work with some
Stranger: i've met a couple, and also someone from australia
Stranger: oh cool
You: and lots come to my museum
Stranger: so you know some finnish already
You: hah, no way
Stranger: :D
You: but I read the kalevala
Stranger: cool
You: Okay man, I need to go to work
Stranger: i hate when people start with asl, and then disconnect after that:D
You: thanks for talking to me!
Stranger: ok, no problem, seetake care
Stranger: Buy
You: Talk to someone on the street for me
You: :)
Stranger: i will
Stranger: :D

Monday, April 6, 2009

Something a bit different: The quarters game

I am talking a class with Nina Simon of Museum 2.0 through the University of Washington's Department of Museology. On Sunday we met for the first time at the Woodland Park Zoo and were tasked with creating circumstances in which strangers would talk to each other.

I joined forces with Kelly and Katie and devised a scavenger hunt style game based on a pile of Canadian and American currency. The game was extremely simple: we set a pile of Canadian and American coins on the ground near the Northern Trails exhibit at the Woodland Park Zoo with the following four instructions:

  1. Take a coin.
  2. Find the animal.
  3. Ask for help (if you need it)
  4. Give the coin to someone else!

Some people were confused by the game and asked those around them if they knew what the game was all about and who set it up. Others, particularly children, were totally into reading the rules and selecting a coin to explore the zoo with.

I am still battling with the value of this game. I know it accomplished a few things like helping people explore the Zoo, and prompting social interaction, but it didn't do much for the Zoo's mission: saving animals and their habitats through conservation leadership and engaging experiences, inspiring people to learn, care and act.

We have been talking a great deal about social objects as things that draw individuals together, which is great, but I feel like something is missing. So, let me try to fill this gap by introducing a new concept: the focus object. A focus object is something that gives an individual a reason to do something; the object focuses the individual's attention toward a specific task or activity, like finding an animal or talking to someone else.

In the quarters game the coin itself wasn't inherently social (although currency is a part of many social interactions). Rather, the coin focused the players on a specific objective (find the caribou) which may have allowed for a richer, more potent zoo experience. The social aspects of the game (ask for help, give the coin to another) were secondary to finding the animal. The coin itself is a small prize for achieving the objective, but what is more important is that the player found the animal and (hopefully) learned something because they were focused on completing the game.

Before we set up the quarters game at the Northern Trails exhibit, we tried it out with a family near the Raptor Center. The Raptor Center is basically a fenced-off field in which Zoo keepers handle predatory birds before an audience. We approached a family of four with the new Idaho state quarter and asked if they would help us figure out what kind of bird was on it. We gave the quarter to a young boy who approached a neighboring family to ask if they could identify the bird. Unsuccessful, the boy returned to us and we suggested that he ask a nearby zoo keeper. The boy was nervous, but his parents were really into the game at that point and led him up to te front of the crowd to ask his question. It turned out that the zoo keeper knew about the idaho quarter, and that the bird she was holding, a peregrin falcon, was the bird featured on the quarter. The boy was really excited by his discovery and the parents thought the game was pretty cool. We told the boy that he could keep the quarter and distributed stickers. Everyone seemed to come away from the game really happy.

In this situation, the boy was given a specific task with a variety of avenues for completion. He chose to ask other visitors for the information that he needed, but he could have looked around for signs or looked the answer up on dad's iphone. Once the task was completed, the boy recieved a prize. While the experience could have occurred without the coin, the quarter focused the boy on a specific goal and gave him a reason to interact with others.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


This study by the Pew Internet & American Life project shows that as of December 2008, 11% of American adults on-line use the micro-blogging service Twitter. But as Twitter grows, how will it turn itself into a viable, profitable business. Yesterday was April Fools Day and Wired Magazine tweeted about Twitter Inc.'s plan to make money. Har. But it cuts to the relevant issue that these services, not just limited to Twitter, which we all use and take for granted, are not generating huge revenue, nor are they operating sustainably. An astute individual would understand that Twitter will not be around forever. It is a potent tool to use right now, but it will drop off at some point, and some newer, better, more innovating tool will emerge. Our job is to know what to adopt, and what to drop it.