Eastside Mural Tour project: a critique

I want to preface this by saying I love the idea of the Eastside Mural Tour project, for so many reasons: I love Vancouver’s art, particularly the hidden, surprising art. I love graffiti art. I’m a fan of community projects, and projects that celebrate them. I’m also particularly interested in the idea of digitally curated physical objects, and finding new ways to help travel, explore, learn about communities online. That being said, I’m really disappointed with this project – they’ve missed some really simple points that I feel are critical. If you’re a developer on this project, please don’t think I’m shitting all over you for no reason: if you’ll let me, I would gladly pitch in to help.

All that out of the way, here’s the misses:

  1. The site doesn’t really work on Mobile. Load the front-page: the interactive map is done in flash. The site itself isn’t optimized in any way for a mobile experience: but this is a site destined to be used by someone on a device; most likely as their doing their tours.
  2. The most prominent links are to PDFs of the tours; the big, colourful buttons on the right side. However, hidden at top at HTML versions of the descriptions, which actually contain descriptions of the art!
  3. On these HTML pages, there’s no Map of the location. Nor is there any “next stop/previous stop” links to guide my usage of this. Nor do these HTML pages contain the dial-in directions that the PDFs do
  4. The PDFs are not styled in any way, nor do they contain any of the useful descriptions of the stops on the tour – instead, they simply contain titles of the art, in a format that appear to be links, but if they are, did not work for me in any way.
  5. This one strikes me as particularly egregious: The PDFs contain an image of a Google map that contains all the stops on the tour. So someone clearly spent some time building the geo-coded tour – why not embed that map?
  6. No social: Why not at least propose a couple of hashtags for the project, per tour, maybe per site. Pull in comments/photos from Instagram, Twitter, Foursquare to let the community participate in this beautiful project, in this art. Pinwheel is brand new, but given Caterina‘s local origins, they might be very interested in participating.
  7. Data: I couldn’t find these mural’s in Vancouver’s Data set (though maybe I just failed in my search), but why not, given you clearly have all the geo-data for these murals, release that data for others to remix?

There other, smaller quibbles, but those top 5 strike me as major faults that we should fix. The last simply betrays my personal bias towards open data, and in particular, location data.

There’s also some other ways this same sort of tour could be made. There’s a site, MapTales, that exists solely to create these sorts of self-guided tours. I don’t think it should replace the current site, but providing links to another interface would be a nice way to share these tours out in a well-designed, contemporary way. Bringing up Pinwheel again, all of these stops could exist in there. I don’t think they have the idea of “tours” currently, but by creating a hashtag, locating these places, this could open up the ability to extend & comment on by the pinwheel community. I’d also recommend creating “places” in Foursquare for each of the stops on the tours, let people check in there – or at least easily geolocate photos taken there in such a way that the project itself can re-use them.

This project is sub-titled “murals and the spirit of collaboration”, and yet feels so far from being a project that the digital community can collaborate in right now. Let’s fix it.

Editorial Aside

This brings up all sorts of thoughts around the ongoing failure to provide super-easy tools, widgets, add-ons, etc that projects like this could easily make use of. Even most plugins, themes & mapping tools still require programming knowledge to configure and drop into sites. This world of digitally-curated, real-world spaces is really just beginning. We need to find/build better tools for the average person to expose their localities, their stories in a way that works for all.