Going to a professional conference as a student is the cat’s pajamas. It really is. As a student you are coddled just enough, not smothered, but gently guided in the right direction by folks that really want to see you succeed and find your place – and ultimately enjoy their conference and work as much as they do. It’s a good feeling. Plus it is a steal of deal as a student and something that ought to be taken advantage of, while you still can!
The other advantage of being a student member is the opportunity to participate in student design competitions! The ASIS&T annual meeting supplied endless talks, poster sessions, and very fine receptions, all of which were very agreeable. And while I like to make connections over wine and roasted vegetables as much as the next gal, I must say I prefer the opportunity to share interests over a relaxed, and fun creative venture. This is why I was thrilled that the student design competition was inaugurated at this year’s meeting. I love relationships built with those that have a shared sense of adventure and desire for challenge, and occasions to connect in this way are usually less typical than your wine laden networking opportunity.
As this was the first year for the competition, nobody really new what to expect. A happy mix of grad students and doctoral students from around the country -and a few rogue Canadians – all showed up to participate, and before we knew what we were doing, or why we were doing it, the team selection process began. We mingled in an attempt to find fellow teammates which we would work with for the next 36 hours of the “competition.” The mingling occurred in three stages, the third stage being the final teammate selection. While this felt a little like a setup for being the last picked in gym class for dodgeball, I faired well having meshed with students from both rounds of mingling. My final group initially bonded over the ways we would have designed the group selection process differently. Yes, we were designing from the get go, not too shabby. My group included fellow ASIS&T @ Pratt officer Kevin Pelrine, a PhD student from UCLA, and a student at University of Illinois.
After groups were selected we received the “design problem,” which was to design a serendipitous search engine for any sort of collection, serving any audience. Our initial brainstorm session was productive, and really allowed us to get to know one another in a creative working environment sense. We had a fantastic brainstorming session with an abundance of “yes–and” comments (Yay!) rather than “but–no’s” (Boo).
Through a quick and dirty brainstorm we managed to identify the nuts and bolts of our idea, shared here with you for your contemplative pleasure:
Who we serve
We synchronized immediately as a group in the type of audience we wanted to serve, that being those involved in the mash-up culture: creators and fans of non-traditional underground media. This community is creating works that, while of questionable legality, are new works created in an innovative way and are pertinent to our cultural memory. We bounced around about which form that media would take for the sake of the project: remixed music, zines, fan fiction, remixed video art, etc. Ultimately, we decided to work with remixed music for the purposes of the project, and took jubilation in the fact that we could create a design that would be applicable for a variety of underrepresented media types.
The nature of our selected collection was sticky because under copyright, remixing or sampling music from existing and released music is illegal. We spent a considerable amount of time dancing around this issue. The largest snafu in not hosting the actual illegal music is that the tangibility of our collection becomes rather flimsy. Regardless, we decided on presenting a repository of records linking to existing music files, located elsewhere on the web. Undoubtedly less sexy than an underground illegal online jukebox but, we conceded, still of value.
What is our Definition of Serendipity?
In hindsight I recognize the importance of our definition of serendipity, as there was some variance amongst the other competing groups. For us, serendipity meant to happily discover something that you weren’t sure existed. Our design allows for users to discover new underground music through genre tags generated by other users and creators of musical content.
We had to consider how to manage the content, and what the content and metadata fields needed to be. As all content was user generated out interface provides set metadata fields.
- For remixed song: artist, title, date created;
- For the musical file: size, time, format, bit rate, and MD5 checksum;
- Songs Sampled: Artist, Title, Album, Year, with multiple songs sampled fields to allow for the cataloging of all songs used to create the mash up.
Fan Jams! The interface design is minimal and gets the user right into the action of discovering new music through a tag cloud (image 1). A genre is selected and surrounding the genre are the top ten songs uploaded by users that used that tag (image 2). And so on and so forth. If a user clicked a different selection–say “artist:” that would then be the anchor for the top ten songs uploaded by that artist, or “song sampled” would be the anchor for the top ten that use a particular sampled song, ect.
Feasible? Umm, yes, though we didn’t know how to explain that at the time!
- Met new people and potential colleagues through work/creative play
- Presented creative ideas created in a few hours time and had them taken kind of seriously
- Realized strengths
- And weaknesses…based on learning from other students and their awesomeness
We didn’t know how to explain the algorithm when asked (insert foghorn noise here!).
But what I love, love, loved, was realizing how powerful of an education I am getting at Pratt. Fellow Pratt student Kevin Pelrine and I were on the same team, and I saw some of Pratt’s influence in our final work:
- A hefty consideration to the user and how they will create, manipulate, and enjoy our selected content
- An exuberance for aesthetic and the visual design of the product
- A recognition of the value of expressing ideas visually
- Ability to identify a truly viable and potential service for a community that is creating content and has no where to put it
- An understanding of the cultural significance to all works, even radical ones, and that scope was not lost on our group as a selling point.
Of course I am not suggesting that these attributes are only applicable to Pratt, but they are certainly a big part of what can be expected of being a student at Pratt. It is wonderful to recognize this amidst a diverse group of students from around the country.
And while, yes, I didn’t know at the time that our design was an example of a relational database (thank you to my computer programming little brother David for assisting in my realization of that), I now know a lot more about relational databases and SQL. I realized what I didn’t know I didn’t know, and because I was challenged by the knowledge and expertise of my peers.
All good stuff!
Go to conferences, meet new people, take on uncertain challenges, and don’t be afraid to grow!
Over and out,
Chair, ASIS&T @ Pratt