- Internal Communication and Project Management Tools
The Project initially used the forum function on www.thingproject.eu as the main project management tool and repository for documents and discussion, however, it was soon noted that the lack of email alerts for new posts, and a less than friendly user interface made this service unsuitable. Instead the project switched to Basecamp which allowed for a more successful integration of all aspects of project work and facilitated easy cooperation between transnational partners.
Likewise, although Skype was initially trialled for all Management Team meetings, it was soon found that for meetings of more than four people the sound quality began to deteriorate. Therefore, for larger meetings the Project reverted to traditional conference phonecalls. Additional problems with Skype were also found when users with strict firewall settings attempted to download the software. Many partners found that the use of Web 2.0 services, including Skype and a number of others being utilised by the project, were blocked by their own organisations internet security settings, which left them with limited options for testing them. WP4 also trialled the use of Google+ Hangouts for meetings during the project. This was found to be more stable than Skype, and did not require the download of extra software. It also allowed for more up to 4 people to connect using video calling, a feature unavailable on Skype without a paid account.
- Engaging the Global Community – external communication, promotion and marketing
All partners ensured that their thing site had a presence on Wikipedia, and that the information was up to date and correct. THING Project Facebook and Twitter profiles were established to allow partners to disseminate information about project activity, and to engage with members of the public and other interested parties about the work of the project.
Flickr and YouTube accounts were set up later in the project once a period of photo collection and documentation had been undertaken. The YouTube channel was developed last of all, as filming was undertaken towards the later part of project activity.
Once a presence on platforms was established, the intention was to test their suitability for the purposes of the project.
Wikipedia pages have been established for all sites within the partner network. Some of the issues with Wikipedia include the verification of information, and the moderation of content. The project found that while it was a valuable tool for communicating information about the sites, it required constant monitoring. On some pages corrections and updated information were removed by established Wikipedia page editors. The unstable nature of the information on the site meant that it was decided early on that the content on Wikipedia and the content on official THING Project outputs (such as www.thingsites.com) should be kept separate where possible. Wikipedia is certainly not a suitable tool for promoting or encouraging tourism, and activity like this (soliciting for business or advertising) is actively discouraged and policed by members of the Wikipedia community.
The initial Facebook profile for the THING Project was deleted by Facebook administrators due to misinterpretation of the nature of the project itself. However a second profile was established and proved to be very successful. Facebook has proved to be the most efficient method for allowing two way communications between the project and interested users. Users have commented on video and photo posts made by the project, and have uploaded their own images. The project is able to share current developments via status updates and advertise any forthcoming events. Website updates shared on Facebook have also been successful, and analytics shows spikes of website hits corresponding to relevant posts made on Facebook.
The Facebook feed also links directly to the homepage on www.thingsites.com. This means that every time a new post is made on Facebook the homepage is automatically updated, giving the image of a continually changing webspace, and preventing duplication of effort on behalf of partners.
Page controls allow project members to view which posts have had the most impact, how many times an item has been shared, and who has ‘liked’ a post. By examining these trends it is possible to see which type of content has the most impact, and which format users are most likely to interact with. The THING Project has seen that updates about current events and images of sites and events at sites get the most attention.
It was quickly decided that Twitter was not a suitable platform for the project. The ‘live stream’ nature of the site meant that communications were quickly lost in a wider stream of information. During the early stages the project did not have enough material from the results of its activity to update the site at the frequency required, and the platform was abandoned. It is possible that had this avenue been explored later in the project when wider networks had been established and project activity was fully underway, it would have been possible to generate and share enough content to keep an active stream. However, the other key factor was the amount of staff hours required to continually update the site was not deemed to be practical given the varied commitments and roles of members of the project.
Flickr was selected as the most appropriate platform for hosting the library of images developed by partners as part of the project. These images can be shared among partners for the development of project materials, but may also be shared with the public, in order to promote the sites. Initially the THING Project set up a Free account to test the service, however it soon became clear that because of its restrictions of only showing the 200 most recent images, this was not sufficient to host the number of images being produced as part of the photo documentation of the project. The account was therefore upgraded to a Pro account which shows all images at all times.
Some images from the project were uploaded to a private group for sole use by project participants, these included images of project partners and documentation from project meetings. A public Flickr group has also been established to allow users to upload their own images of thing sites. It is anticipated that this page will see greater use once initiatives such as the Thing Sites Geotour become firmly established.
The Flickr stream is also linked directly to the homepage on www.thingsites.com allowing the website to be updated every time new activity occurs on Flickr. This enables the homepage of the website to continue to change provide interest for the user, even when there is little project activity or new content to be had elsewhere.
YouTube was selected as the most popular video hosting site. As well as documenting project activity photographically, the THING Project has developed a series of short videos taken at each site, including a historic overview and interviews with relevant people. These videos will be edited together to form a single Thing Sites film, but will also be available as individual short pieces about each location.
The project established a YouTube channel ‘THINGSITES TV’ to host these videos. From here they can be shared onto Facebook, and linked into the relevant pages on the website. YouTube’s built in features allow users to like and share material onto their own social networking pages, and comment on the videos uploaded.
- QR Code Guiding Service
The QR guiding service at Thingvellir and Gulatinget has proved to be very successful. Google analytics for August-September 2012 demonstrate that m/thingvellir/althing and m/thingvellir/foundation_of_the_althing have obtained 73 and 50 hits respectively, and are amongst the top 10 most visited pages on www.thingsites.com. The mobile homepage has also been popular, and entrance rates show that users are navigating between pages once they have arrived on the mobile site, demonstrating that they are successfully navigating through the layers of information available.
QR guiding was identified as a useful tool for organisations and groups wishing to develop heritage trail material at the Dingwall THING Project Dissemination event. There are now plans to extend the QR trail to the Faroe Islands, where it will be tied in with the Geocaching trail. QR codes placed in Geocache boxes will allow users to gain more information about the sites they are viewing once they had found the cache.
- Geocaching GeoTour
The THING Project contacted the Business Development team at Groundspeak, the creators of www.geocaching.com, Seattle, USA to discuss possibilities for creating a series of linked Geocaches. Options available were:
- create an unofficial ‘trail’ of geocaches which had no direct link to each other on www.geocaching.com, but could reference each other through the information text on each cache;
- develop an official GeoTour in partnership with Groundspeak. This tour would then have its own page on www.geocaching.com, and would be promoted through website banners and in the regular newsletter sent out to members.
We chose Option b) as it made best use of the resources available via www.geocaching.com and would provide the best source of promotion for thing sites and the project in general.
Each partner region identified locations to place geocaches on and around their thing sites. Partners selected which type of cache they wanted:
- traditional box cache, which would hold a logbook, pencil, and small swappables;
- micro cache (approximately the size of a film canister) for smaller locations;
- magnetic ‘nano cache’ for urban locations where hiding a traditional cache would not be possible.
Traditional caches also provided the option of including additional interpretive material, for example the Thing Sites leaflet.
Containers, logbooks and cache labels were ordered and delivered to partners and caches were branded with the project logo to identify them as part of the official Thing Sites GeoTour. Each partner placed their caches in the landscape, recording the location using a GPS device, and logging this information on a common form, which also contained details about access, other local facilities and how each cache site fits in with the region’s ‘thing story’. For each individual cache we included common text about the THING Project and tour as a whole. Additionally, a brief piece of text describing the tour and its purpose was provided for the tour landing page, as well as a short piece for display on search engines.
We commissioned 100 custom made trackable items. These were small dog-tags incorporating the Thing Sites GeoTour logo and Thing Sites website address www.thingsites.com. Each dog tag has its own trackable number allowing it to be logged on www.geocaching.com. A number of tags were released into Thing Sites GeoTour geocaches and given their own individual missions, for example to be logged at each cache in the GeoTour, or to travel further than the Vikings ever did. As more tags are released players will also have the opportunity to create their own missions for the tags. When logging the tag, players also see a short piece about the project, allowing each of them to spread the story of thing sites and the THING Project as they travel from cache to cache.
The Thing Sites GeoTour will be maintained for three years, after which partners will assess its impact, and decide whether to continue with the paid service, or simply allow the caches to become part of the wider geocaching community.
Caches have already proved to be very popular, with an average of four or five ‘find logs’ currently being recorded through the site today. Caches in popular tourist sites, particularly Thingvellir, have proved especially popular. User comments in the logbook reflect that players are enjoying the tour, and appreciate the depth of historic information being provided by the service.
This is a long term investment, and we do not anticipate an immediate return on the activities produced through this part of the project. The impact of the GeoTour can only be assessed after it has been established for at least 12 months, however some immediate reactions to our involvement include:
- The Thing Sites GeoTour was mentioned an article on GeoTourism and GeoTours featured in the Wall Street Journal. The Thing Sites GeoTour is particularly significant as it is the first transnational tour, and the first official GeoTour to be established outside the USA.
- The Highland Council, Scotland has identified that the THING Project geocaching experience is a useful model for them to develop other GeoTourism opportunities within the Highlands of Scotland.
- Other Services
As well as the services identified and tested by the project, the THING Project has been able to take advantage of services already being employed by partners and other parties within the project, such as blogs, and webcasting. Talks from the final THING Project Partner Meeting in Balestrand, June 2012 were filmed and streamed live using Mediasite (http://www.sonicfoundry.com/). This enabled participants unable to attend the meeting in person to watch all of the public lectures, and to take part in discussion and question sessions via an online webchat. This software was already being used by partner Sogn og Fjordane County Council to enable remote communities to attend meetings and sessions. One recorded the footage can be edited to provide a clickable table of content, which can then be linked directly to the website.