“Architecture, mobile and expert crowd-sourcing” - Daniel Gunnarsson at Online Information

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 22 November 2012

At Online Information I was moderating a session that featured Daniel Gunnarsson from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts of Architecture, Design and Conservation. He was talking about a photo database of Danish architecture available on the web at Arkitekturbilleder.dk. Daniel described it as a “feel good” story, but also admitted that when he had pitched to do the talk, he had been expecting to talk about a product that had launched, not about how one had failed to launch on time. We’ve all been there.

One of the things he said really resonated with the type of stuff that Luke Wroblewski and Karen McGrane have been saying about having a “mobile first” strategy. Daniel and the team noticed they were getting a lot of referrals from a site called Mortenjust.com. When they investigated it, they found Morton describing himself as a developer who does “unexpected things with other people’s APIs”, and that he had built a re-purposed mobile version of their site to overcome the shortcomings of their desktop version. I think it is very true at the moment that in many businesses people are having a debate about whether they need a mobile content production strategy, but the audience have already made their content consumption strategy clear, and it is mobile. Not every site is going to have a handy Morton around rebuilding it for you, the time for debating mobile is over.

Daniel’s team actually approached Morton to work with them, but he ended up being snapped up by Google, so they turned to their own developer. In a short while they had a working mobile version of the site, adding in some features that Morton hadn’t included which they thought provided a better overall experience for users.

Daniel then went on to explain how they aimed to have an app. They really want to be able to tap into the number of tourists that come to Denmark, and have them contribute material to the database. It might currently be the largest in Denmark — with around 7,000 pictures of nearly 800 buildings — but it is still a fraction of the content that they could have.

They’ve been user testing the app as they go along by tapping into the ready-made network of student architects they have available to them, which I was glad to hear. I was certainly a lot happier than when I heard a previous speaker on the day suggest that the extent of the user testing for their app had been “I consulted myself”. Because CEOs always know better than their customers, eh?

Development on the Arkitekturbilleder app has been slow though, as they only have one person working on it, and so they are constrained by the amount of time he has available. The project then suffered another blow, as Daniel explained how their leading expert photographer, who had contributed the most to the site, had retired.

At this point it was unclear how Daniel was going to turn this into the “feel good” story he had promised.

They worked out how to turn this moment into an opportunity though, and, following the interest in the site and with a network of people taking part in testing the app, they felt confident to do some “expert crowd-sourcing”, and asked for volunteer photographers to step forward and take on the work. They were hoping people would contribute material for nothing, but abide by the rules and styles that had been developed for the site, which had previously exclusively relied on professional photographers with an architectural education. Eight people volunteered, and the pace of adding material to the site has picked up. In two months they’ve added thirty new buildings to the database, compared to the sixty-or-so usually added in a year.

They might not have an app, but the experience of trying to build one, and of having someone re-build their site for mobile, has helped them find a way of capturing more of Denmark’s architectural heritage for their archive.

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