'Show me your garden and I will tell you what you are.'                  Alfred Austen
‘Show me your garden and I will tell you what you are.’ Alfred Austen

Digital Landscape Gardening

What exactly is Digital Landscape Gardening?

 

Landscape Gardening – lændskeip ga:dəning’/ -n. the art or work of placing features on a plot of ground to make it more attractive. Digital Landscape Gardening or DLG is the insertion of rich content onto Google Maps to make that location more appealing. 

DLG enhances one’s environment by adding features that augment and increase our understanding of that space. This is done by inserting rich content and features that compliment its surroundings.
 
So Bridge A, for example, may have a story about why it is known as the ‘Bridge of Sighs’ going back to post Famine times or why on Bridge B, horses will not go over it after dark or how on Bridge C, it marks the location of the last known duel in Ireland. These are but a few examples of DLG in one small pocket of Ireland – way up in Inishowen in north Donegal.
 
DLG involves enhancing the wonders of the scenery by adding in the rich heritage of an area’s past. These are superimposed onto a platform like Google Maps, in effect ‘turbo-charging’ it and making it a useful and practical tool for the stranger in the strange land. The visitor decides from approximately 20 categories from social history to folklore. 
 

GPS Technology

As and when one of the points of interest from their chosen categories comes within range, they will be alerted to this information via that local voice. The system will recognise that the visitor is coming within the radius of the relevant Point of Interest (POI) and the audio clip will automatically play on their GPS device. There may be multiple audio clips available for a particular POI, but the system will play the most popular one as a default setting. Further audio pieces can be selected once stationary as well as video clips, where available. 

Disclaimer: below is a YouTube video of my earliest GPS audio guide in 2010. A little bit dated in the DLG concept! What is planned will be built and run from Ireland and with the right functionality, UX and UI based on extensive feedback. This needs to be easy to use, helpful and fun. 

The Masterplan!

What’s being proposed with Digital Landscape Gardening is a network for establishing the base by which the stories are collected and a future-proof and dynamic digital platform onto which these stories can be uploaded for use on GPS devices as and when a visitor is approaching the relevant point of interest. Six steps are needed: –

  • The establishment of a national Rambling House storytelling network.
  • The encouragement of recording elders by Transition Year students.
  • The encouragement of a Promote your Locality’s hidden gems scheme.
  • The collation and adding of any existing digital material on heritage.
  • The establishment of a digital platform as a one-stop shop for finding rich content from around the country.
  • The establishment of a digital travelogue brand, Racontourist, allowing tourists easily build up a portfolio of their Irish trip with access to the platform’s material.

Google Maps – turbo charged

Turbo 2

The building of such a digital platform would transform how we’d see and hear what is around us as we passed through it. Translated, this means turbo charging Google Maps with sound and vision. The idea would be to offer an interface on a smartphone which will show and tell the user in an audio/video clip all of the wonders around depending on the categories ticked to include – from place names to the best attractions, hidden gems to folklore and so on.

With this new system in place, the middle man is taken of the way –  the story provider can directly upload content onto the interface himself as a promotional tool for his own area, helping to form a free national compendium of rich content for all to enjoy worldwide. Let’s call this digital platform for Ireland the Heritage Sound Garden.

The platform would be a detailed digital landscape interface for the evolving heritage of Ireland – think of the Google Earth Pro interface, but a lot more aesthetically appealing in terms of the UX, functionality and ultimately downloading for mobile use – here’s an example of the power of Google Earth Pro:

A free digital landscaping garden template would be rolled out to approved community providers. This would allow them to offer rich content material for that area that would be location-based using GPS technology. Well-structured heritage stories told with ease and available to download on the GPS devices already in the user’s pocket.

The look and feel of this platform would be aesthetically appealing and user-friendly – it would show the user a digital map of the area in landscape format along the lines of the attached map of the Burren below – with the user showing up as a flashing blue dot as per current Google Maps functionality.

Each place mentioned would be fully cross-referenced with the details on that map on a left-hand column so say the Burren Perfumery would hyperlink to a page that would have full details about that point of interest – an audio overview, a YouTube view, a live link that would ring them, or bring you to their own booking page, pictures and text.

Any trails, be it cycle or walking, would have numerous points of interest flags and link to sub tours – so say the Cycling Route Trail Head cycle route or the GeoPark Heritage Trail from the Burren map would be separate tours the user could then click on to enjoy. An example of such a tour would be along the lines of our Norman Way GPS audio tour that launched in 2017 in Wexford.

By signing up to the service, any person taking that trail would automatically hear the approved community provider’s audio pieces by simply passing through the 500 feet radius point of that point of interest. Alternatively, they can simply access it on their computer and enjoy each point of interest click by click from the comfort of their homes.

Content is king

The rich content material would be provided by established and registered community groups that upload their audio/visual material. Initial nationwide workshops and a variety of How-To YouTube tutorials would help users/gardeners become proficient in the various aspects and sophistication of the platform.

Besides telling the user about the points of interest themselves, there would in time be additional layers allowing for a greater telling of the locality’s DNA; its stories, its character, its unique heritage.

These categories would be broken up into the following areas that could be ticked or unticked depending on taste: –

 

Local folklore

Limericks

Local artifacts

Social history

Fair days

Local characters/heroes

Recitations

Fit ups

Recollections of growing up

Eye witness accounts

Tales from their elders

Changes locals witnessed

Flora and fauna

Superstitions

‘Simple pleasures’

Feast days

Customs

Emigration memories

Jokes (clean ones!)

Cures

First impressions

Place name etymology

Strange happenings

Sporting events

Examples of Racontour GPS audio gathered.

Alternatively, the user can get a smorgasbörd of material in all sections with the most popular stories being queued up on the left-hand column until the current story is finished. The categories would be divided into Production, Storyteller, Local and in time Racontourist being an interactive travelogue for the user.

The first two levels would be regarded as professional or semi-professional standard produced by governmental bodies or approved production companies. The Local material would be just that and need to be approved by a series of voluntary regional monitors – much like Wikipedia has, to avoid defamation/people taking liberties etc.

Digital Travelogue

Once populated, the end-user will be encouraged to incorporate any of that interesting local audio material into his/her very own digital travelogue as a Racontourist. Not only will she be able to chronicle her own journey, but tag in all of those great stories along the way and share them online.

‘Timehopping’ is defined by Fáilte Ireland as ‘the emerging awareness that the emotional value we will someday experience in the future will be based on how we preserve the present[1]’. It is regarded as an area that is going to grow exponentially in the user experience and this proposed interface will be well placed to help in this activity.

The stories would be stored via the Cloud on a system similar to AudioBoom and once the visitor passes through the alerting radius, the stories would be automatically triggered to play – perhaps the stories should be buffering from 700 feet to allow for a smooth play by 500 feet. Alternatively, if a person searches the system and types in ‘Doolin’, all the categorised stories for Doolin would appear in that left–hand column.

Putting the ‘Don’ back into Donegal. My then native app promo video:

Conclusion

Besides the new, digital landscape gardening salutes the old; serving as a useful tool in preserving local heritage for posterity and ensuring it is pollenated by greater exposure via social media and digital navigation. To quote Mr. Don Draper above: –

‘Technology is a glittering lure, but there’s the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash, if they have a sentimental bond with the product. Nostalgia – it’s delicate, but potent…[2]

Technology paired with stories is a natural fit in the Internet of Things – we can find everything via GPS; let’s start to find out about the actual places that we’re being brought through. Besides ‘turbo-charging’ Google Maps, the future should be using location-based technology with the Internet to share glorious memories and creating new ones in turn via stories in the digital age. Done properly, digital landscape gardening could be an essential accompaniment in the next chapter of digital heritage.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you”.  Maya Angelou

Racontour overview video:

[1] Best Face Forward. Failte Ireland Trends and Insights. Available at: http://www.failteireland.ie/FailteIreland/media/WebsiteStructure/Documents/3_Research_Insights/5_International_Tourism_Trends/Tourism_Trends_Best-Face-Forward.pdf

[2] Mad Men, The Wheel, Series One, 18th October 2007 © 2007, AML/Lionsgate. Available on Netflix.