Original Thesis Proposal

Michael Berger’s Digital Media Thesis Proposal

Planning:

This proposal is my initial planning document, along with the following schedule, beginning July 1.

  • Week 1. Interface competitive research on combining time and space (map and timeline, for instance) in one display, and on neighborhood websites, and on community building in websites
  • Week 2. More research, write up findings, explain how findings affect my concept
  • Week 3. Begin wireframeing, Begin scheduling outreach with Roslindale groups.
  • Week 4. more wireframing
  • Milestone 1 at Week 4: design complete: development begins
  • Weeks 5 through 10ish. Using the Map and Event modules, start to prototype the interface in Drupal 7. This will take 4 to 6 weeks, and should include the front page to display events and buildings by space and time, and the forms to create the event data.
  • Milestone 2. Initial development complete, web site has front page and form(s) to create events.
  • Weeks 11-14: Add initial data by hand, by reading newspapers and filling out forms.
  • Milestone 3: at roughly 15 weeks. Site is complete with data and ready to show to people.
  • Weeks 16-20, show site to people, get feedback,
  • Weeks 21 and 22. Gather data, write thesis that describes results.
  • Milestone 4, thesis complete by December 1.

Evaluation

As described in the sections “The Test of the Hypothesis” and “Questions I want this Project to Answer”, I will be presenting this web site to as many Roslindale area users as possible. Their feedback to the site, both on the site itself (through comments and becoming members and using or not using the site) and to me in person, will constitute the evaluation of the ideas embedded in the site.

Implementation

The prototype will be a Drupal 7 website called something like WhatWhereWhenRoslindale.com. Users will be able to search for events and buildings in time and space by type. By becoming members, they will be able to post their own events.

Deployment

I will deliver the following documents as part of my thesis. All of them will be available on the web site:

  1. This proposal
  2. The wireframes
  3. Notes of meetings with various Roslindale groups and individuals
  4. The summary paper that describes how people interacted with the site during weeks 8-11.

Concept

Create a community-based web site that uses time and space as its main themes to explore how web applications can augment physical community.

The Idea

Build a web application centered in the Boston neighborhood of Roslindale that allows users to find out about their community by searching in time and space. Give it a real use (to find resources and events in Roslindale) and a social use (talking about Roslindale and about the resources on the site).

The Hypothesis

Time, space, neighborhood and community are physical and personal concepts. By expressing these concepts in the virtual world of the Internet, I expect that users of all types will relate to the web site as if it IS real. Therefore I expect users to engage with the web site with the same interest, disdain, passion and boredom that people in Roslindale feel about their home community. I think such a web site will augment the “community” of Roslindale by adding a virtual layer over the real one.

The Test of the Hypothesis

Create a Roslindale web site based on time and space and put enough information in it to make it seem “credible.” Then advertise it throughout Roslindale and see if people use it, and if so, how. If people do not seem interested in it, find a way to discover why they don’t like it.

The Design Concept

A map of Roslindale with faceted search fields for both time and space on the front page. This search engine should be able to answer many different questions about Roslindale, such as:

  1. What events are going on in Roslindale next month?
  2. Where are the coffee shops in Roslindale?
  3. What happened in Roslindale in 1986? 1886?
  4. How many fires occurred in Roslindale last year? Where were they?
  5. Where is the library and when is it open? When was it built?

To add new content, a form appears on the front page but only for logged-in users. All users of the site can find existing content anonymously, only members can add content. This is a purposeful carrot to get over the annoying stick of having someone join yet another online community.

The Known Challenges

  1. How to build a faceted search that is easy to use?
  2. What intelligent defaults should be built into the search (today’s date to one week from now, one month)?
  3. How to show non-time or non-space Roslindale data (the ongoing existence of a coffee shop: the Boston School committee meeting about Roslindale schools held in downtown Boston)?
  4. How to create the social part of the community, i.e. what kinds of communication should be built-in, how can I make it user-driven?
  5. How to add enough content to make the initial site interesting enough to gain users?
  6. What if I make a web site and nobody comes?

Questions I Want This Project to Answer

  1. What kinds of data are people willing to post?
  2. What kinds of things to people want to read in a neighborhood site (when asked, and when given a change to post/read)?
  3. Do people engage in social content based on physical community content (do they comment about events that happen or are going to happen, do they rate the restaurants, do they post irate comments if someone puts Roslindale murders on the map)
  4. How to people converse with the builders of the site? Do they ask or demand changes? Do they report bugs?

The Technology

I want to create this web site in Drupal 7 for the following reasons:

  1. Drupal has many social media features built in.
  2. Drupal’s framework contains support for many of the features I need to build, making it easier to create this site, including many modules that will support building it.
  3. I know Drupal somewhat and want to learn it better.
  4. If any part of the code I create for this site becomes useful, distributing it as a Drupal module is easy.