Team Orion has now designed and implemented a prototype of Leapin.it. This post will conclude the project by describing the process we have been through, followed by the future possibilities of LeapIn.it.
LeapIn.it was not one of our original ideas – it formed from the development of an idea on gaming, and a focus on virtual worlds within gaming. Thus, the design of LeapIn.it drew from our background research on virtual worlds, and features commonly found within them, such as avatars.
Background research was also conducted on the use of QR-code and barcodes, leading us to question their possible use in bridging the real world and the virtual world. Hence, barcode scanning features as that bridge within LeapIn.it, allowing users to scan real world objects in order to be transported to virtual rooms about them. Further to this, we researched the phenomenon of homophily, which describes the formations of groups of people based on common interests. The occurrence of this phenomenon gave us confidence that virtual rooms about real-world objects would be a great place for people with common interests to meet, hence it is possible to see others in virtual rooms.
Following this, we conducted a number of analyses of existing social networks in order to understand the popular and unpopular features. In particular, we found that, within virtual worlds, the notions of friends and groups are popular, while sharing of rich media (pictures, videos etc) is not. The use of avatars was particularly common, and the ability to customise them highlighted their importance in virtual worlds. Identifying these features helped us draw up the requirements and design LeapIn.it. In particular, we saw avatars as an important feature of LeapIn.it, as they give users a visual representation, making them immediately recognisable while remaining anonymous. Anonymity was a particular important aspect, as our background research suggested this would encourage greater participation.
Mobile devices were chosen as a platform, as they are popular and pervasive. The business model was considered, with advertising chosen as a viable model – companies may sign up and create sponsored rooms and sponsored posts, which will be recommended to users at a cost. The legal and ethical issues were also considered, with discussions about moderating content helping us establish a mechanism where users could flag offensive content in order for it to be removed.
In order to establish the demand for our proposed idea, we surveyed 82 individuals, who filled in a questionnaire. The results demonstrated a difficulty in finding online resources for real-world objects. This acted as motivation for pursuing the barcode scanning aspect of LeapIn.it in order to take a person from the real-world to the virtual-world. Further to this, the results showed a desire to share rich media, and that users are motivated to use social networks because they are interested in particular topics. This validated our “room” idea, which are virtual spaces for individuals to share rich media related to their interests.
With these aspects considered, three prototypes were designed and implemented. The first was a web interface, which demonstrated using the web as a platform would be possible for mobile devices. The second demonstrated barcode scanning on mobile phones. The third showed LeapIn.it as a mobile app. We built two separate interfaces for viewing posts – the standard interface and the Honeycomb interface – which we then evaluated as part of a usability study. The outcomes of this suggest that the Honeycomb screen is more effective.
In the prototype, the basic functions of the system were developed to demonstrate the idea of LeapIn.it. Future work will involve developing the remaining proposed features to have a fully workable version of the software, which includes:
- Further personalisation of a users’ profile by allowing users to add media to their profile;
- Facilitating communication between users, by allowing users to launch mobile apps to communicate with friends, or directly send messages;
- Using friend requests, such that users may accept or reject friend requests;
- Providing moderation tools, such as the ability to block other users and report offensive posts;
- Room clustering and linking;
- Allowing more types of media to be posted, such as videos and URLs;
- Giving posts an age rating, such that younger users may not view adult material;
- Highlighting friends’ posts and sponsors’ posts in the Honeycomb;
- Allowing position of posts to be customised by dragging and dropping them in the Honeycomb;
- Improving the aesthetics of sentiments in the Honeycomb;
- Implementing the sponsors’ dashboard, for managing their campaigns;
- Enhancing the performance of LeapIn.it, such that it loads faster on slower connections;
- Instead of typing the name of a room after scanning its barcode for the first time, look up and find the title of the room based on the scanned QR code or barcode. There are few open source products and APIs that help in implementing this feature (e.g. Google custom search, but this allows only 1000 queries per day for free);
- Development of apps for other platforms, such as Apple iPhone, Apple iPad, Nexus tablet and Windows Phone;
- Deployment of apps onto digital distribution networks, such as Google Play and iOS App Store;
- Adoption of semantic web technologies to describe relationships within the social network.
Other elements of future work include identifying our potential sponsors who are going to use the system and own rooms for their products in Leapin.it. This will involve interviewing them, surveying them, finding what their requirements are, implementing the required features and making a usability evaluation study that focus on our sponsors.
The applications of LeapIn.it as a bridge from real-world items to the physical world may extend beyond recreation, so other applications should be considered. One such application is Education, in assisting learning. There could be barcodes (or any kind of symbol) supplied with homework, which students could scan to get to a common working place for that homework. It could be as granular as a single question, or as general as a field. The point is that leapin.it provides a way to get the working place.
The design and development of LeapIn.it has been informed by an academic and business background, and as such has raised a number of interesting future possibilities in both research and commerce. Team Orion have found this an interesting project and will be considering next how to take this forward.
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