Friday, December 14, 2007

The MELD Lab - and the Pitch

The MELD lab went on for 5 days. On Monday, the 15 participants assembled in the Sandbox room, in the 4th floor of the University of Lancashire new Media Factory. QA fabulous facility, with lots of opportunities for interaction and collaboration - very well suited for this kind of event.

The storyteller Tim Sheppard led a series of interactive sessions in which we were supposed to use various methods of storytelling to get particular points of a story across. The technologists among us were a bit reluctant, as this was not really "our thing". Instead, we would have preferred to do some software development, to set up a prototype, or to make a powerpoint vugraph. But this activity regarding storytelling was meant to prepare us for gaining self-confidence in presenting. Due to the wide variety of expertise and experience among the participants, some benefitted from this exercise, while others just participated for the fun of it.

In any case, Tim is a really nice guy, and he offered free coaching for the pitch presentation that we were to prepare.

On Tuesday was a "day out": each of us was sent to an institution, so as to see how "things are done" in the industry. Media experts were hereby sent to tecnology firms, and technologists were sent to media production. I attended a BBC Radio Manchester radio studio, where a live show was broadcast. Further, I attended a local TV evening news broadcast, as it was sent and controlled from the so-called "gallery" (ITV Granada News). In between these two events, I went shopping at the Maplin store in central Manchester.

On Wednesday, our groups began working together. I worked with journalist Garth Haley, who also had studied physics. He is very interested in technology, and we worked very well together. But before we coulc actually create our pitch, everybody was asked to think intensively about potential users of our technology. That is, we defined a few examplary user profiles, which were to be included into the pitch. I would have preferred to work on my presentation - lots of things to put into it, but the emphasis was set that the user should be in the centre. I thought, that this very specific targeting of concrete made-up users would be quite demeaning to our pitch clients - I remembered the saying "great minds talk about ideas, medium minds about events, small minds about people" (although that came from another context...). But of course, I understood that it was important to show that we understand the "customers", the clients for which we would make the product. And so we went along and developed two user profiles. The idea which I wanted to pitch, was an automatic recording system for automatic tagging, similar to what has been done in the past years in mobile / wearable computing (e.g. Thad Starner's remembrance agent), but with an emphasis on journalism. And so our two users would be a journalist as the prime user of such a system (for doing actual work with it) and the web consumer who could benefit from the results of such a system.

On Thursday, it became evident that the pitch would need to have more than just the target user profiles: costing, competition, needs and benefits etc. would have to be addressed, and so we finally worked on the Powerpoint files of the pitches. During a few sessions, each group gave examples of their pitches, and each of us gave comments and feedback. Garth and I went out to actually record some video footage of journalistic work, to be included in our pitch.

Friday then was the day when the pitches were presented to the three clients: from Sky News, Haymarket Media, and Johnston Press. We managed well and got positive feedback - and the option ot further talks later on.

Overall this event had been very interesting. It brought me in contact with people in the media area, a field where I see many possible applications of intelligent systems, for support and for novel ways of getting news and stories across.

If anyone is on Facebook, here is the group site for MELD.

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