Friday, December 22, 2006

Game Friday: Collection Management in the Garden

Every year, there’s a Flash festival/conference, Flashforward, that highlights novel uses of flash in web navigation, art, games, instructional demos, and more. Today, I want to share a small application that was nominated for the prize in Navigation… but it’s a lot more than that. Appropriate for the holiday time, forget e-cards and give someone a flower from the Hope Garden… and think a bit about collection organization at the same time.

The Hope Garden was set up by BSD Medical, a company in Utah that specializes in a kind of cancer treatment called hyperthermia. I didn’t know that when I first arrived and planted a flower for a friend who was struggling (who was then perplexed by my linking her with cancer, which was not her issue). But no matter. This is the first social e-carding I’ve experienced. You can plant a flower for someone with a small message, and then you can also wander around the garden, reading the (mostly inspirational and loving) flower messages that have been planted by others. You can “water” flowers with prerecorded responses (Thank you, All the best, etc), and you can search for specific flowers with a text search.

This is a powerful example of how a collection of user-generated messages—most of which are rather generic—can accomplish something impactful. I have an emotional reaction to all of these flowers of goodwill, in different languages, shared for different reasons. I know how much I love and care for the person to whom I gave a flower—and it makes me (and her) feel good to see others expressing the same feelings in the same space. The metaphor of a garden is apt; I feel like my contribution is helping “grow” a more loving place.

That all sounds pretty New Age-y. There’s another way to think about this garden—as a way to present a collection for viewing. The Hope Garden won accolades for navigation, and indeed, it offers an addicting way to “surf” through largely generic material. You are focused on individual flowers, but always in the context of other flowers in the garden. There’s no map or locator; just click and explore.

What if a museum’s virtual collection was presented in an abstract form like this? Rather than viewing one artifact with pertinent info at a time, having the opportunity to navigate through many artifacts in a contextualized location? Space exhibits in a meteor shower? Sculptures in a garden? Coins in a fountain? The beauty and consistency of the Hope Garden keeps me tied in and makes me want to keep exploring. I’m immersed. My dwell time goes up. Heck, maybe I could actually learn something.

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