Collecting experiences with Vamonde

This past fall, professor Anijo Mathew launched Vamonde, a place-based storytelling platform that emerged out of over a decade of research and experimentation at IIT Institute of Design. We asked Anijo about the process of making a concept a reality and the people and partners behind his new start-up.

What was the impetus for Vamonde? How does your research factor into the creation of the application?

I have been working on place-based research for almost 15 years now. My interests look at how urban spaces are changing because of technology and how technology is changing because of urban spaces. One of the things we see now is the growing prominence of “hyperlocal narratives.” We are, as a generation, highly connected, highly mobile, and heavily invested in technology, due to which we now have new ways to gather and share narratives. These two factors combine to create a major shift in the way people behave in urban spaces. We connect with our physical spaces as much through technology as we do through bodies. We want to not just see what’s out there but also collect stories, gain authentic experiences, and enrich and deepen our connections to history, place, and each other. Brands and objects have become less important than experiential narratives. The modern citizen may occasionally buy a Prada bag when they visit London, but they most definitely will share their experience of sitting in Churchill’s chair, or trekking along Hadrian’s Wall, or bicycling through the foothills of the Welsh mountains. In short, we have stopped collecting objects; instead we have become experiential collectors.

While tools such as Facebook, SnapChat, Instagram, travel blogs, and photo streaming sites provide an outlet for sharing, they only enable us to capture certain dimensions of our experience — a snippet of a thought, a photo of a place, a short video clip — most of which are inadequate for sharing a complete and engaging narrative. With Vamonde, I wanted to address this problem using the power of the growing “shareconomy,” which has dramatically altered our notions of storytelling, expertise, and curation. By capitalizing on our desire to share, we created a platform that empowers users to construct their own narratives, to weave together their experiences and memories into hyperlocal adventures that they can then share with a loved one or broadcast to everyone in the world.

How was ID methodology used in the creation of the platform?

The platform was built on top of ID methods from the very beginning. We used the Whole View Framework as a way to prototype not just the offering but also our company. Methods such a value webs, business model canvas, activity systems, and ecosystem maps all helped us understand where we will play and how we can win. Having used these methods, we were much better equipped to talk with our partners and our clients. Using value webs, for example, helped us evaluate the value exchanges that the platform enables. Now when we go to a content partner we can bucket them into a particular type of value exchange, often giving us the ability to guess what they need and how we can help address their need, even before they might say it themselves.

How has the ID community contributed to the platform?

Over the course of our two-year development cycle, ID students and alumni have played an important role in the conception, build-out, and implementation of Vamonde. Junyoung Yang, our CTO, is an ID alumnus and has been instrumental in the development of our user experience and mobile/web applications. Alumni such as Aashika Jain and Drew Raines helped in the early phases of development. Current students Sipra Bihani, Shanti Mathew, Yujue Wu, and Mark Supert are helping us build out the platform through inputs on creative direction, UX/UI design, expansion, and content strategy. The design of web/mobile and the development of the web experience was done through collaboration with Truth Labs, a digital design studio co-founded by Erik Klimczak, an adjunct faculty member at ID. Dean Patrick Whitney and Associate Dean Hugh Musick have been really strong advocates of the platform and constantly provide feedback and assistance whenever necessary.

What can users of the application expect in the near future?

We officially launched in November 2015. With content partners like The Chicago Architecture Foundation, The Chicago Park District, Chicago Transit Authority, Choose Chicago, Chicago Design Museum, Harry Caray’s, The Waldorf-Astoria Chicago, and Broadway in Chicago, we are already helping Chicago neighborhoods, businesses, and cultural institutions provide an interactive and multisensory experience out in the world. We are only in Chicago for now but plan to expand to other cities early this year. With about 3000 adventures downloaded in the first three months, we know we’re onto something. You can check us out on the web, view our video, and download the app on your iPhone.

Every week we plan to release a new adventure from one of our content partners. Over the course of this year, users will see some amazing new hyperlocal adventures from amazing content partners in Chicago such as Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, National Museum of Mexican Art, WFMT/Studs Terkel Archive, Navy Pier, Good Beer Hunting, and many more. We are currently only on iOS; early this year, users can also expect to see Vamonde on Android as well. In addition to new adventures on the platform, we are currently testing out a create tool that will empower users to create their own adventures from their laptops and mobile devices anywhere in the world. This winter and spring we are working with partners such as Illinois Humanities, Chicago Cultural Alliance, and Terra Foundation to run workshops for small and medium-sized cultural organizations across Illinois to help them build out content on the Vamonde platform. Later this year, users can download Vamonde adventures in other cities in the US (New York and San Francisco) and around the world (potentially Mumbai, Istanbul, and Hong Kong).

How do you see the platform evolving long term?

Today, Vamonde is an open platform where users can create, archive, and share hyperlocal stories and memories using video, images, text, audio, and narration.

Tomorrow, we want to be the world’s largest exchange of location-based narratives, empowering users and organizations to create, share, and embed hyperlocal stories and memories in any part of the world and across many different websites and media.


Originally published at www.id.iit.edu on January 29, 2016.

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