mobile social technology & alternate reality gaming (arg)

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Originally presented to the Australian Film Television and Radio School in April 2009. Examines some emerging mobile social technologies, and how they can enable new forms of story-telling. Also covers my personal journey into a Star Trek Alternate Reality Game that involves me sending pictures of sheep to strangers in Paris using Twitter.


  • 1. Mobile Social Technology &Alternate Reality Gaming (ARG) Bob Hitching Director of Technology, Xumii 22 April 2009 Twitter:@hitching A presentation to the Australian Film Television and Radio School

2. Story or technology?

  • The story comes first
  • However, the medium is the message
    • New stories become possible using new media
  • So lets look at some mobile social technologies that will enable new forms of narrative
    • My objective today: convince you that some of your time should be invested in keeping an eye on emerging mobile social technologies
  • Then: m y personal journey into an ARG
    • Why I have been sending pictures of sheep to strangers in Paris using Twitter

3. Twitter -

  • Twitter is the simplest way for anyone to publish stuff
    • A Tweet is a 140 character update via SMS originally, then web, IM, email, iPhone
  • Other users follow your tweets if they value your content. Tweets get published out to followers in real-time (originally by SMS)
  • The hockey stick surprise is that many people are now sourcing lots of their information in this way
  • Old media is struggling to keep up. E.g. Susan Boyle, Ashton Kutcher, Oprah.

4. Truth or Fiction?

  • Big challenge for old media
  • Big opportunity for ARGs?

There's a plane in the Hudson. I'm on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy.Steve Jobs was rushed to ER after severe heart attack 5. Twittervision

  • One example of a real-time publishing medium
  • Adds geography, but lacks any narrative threading

6. twitpic

  • Adds pictures & credibility to Twitter
  • Mostly mobile
  • Extract GPS position from EXIF data
  • 450k views of Hudson River plane crash

7. iPhone accelerometer

  • Adds roll, pitch and yaw

8. Photosynth

  • 2007: a Microsoft Labs demo that many thought was smoke and mirrors
  • 2008: it actually works

9. Google Latitude

  • Adds user location
  • Adds lots of privacy issues and controls

10. Xumii- mobile social networking platform

  • Plugs you into all your social networks (Facebook, MySpace, Windows Live, Google Talk, Yahoo Chat, more soon)
  • and lets you real-time chat and share stuff (photos, gifts, videos, more soon) with all your friends using your phone (Nokia, SonyEricsson, Motorola, iPhone, Android, Blackberry)

11. Video

  • does what it says on the tin
  • is real-time mobile video streaming

12. Video synth

  • Synthesis of multiple user generated videos into a single coherent visual thread
  • probably coming sooner than you might think
    • Remember the surprise of Google Earth, and Google Maps Street View?

13. Checkpoint

  • The medium is the message
    • Keeping an eye on emerging mobile social technologies will allow us to create new forms of narrative
  • Now, my personal experience with StarTrekARG
    • The narrative is still surfacing as I write this slide
    • My interpretation of characters and events is possibly totally wrong, and probably influenced by me writing this presentation
    • Im now addicted so dont take the piss
    • Lets focus on h ow the technology has influenced the story so far

14. Star Trek Dance Party

  • Photos posted on the internet


  • Some photos have been airbrushed to include website addresses, e.g.


  • This website plays a flash movie of mostly static, but including some imagery from the upcoming movie
  • and codes: Fe Ca Si Al which translate to more websites

17. Ca =

  • Variants of the flash movie, including an encrypted message which resolves to the IP address of another website


  • This site (after a few days) displays a chat room conversation
  • PHPChatUser2mentions an intersection in Paris

PHPChatUser1:____PHPChatUser1 has disconnected____PHPChatUser2: Carrefour de la Rue de la Fdration et Rue de Presles____PHPChatUser2 has disconnected____ 19.

  • Someone called Malak0 posts on that he has found a strange device at that precise location
  • Bobs contribution: its all about Kronenbourg lager (my link got 1,200 clicks over 3 days)

20. http://lepost.frLost & Found

  • Malak0 asks for the owner to email him to arrange the return of the device
  • Emails reveal Malak0 could be playing the character of The Little Prince
  • Bobs contribution; according to the Twitter API, Malak0 has a Twitter account @MaLaK0 created at the same time, and is a student at Boston

21. Meanwhile, @ aliceforrest700

  • Character is Alice through the Looking Glass
  • Twitter seeded with hashtag #StarTrekARG
  • Bobs contribution: if an ARG agency wanted to create some viral (and measurable) buzz around a movie in Q109, of course theyd use Twitter!


  • @PHPChatUser5 is common Twitter syntax
  • PHPChatUser1 5 are found to have Twitter accounts
  • Talk of posting locations and time real-time mobile geo social

PHPChatUser5: Ill post locations as I find the key fields. Ill need you to go them exactly when I say. PHPChatUser5: Pictures are tough here, but we must start sending each other the access points -@PHPChatUser5 . Not sure yet how to get Cas but the input site will soon be live for all our fixes, hopefully generates something that works. 23. Some observations

  • Truth of Fiction: is Malak0 in-game or OOG?
  • Audience struggling with old new media forums for communication
    • Signal / noise ratio is not good
    • Setting up wikis
    • Setting up live chats to talk faster
  • Bobs contribution: suggesting everyone move the conversation to Twitter
    • ActuallyFriendFeedwould be better but Twitter is a good first step into real-time social media

24. Game moves inside Twitter

  • Game characters talking to each other on Twitter
  • Profile image contains an image of Johann Christoph Bayer, plus a watermarked QR code which decodes to the message APUS01:05
  • APUS is a constellation of stars discovered by Johann Bayer

25. Audience moves inside Twitter

  • Game characters talking with audience
  • Massive viral distribution
  • Measurable
  • Potential for pictures, video, mobile, geo, etc.
  • New forms of narrative?

26. [updated 22 April 8am] MaLaK0 posts a video of the device on YouTube

  • The device has a QR code visible underneath

27. Mobile Social Technology &Alternate Reality Gaming (ARG) Bob Hitching Director of Technology, Xumii 22 April 2009 Twitter:@hitching Thats all for today any questions? Stay connected by following @hitching and #StarTrekARG