Generating and geocoding the Exeter City FC Supporters Trust trail

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We have now started to build an Exeter City FC Supporters Trust trail. We arrived at St James Park early, and felt that to prompt individual memories and thoughts it was crucial to utilise sites that capture the history of the Club and Trust. After all, the trail we want to build is not just about a club, it about its fans, not only the players or their managers, but the people who have supported them throughout the its history.

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Paul Farley showed us around and, as we walked, we learnt about past and present activities; individuals and communities; events and meetings; visions of things to come…

While Paul talked, I tested the geocoding, i.e. the geographic coordinates, latitude and longitude, for each of the sites Paul identified as significant in and around the Park.

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Geocoding is notoriously imprecise because it depends, among other things, on the alignment of satellites, one’s movement and even the activity of the sun. Thus, characteristically, the geocoding of our walk around the Park resulted in a visualisation that had no resemblance to the route we took. This showed us that if we wanted to make a trail of the Park itself, we would need to use a different kind of map.

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A team from University of Exeter started digitising the archival materials that are needed for the trail. We aim to digitise them in two formats, one that will allow the Trust to meet current preservation standards as required by our funder (the Arts and Humanities Research Council), so a digital archive can be started that the Trust could then use in various ways, and one that can be used in the app and on their website.

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The materials in the Trust’s archive include programmes, postcards, letters, books, receipts, photos, videos, documentations, minutes of meetings, and various memorabilia, including a boat and a football.

In choosing what to digitise we rely heavily on the Trust’s advice, but the aim is to use twenty sites and so to digitise, at this stage, about twenty images per site (four hundred in total, more or less). I could spend hours looking at the archive, and hopefully one day I will, but decide instead that on this occasion I need to start generating and testing the trail itself.

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Paul and Lewis Jones had come up with some suggestions which Paul and I merged into a list. Some sites are historical, some still exist. My task is to locate the sites on the list, test the ‘experience’ of visiting them as part of a trail and geocode them so they can be put on a map. I also wanted to test the affordances that interactions with these sites are likely to produce. By this I mean that I wanted to look into what kinds of actions and thoughts they might prompt.

To work out affordances in my field is crucial. If a knob affords turning, and a cord pulling, what are the affordances of the environments on our list in relation to the interface we have (at this point of the project, this will be a map with an image and some text that historicises the chosen site and at a subsequent point in the project, if we get further funding, this would include the option for users to annotate and add to this location)?

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I start at the Park, and walk from the ticket booth to the Stansfied memorial that both Lewis and Paul had suggested, to the shop and then the Fountain Centre. I try to take in the locations, think back to their histories, as I read about them in the books that Lewis lent to me some time ago. I feel quite ignorant and there is so much more I need to learn to work out what these sites mean to the Trust and Exeter City FC supporters.

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Then I hit the first obstacle. What do I geocode? The building or the sign? My ignorance of the Club and Trust’s history means that for every decision I rely heavily on others. What captures best a sense of place here?

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I spend one hour struggling with the geocoding and have to trace my steps again and again as the tool I have is struggling to pick up the small distances between the different sites.

I finally decide that I need to locate the sites more precisely before geocoding them. I spend two more days on this, with Andy Chapman from 1010 Media developing a mobile Find Me tool as I test. Frustratingly through, my second, third and fourth attempt also prove to be inaccurate and I need a new strategy as the geocoding I generate is still too imprecise for users.

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Four days later, after a few more attempts, I have a list of over 20 geocoded sites, some near the Park, some further afield, that include train stations, the town hall, a tobacconist, a restaurant, a hotel and RAMM itself, where our trail is likely to end, possibly in front of a physical object!

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The next steps are for Andy to test (again) the geocoding (and probably for me to take more readings); for  members of the Trust to look at the list of locations to make sure we have captured the most significant sites;  for me to test the trail again as an actual walk and work on the sites’ affordances in relation to the digitised images and texts that are associated with them.

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About Gabriella Giannachi

Gabriella Giannachi is Professor in Performance and New Media, and Director of the Centre for Intermedia at the University of Exeter, which promotes advanced interdisciplinary research in performance and the arts through collaborations between artists, academics and scientists from a range of disciplines. Her most recent and forthcoming book publications include: Virtual Theatres: an Introduction (Routledge: 2004); Performing Nature: Explorations in Ecology and the Arts, ed. with Nigel Stewart (Peter Lang: 2005); The Politics of New Media Theatre (Routledge: 2007); Performing Presence: Between the Live and the Simulated, co-authored with Nick Kaye (MUP: 2011), nominated in Theatre Library Association 44th Annual Book Awards (2012); Archaeologies of Presence, co-edited with Nick Kaye and Michael Shanks (Routledge: 2012); Performing Mixed Reality, co-authored with Steve Benford (MITP: 2011) and Archive Everything (MITP, forthcoming). She has published articles in Contemporary Theatre Review, Leonardo, Performance Research, Digital Creativity, TDR and PAJ, and developed conference papers for IVA 2009, 9th International Conference on Intelligent Virtual Agents, CHI 2008, CHI 2009 (best paper award), CHI 2012 (best paper award) and CHI 2013 (best paper award). She is an investigator in the RCUK funded Horizon Digital Economy Research Hub (2009-2014) and is collaborating with Tate and RAMM on a number of projects. She has a BA from Turin University and a PhD from Cambridge University, UK.
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