DIGI-HI Experiment – Digital Companion for Localised Interactions

In this experiment we have created the Say Hello an application for festival attendees for creating and locally sharing mix-media stories using the FLAME infrastructure. Thus we successfully validated a proof of concept around social networks that are ephemeral (i.e. created only for a limited time), and local (i.e. participants are only included based on proximity).

In recent years IN2 has been working closely with event organisers, such as festivals, building with them new solutions for increasing engagement between stakeholders. We thus developed new workflows for content and social media management, providing authoring tools for mixed-media storytelling and publishing. What we noticed was that location and time were essential components for social interaction, community building and services for event attendees, and that a closer integration between these two aspects was missing.

As an example, street festivals contain a very diverse programme which can include live music acts, cultural performances, stands for snacks and drinks, stands of local manufactures and crafts people, forums and discussions, activities for kids, etc. These festivals attract large numbers of both tourists and locals and provide a platform for cultural exchange, where people can connect with one another and local creatives can showcase themselves. The majority of the people attending these events are using mobile devices to take photos and videos of the experience, either for keeping a record of it, for communicating with friends and family or for sharing impressions with their broader digital audience on social media and blogs. While all of the event participants feel part of the festival community, this is not reflected by their digital experiences. Videos and photos captured by one participant are usually not shared with other festival attendees. Moreover festival exhibitors share broadly to social media (e.g. using a dedicated festival hashtag) but have no means to reach festival attendees directly who are already on the ground. This leads to many missed opportunities for using hyperlocal content to connect participants that share similar interests, inspire them and enhance their physical experience.

In the DIGI-HI experiment we tested out our ideas about ephemeral and local social networks and gathered valuable feedback for providing a minimum viable product in this area. A small trial was performed in Barcelona on the 5th of November 2019 at the Pere IV street with 6 participants.

Using the Say Hello application participants can produce mixed-media stories and immediately share them with other people in the area who receive a notification immediately. They can browse a feed of existing content or use tags to search for specific topics of interest. If they choose they can comment. Thus a small social network is built during the event. The content and data created during the event are ephemeral and deleted at a certain time after leaving the festival location. Therefore the Say Hello application has all four essential characteristics of future media services: personalisation (e.g. personal content and recommendations), interactivity (e.g. comments on content shared), mobility (e.g. users can use the application as they are moving along the street) and localisation (e.g. only users in that specific location connect and have access).

What made this project very special was that the entire Say Hello app was exclusively deployed in a distributed fashion on the edge network, right on the street, thus having a number of advantages over a more classical cloud-based app. Say Hello was made up of several components, called service functions (SF), which were chained together thanks to the FLAME platform. In fact some of the SFs, like the one responsible for content storage or the one handling the video transcoding, were provided by FLAME and integrated with the other SFs developed by IN2. We consider the distributed deployment at the edge of the network and the use  of 5G technologies as an enabler for such kind of social networks and a unique opportunity that will divert the attention from global centralised platforms to open, private, local, ad-hoc communities.

The feedback we collected looked both at how the application performed on the edge deployment and how the end-users perceived it. We thus gained not only important insights into the different ways in which we can optimise the deployment of the service functions making up the application but also validated the user acceptance of such an application and collected their further requirements such as having the opportunity to save some of the stories created and continue the contact with some of the people they interacted with in the application. As a direct outcome of the experiment we were able to modularise our media management and publishing platform further, optimising the containerized deployment of its services and evaluating its performance in local deployments with limited resources.

As a result of the successful execution of the experiment, we plan to package Say Hello as a cloud service and deploy it in reference events to continue improving and adding features. Thus, we are looking for innovators and early adopters willing to use the app at their next event, conference or trade fair.

Blog post by Konstantina Geramani, George Ioannidis and Alexandru Stan from IN2.