Beijing By Bending Bicycle
On a Visit to China to Help with the Beijing 2008 Olympics Web Site
Part Two: Research Opportunities
Tom Worthington FACS HLM
These are some impressions from a 3-day conference with the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (BOCOG). Experts from around the world were invited to present ideas for the Beijing Olympic 2008 Official Website. Speakers from design, new media applications, web management, marketing and promotion shared professional viewpoints on design of the web site for input to BOCOGs' proposal to the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
This document is for a seminar at the Australian National University (Wednesday, November 26, 2003) on research opportunities with the 2008 Olympics. The 2008 Olympics has opportunities for research on large scale, culturally sensitive, wireless, position based web applications with video.
There is also a travelogue emphasising the travel and tourism aspects. Also briefing is available on request for government and company organisations on business opportunities with the 2008 Olympics (Brisbane Presentation added 2007).
Local experts at the event included six staff of Peking University (four professors), from the area of development, geographic information systems, multimedia and journalism. There were directors of the People's Daily (Government owned newspaper and web site), software companies and ISPs, industry associations, Beijing local government and the central government's Information Office.
One point to note in this is the strong presence of Peking University. In considering undertaking Olympic related research, a collaboration with Peking University would seem useful. Also for commercial business projects it would be worth having some form of university collaboration, as academics appeared to be held in higher esteem than would be the case in an Australian project.
The visiting experts included:
Stephane Kanah, Internet Project Manager, International Olympic Committee.
Philip Nielsen, founder of the Company, Creative Marketing, who are the web designers the Athens 2004 Olympic Web site. He talked on "Delivering Multicultural Information through the web, in accordance with the Olympic spirit, to promote the 2008 Beijing Games".
>Tom Worthington, (myself), Director of Tomw Communications Pty Ltd and Visiting Fellow at the Department of Computer Science, The Australian National University. I talked about problems with accessibility in the Sydney Olympics Web site and made some suggestions for Beijing. I was invited as I had given expert evidence in an Australian Human Rights Commission case over the Olympic web site. The full text and slides for my presentation are online.
Hoi Tack Seng, The One Academy, designers of the new Beijing Olympic web site.
Professor Byron Reeves, Director for the Center for the Study of Language and Information Director of Media X at Stanford University. It happens I bought a copy of his book on human faces for user interfaces. He pointed out in his talk that he had discovered the publisher had produced a Chinese language edition of the book.
Some notes from the meeting:
From Organising to Marketing
Sun Weija, Deputy Director of Media and New Communications at BOCOG set the scene by talking about objectives with the intermediate web site (started in July 2003), including:
Communication between BOCOCG and the public
News and communication and Services
For the next version objectives would include:
Internationalization, with multilingual services
systematic for collaboration
Construction: flexible, efficient, cost effective, expandable. News, search engines. Must have capacity, be able to have software expanded. Sponsorship.
Audience: IOC, sports organisations, sponsors, athletes, fans, journalists, Volunteers, bidding parties. This seemed odd as these are mostly internal parties, rather than the people who might attend the games.
Opportunity: Access Grid based BOCOG Meetings
The BOCOG Symposium had a very organised format and room layout. This could be enhanced with Access Grid technology, both for local face-to-face meetings and for video networked ones. It cost around $US10,000 to get me to this meeting for a 45 minute presentation. Much of that could be done by video. More on this later.
According to the BOCOG master plan in April 2004 a report is required to the IOC on the strategy and specifications for the web site. Five months may seem a comfortable amount of time for planning one web site, but given the size of the task, this is still a daunting undertaking.
Stephane Kanah, IOC Internet Manager
First Olympic web site Atlanta 1996 managed by IBM. Mostly text, information, no advertising or e-commerce. Same in Nagano 1998. Sydney 2000, managed by IBM and collaboration with SOCOG. Companies such as Lycos involved. Ticketing, advertising, Volunteers, paraolympics included. Content much the same otherwise as previous games. Salt Lake City 2002 was first post-IBM site. Collaboration with MSNBC; "strong content synergies" with IOC web site. Need to "control the message". This isn't as bad as it sounds, as it is essentially about keeping the IOC in the public eye between games. Web a good way to "promote less televised sports".
Target audience: younger fans, media, Olympic family. This is the opposite of BOCOG's objectives.
IOC web site has 19,000 visits per day in a non-games year (comment: This doesn't sound that high). The site is maintained by only two people. Athens expected to have 100 million page views per day, 20 times the web traffic as of Sydney.
NOTE: No e-shop is planned for Athens (apart from tickets), due to time constraints, rather than policy.
Sponsorship, rather than advertising used (makes sense due to protection of brand issues).
58% of volunteers applied on line and most tickets sold on line.
Phases of games web sites:
Year 1-3 light.
Year 4-6 medium
Games time: large infrastructure.
IOC says they require W3C accessibility (but does the IOC do this)?
For each web page template IOC has a detailed description of what is required on the page.
Note: There was a continual supply of tea for each delegate. The teacups have ceramic lids to keep it warm. I have suggested BOCOG produce Olympic 2008 branded ones as a marking gimmick and product.
Phillip Neilsen, Creative Marketing:
Talking about Athens 2004 web site. Aim for a fast multi-language, multi-browser site. He claimed W3C WAI compliance (ANU IT students test this in the web site course) and demonstrated a talking browser. He said Flash was a "heavy" technology. His aim was to have a web site in 100 languages. He argued that W3C level 3 compliance should be required, but not for all content.
Tom Worthington, Tomw Communications Pty Ltd and ANU:
My talk went as per the Power point version. There was only one Internet connection in the room and there wasn't much time to check it with my PC between other talks, so it didn't work when needed. However, the message got across. In addition to the prepared material I showed a photo of the tactile path for the blind outside the BOCOG HQ to emphasise that accessible design can be invisible and ubiquitous at the same time ()by the way it appears these paths were first a Japanese standard and then adopted in Australia). Also I suggested access grid technology for BOCOG meetings. This might be part particularly good for pres conferences before the event.
In the afternoon the visiting experts were taken on a visit to the People's Daily newspaper. This is the official Government newspaper and will provide the editorial oversight for the content on the BOCOG site. People's Daily have a lively web site, with discussion forums, web video broadcasting of question sessions with visiting personalities and animated advertising. The scale of the readership is impressive (hundreds of millions), as is their web broadcasting studio (like a mini TV studio). There is a mobile version of the People's daily but this seems to be languishing because it is based on WAP. It is possible to convert the WAP version to simple HTML, via Google's service.
Day 2: The Preliminary Analysis
After hearing from most of the visiting experts on day 1, the start of day two was a presentation analysing the previous Olympic web sites. There was an impressive systematic analysis of what was in previous sites. One item identified was that SOCOG had an emphasis on e-business on the web site.
The analysis then looked at non-Olympic Asian sporting event web sites. This included University games and football cups. This was an excellent idea as these were closer culturally than the European Olympic sites. There was an emphasis on personalisation and e-business.
Accessibility was included for disabled users. PDAs and wireless devices would be accommodated. However, I may have underplayed the the difficulty of providing accessibility for interactive sites. As an example Macromedia Flash now has accessibility features, but exactly how to use them effectively is not well understood. One point of contentious with the IOC may be the natural desire to have video on the web site (IOC have sold video right to country based broadcasters until 2012, see business opportunity below). One point missed was the value of the Olympics for promoting business, which Austrade did well for 2000.
Research Opportunity: Web business promotion services for the Olympics: The Australian Trade Commission had a sophisticated business club for matching up Australian business people with business visitors to the Olympics. BOCOG does not appear to have considered this yet. What will an on-line business promotion service look like in 2008?
Some areas for research:
Accessibility with personalisation and multimedia interactivity,
Business promotion needs web site to match business people.
E-business technologies with web services.
Australian Smart Internet CRC working on GIS.
Multilingual web sites.
Proposed topics for BOCG web site:
Mr. Fang Nan from the Government internet bureau (NOIE equivalent?) asked some questions of the experts. After a day and a half this was the first actual question asked. Up until then questions were invited after each talk, but none were asked. He asked for the cost of the web site for Athens and got them in great detail from the Athens representative.
Major issue: The TV rights to the games are sold separately to broadcasters. Under the licence arrangements the host country is banned from putting video of the sporting events on their web site. Like the lack of e-business, this is a major weakness in all previous games web sites. But it should be possible to make some accommodation with the broadcasters to make some video available on-line.
Research Opportunity: Computer games were mentioned as one opportunity for the web site. Small gimmick ones for promotion were used in the past. More sophisticated ons might be used for the 2008 Olympics. What will on-line games look like in 2008?
The recommendations were for standardized, personalised formats and more languages. E-business was emphasised and SMS was mentioned.
Research Opportunity: Multilingual Access Grid conference facilities:
Audio: The BOCOG conference room was well equipped with a Phillips "Digital Conference Network"; this has individual microphone/speaker units for each delegate and headphones for simultaneous translation. The unit console has a small control panel to select the language required. However, the system has limitations: the language channels are indicated by numbers, so a sign or announcement has to be used to say which channel is for which language. A system which displayed the languages would be better. Also the system has its own proprietary data cabling. A system which used standard LAN cabling, or a standard wireless network would be useful. The desktop units might provide standard LAN ports, as do some IP telephones. Wired or IP telephones, laptops or PDAs might be reprogrammed to be the delegate units. If ceiling mounted microphones could be made to pick out individual speakers, then desk mounted microphones may not be required. Some way to identify the speaker would still be required (the Phillips system as a red light on the microphone stalk to visually identify a live microphone).
Video: The conference room was equipped with three ceiling mounted LCD video projectors which, unlike the audio, were inadequate. The projectors were widely spaced across one wall of the room and so only the centre projector was used for the symposium. Slides were displayed in the language of the speaker only: English or Chinese. It was frustrating to look at slides, such as of the site map for the new web site, being able to see the diagram, but not read the captions.
The projector was not particularly bright and the lights had to be dimmed. A better approach would be an arrangement similar to ANU's Access Grid Number 1, with three brighter projectors forming one wide image. The whole screen could be used for wide screen live video presentations. More importantly it could be divided for simultaneous language text display of slide presentations. Large multilingual slides could be prepared using the whole screen, or more practically, each projector could show a duplicate of the one slide, but in a different language. The languages could be machine or manually translated, either in advance or live during the presentation. An XML markup could be used to add the alternative languages to the presentation documents and a modified web browser or presentation software to display them synchronized. For non-XML compatible
If there are a large number of languages, or the conference is primarily in one language, then only the primary language might be shown on the room screen and audio broadcast. Most delegates would not require any individual equipment. Those with other language might be equipped with personal wireless units providing audio and video. The image on the personal unit would follow that on the main screen, but in a different language. This might be a PDA for notebook computer.
Victor Koo, COO of SOHU.com was the next speaker. This company is a successful China based ISP, but US listed. This was a change from the government and official committee view of web sites, over to how to make money from the web. China has about 70 million Internet users . He argued that the Internet had a larger role in China than the rest of the world as a relatively unregulated news source. After the "Internet winter" of 2000-2002, investment is returning to the Internet industry. Half of SOHU's revenue is from wireless services using the Japanese iMode business model. He said MMS will quickly take over from SMS. He gave examples of how a mobile device could be used in real time to pay for Olympic tickets and such like. He also used the example of paying for a Coke at a vending machine (which CSIRO have demonstrated); however that has not proved profitable due to limited devices.
A controversial issue throughout the symposium was video on the Internet. Mr. Koo suggested that the Internet may be the primary way to experience the Olympics in 2008, eclipsing television broadcasting. He claimed the Internet has the capability to provide customised video to each subscriber. I am not entirely convinced of this1. If it is true, this will cause problems for the Olympics, as TV rights have been sold for games up until 2012.
Security was raised as an issue. For on-line games the rules need to be enforced to stop players cheating and so diminishing the other player's experience.
Research Opportunity: Mobile versions of web sites. China's consumers are used to paying for content on their SMS an MMS telephones. Therefore there could be a market for conversational web pages converted to mobile format. This is easier to do for accessible web sites, but could be done semi-automatically for other sites. There is a need to develop software tools, services and complete web services for converting existing web content for mobile telephones. Mobile access might be combined with language translation.
China Telecom has introduced "vnet" for payment for content on-line for broadband. This works similarly to the iMode business model where the network provider collects revenue on behalf of content providers and keep a percentage of the retinue.
Research Opportunity: Mobile multiuser online games. Multiuser games are becoming popular in the USA and Europe. For China, Korean multiuser games are popular. Mobile phone extensions of multiuser games are a growth opportunity. How can a mobile phone interact with an on-line game?
Research Opportunity: E-commerce for China. E-commerce is under developed due to limited credit card use, but on-line payment systems are overcoming this. There is an opportunity for pay-by-snap simple type on line e-commerce systems adapted to the China's market. In addition to the technical issues is that of user's trusting the system. How would such a system be different to its use in Australia?
Research Opportunity: Personalisation of information on sports: Being able to watch a video with your favourite athlete centre screen could be an appealing product. This might use the video indexing and access technology of the ACRA. As well as the technical issues, such as multicast use, there is the issue of TV broadcasting based rights being expressed with Internet technology.
Research Opportunity: Automate Olympic content policy. A local Olympic committee needs to observe political requirements of their government, as well as IOC requirements. In addition they wish to translate documents into many languages. There is therefore the opportunity to provide on-line manuals and on-line training. Also automated grammar tools could be used to help implement the policies. If the correct words and phrases are used consistently it will make automated translation into other languages easier, as well as avoid politically incorrect wording. This could be applied to other international organisations.
Professor Byron Reeves, Stanford University
Gave a plug for Stanford University and its role in creating technology companies. He said that people are still innovating in and around Stanford after the dot.com crash. He then concentrated on Stanford's "Media X" study of interactive media. Professor Reeves is the author of "The Media Equation". This book discusses the human way people interact with technology. He gave a good exposition of the issues and what may be possible, particularly with position aware, mobile devices. He presented several interesting ideas which might be used. One was an animated character to interact with the web user and another is panoramic video allowing the viewer to select what to look at.
Research Opportunity: The interactive characters for interaction are difficult to create. Finding ways to take traditional web content and semi-automatically make it suitable for the character would be useful. The characters need not be very realistic and can be just a still 2D photo which is then manipulated to change expression and talk. This could be added as a overlay on an accessible text based interface. The character could talk in different languages and have optional "talk bubbles".
Conclusion by Stephane Kanah
Change domain name to Beijing2008.com This address is owned by another organisation, but IOC has experience at "retrieving" Olympic domains. Other domains, such as ".cn" should be redirected to the one official address.
Set roles and responsibilities in BOCOG.
And some more points. Stephane then showed some IOC video clips. There were intended to emphasise human values through the Olympics. To me they looked advertisements for US television and would be laughed at in Australia as being self important nonsense. There may be even larger difficulties in cultural translation of the Olympic ideals for 2008.
Research Opportunity: The ABC TV show "The Games" satirized SOCOG's preparation for the games, including one episode about preparing the SOCOG web site. Similarly HG and Roy's program "The Dream" poked fun at the event during the Olympics. Perhaps humorous material could be used to help teaching Olympic staff, just as humour is used in other training applications.
Research Opportunity: The Lonely Planet Beijing guide warns of unpleasant Chinese toilets. Also there is a shortage of water. Environmentally friendly, solar powered composting toilets might be a good addition to the green games.
Research Opportunity: Beijing wireless toilet map. Adapt the Australian national public toilet map for use in Beijing. Modify the layout so it is suitable for use with wireless devices and add a facility for use with location aware devices so they will point to the toilet. Rent out the roof of the toilet for wireless access points. ;-)
- See also books: Web Accessibility; Sydney 2000 Olympics; Beijing 2008 Olympics
Research opportunities with the 2008 Olympics, Australian National University seminar, Canberra, 4pm, Wednesday, November 26, 2003
- Brisbane Presentation added 2007.
Austrade, are also conducting Beijing Olympics Opportunities Seminars.