Citizen Journalism: Buzzin at the Manchester Christmas Markets

While some might fear that the ubiquity of technology is bringing about the demise of ‘real life’ interaction and communication, there’s equally an argument that it’s helping people make new connections and see the world in a wholly new way.

This is something that Sparta Digital’s Buzzin app, developed as part of the CityVerve project, aims to prove – showing that both the digital world and ‘real’ world can co-exist in harmony and create a magical experience at the same time.

The app uses augmented reality (AR) – which effectively means adding layers of graphics, sound effects, and other distortions over the top of our physical reality – to blend the real and the virtual. In this way, AR serves as an enhancement of something pre-existing, using these added sounds and images to heighten the overall experience.

At this year’s Manchester Christmas Markets, the app allowed users to interact with the markets in various ways.

Key among these was the app’s map function. The app’s developers recognised the locations integral to visitors to the markets – toilets, cash machines and public transport – and then recorded their locations on the map.

The app then allowed users to hold up their device and, via their smartphone’s camera and screen, receive a visual representation of these key locations, along with directions to their desired location.

Fun and games

Along with the points of interest feature, the most popular aspect of the app was a Christmas-themed game. Called ‘Elf Chase’, the interactive game followed the same premise as Pokémon Go but, in this instance, featured elves hiding at set locations.

The game involved tracking down the elves and then hitting each of them with virtual snowballs – before collecting a reward of money off refreshments on the market stalls!

The features of Buzzin accurately represent the inclusive nature of CityVerve’s vast project: the app consists of various elements that are beneficial to citizens of all ages, whether that be games targeted at children, or the directions to essential locations. There’s even a feature in which a virtual elf appears on the beloved Christmas Market mugs when a snapshot is taken – fun!

When asked what part he felt Buzzin has to play in CityVerve’s mission to transform Manchester into a smart city, Louis Heywood, a digital marketing executive at Sparta Digital, responded:

“In my opinion, the Buzzin app is an integral cog within the overall project. A key focus of CityVerve is to ‘meet the complex needs of its people’ – through the application’s iterative process and by featuring at three of the biggest street events in Manchester, Buzzin has been used by thousands of citizens and visitors who we’ve been able to engage with and get valuable feedback from. The size of these events also shows how the application can be replicated and is scalable to any city.”

Louis went on to explain how Buzzin has also enabled collaboration within the project by working with Manchester Metropolitan University on the Manchester Plinth. “It’s a fantastic showcase of how different sectors can work together to offer exciting opportunities,” he said.

Putting it to the test

I myself got to test the app first-hand when taking part in the tour of the markets with the FutureEverything team.

On the tour, I was grateful to speak to another member of the Sparta Digital team, digital marketing officer Karolina Sykut, to find out even more about the app.

Whilst being presented with more intricate details of the Elf Chase game, I was informed that a conscious decision had been made to have the integrated game serve a second purpose: to diffuse traffic from the key market location of St. Ann’s Square.

Making the Elf Chase game available only in the Cathedral Gardens area, which holds some of the less visited market stalls, emphasised the app’s city exploration element – encouraging citizens to discover new areas.

While playing with the app, I tested the most efficient ways to find the points of interest. The locations are displayed in various manners – in a list format, map format, as well as on the main interactive camera screen on which the locations appear as pins (tapping on your desired location provides directions).

The latter option was the one I found most efficient, and through this feature we visited the markets on Lincoln Street, Market Street and Cathedral Gardens – where we grabbed hot chocolates and coffees, and the chance to get a glimpse of the virtual elf that appears on the mugs via the app!

A world of possibilities to discover

Overall, Buzzin plays an immensely successful role in enhancing a pre-existing experience.

My previous visit to the markets consisted of trying to find a toilet for 15 minutes, so I appreciated this aspect of the app – particularly useful for those guzzling mulled wines one after the other (and no, the market stalls don’t have toilets, not like your usual pubs). Many of the stalls accept cash only, making the directions to cash machines incredibly useful.

The team at Sparta Digital has without a doubt excelled in ensuring the needs of market visitors are met, considering individuals of all ages and how their lives can be made easier through the use of the app.

Improvement is at the core of the CityVerve project, and this striving to improve Manchester as a city no doubt begins with the technology used being able to be smoothly integrated into the citizens’ lives.

Augmented reality gives the user the ability to manage the influence digital technology has on their real-life experience – on their own terms, which will ultimately play a role in the acceptance and appreciation technology can have in our everyday lives.

Buzzin hopes to play a role in further key events not only in Manchester, but also nationwide.

Both Karolina and Louis of Sparta Digital informed me that they hope to venture out and work alongside events such as the Parklife music festival, held in Heaton Park, for which key points of interest would be not only toilets and cash machines, but also directions to and times for the various artists performances on stages over the course of the weekend.

The possibilities with augmented reality are endless, and Buzzin has proved its success – as well as its further potential.

The Buzzin app is available on the Google Play Store as well as the App Store.

December 22, 2017 in Citizen Journalism

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