As one of the cultural capitals of Europe, thousands of international students (2,000 at the University of Amsterdam alone), new residents and tourists convene in Amsterdam every year. Unfortunately, not everyone who comes to Amsterdam has the typical Dutch experience of using bikes as a central form of transportation. Since biking is such a common form of transportation within the city, new residents often take to the streets and start cycling, regardless of their level of experience or knowledge of traffic laws. In an effort to help new Amsterdammers become accustomed to the Amsterdam cycle culture, we are proposing the development of a new mobile application (app): Training Wheels. The app will create a solution to this problem by offering users access to a combination of safety tips and training.
What does the app do?
Training Wheels offers a complete training course, as well as the necessary information cyclists needed to ride comfortably in Amsterdam. As stated, the app is divided into two key sections: Tips and Training. The training section caters to various levels of cycling experience, from pure beginner to seasoned rider. Since Training Wheels is divided by levels, it is able to offer prizes and incentives for completing various tasks. The tips section features bike-related information such as buying an appropriate bicycle, safety measures, traffic rules, recommended routes and developing particular techniques like biking with heels, or avoiding ice during the winter.
This app has similarities to that of other fitness training apps, however, it has the goal of skill development, rather than fitness building. Learning to ride a bicycle through an app is a far different from the days you practiced with your parents. But we believe that using an app offers the opportunity to add more depth to the cycling experience. Imagine real time traffic, road works or weather information being taken into account by the app; giving the user a centralized system for determining what their cycling conditions are, and whether they are trained properly to ride through it. Since a ‘true’ Amsterdammer opts to bike in the rain, during level two Training Wheels will send you into the wet winds of the canaled city.
Gamification was the inspiration for the structural and digital framework of Training Wheels. “Gamification is using game-based mechanics, aesthetics and game thinks to engage people, motivate action, promote learning, and solve problems” (Kapp, 10). An explicit goal of gamification is engagement and learning, which is realized by using elements traditionally thought of as ‘fun’ (9). With Training Wheels, cycling as an everyday experience is converted into an activity that has elements of competition, cooperation, exploration and storytelling ( 11). Imagine a user earning a cup of coffee from Coffee Company for successfully completing a level, or a bike light from HEMA for passing the safety training. In this way the importance of playfulness and fun is emphasized (Fizek, 275), while at the same time promoting the brands of our stakeholders.
The application will be developed for both Android and iOS platforms. The first generation will utilize google maps (as drawn from their Software Development Kit for implementing into mobile applications). For the next generation of the platform, we endeavor to make use of a collaboration with Google, to utilize existing directions feature. Decisions to develop this app within the commercialized structure of Google development might strike one as giving into corporate culture, however, we draw on a lesson from Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life, in his assertion that the objects we use in our everyday lives are often mass produced products of our capitalist society (De Certeau, 323). What Certeau sees as the defining characteristic of the user in this equation is that they can choose how to use these mass produced objects in their own unique ways, in his defining term of the ‘tactic’. Applied to our 2014 society, which is increasingly dependent on applications for everyday activities, we see this as Lev Manovich’s reading of Certeau’s text in “The Practices of Everyday (Media) Life”, where products are explicitly designed to be customized by users (Manovich, 319-331). That is, the product of the corporation — which in our case is Training Wheels in partnership with Google — will be utilized by the users of this app to customize the features to their own skill sets, and preferences as cyclists.
Privacy & Transparency
Training Wheels will produce potentially valuable data. Parties could use this data to better urban planning, along with enabling improved future developments of Training Wheels. This data could provide interesting commercial and scientific uses, but “what is not reasonable in our view is to force users who do value their privacy highly to use apps without understanding of what personal information will be exposed” (Wetherall et al, 3). This is why all users will be prompted to opt into sharing their data with a detailed summary of what data will be saved. If users changes their mind, they can always opt-out later (the Strava cycle app did not do this and many users were unhappy). In the interest of transparency, all users who opt into data sharing will be able to see the data that they produce and which stakeholders have access to it.
Training Wheels allows users to learn how to ride a bike in a fun and informative matter. The application applies concepts such as gamification and digital means to provide a unique way of learning a real life skill. The application establishes a balance between monetizing user information and providing the best experience by keeping the user in control. Training Wheels bridges the gap that exists in the application market between apps that provide long-distance training guides, weather reports, bicycle repair and biking tips, all in one easy to access platform. As a collective of international and local new media students at the University of Amsterdam, we identify with the difficulties experienced by visitors and new residents as they cycle throughout the greater metropolitan area of Amsterdam. We bring forth our expertise in application development and design, alongside our experiences and ask you, are you ready to start training?
Certeau, Michel de. The Practice of Everyday Life. University of California Press, London: 1980. Print.
Fizek, Sonia. “Why fun matters: In search of emergent playful experiences,” in Rethinking Gamification. Meson Press, 2014.
Kapp, Karl M. The gamification of learning and instruction: game-based methods and strategies for training and education. John Wiley & Sons, 2012.
Manovich, Lev. “The Practice of Everyday (Media) Life: From Mass Consumption to Mass Cultural Production?” Critical Inquiry, Vol. 35, No. 2, 2009.
Wetherall, David, et al. “Privacy revelations for web and mobile apps.” Proc. HotOS XIII, 2011.