The project in more detail...
The Memetic project was funded between 1st February 2005 and the 31st December 2006 under the JISC Virtual Research Environments Programme.
The project name 'Memetic' is both an acronym and a word. Memetic stands for Meeting Memory Technology Informing Collaboration, which emphasises its original aim to develop software to expedite the meeting process by enabling annotated recordings of distributed Access Grid meetings that allow the review of those meetings by navigation through index points of key moments, such as agenda items, decisions, actions, questions and ideas, and also by who was speaking at a particular point in time. As well as providing a descriptive acronym, Memetic is also a word in itself, from the term 'meme', coined by the zoologist and evolutionary scientist Richard Dawkins, which refers to a unit of cultural information transferable from one mind to another, such as tunes, catch-phrases, or ways of building arches. Memetic as a word rather than as an acronym proved to be more illustrative of its eventual use for recording cultural information from a wide set of session scenarios beyond meetings, such as seminars, virtual ethnography and as a tool to aid the evaluation of performance art.
There are three stages in using Memetic: book, record and replay. The purpose of the booking stage is to enable the capture of metadata associated with a session such as its title, date/time, participants and agenda, to make that session known to the system, and optionally to set a timer to record the session.
The recording stage involves not only the pressing of the record button (much the same as on a VCR), but also the opportunity of annotating the session whilst in progress. This involves the use of two integrated applications: Compendium and ScreenStreamer. Compendium is a concept-mapping tool, which exists as standalone software in its own right and has an international, highly active user community. Compendium can be used in a variety of ways to annotate the session, from simple use by a participant marking index points in the session which will benefit from later review, to a replacement for meeting minutes, in which many elements of a discussion are captured,
such as details of questions raised, ideas proposed, pros and cons of those ideas, decisions, action items, and so on. Compendium makes use of graphical icons to identify the nature of these different elements in a session, such as a question mark for a question and a light bulb for an idea; however, these icons are customisable, which makes the tool applicable for many different session types, for example, one of our users investigated the use of Compendium icons based on Bales' interaction analysis for research into enquiry-based learning (see picture by Norman Powell, CEEBL, Manchester).
ScreenStreamer was a tool developed by the project to allow a session participant to broadcast the contents of their computer screen to other participants. This is particularly useful for displaying the Compendium map, presentation slides, or other documents or software used during the session. The particular value of ScreenStreamer over other methods of sharing the screen, such as VNC or Microsoft NetMeeting, is that the media stream from ScreenStreamer is recordable by Memetic alongside other video and audio from the session. During the latter stages of the project, ScreenStreamer was enhanced to become an additional source of automated session annotations based on the contents of the screen being streamed, for example slide changes during a seminar presentation.
The replay stage of Memetic is for users who wish to review sessions. The replay shows every video and audio stream that was present in the original session, together with the ScreenStreamer stream(s) and relevant Compendium map. The replay is accessible either in an Access Grid virtual venue, or on a user's desktop. The session is navigable by VCR-type functionality, such as play, fast forward, rewind and pause; by dragging the 'now bar' across the session timeline; and by session annotation, such as Compendium icon, agenda item, presentation slide, and person speaking (although the last requires manual annotation after the session). During the replay, the user can make further annotations using Compendium.
The Memetic project incorporated extensive involvement from a number of users, including the Open Middleware Infrastructure Institute at the University of Southampton, the Locating Grid workshops at the University of Bristol, the Welsh e-Science Centre at Cardiff University, the History of Political Discourse VRE at the Universities of Hull & East Anglia, Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre at the University of Edinburgh,
the Freeman Centre at the Universities of Sussex & Brighton, and assorted seminar users at Bristol, Manchester and Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. Many of these used the software for unexpected applications, such as the evaluation of performance art in the Locating Grid workshops, which pushed Memetic in disruptive ways. The project included continuous engagement with users, including the elicitation of user requirements and an end-of-project evaluation of the software in use.