Described as  a “collaborative sound map of the City”, Open Sound New Orleans (OSNO) invites the public to record, upload, and share the sounds of New Orleans using Google Maps. The purpose and goal of the Open Sound project is to contribute to and make accessible the living culture of New Orleans as a means of “celebration” as well as provide a space to contribute to the public culture of New Orleans in an individualized way. OSNO is an independently operating program, but does appear to have support from the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Foundation.

Using Creative Commons licensing, contributors and listeners may share, adapt, and remix the content for non-commercial purposes. By making contributions to the site, you are also making your sounds available through the Creative Commons license.

Requirements for contributions to the sound maps are fairly open, however they are coded by three main taxonomies of sounds: musical sounds, voices, and ambient sounds. Users are invited to borrow equipment if they do not have recording equipment available. I decided to submit a request to borrow equipment to see what response I would get - if any - and to inquire about sound equipment available.

The site has very loosely defined means for authoring your sounds - you simply have to register, upload a sound, and list a possible (if any) organizational affiliation. In attempt to experience the interface, I registered. I appreciated the requirements for submission but also had some concerns. Firstly, it associated a user with a working e-mail address to be able, if necessary, to contact or attribute the sound contributor. Second, it made sure the contributor was not a robot with a follow up e-mail. However, it doesn’t get much better. Logging in was a hassle (there was no option to select a password so I am assuming it will be provided through e-mail), and in order to make a sound contribution I had to login, which was unsuccessful.

While there seem to be hundreds of submissions, it is clear that most registrants to the site are viewers/listeners rather than contributors, with the majority of contributions through a few users. Most contributors seemed to spend more time testing the site, like myself, by inputting a mash of letters and not necessarily truthfully identifying themselves. In order to add to the collaborative nature of the map, it would be beneficial to have a better understanding of who the contributors are through more defined submission requirements.This represents a challenge to the groups goal to collect an “authentic” sound of New Orleans, but an important first step. Sound studies scholar and New School Media Studies professor Joan Schuman describes the project as “encouraging and inviting”, the “democratization” of a “soundful city” and I would agree (http://www.joanschuman.com/html/archives/open_sound_new_orleans.html).

What this projects lacks and needs is more visibility through marketing and a more user-friendly interface. Still, post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans is a “hot spot” for saturated media attention and OSNO invites a refreshing element to the sound bites of mainstream media. Although “collaborative” in theory, there seem to be very few submissions outside of the projects main contributors that seems to limit the potential of the project. Similar to our URT project, we are challenged with creating a living document that both documents history in time and can be maintained over time. While I see this as an opportunity and challenge for the Open Sound New Orleans project - one that can provide an open forum for listening, hearing and understanding New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the Gulf Oil Spill, and through the day to day activities and sonic moments of everyday folks, OSNO could benefit from building a more engaging interface that is easier to access and encourages elements of marketing through sharing tools.

Without being able to contribute a sound for technical reasons, the map itself has some interesting features, including tagging, filtering, and listening to sounds by categories, however as part of my critique and prototype, I am going to offer suggestions on how to improve on these systems. The tagging feature seemed to offer an array of associations and ways to narrow your map to specific sounds. So, for example, by clicking on the tag called “food” I was able to generate three ambient sounds, six voices, and two musical sounds (one of an ice cream truck that is the same sound of the NYC ice cream trucks - does this represent “authentic” New Orleans or something else, I wonder?) Also, it is confusing when clicking on one tag generates a new assortment of tags that does not clearly explain their relationship to the tagging filter.

The map invites the user to “wander around”. While this may add to the aesthetic of exploring a map freely it can lead the user down a confusing and meandering path and may limit the scope of the project’s potential, which is to inspire others to actively engage and contribute. With a few tweaks to the UI, Open Sound Map New Orleans can present a more concise thesis around their goal by creating interesting links and associations between sounds. They begin to do this through tagging, but ends there. With so many options in database technologies to “interact” with the map, there’s potential for a lot of associations - and narrowing one’s focus, in order to create a more active audience of researchers, contributors, borrowers, and learners.

To improve on the tagging idea, it would be nice to possibly have some organization, taxonomy, or naming conventions to the tagging. For example, when I click on “post-k” I get a lot of interviews with people who I soon discover represent post Hurricane Katrina in some way. Also, there should be a way to navigate the associational relationship of tagging. Currently, it is unclear if you can select multiple tags to narrow down your search and navigate how you arrived at the tag cloud/sounds that are there. While this may be an aesthetic decision, for the purposes of research and contribution, Open Sound New Orleans could benefit from a more user-friendly interaction and means to contribute and share the rich content already there. Also, I wish there were more photos, or media possibilities. While I understand the desire to explore the city sonically, there could be some additional ways to import media, similar to the Mapping Main Street project (http://www.mappingmainstreet.org/) that could really enrich the visitors understanding of the city.

My prototype presents some simple ways to more dynamically engage with the interface. First the tagging cloud is removed and added to the sidebar where you can select multiple features, similar to something you may find on MenuPages (http://www.menupages.com). This opens up valuable page real estate to pull the sounds off the map and onto the page, include more description, while making room for cleaning up the map itself.