By Joel Magalnick
Since Halloween’s coming in a few weeks, and all of the scary decorations are going up in our neighbourhoods, let’s talk about another frightening story: the rollout of Alberta’s vaccine passport. Just don’t call it a passport.
As any of us who has any desire to enter a restaurant or attend an Oilers pre-season game knows, we need this documentation of our vaccination (or a recent negative Covid test) to be allowed a seat. The rollout, as has been reported in several sources, has been confusing and not consistently applied.
That’s a situation that can be scary, especially for the frontline workers required to enforce the regulations. Adding to that burden is the not-a-passport passport itself. Prior to the implementation of the current passport, Albertans attempting to retrieve their records had to wait more than an hour just to log in to the AHS website! Thankfully, the new system is lightning fast. Unfortunately, there’s little else good about it.
I put together this little case study for my user experience design students at MacEwan in the days following the passport’s release, which I’ll share with you as well. I won’t get into the visual design of the passport, but usability and the interface are key.
Image source: albertavaccinerecord.ca and alberta.ca
You can’t access the link to the passport download site, albertavaccinerecord.ca, from the Alberta.ca homepage—you’ll have to dig down two pages and toggle open a menu before you find it. I’d be willing to lay down money that nothing on Alberta.ca got as many hits as that page, so why bury it?
I got a look at the site a day before it went live, when it was in a “beta” phase (as much as you can do beta testing in two days), and I was wary. Was this some other entity that might be phishing for my data? We should be concerned that this provincially sponsored site isn’t a part of Alberta.ca.
What protocols are in place to protect valuable personal health information?
I’ll admit that the thought behind the calendar plugin for selecting birthdate was nice. Typically when one of these datepickers gets dropped into a webpage, it defaults to the current date. Most of us weren’t born yesterday, so having to navigate back decades is a royal pain. Setting the default to 1980 was a nice touch to hit a broad swath of the population.
From there, however, things start to get ugly. Here’s the view from my phone:
Who can read this? Certainly not the bouncer who has to quickly scan multiple spots on each passport such as name, birthdate, and two vaccine dates. And it’s a PDF! What do you do with that on a phone? I took a screenshot, saved it to a new album in my photos, and turn my phone 90 degrees whenever someone needs to look at it. Not optimal.
And that brings up a much more important question: Would my technophobic 70-something father-in-law who has trouble figuring out how to silence his ringtone have the knowledge to go through all of those steps? Accessibility matters.
Far more useful would be a vertical view with a button to download or save in an image format like jpg or png with the most relevant information in boldface, kind of like this:
A few days after the release of this scary passport, local entrepreneur and developer Kyle Richelhoff built an app that generates a QR code where anyone enters a business utilizing the Restriction Exemption Program could scan and get the necessary information. Kyle told skeptical members of the Edmonton Startup Slack group that the app isn’t HIPAA compliant or tamper-proof, but he did his best to protect user information by not storing or logging data. “This puts the trust solely on me,” he wrote in a response to questions.
While the idea and execution were solid, in looking at it from the perspective of the bouncer, I would want to know that I’m looking at this data from a trusted source. Anyone can make a web page and link it to a QR code. Though the app worked and got some early news coverage, it is no longer providing actual records.
Which leaves us where we started. Unfortunately, as plenty of people including my coworkers and students have discovered, the passports are not tamper-proof either. Anyone with a laptop and Adobe Acrobat can quickly forge anyone’s record. Now that’s scary.
Interview by Joel Magalnick
In an effort to showcase some of the success stories in Edmonton’s tech innovator ecosystem, E-RIN, the Edmonton Regional Innovation Network, teamed up with one of those innovators to use the product she developed to tell those stories. Emily Craven, founder of Story City, is using her app to showcase seven local startups with a goal of showcasing not just the businesses themselves, but how Edmonton was the best place for these companies to set up shop.
Can you explain to people who might not be familiar with Story City a little bit about what Story City is?
Story City is essentially an interactive storytelling platform. The idea behind Story City is that it only opens when you're standing in the right location and it takes you on an interesting experience through the city that you're exploring. We have been known to do entertainment things from real-life Choose Your Own Adventures, where you're a part pirate treasure, to puzzle trails, where you're trying to solve clues to be able to solve a mystery. But this type of technology can be used to tell any sort of story in location, and one of the really interesting things about experiencing stories in the locations where they're set is that most of the stories that you remember in your life are very location specific—like where you might have asked someone to marry you or where you learned to ride a bike. So when you actually put stories in a location, the type of empathy you get from that story and the type of interest and memory and excitement and interaction that you actually get with experiences is so much more heightened as a result of moving through physical space.
I’m picturing both of those experiences just as you said that.
That's the power of location, right? You can see a photo of the Eiffel Tower a million times, but if you go to Paris, you're still going to go see the Eiffel Tower because that's the draw of location. And it's the same thing in any kind of city. I come from Brisbane in Australia. When we were considering, why does someone set up in a new place and particularly set up a company in a new place, a lot of people are like, “Oh, you know, it's all about the incentive in the taxes or X, Y and Z.” But a lot of the time, like 60 percent of the choice, is an emotional one. You pick a place, sure, because it's beneficial to your business, but you also pick a place because it is beneficial to you. And you can see yourself living in that place, raising a family in that place, and all of those kinds of things. So when we proposed doing this project with the E-RIN, that was my argument. If you want more people to set up in the city, you need to tell them stories of the community, the locations that people love in the city, why they're still here, how they built a life here, and tell them about your innovative companies—all of those kind of things. What's going to be the real drivers are people talking about why they love the place.
And so how does that manifest itself in the E-RIN?
We essentially did an origin story for each company. We interviewed all of them to find out: How did that idea start? Where did it germinate? How did it then grow? And what were the different significant locations in the city that contributed to that formation, whether they'd met at the U of A or they used to work in the same space, or whatever that might be. What was the genesis of that? What did they love about the city? And how did the city help them grow as a person, as a business? From there we actually selected locations that were significant to how they ended up getting started. So Future Fields is a cellular agriculture company, they provide the growth medium for lab-grown meat. They really focused on food insecurity and making sure that we don't have that as an issue in the future.
The guys from Mach 32 who make emergency medical trauma devices met at a spray park. And so we did this story at one of the spray parks in Strathcona.
2S water, they filter and find contaminants in water. So we put them within the River Valley where you could see the water treatment plant and the beautiful river valley. We determined where those locations were and we took those origin stories and we made three-minute video clips that took people through the origin stories of the companies.
Where did the ideas come from and why did they decide to build that in Edmonton? What was it that made them either build here, or in the case of like really massive companies like Jobber, stay here? So we made these little vignettes of their origin stories. And then we geolocated them in the streets of Strathcona, into a three-and-a-half kilometer walk that you can do in about 90 minutes. You can go in this immersive walk where we filmed those origin stories and each of those locations that had some sort of significant tie to that company. And you can hear and be inspired by how they began and why they stayed here.
Is this going to be an ongoing thing?
We hope so. It was a funded project from the Edmonton Regional Innovation Network. We produced the videos with an all-female production company based out of Edmonton. So a lot of news media, all women, and absolutely fabulous. They essentially acted as producers for the project.
We want to keep adding stories and doing other routes, like particularly I think it would be really great fun to have a medical one and then a machine learning one and actually have different industry-related books, particularly with all of the conferences that end up coming in through Edmonton. It's just about the economic development departments recognizing how helpful that is for the promotion of the ecosystem and being able to put some funding behind that. But the awesome thing is that after we did this, a first round of companies in Edmonton actually have provided the funding for us to enact the third phase of this plan, which is to create a series of portraits for each of these companies, which are going to be tourable, so you can take them to innovation conferences, you can hang them up gallery-style within innovation spaces. And the idea is that you can attach the videos to these portraits so people can come up to the portraits. They can watch the short video that's related to that company in that portrait and meet the innovation ecosystem, even if you're not in Edmonton.
That's really interesting for attracting outside funding or outside interest or maybe even getting people to want to come to Edmonton to start their businesses.
One hundred percent. The main point of it is that not only do we want to explore these very fun locations in a particular area, which includes everything from the beautiful parks in the River Valley and all of those kind of things, but also to allow that by allowing that to be durable, with each video being in a specific location, us showing off the locations in Edmonton while you're showing off the companies in Edmonton. By showing the city and the companies and the ecosystem, you give this beautiful rounded view of what it's like to build in a place like Edmonton.
How many stories do you have on this right now and what would it look like to you to have full tours to the larger ecosystem?
At the moment we have seven companies. We very specifically chose them from different industries and different stages. They range across industries from medical to AI to hardware to online education. And they've gone anywhere from being super-early-stage seed companies that developed during the pandemic to your Jobbers, who raised $70 million. We really wanted to give a very broad cross-section of the ecosystem. What we're really hoping, and when you do these kinds of tours is, you kind of want generally between five to eight companies within a walk or two. I can see this being particularly helpful with specific industries.
We'll see more and more of happening, because not only can you then take somebody on a tour, but you can then use these mini-stories as drivers for that. A lot of people previously have explained the tax incentives, the amount of skilled workers you have, et cetera. But they really lose out on that opportunity of “let's sell the city.”
I can also see economic development departments using this and being like, here's a tour of some of the most interesting places in this city: we have festivals here, we have concerts there. Here is the food that you can eat. You're showcasing the life that you could have in a city. Experiences are going to be just as important in this distributed world where you can have remote workers anywhere.
Being a startup yourself and a part of this ecosystem, where do you see this particular project taking you, taking Story City as you move forward?
I really hope that it shows the power of creative storytelling, not just in terms of entertainment, but in terms of being able to drive real behavioral responses to stories. This type of storytelling can be used as a driver of empathy and change for anything. What I'm hoping is that projects like these will get people to think outside the box when they think about their content strategies and how they engage people, because social media gets more and more saturated and more and more crowded as you pump more and more money into it. I think that these types of new media formats can help people really stand out and connect using that technology rather than being disconnected because of technology.
If somebody wanted to see and take the tour of entrepreneurial Edmonton, how would they do that?
They would download the Story City app so they can find the links for that story. If they’re not in Edmonton, they can turn on spoiler mode in the app and they can they can tap through the map and do it from the comfort of the couch at home and check out those origin stories, so they still get that lovely feeling of Edmonton and the areas in and around Edmonton.