Bird watching game live from Craig's backyard
By Elizabeth Daley, Bay City News Service
April 19, 2007
SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - Local Internet maven Craig Newmark
could change the way we look at things -- again -- when his backyard
goes live on Monday for the rollout of an Internet bird-watching
game developed by computer engineers at two universities.
Created by engineers at the University of California, Berkeley,
and Texas A&M University, the game aims to bring together
diverging flocks: video game users and bird watchers.
In a telephone interview today, Newmark said the online game
would allow players to watch birds in his San Francisco backyard
in real time.
Players earn points by taking bird photos using a remote control
video camera, and by correctly classifying the birds.
"My backyard is a small forest. I got lucky and I love nature
if it makes itself convenient for me," said Newmark, who
said he often watches for birds from his deck overlooking Sutro
"I put up a bunch of feeders and the birds started coming,
and I can identify a couple of dozen."
In 1995 Newmark created www.craigslist.com, a free Web site used
to connect people with housing, goods, jobs, services and ideas.
The site's popularity is evident in its expansion from its Bay
Area origins to its current iteration as bulletin board in 450
cities around the world.
Newmark called the project an "experiment in remote collaboration,"
since many people will be able to control the camera simultaneously,
and said he only expects good things from such endeavors.
"There are a number of new technologies emerging that help
people work together and as people of good will work together,
I think we are going to find strength from the collaboration,"
Ken Goldberg, UC Berkeley professor and co-principal investigator
of the project, said the program "introduces highly responsive
algorithms that automatically compute optimal camera viewpoint
to satisfy dozens of simultaneous players, including experts and
Users with higher points will have greater control of the camera,
but ultimately, the wishes of the majority will rule its movement,
according to Goldberg.
Goldberg said the video game would help some members of the public
gain access to nature as they use their mouse to click on birds.
"I think we have a craving to reconnect with nature but
it has to fit in with our real lives and this is one way to do
it," said Newmark. "We are at the beginning of big historic
change no one knows where it's headed."
"This morning I was at my local coffee house with a friend,"
he said, "there is no substitute for face to face interaction,
but the net is genuine, just as the phone is genuine."
"We hope this project increases public awareness about how
technology can help natural observation," said Dezhen Song,
who is collaborating with Goldberg from Texas A&M University.
"This also brings people with a specific knowledge together
effectively and efficiently."
Goldberg hopes the game attracts players of all ages from all
over the world from both bird watching and gaming communities
"Initially gamers may be better at controlling the interface,
and birdwatchers may be better at correctly classifying the birds.
We're looking forward to seeing how things turn out," he
said. "It's like bird-watching itself. It's kind of competitive."
Those wishing to play the game or to simply see Craig's back
yard can visit http://cone.berkeley.edu
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