Before diving into the user journey, I’d like to introduce you to Ethan.
Ethan is a young professional in his late 20s who has lived and worked in New York City for several years. He is tech savvy and (of course) owns an iPhone 3G. Prior to work life, he commuted into the city from New Jersey almost every weekend to hang out with friends or to visit his grandma, who has been living in a nursing home in Queens for the past 4 years. She was diagnosed with dementia a few years ago and requires 24 hour on-site assistance. Currently, Ethan lives in the Upper East Side with his younger brother, Harry, who is a 2nd year grad student at NYU. Throughout the week, Ethan and Harry take turns visiting their grandma.
Ethan’s parents immigrated into New York City back in the early 1970s. When Ethan was 4 years old, his grandma in Queens took care of him for a couple of years as his mother was busy caring for his younger brother, Harry. In 1987, his parents decided to move to New Jersey in search of a better environment to raise their children.
After moving to New Jersey, the entire family made weekly visits to Chinatown to load up on groceries for the upcoming week. Ethan’s dad, who owned a restaurant in New Jersey, also had to resupply the restaurant’s stock for the week. On occasion, they would also visit their grandma in Queens.
Ethan is a collector of many things. During his childhood and teenage years, Ethan amassed a collection of hockey and baseball cards, comic books, and toys, which are all safely stored away at his parent’s home in New Jersey.
Currently, Ethan is an amateur photographer and keeps his photos stored privately on digital photo services like Flickr. He believes that capturing memories and reflecting back on them encourages us to live a more conscious present in order to make better decisions in the future.
Discovering the Service
One night, while looking for the latest and greatest photography app for his iPhone, Ethan discovers Story Forest. He quickly skims over the description.
Story Forest shares and replays your memories at locations where they were made within a city.
Story Forest is a service that invites urban pedestrians to relive and share their past experiences by contextualizing a city’s environmental cues to geolocated memories.
He also notices that the service allows him to import photos from his favorite photo storage service, Flickr. He downloads the app and imports his photos. Afterwards, the app lists the different cities that he has photographed in. With NYC being his current city, he sets it to his default location. He is then brought to a map that shows where his photos have been taken. There’s also an option to navigate photos by years. As he flicks through the timeline, he notices that the concentration of photos change from one part of the city to another.
Capturing a Memory
Ethan’s grandma has been suffering from dementia for the past several years and recently, her condition has gotten worse. The family has divided up the responsibility to keep her company throughout the week.
It was Sunday and it was Ethan’s turn to visit. During the visit, he turns on the app and takes a photo of her as she enjoys her favorite pastime meal, Vietnamese pho, which Ethan had picked up for her earlier. The app logs the location of the photo, associates it with the rest of the other photos taken within that location, and stores it into Story Forest’s online database.
Sharing a Memory
Ethan also has the option to associate an audio recording to the memory and/or share with others. Delighted with the response that his grandma had with the familiar food, he tags his family members to that memory. Since they don’t have Story Forest accounts yet, he sends them an email containing the memory notification (location and title) along with a link to the sign-up form.
The app then informs Ethan about the memory tree located at the nursing home. It has grown another branch as a result of the newly contributed memory. The app also reminds Ethan that once he accesses the memory, it will be unavailable to him until it re-emerges next year. In order to access the memory, he has to be 1) standing within the vicinity of where the photo was taken and 2) it has to be within an hour of the photo’s original time stamp. This again applies to photos that have re-emerged a year later.
Since the tree was already filled with memories (photos imported from the sign-up process earlier) from previous visits, Ethan doesn’t worry about the lack of memories that the tree has to offer.
Around 7PM, Ethan is preparing to leave the nursing home as his grandma gets ready for bed. At 7:15PM, he makes his way out of the front lobby when all of a sudden his phone goes off. He looks at his phone and it’s a photo that he took last year of his grandma on that same day around that same time. It’s a picture of Harry with grandma when she was in a better mental and physical state.
While looking at the photo, he notices that there’s an option to leave an audio response. Slightly overtaken by the emotional state that he was in, he leaves a message about how proud he was about his grandma being able to hang in for so long especially in her current state. He also tags Harry to the memory.
A few days later, Harry receives an email from Story Forest informing him that there are two memories in Queens waiting for him. Out of curiosity, he signs up and downloads the app to his mobile device.
Since he didn’t have class that day, he decides to visit their grandma in Queens. Later that evening, as Harry tucks his grandma to bed, his phone alerts him that a memory has emerged from the memory tree. Harry accesses the memory and it turns out that it was a photo of him and grandma from a year ago. Upon reflection, he responds with an audio recording and a new sub-branch forms from the original branch signifying his response. A notification is then sent to everyone tagged to that memory chain, in this case, Ethan.
Growing a Memory Tree
The next weekend, Ethan visits his grandma again. It was nice out that day and so he decided to take her out for a short walk. Fortunately, there was a floral shop right down the street. He decides to walk her over to the store to purchase her a flower. After handing over the flower to his grandma, he notices her eyes light up. Filled with happiness, he decides to record the moment. He takes out his phone and photographs his grandma holding the flower. He also leaves behind a voice recording with a cameo appearance by his grandma. She briefly talks about why she chose the flower that she did. Since no other previous memories were recorded in the vicinity of the floral shop, a new memory tree was formed along with its first branch containing the photo and audio recording.
A month later, Ethan upgraded his iPhone to an iPhone 3GS. After syncing his new phone, he turns on the Story Forest app and notices a feature that he had not noticed before: augmented reality. Looking out his window from the 12th floor, he turns on the app. He then points the app out towards the city and sees a plethora of trees covering the cityscape. In the distance, beyond the East River, somewhere in Queens, stood a tall tree. Without a doubt, it was where his grandma’s nursing home was located.
How Augmented Story Forest Works
Memory trees take on several different states and reflect similar behaviors as those exhibited by the physical trees around us.
5 Years Later
Ethan’s grandma passed away after a short battle with cancer a few years ago. As he goes about the daily grind of working and living in New York City, he keeps his memories of her safely tucked away in the back of his mind, as he did with his baseball cards, comic books, and childhood toys back at his parent’s home in New Jersey.
One morning, during his commute from his new home in Astoria into Manhattan on the above ground N/Q/R line, he turns on the Story Forest app to see how his forest of memories have grown throughout the years. In the distance, he once again comes across the even taller tree located at his grandma’s nursing home.
Later that evening after work, he decides to head over to the nursing home with his brother. As they reach the front entrance, Ethan turns on the app. He then pans the phone over to the nursing home and notices the leaves on the tree fading in and out as they chronologically arrive and depart from when each memory was recorded. There are also memory trees lined up along the street where Ethan used to take short walks with his grandma. The two brothers take a seat at the bench located right outside of the nursing home and spend the rest of the evening reminiscing about their grandma. They were happy to know that even though she was no longer physically there with them, she was still there in their memories.