Winners are grinners – but there’s a serious side

Posted by jerry on March 12th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, New media

A little while ago, new media literacy analyst Angela Thomas set a mystery challenge. In June she would be heading off to… well, that was the mystery. The first clue showed a window – with Classical architecture overtones.

The second clue suggested it had something to do with chocolate. I figured it wouldn’t just be any old chocolate – perhaps European or American, but not your bog standard Cadbury – nice though it is. Again could be almost anywhere from Adelaide to Alsace.

It was the third clue that clinched it. A photo of a mermaid fountain. I searched Google and found lots of references to mermaids, but I needed to narrow down the search. Try Flickr. If it was a genuine clue, there would somewhere be a photo of this fountain. About five pages in and I had it. The photo was a plaza somewhere in San Francisco, USA. Surely not a plain old Herschey bar?

I had the name of the plaza, Ghirardelli, but still not the significance. So I googled the name and came up with the chocolate factory that gave its name to the plaza. And being in the US, this chocolate factory had a decent website – complete with links to Google Maps, which gave me the street address and the final piece of the puzzle – which precise building would provide a view of THAT window in a setting that involved chocolate.

Amazingly, it took someone in Australia, a mere 350km from Angela to pinpoint within a few meters a mystery spot that must’ve been instantly recognisable to countless US residents in SanFrancisco!

Is it a question of web literacy? Is it the amazing tools that are available to the online researcher? Perhaps it is the combination of all these. For me it came down to a search strategy – what kinds of information might I find where?

Interestingly, the initial google search only provided fog. But once I had located the image, then I could use Google effectively to locate the mystery spot – and to find information about the Japanese-American artist who designed and built the fountain and had it cast in bronze in 1968 as part of a Civic commission.

So web literacy is not just about being able to use advanced search functions on Google, or about stumbling across intriguing mystery location challenges on someone’s weblog, but about being able to use the appropriate tools across both visual and textual information to achieve the desired result.

What began perhaps as a fun way to get people engaged in a blog by eliciting audience participation, actually wound up challenging people to engage the combination of literacies that go to form web literacy or new media literacy.

Hmm… since I’ll be travelling at about the same time, perhaps I should set a return challenge – watch this space 😉

Thanks to Angela for setting this new media literacy test 🙂


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