Last September we quietly launched the alpha version of Go Play, a site that Powerhouse was commissioned to produce for the then Communities NSW (now Office of Communities). Go Play was built to address the problem of the general invisibility of the wealth of great school holiday events, often free or low cost, put on by government organisations. On commercially operated parental events calendars these cultural events are buried amongst the latest family movies, and on individual government agency websites there is no suggestion that there might be other relevant activities nearby. Beginning with the cultural institutions and sport and recreation facilities, the site was also built to ensure that event metadata was enhanced with standardised parent-focussed information like age suitability and whether or not the venues have baby change facilities etc.
Initially managed by Renae Mason at the Powerhouse and programmed by the IXC, the Go Play went live as a public alpha with school holiday activities collated from five NSW government agencies to test the database structure and robustness. In December the site, complete with a stack of bugfixes, went into beta with more agencies involved.
Under the purview of a new producer at Powerhouse, Estee Wah, the April holidays came around and the site continued to grow with more and more contributors and general operations for the site began shifting over to staff fat Office of Communities. At the same time for April, we launched a mobile App version of Go Play funded through Apps4NSW and was developed by The Nest.
Now we’re in the winter school holidays and the site has just added even more partner organisations and the App has also received its first major update.
Not only that, the enhanced event copy is now licences under CC-BY-NC for re-use by others (excepting, of course, the images). The event data and venues can be obtained as XML from the Data Output section. (Alternative licensing of the data can no doubt, be negotiated).
So how has it gone?
Go Play, to date, has shown that with a mix of great SEO and search marketing coupled with a relatively simple UI there is a good audience for tightly focussed cross-agency event calendars. Traffic has been strong with each holiday period delivering more and more visitors to the site – now nearly 60K – and consolidating repeat visitors. The iOS App has had nearly 1100 downloads since launch, and the update has been applied 234 times in the last few days since release showing ongoing usage by those who downloaded the first version.
Not surprisingly, those institutions who chose to add the Go Play banners to their own sites ended up sending a good deal of traffic to the site – showing that, unsurprisingly, parents who visit, say the Powerhouse Museum website looking for holiday activities are interested in seeing what else in on too. It would seem, too, that those who sent traffic also had their own events viewed the most in Go Play creating a net gain in traffic and awareness, instead of a net loss.
The initial ideas that such a site might be able to run automagically, harvesting new content from participating institutions, have unsurprisingly been optimistic. In fact these were scoped out after the initial alpha release and the focus on having a human editor who ensures that events have full enhanced metadata not only makes the site a lot more valuable to parents but also realistically deals with resource levels at contributing agencies.
Next school holidays the site will be completely under the operation of Office of Communities and will hopefully grow to take on many more content partners (local government is an obvious option), and maybe down the track be able to operate all year round.