9 July 2014

Kuching at your fingertips

By Marlene Lu

Imagine this scenario: you’re in Kuching for the first time and the urge to explore a new city makes you bouncy with energy. What would you do? Of course, you would want to know what the must-see places are and what the must-do things are in a city whose name sounds like “cat” in Malay. So, fishing for any brochures in the hotel where you are lodging might be your most likely reaction.

Imagine another scenario: you have not yet set foot in the Bornean city but nevertheless want to plan your holiday ahead. To find out more about what the city has to offer you would most probably type “Kuching, Sarawak” on your keypad and see what pops up on Google Search.

While you could get a fair amount of information in bits and pieces in either one of the two scenarios mentioned above, a group of undergraduate students have a better idea: create a mobile tourist site that provides quick access to information at the touch of the fingertips.

These youngsters, who are pursuing a degree in computer science and software engineering degree, have taken up the challenge to develop the site in a project called “Halaman Heritage” for one of the shopping malls in Kuching.

Having recognized the electronic epidemic that is sweeping across the world, the students are looking to exploit its potential to the optimum. After having observed a sharp paradigm shift from desktop users to mobile users, and thus changing the way information is acquired online, they focused on the handheld devices which have become so prevalent in society today that they are “invisible”. After all, the technology has been a convenient platform for daily affairs from such things as online banking to shopping.

The Halaman Heritage site can be viewed on major platforms such as IOS and Android. The game plan is to preserve the cultural heritage of Kuching so that it documents both the tangible and intangible elements of the city. The tangible aspect could include such things as buildings, architectures, sceneries, flora and fauna, food, markets, fashions and people while the intangible could feature the traditions, languages, characteristics of its people, ambience and so forth.

The site provides a sort of directorial information of travel-related contents in and around Kuching with particular focus on the city proper. It contains a repository of information of more than a hundred destinations which tourists would find helpful. These are neatly tucked under six categories: accommodation, tourist attraction, night spots, restaurants, financial institutions, and convenient stores.

In addition, a map provides visual representation of the locations and the directions to the various destinations obtained via GPS technology. Advocating the concept of minimalism as the design guideline, the site was developed with a simple interface to provide quick access to useful information.

In order to gauge the usefulness and success of the Halaman Heritage project, the students created a simple five-star rating system.

Improvements to the site are in the pipeline, and this include coming up with more in-depth information about the diverse cultures, history of the city, weather as well as other topics that are of interest to visitors.

Another feature is to include a column for tourists to express their opinion and share experience about their visit. Such feedback could be used to determine the features that appeals to visitors and what could be improved about the city, so that “cat city” will purr more adoringly for its guests.

Marlene Lu is a lecturer with the Faculty of Engineering, Computing and Science at Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus. She is contactable at mlu@swinburne.edu.my