Paris has been offered a unique opportunity to show the world that it is both a historic center of culture and sports at the same time a modern, innovative and thoroughly 21st century digital "smart" city.
You might not think of Paris as being a digital city – but that’s largely because of the Anglo-centricity of the internet. Search for "digital Olympics," and you’ll find pieces about London in 2012, Rio in 2016, Tokyo in 2020 and Los Angeles in 2028: but not a lot on Paris 2024.
Let me assure you, though, that plans for a digital Paris Olympics are already well underway.
I’m not just talking about the suggestions that e-sports should feature in the games in some form – that’s seriously under discussion, although finding computer games that people are interested in that promote the Olympic message of non-discrimination, non-violence and peace amongst people could be a major challenge. But then, boxing and ice-hockey are both still Olympic sports…
But when I say Paris 2024 should be a truly digital Olympics, I don’t mean in terms of what we will be watching: I mean that the experience should be a digitally-driven, seamless whole for Parisians, visitors and athletes.
Getting around Paris, buying tickets for the events, finding out what to do and where to eat when you aren’t attending sporting events, working out how to avoid the queues and the traffic jams – there will be an app for that.
In fact, Paris 2024 launched an app, "Objectif Paris 2024" back in April 2017 as part of its bid to get the games. That app encouraged users to become "Ambassadors for Paris 2024" by completing various fitness challenges for the chance to win sports equipment, tickets and bid merchandise.
It synchronized with smartphone’s health tracking systems to monitor user’s fitness levels and reward active lifestyles, with challenges updated monthly. That app was open to all, but really focused on engaging French 15-25 year olds.
That was a great start – but let’s make sure that that digital vision is expanded, not just to keep French youth engaged, but also to ensure that the games are accessible and enjoyable for all ages and nationalities.
Delivering real benefits
Apps would also offer a brilliant opportunity to link the past, the present and the future. Paris last hosted the Olympic Games in 1924; these games are probably best-known to a global audience as providing the story behind the multi-Oscar winning film, Chariots of Fire. Online, you’ll find videos showing the real Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, the heroes of that film, winning their gold medals.
How about augmented reality apps that would allow users to overlay pictures and film from 1924 on the same venues in 2024? That’s not a new idea – the Museum of London’s Streetmuseum app has been doing this for London since 2010, and there are smartphone apps that provide guided tours of all the world’s major cities, including Paris.
There’s so much more that apps should deliver to people visiting Paris in 2024, though. The city already has the world’s best transportation system — that’s according to the New York-based Institute of Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), so it’s not just French chauvinism. Yet this is overshadowed by an ancient ticketing system that still does not take Apple Pay, credit card or anything else apart from classic paper tickets and one card called Navigo, which is only available for monthly or weekly subscription.
Proper integration of data from public and private sources — and even from smartphone users themselves – in real time will make the transport system even more efficient by 2024. It will also be vital in getting as many people as possible to walk from their accommodation to the various Olympic venues which will be dotted around the city – which is a stated key aim of the Paris 2024 organizers.
At all times, though, any app-based solutions must deliver real benefits to everyone – those coming to Paris for the Olympics, citizens, businesses, cultural organizations and the people who have to keep the city moving.
So apps should provide real-time, accurate information for people visiting venues on how big queues are and whether some gates are less busy than others, to help manage traffic.
Filling the gaps
To address queuing times and down-time in venues, there could be digital games challenging people to demonstrate their knowledge of the Olympics, athletes and sport in general, with meet-and-greets with star athletes as prizes. Stadia could be linked together for these challenges, creating a feeling of community across all the different venues. They could also feature e-sports elements, assuming the Olympics does include e-gaming in some way.
Travel apps could advise people on the best routes to travel to and from venues, updating information about bottlenecks in real time to improve the visitor experience. They should also encourage people to walk wherever possible both to relieve stress on the transportation networks but also for health and to explore Paris.
The same apps should allow visitors to find out about local restaurants, shops and cultural hubs they might be interested in visiting before or after watching the sports.
Videos, perhaps involving virtual reality or augmented reality elements, could make the whole experience so much richer. Why not build in the ability for viewers not just to select which athletes or sports they want to view, but also to switch camera angles, zoom in for close ups, call up statistics or even graphics analyzing an athlete’s performance?
Obviously, there will be data collection opportunities, which will allow for marketing to visitors while they’re actually in Paris for the Olympics and also after they’re gone home. These will be of huge value to the organizers and sponsors, as well as to the city and regional authorities.
One word of warning, though. It’s already 2018: the games are less than six years away. In the digital world, that’s like a geological era – Apple launched the iPhone 10 years ago, and look what’s happened since then.
The technologies and platforms of today may not be the same technologies and platforms we’re using in 2024. But Paris hasn’t survived this long without adapting to and adopting the latest ideas, while still remembering its past — and I hope that Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games will be a showcase for the city’s resilience and innovative spirit as much as for the world’s greatest athletes.
Originally posted Smart Cities Dive