Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday's Signpost

On the mirror in the bathroom at Pizza Fusion: "This person is changing the world." Nice!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Going Mobile: Technology with Titus Bicknell

The Balboa Park Online Collaborative hosted a workshop on February 16 and 17, 2010 on mobile interpretive tools and strategy. Day Two on technology featured Titus Bicknell, Director of Information Technology for Experius Academy. You can find a detailed wiki page for this workshop here, including all of Nancy and Titus Bicknell's slides. See this post for Nancy Proctor's presentation and video interview.

Here's my interview with Titus, that helps give an overview of his talk (minus the highly technical content):

Titus suggested that you begin with what the audience requires in terms of content, and balance that with your technology infrastructure and business model. Do you have in-house capabilities? A central technology resource (like Balboa Park does)? Will you be using external consultants or services? Are you for-profit? Nonprofit? Do you have to demonstrate ROI? (Later, he talked about the importance of understanding your technology infrastructure if you are going to create a mobile tour or app. If the digital assets your tour needs to display are located in servers off-site, it might take forever for those assets to load on a phone in the gallery.) All these questions should feed into your decision-making process.

Titus offered a complex diagram for helping you decide on choosing a platform. (Slide 21 of his slide deck.) First consider: Is the visitor going to provide the device, or is the museum?

If the visitor provides:
  • No device with them (they visit your website and possibly download something in advance)
  • Stupid phone (they can do a cell phone tour)
  • Smart phone (they can download/play a podcast, use an app, or visit your website in mobile view)
If the museum provides:
  1. No-tech (map, wall text)
  2. Low-tech (provide a device with a pre-loaded audio/video tour)
  3. Hi-tech (wi-fi hotspot for downloading apps, tours, using social media, etc)

The goal is to find the perfect match for your site, given all these factors.

Keep in mind that visitors will judge you on what you offer, not what you don't, and that they expect 100% accuracy. They won't fault you for not having an iPhone app, but if you provide one and it doesn't work, they'll be unhappy. They don't expect you to offer a wand or iTouch with a mobile tour loaded on it, but if you do, it has to work properly 100% of the time.

Now for some tech stuff, Titus' Manifesto for mobile platforms:
  1. Content should not be required to be altered or created for a platform. That is, your assets (video, photos, etc.) should not have to be customized to fit a specific device, because the device will change.
  2. Assembly of assets should be managed by a metadata layer. This metadata layer can easily change for a new platform.
  3. Platforms should manipulate assets for optimized display automatically, filtered to ensure a good viewing experience. For example, a photo in your collections management system would be resized to fit an iPod screen if that's what the user is holding, without affecting the original in your system.
  4. Store assets in the most appropriate way for the asset, not the end content. For example, keep the original photos as raw files or TIFFs, so you always have that high-quality image to go back to.
  5. Be technically promiscuous to achieve the best solution for managing and presenting content. (Don't use only one technology, as that may not be the best solution for you.)
Make the most of what you already have in your collections management system; it's low-hanging fruit that can be turned into mobile content fairly easily.

Use as much off the shelf as you can (for 80% of the work) and then customize the remaining 20%. You want your customizing to show on the front end (to the visitor). Don't customize the back end, as it slows down your staff members who have to re-learn the interface. This is one example of why Wordpress might be a good platform for you, as many people are already using Wordpress for blogs and are familiar with the administrative panel and how it works.

If you are doing things in-house, document it. Don't assume people know how to do it. It's very easy to cut this step and you WILL regret it later. If you have a tech firm or consultants doing it for you, make sure that full documentation is part of their scope of work.

Two platforms he recommends are Drupal and Wordpress. They are both powerful, widely supported, and open source. If you're just getting started, start with Wordpress. You can migrate it later into something more powerful, like Drupal. There's been a full discussion of the relative merits of Drupal vs. Wordpress on the Museum Computer Network's listserv.

He then built a quick Wordpress site while we watched (in about 15 minutes), including the plug-in for the mobile view, which people could then see on their cell phones as he worked. The advantage to this is that you can get it up quickly, keep customizing, it works on any PDA, and it doesn't have to go through the iTunes store approval process like an app does.

This was a terrific two days and gave me some useful tools to think about incorporating technology and media into museum visitor experiences. My thanks to Titus for taking the time to do the video interview, and to Rich Cherry of the Balboa Park Online Collaborative and Paige Simpson of the Balboa Park Learning Institute for bringing such stellar speakers to San Diego.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Going Mobile: Interpretive Strategy and Planning with Nancy Proctor

The Balboa Park Online Collaborative hosted a workshop on February 16 and 17, 2010 on mobile interpretive tools and strategy. Day One featured Nancy Proctor, head of New Media for the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Nancy manages the Museum Mobile project, a blog and wiki for collaborative work on mobile interpretation in museums. You can find an exceedingly detailed wiki page for this workshop here, including all of Nancy and Titus Bicknell's slides.

Nancy began by reminding us that it's not about the technology, a sentiment that Titus echoed the next day. The goal is to go from headphones to microphones, from a one-way broadcast to a two-way dialogue with visitors.

Why mobile? By 2020, it's estimated that most people's primary access to the Net will be via a mobile device, not a PC.

Her strategy:
  1. Define your target audience
  2. Look at your mission and key messages
  3. Define your outcomes: what do you want visitors to know, feel, and do?
  4. What platforms are they already using?

All of this should sound very familiar to anyone involved with interpretive planning, and I loved to see how she integrated best practices into the notion of mobile interpretation, incorporating possible mobile interpretive tools alongside ones that are already in place and already working. Nancy credits Kate Haley Goldman of ILI for her early ideas on this methodology.

Early in the day, we paired up and pulled out a significant object that we were instructed to bring from home. [Note: the "significant object" discussion exercise is one used by SmartHistory's Steven Zucker & Beth Harris when they do workshops with people on their dialogue technique.]

Without telling our partner about our object, we listed as many questions as we had about theirs. Then we asked, and answered, the questions. We grouped the questions into formal, functional, relational, and emotional categories, and discussed how this got us thinking about the objects. We used this warm-up for the question mapping exercise.

Nancy also introduced the notion of soundtrack vs. sound bite, which was an interesting way of looking at chunks of intepretive content. See the video below for her definition of each.

She introduced us to a useful tool called question mapping. We were sent out into Balboa Park after lunch and asked to find (or draw) a map of a museum space, then write down every question we had on that map, locating the questions on the map. Here is a portion of my map, done at the San Diego Museum of Art:

Some of my questions were:
  • RE: nude sculpture: Does she mind being naked?
  • Why is this room peach?
  • Why did he use turquoise in a winter painting?
  • Why all the dead birds?
Then we came back and created a very large matrix, which incorporated our questions as one of the columns. (See an example of a completed matrix on Slide 62 in her slide deck.) Other columns include: target audience, key messages, themes, location (in the museum), type of interp (soundtrack/soundbite/link), voice, feedback option, platform.

While this 11" X 17" sheet was a little unwieldy to work with on our laps, I found it to be useful in helping me think through possible themes, as well as getting creative with potential voices, links, and possible ways to get visitors involved.

One example I came up with is the theme of the use of color by artists. This theme could lead you throughout the museum via podcast, audio tour, iPhone app, labels, scavenger hunt, etc. Voices on audio tracks could include painters, curators, exhibit designers, color designers, and someone from the Pantone Color Institute, who forecast color trends each year.

Possible ways to get the audience involved might be "name that color," vote on your favorite color, colorize a digital painting, try another color in this painting, send a postcard of this painting, or (this doesn't exist) create your own custom color nail polish in the museum store.

Here's my interview with Nancy:

If you are interested in the potential of gaming in museums, including the game the Smithsonian American Art Museum hosted called Ghosts of a Chance, as well as a compilation of recent alternate reality games (ARGs), see this blog post. If you're interested in the potential of gaming in museums, read this article about Columbia College's work on constructive/collaborative gaming.

All in all, this was a terrific first day and gave me some useful tools to think about incorporating technology and media into museum visitor experiences. My thanks to Nancy for taking the time to do the video interview, and to Rich Cherry of the Balboa Park Online Collaborative and Paige Simpson of the Balboa Park Learning Institute for bringing such stellar speakers to San Diego.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Custom retail products enhance the visitor experience

I had the opportunity to attend the Association of Partners for Public Lands conference when it was held in San Diego Feb 7-10, 2010. In the big exhibit hall, one vendor stood out. They went through the hassle of working with the teamsters to bring in this awesome Airstream trailer as the focal point for their booth.

The Airstream perfectly captures the spirit of adventure that their products showcase, custom artwork in the spirit of the WPA posters of the 1930s and early 1940s. They have also been painstakingly re-creating and restoring as many of the original WPA posters as they can locate (only about a tenth of the 35,000 designs have survived).

It also allowed them a space to bring potential customers in to sit and chat, a rarity at trade shows.

They can do custom artwork in the WPA style for historic sites, like this beautiful card for Saguaro National Monument. (They are primarily focusing on parks, but do contact them if you have a historic site and are interested in custom products in this style.)

This merchandise embodies the authenticity trend that's been so strong in the last few years. The card stock is high quality and the overall effect is beautiful.

Check out their website for more information.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sunday's Signpost

Are you as serious about offering a good experience as this parking garage is?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Comfort and the museum visitor experience, parts 3-6

Sorry for the delay on this final post! Click here for part 1 of this post. And here for part 2.

As I've thought about this workshop, which grew out of a session that Steve Tokar and Beth Katz put together for WMA in Anchorage (2008), I was happy to participate. I think both the museum and the participants got a valuable experience out of the workshop, which allowed them to experience the host museum wearing a number of different visitor personas (hosted by the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego's Balboa Park).

While we can never truly know what it's like to have a physical or cognitive challenge that we ourselves aren't currently experiencing, going through the process of viewing a museum through that lens can be illuminating. Elaine Bentley at Chicago Children's Museum said it best: "We're all just a banana peel away from having a disability." And we all age, people can be with someone with a physical or cognitive challenge, or we can have a temporary disability.

The Experienceology 8-step process addresses comfort in Step 4, seeing it as a critical part of an overall great experience. Comfort sets the stage, allowing visitors to engage and absorb our content. And often, it's these very comfort items (not finding a bathroom, or needing a drink of water) that are easy to fix but often overlooked by museums. Universal design goes far beyond that, creating environments that work for everyone.

I look forward to seeing how Steve and Beth's process evolves, and thoroughly enjoyed working with them and Paul Gabriel, our "cognitive challenges" guru, Vivian Haga from MOPA, and Kenshi Westover, our outstanding videographer and editor. I have a couple of articles by Paul Gabriel available here for free download, if you want more on cognitive disabilities and the museum environment. Here's the video:

If you're interested in seeing my take on comfort, here's the link to my recorded class on Step 4.

I look forward to reading your comments on museum comfort! Where has it supported or hindered your museum experience?