Mobile Interpretation in the Museum as Agora


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Presentation to the IUPUI Museums and Technology course at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, 22 September, 2009.

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  • How many people have taken an audio or multimedia tour? Did they enjoy their experience?
  • First, I assume if you’re here today it’s because you understand the need for interpretation in our museums. Like Tate, you do not assume that meaning is self-evident for the exhibits on display. In fact, inviting visitors to see our spectacular exhibitions and collections without offering them interpretation is like spreading a beautiful banquet before our guests - and then denying them cutlery to enjoy it with. sure, they may be able to partake, but it won’t be easy, or necessarily pleasant for our guests to eat with their hands or whatever ad hoc utensils they find nearby. They are almost certain to go away unsatisfied, and feeling insulted. Our multi-faceted virtual museum, awash in data and digital resources, requires multimodal access to turn that sea of information into meaningful insights for our publics.
  • As an example: It would be quite reasonable for us to think of my museum, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, as this bricks & mortar edifice, affectionately known as the Post Office Building.
  • Except that we are in fact at four sites, two of them open to the public. Here, Renwick and POB.
  • But in fact, I think of SAAM like this: a multinodal and multimodal network - a distributed network, in fact. My aim is to build content, experiences, and services that reach visitors wherever and whenever they happen to be on this network.
  • * Has this ever happened to you taking an audio tour? Expresses the aim of interpretation, be it in the gallery or elsewhere: to help us connect with what we’re seeing, care about it, and thereby open up to learning about it.
  • Yet all too often, visitors complain that audio tours give them this sort of experience: Although this video shows an example of one of the earliest tour technologies from the 1960s, excavated by Loic Tallon, the perception of audio tours is that they are not terribly different today in terms of inspiring a herd mentality among users, producing crowding around exhibits and a sort of dumbed-down, one-size-fits-all experience. All the issues that have plagued audio tours throughout their history are visible here: The linearity of the tour lead to a herd-mentality among visitors and crowding around exhibits In addition the challenges of: Hygiene: led to one of the earliest audio tour technology debates: headphones vs wands? Distribution issues always a challenge, but complexity also driven by technology choices, including the headphones or wand choice Very homogenous audience
  • Whether given by live guides, broadcast, or prerecorded on tape, the first museum tours were linear: ----------
  • From starting point A to end point N, the exhibits interpreted on the tour were strung along the tour's linear route like pearls of wisdom on a necklace: -o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o- The value of the tour was measured in stops: o e.g. “The Louvre’s tour has over 1,500 stops!”
  • The messiness, but also the magic, happened in the spaces between the exhibit commentary or 'stops' on the tour: -
  • In the best linear tours, the spaces in-between were where it all happened: that was where you got the background information and context that brought the exhibits to life: -o!o!o!
  • The connective tissue of the tour immersed you in music and storytelling that carried you along effortlessly from one stop to another, transporting you to a different, magical world. In some courageous tours, the liminal spaces were an opportunity for audience participation. The tour could issue challenges to the visitors to play games, complete tasks, or simply give time to share impressions with a companion. The more marketing-minded tours gestured towards galleries and exhibits along the way as opportunities to return and find out more in a future visit: -o+o+o+
  • But people got lost in the interstitial spaces, uncertain of where to find the next stop (o), or lost track of where they were in the audio tour tape: -o-o-o-?
  • Or they got bored, or distracted, or tired of following the herd, or simply decided to get off the tour before the last stop:-o-o-o~§
  • So fear and impatience with the messiness prevailed, and the digital generation of audio tour technology introduced 'random access' tours. Visitors could choose which exhibits they saw and hence which stops they listened to absolutely at random.   o 0 o   o o o o   o oo o o
  • This shift was driven by a change in audio tour technology. With cassette technology, the playing field in the audio tour industry had been levelled. In order to get a decisive jump on the competition, vendors began investing in new platforms that overcame many of the limitations of the linear analogue players. It was the first digital 'personalization' in museum tours, and was promoted in Modernist terms as a liberation from the herd by ambitious vendors, eager to recoup their investment in the new technology and steal a march on the competition. Thanks to the new technology, we could finally 'do our own thing' in the museum.   In order to recoup their significant investments in the new digital players, vendors heavily promoted the benefits of random access, to the exclusion of linear tours.
  • But as several veterans of the audio tour industry have noted: "We lost something when we moved away from the linear tour." Dangers of allowing technology to lead visitor experience and content design.
  •   This is a manifesto for recovering that magic - and even some of the messiness – of linear museum tour … The new architecture for museum tours can be summarized in two steps:   1. Show them what the curator sees in both overview and detail. -^-+-o-/-?- 2. Then give them access to everyone else's vision. * ! $ % @ "" ?  
  • Another way to represent this is as a multi-tiered architecture with up to three kinds of content: 1. -+-+-+-+-+ The Soundtrack 2. o o o o o The Soundbites 3. / | / | / Links
  • One way to look at soundtrack and soundbites is through the ways they’re delivered to the end user. Soundtracks, being longer audio or even video pieces, tend to be downloaded and played back from local memory on the player. Soundbites are shorter and generally very focused in their message, so with good metadata they are more easily made searchable or associated with specific object records, for example.
  • Reading the curator’s intention Keys to understanding the exhibition/display in its entirety Faster than reading (usually stops are slower than reading)
  • What I like about this soundtrack; Given by the curator: visitors always like hearing from the expert, as long as s/he speaks relatively well! He gives us an overview with basic tools to understand Twombly’s work, both in this exhibition and beyond. He gives us a behind-the-scenes view, insight into what curation and the work of the museum is all about.
  • Museums are very good at soundbites: the wall label can be seen as a very basic, text-based soundbite. Although writing for the ear or video is not the same as writing for a label or catalogue, it is not such a huge task for museum staff to gain these skills and be able to produce good quality scripts for stops in-house. By contrast, you want a good storyteller writing your soundtracks if you don’t have someone as eloquent ‘off-the-cuff’ as Nicholas Serota!
  • An example from an SFMOMA podcast. Like the Tate soundtrack, starts with an introduction and overview of the exhibition, followed by a couple of stops that take us into depth on specific objects.
  • But both the Tate & SFMOMA examples are linear media: not perhaps the best interface for accessing information on a mobile device, whether used inside the gallery or outside. ArtBabble offers a model for what could be an ideal interface for combining soundtrack, soundbites and links to third party content. It allows us to choose either to watch or hear a soundtrack overview of the exhibition or collection linearly, but also offers a notation system that can create ‘stops’ or soundbites at any point along that linear timeline. William Christenberry example Need to redefine 3 rd party content and think about it beyond ‘user-generated content’: e.g.
  • Mobile Interpretation in the Museum as Agora

    1. 1. Mobile Interpretation in the Museum as Agora Nancy Proctor, Smithsonian American Art Museum [email_address] 22 September 2009 IMA Museum Studies
    2. 2. Agenda for today <ul><li>Some Principles of Mobile Interpretation </li></ul><ul><ul><li>It’s not about the technology </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Interpretation is essential </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The museum is a distributed network </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The museum as agora </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Why mobile? </li></ul><ul><li>A short history of digital tours </li></ul><ul><li>Next generation ‘tours’ </li></ul><ul><li>Try it out! </li></ul><ul><li>Debrief </li></ul>Nancy Proctor,
    3. 3. It’s NOT about the Technology Nancy Proctor,
    4. 4. Fraunhofer Institute, Kunstmuseum Bonn: ‘Beat Zoderer’ exhibition (Listen project) 2003 Fraunhofer Institute, Kunstmuseum Bonn: ‘Beat Zoderer’ exhibition (Listen project) 2003
    5. 5. Interpretation is as essential to the Museum as cutlery is to a banquet Beth Lipman, Bancketje (Banquet) 2003
 Nancy Proctor,
    6. 6. <ul><li>Some visitors may bring their own, </li></ul><ul><li>Some may eat only the finger food, </li></ul><ul><li>Some may choose another restaurant, </li></ul><ul><li>Many will go away hungry, </li></ul><ul><li>feeling uninvited and unwelcome . </li></ul>If the Museum doesn’t provide it: Nancy Proctor,
    7. 7. But what is the Museum in this Web 2.0 world of information on demand? Nancy Proctor,
    8. 8. The American Art Museum Nancy Proctor,
    9. 9. The Museums… Nancy Proctor,
    10. 10. The Museum has become a Distributed Network Nancy Proctor,
    11. 11. Photo by Mike Lee, 2007; from SAAM Flickr Group Our audiences now access American Art through a wide range of platforms beyond the museum’s walls and website Nancy Proctor,
    12. 12. The Museum is transforming from Acropolis… Nancy Proctor,
    13. 13. … into Agora Nancy Proctor,
    14. 14. Nancy Proctor, [email_address] 9 December 2008 <ul><li>A platform for communities & collaborations </li></ul><ul><li>A conversation </li></ul><ul><li>A mash-up </li></ul><ul><li>Inspiring, educational & fun </li></ul>The Museum as Agora is:
    15. 15. Why mobile? <ul><li>April 2009 study by Pew Internet & American Life Project: </li></ul><ul><li>32% of Americans have at some point used the internet on their mobile device. </li></ul><ul><li>19% of Americans said they had yesterday accessed the internet on their mobile. </li></ul><ul><li>50% say it is very important to them to have mobile access in order to stay in touch with other people. </li></ul><ul><li>46% say mobile access is very important for getting online information on the go. </li></ul><ul><li>17% say mobile access is very important to them so they can share or post online content while away from home or work. </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li>“ Africa has the fastest-growing mobile phone market in the world…” </li></ul><ul><li>BBC 12 August 2009: </li></ul>Nancy Proctor,
    16. 16. To see… Nancy Proctor,
    17. 17. And be seen. Nancy Proctor,
    18. 18. In the beginning… <ul><li>- > - > - > - > - > - > - > - > </li></ul>Nancy Proctor,
    19. 19. Pearls of Wisdom <ul><li>-o-o-o-o-o-o-o- </li></ul>Nancy Proctor,
    20. 20. The Magic In-between Nancy Proctor,
    21. 21. Context in the Connections <ul><li>-o!o!o!o- </li></ul>Nancy Proctor,
    22. 22. Immersed in another world… <ul><li>-o+o!o-o+o!o- </li></ul>Nancy Proctor,
    23. 23. Lost in linear space <ul><li>-o-o-(o)-o-o-? </li></ul>Nancy Proctor,
    24. 24. Or separated from the herd <ul><li>-o-o-o-o-o~ § </li></ul>Nancy Proctor,
    25. 25. Random access=liberation? <ul><li>o o o o </li></ul><ul><li>o o </li></ul><ul><li>o </li></ul><ul><li>o o </li></ul>Nancy Proctor,
    26. 26. Leading with technology Nancy Proctor,
    27. 27. Means tours fall on deaf ears Nancy Proctor,
    28. 28. Think outside the audiotour box <ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul>Koven Smith’s paper: Nancy Proctor,
    29. 29. Manifesto for a new tour design <ul><li>Show them what the curator sees in both overview and detail: -^-+-o-/-?- </li></ul><ul><li>Then give them access to everyone else's vision: * ! $ % @ &quot;&quot; ? </li></ul>Nancy Proctor,
    30. 30. Three modes of content <ul><li>+ - + - + - + - + Soundtracks </li></ul><ul><li>o o o o o Soundbites </li></ul><ul><li>/ | / | / Links </li></ul>Nancy Proctor,
    31. 31. Download & Search Soundtracks & Soundbites Nancy Proctor,
    32. 32. The Soundtrack <ul><li>Provides a linear narrative and contextual information: tools for understanding the key principles of the displays, both in the gallery and beyond . </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Downloaded’ for audiences on-site and beyond. </li></ul><ul><li>Is a story or a conversation that the visitor can join. </li></ul><ul><li>Immersive, but may be divided into a number of connected segments. </li></ul><ul><li>Like a good album, book or catalogue, should be possible to enjoy over & over again… </li></ul>Nancy Proctor,
    33. 33. Soundtrack Sample Nancy Proctor,
    34. 34. Soundbites <ul><li>Are ‘atoms’ of information. </li></ul><ul><li>That facilitate going deeper on a particular object/subject. </li></ul><ul><li>Are commonly called ‘stops’ – or ‘starts’! </li></ul><ul><li>Can be a tool for information gathering by the visitor e.g. via bookmarking; </li></ul><ul><li>Can be reused across the museum’s analog & digital platforms as well as those of third parties. </li></ul>Nancy Proctor,
    35. 35. Soundbite Sample Nancy Proctor,
    36. 36. Soundtracks & Soundbites Combined Nancy Proctor,
    37. 37. ArtBabble: an ideal interface Nancy Proctor,
    38. 38. Voices: Which are your favorites? <ul><li>Expert voices: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Artists </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Curators </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Staff </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Professional narrators </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Dialogue </li></ul><ul><li>Vox pop </li></ul><ul><li>Augmented Reality </li></ul>Nancy Proctor,
    39. 39. Curatorial Voice Nancy Proctor, Irving R. Wiles, John Gellatly 1930-1932
    40. 40. Staff Picks <ul><li>+1 (202) 595-1852 – 302# Benjamin Trott, Anne Hume Shippen, ca. 1796 </li></ul>Nancy Proctor,
    41. 41. Professional Narrator Nancy Proctor, Paul Cadmus, Bar Italia, 1953-1955
    42. 42. A Smarthistory Dialogue Nancy Proctor,
    43. 43. Vox Pop: Student Voices <ul><li>Sophie Hunter Colston, 1896 </li></ul><ul><li>William R. Leigh </li></ul><ul><li>Born: Falling Waters, West Virginia 1866 </li></ul><ul><li>Died: New York, New York 1955 </li></ul><ul><li>oil on canvas 72 3/8 x 40 7/8 in. (183.8 x 103.9 cm.) </li></ul><ul><li>2nd Floor, East Wing </li></ul><ul><li>Podcast by Holton Arms HS student, Pamela S. </li></ul>Nancy Proctor,
    44. 44. Your Turn 30 minutes in the galleries <ul><li>Map your questions as they arise in a gallery or other area of the IMA. </li></ul><ul><li>What modality (soundtrack, soundbite or link) would best answer each question? </li></ul><ul><li>What voice would best speak to each question? </li></ul>Nancy Proctor,
    45. 45. Links <ul><li>Mobile interpretation wikis </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li> Wiki </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><li>HandheldConference recordings </li></ul><ul><li>SmartHistory </li></ul><ul><li>Koven Smith’s paper: & </li></ul><ul><li>SFMOMA (Peter Samis & Stephanie Pau): & </li></ul><ul><li>Smithsonian Web & New Media Strategy Wiki (with ‘Voice your Vision’ call to action!) </li></ul><ul><li>Nancy Proctor ( [email_address] & @nancyproctor): & </li></ul>Nancy Proctor,