Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Google matters

A quick note on the fast moving world of Google and particularly how it impacts on the museum world.

I blogged on Google Art in March and April - a new initiative that involves providing 'street views' of the contents of 17 of the great art galleries around the world, and high resolution images of selected artworks.

Google Goggles is a visual recognition app that has been around since 2009. It is like the music recognition app Shazam, except it does it visually rather than by audio. It has focused on two areas to date namely architecturally recognisable buildings and wine labels. The former I could understand, but why the latter had taken the fancy of the folks at Google was not entirely clear – apparently there are enough wine connoisseurs out there who want to photograph a wine label and find out whether the bottle is worth $10 or $100.

However, the application of using a visual search engine activated not by putting in key phrases but by taking a picture with your smartphone has been begging to be applied to artworks, and finally Google has announced they have teamed up with the Getty to "Goggles-enable" (don’t you love the phraseology!) their permanent collection. Read all about it in the LA Times.

How it works is that you take a picture of any of the Getty paintings during your visit and instantly access information about the painting. You can also hear commentary from artists, curators and conservators on the works of art themselves.

The Getty has been trialing ways in which they can provide more information to visitors than fits on a wall label for some years. They pioneered the so-called ‘Getty Guides’, a mp3 player format that provided an advance on the audio guide concept by including images, but it was not found to be taken up with much enthusiasm by visitors.

The bigger picture is whether we are moving to a label free world in museums, as MONA in Tasmania is pioneering (see my blog). My view is that we shall never dispense with the label but the opportunities that smartphones in particular are providing for seriously enriching access to information on what is being viewed are only going to multiply.

Julian Bickersteth
Managing Director

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