Thursday, July 17, 2014

Harnessing technology to add to the museum visitor experience

Despite being quiet on the issue for a few months, I remain fascinated by where technological developments will aid the museum visitor, as in my previous blogs (see links at end of blog).

I am in no doubt that we are drawing closer to each visitor's own smartphone being able to provide:
  • location specific content at whatever level and in whatever language the visitor chooses.
  • dynamic way-finding that guides the visitor wherever they want to go, suggesting objects of interest tailored to the visitor's viewing patterns along the route.
  • rich data to the museum on visitor patterns, and dwell times.
At the moment despite a great deal of noise in this area over the last five years, visitors to museums are still relying on good old labels and storyboards, along with that stalwart supplier of extra information, the audio guide, albeit vastly advanced from the old cassette tape days.

We can visit MONA and see what the world looks like in a label-less museum, and we can test a great array of apps, and NFC technologies (RFIDs and QR codes being the dominant). And though I have yet to experience it, the Cleveland Museum of Art's Gallery One project does seem to be hitting the mark in providing a value-add to visitors  - check out the New York Times article 'Technology that serves to enhance not distract' for a good summary.

We can ruminate on how Google Glass is going to change our world. The latest edition of the UK Museum Association's on line journal looks at the potential for Google Glass to 'recognise' artworks and provide additional text on the wearer's screen along with audio feedback. To learn more on this, check out who have partnered with Google's 'Glass at Work' program to develop mobile guides  for museums. However Google Glass is currently far too expensive in terms of hardware and content development cost to be a serious tool in museum interpretation.

If you want to spend a day on line at a webinar, tune into the New Media Consortium's Virtual Symposium on the future of museums on 23rd July.  It will be looking at advances in both BYOD (bring your own device) and location based services.

My take on all this? The process is taking far longer than we all thought for these technologies to move into mainstream use, as they all currently have limitations. A fundamental reason is that the user cannot see much added value, so until the content gets substantially richer and the experience of viewing the artwork or object that much greater, visitors are going to quickly switch off.  And this richer content requires a heap more work from curators, at a time when curators remain a somewhat  threatened species within museums and certainly not well resourced to produce this extra overlay of information.

In the year when the number of active mobile phones is due to overtake the planet's population, we need to be ready to work out how the visitor experience can be maximised in an all pervasive mobile world.

Previous relevant blog posts:

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing this Julian! And may I offer up another one for your musing just released from the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC - where the app user gets to be a curator (perhaps next a conservator?):

    The Phillips Collection in Washington introduces a uCurate app for curating on-the-go -