Notes from UK museums on the web 09

Last Wednesday (I’m slow to catch up with these things) was spent sat in the lecture theatre of the rather lovely Sackler Centre at the V&A attending UK Museums on the Web, organised by the Museum Computer Group.

It was quite a formal and polite day, a varied mix of projects that reflects the varied size and budget of museums across the country.

I also managed to grab some time in the new Medieval & Renaissance galleries, a set of spaces that deserves all the recent glowing press praise. It’s a shame that the V&A’s website let’s down that experience so badly, even by simply not capturing the gallery’s ambience with amazing photos. It’s very odd.

Anyway, here’s a few not very well edited highlight notes of the conference.

Three key themes of the day – social, situated and sensory.

Continuing with the desire for ‘things’ being connected to the web rather than purely screen-based experiences – how to take digital heritage everywhere?

We were encouraged to use QR codes as a way of gathering contacts, but to be honest by the time you’re got out your phone, turned on the camera, focused it on the barcode it would have been easier to ask for a card or simple google the name of the person later on.

Bridget McKenzie
Why social? Are we fed up with it? Can we use it to deal with loss, contested ownership/histories. Is social serious?
Museums only scratch the surface of it at the moment.

Matthew Cock, Andrew Caspari
Discussing the British Museum partnership dealing with history of the world through 100 objects. Telling the ‘true’ story of the objects, not the western-centric view of their existence.

A CBBC programme has been filmed in the museum and the project is linked to regional museums across the country and local radio plus Radio4 series, over two year project

It seems that not a great deal of thought, given the response to many questions, had been given to legacy with the user generated content that be created in that period (people can upload objects of their own to create a wider discussion) and how other msueums can really get involved.

Part of the objective is to create a new online collection, a mix of BM stuff and user’s stuff, but how that exactly would work didn’t seem to have been confirmed.

It’s a fairly traditional way of upping the content around the objects, is the BM just getting lots of lovely material to back their collection.

Lots of talk of blogs and comment s on objects but the main driving force is radio and TV again – other museums don’t have that media outlet to drive traffic.

Tower Hamlets summer uni
Denise Drake
Nearly 50k course place across every london borough.
Grass roots interaction with participants via social networks, having to deal with peoples genuine reactions good or bad.

Talking about how to control social networks when dealing with young people e.g. small images for profiles, private use of profiles etc etc. Lots of handholding and daily interaction is needed. Part of the problem is that not all local authorities allow access to Social Networks, so getting more people involved is tricky. A new brand change to Futureversity in 2010 and to spread the idea wider.

Given the context of this session was about civic change this project is a great example.

What will happen to the ‘permanent’ collection that comes of this? Not decided yet.
Were othe platforms, e.g. Wikipedia thought about? No, apparently not.

Interesting that we are all swayed by the scale of the BBC/BM project but the one that address the question of civic change is tower hamlets

Loic Tallon chair. He described a mobile survey of 100 museums that found most have two main hopes – that visitors make more use of their own devices, and that there is the development of pre an post experience through mobile.

Paul Golding –
Mobile network cells are open so anyone can sniff them and make use of location. Topography of cell is very different between each one (reminds me of Berg’s videos of RFID space around the tags).
Urban area – can locate within 300m
Semi urban – 600 -1200
Rural- as bad as 10km

GPS deals with street level, WiFi can be used to locate within indoor space.
Other options are proximity sensors – RFID (NFC, Tikitag, now rebranded Touchatag?), Barcode, QR, Bluetooth, wireless, Zig-Bee (Ekahau)
Then the new breed of ARG – Layar, Wikitude, Junaio.

It’s becoming increasingly easy to do location services without a marker, therefore no need to use a marker such as a QR tag on labels etc, it can exist on its own.

Described ‘3rd eye culture’ – i.e. as seen through the cameraphone lense.

He then discussed virtual worlds and the expolosion that has occurred over the last couple of years in the pre-teen age (Club Penguin, etc). Showed a great chart plotting age use of virtual worlds.

He also showed how virtual conversations can work via space using stuff like Flook. People leaving messages for others to discover with mobile devices. All this is dependent on penetration of technology though. Smartphones will reach 80% peneration by 2015 (LTE emergence stats). An AR (Augmented Reality) tipping point by 2013?

He predicted that VR/VW will be a new IU metaphor for handsets. Is that easy to predict now, event though it’s been promised for well over 15 years?

Quickfire session:

BMG pre-raphaelite collection:
– Extensive research showed results that surprised the museum, people wanted a trusted voice over UGC.
– User’s fear of getting things wrong played a key part in the design, they didn’t want to feel exposed
– Objects placed at the heart of the experience
– Collections could be shared, private or public, giving the user the choice

Janet UK
Museum and schools video conferencing. A system that has been discussed, and used, for a long time, butnow they feel they have a simple approach for everyone to use.
– Funding can be got per head from MLA
– 4000 schools registered to use it right now

Richard Morgan, technical manager V&A online
Making the digital museum relevant in people’s everyday lives. Is retail everyone’s experience of a (V&A) museum?
How to deal with the scattered nature of content? Is the semantic web helpful at all?

Described his work with collections – developing a user interface to explore relationships between objects, then encourage the reuse to make collections of their own.

Exploring the use of other searches eg color or texture, or shape. Allow for great visualisations which made me think again of

Reflecting connections through other people’s photos, which draws connecting to V&A collection.

BUt the only way to be able to do this is to delegate out. Shape your content (data) so that it can be used. It’s the museums job to shape the narrative not control the use of data.

Joe Cutting
Described using games within museums, suggested that models for museums are arcade games/social games too. Short, quick response, rapid learning.

Highlighted Lego star wars browser-based game – technology (the Unity player plugin) now available to do more interesting things with online technology that match console gaming experience but didn’t discuss costs and development time and then said 3D makes games harder not easier, so not sure what the point was here.

Anne Kahr-Hojland
Showcased Ego-trap at the Experitarium science centre
in Denmark.
A collaboration and physcial/virtual responses combined in the gallery, strong narrative structure connected to the physical space and visitors spent about 1.5/2 hours in the exhibition. Worked because the target audience of late teens was explicit.

Pervasive media studio, Watershed media centre
Talked mainly about the work done with HP’s mScapes, something I’ve seen demo-ed before but it always seemed a complicated download and a bit of a barrier to use.

Also showed Drom – Social media project in collaboration with Soho Theatre and Play.SimonGames.

And then showed SubtleMob, a very seductive audio project to get people to do things at certain times throughout an experience.

It was a long day, with lost of interesting stuff showcased but I’m not sure if it was structured well enough around actually trying to get to any answers of how best to tackle the three main themes of social, situational and sensory from a museum’s perspective. It’s clear that some museums are in a better position than others to shape their content/collections digitally, but also clear that much of what is being done is on a trial basis and understanding the audiences needs is either not given enough consideration or sometimes gets lost.