Dipity Do It!

Warhol Digital Timeline in Gallery

A few months back during a team meeting at the San Jose Museum of Art we had a discussion about including a timeline in our exhibition Prints of Andy Warhol. The idea was quickly tossed out because it can cost a few thousand dollars to do a timeline right. However, around May of last year I had heard about a great new online service on my favorite podcast Net at Night called Dipity that made it simple to create dynamic interactive timelines online. Users can drag the timeline from left to right to scan through different years or days. Clicking on an event will open up a window to display more information including text, video or images.

Additionally, in November a timeline created on Dipity was referenced on one of my favorite blogs Kottke.org. After finding out more about the service I started looking for an opportunity to utilize Dipity in an exhibition setting and didn’t realize the opportunity would come so quickly.

I ran back to my office space, grabbed my laptop and brought it back to the meeting to show everyone the timeline that was referenced on Kottke. The timeline was a history of different types of cereals and when they were introduced over the past century. My suggestion to the group was to create a timeline in Dipity for Andy Warhol and project it on a wall in the gallery using Dipity’s built in full screen mode. Everybody was intrigued and I promised to investigate the possibility further.

Our new director at the San Jose Museum of Art had recently worked at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA) where they had just mounted a different Andy Warhol exhibit. The staff at SMoCA were kind enough to let us use the timeline events that they had assembled for their show. To experiment a little, I entered in a few of these events into a Dipity timeline that I created and found the service to be extremely easy to use. You can enter in individual events separately or you can import information from a “source.” Sources include – Flickr, YouTube, RSS, and other social media platforms.

One of the keys to make this work in a gallery is to utilize kiosk software to lock out the visitors from surfing the internet or doing a variety of other tasks you don’t want them to do in public sight. I started looking around and found wKiosk for the Mac. It’s pretty straight forward to use and after some tweaking finally had a working model to show everybody back at the exhibition team meeting.

The reception of the timeline was positive and it was determined that we would proceed with it being in the exhibition so I set out to enter all 135 events on the timeline. Each event is assigned one of four icons which references a legend to guide users to the four different topics presented – Warhol’s personal life, news events during his life, info about his subjects, and concurrent art world events.

Installation was easy. We utilized an old PowerMac G4 tower that we set-up with the wKiosk software to display the timeline. I would recommend a faster computer, such as a Mac Mini, for delivery because it adds more fluidity to the nice motion effect the timeline has when you scroll from side to side. Our installation department installed a projector to display it on a large wall. Additionally, they built a nice little pedestal where users interact with the timeline using a mouse.

Timeline Pedestal for Interaction

Timeline Pedestal for Interaction

We had some challenges early on with implementing the timeline. None of the problems that came up were the fault of Dipity. We are using their product in an unconventional way where it is running for up to 8 hours in a day. In a typical situation the user would go to the Dipity website and spend much less time than that.

Early on we had some issues with IP addresses being cached on our in-house DNS which would cause the timeline to not load – a white screen displayed instead. A clearing out of the cache would help until something would cause another bad IP address. Finally our IT person set up the internet connection to scan three different external DNS servers instead of our one internal. This helped immensely. If something was wrong on one DNS it would go to the next one, and so on, providing a back-up plan.

Dipity is a fast growing company that is seeing their product take off. They are constantly adding great new features that I’m sure are on their company roadmap. The addition of some of these features did not play too well with our kiosk software because of the settings I had for it. For example, the wKiosk software can allow and disallow certain urls and keywords. This keeps the visitor where we want them to be. If there are any changes to those urls through the web service it will affect how the timeline works. Seemingly, this scenario played out which caused the timeline to reload itself and not allow the visitor to explore the different events. The problem was easily correctable by changing some kiosk settings.

Additionally, Dipity implemented a subscription model where a monthly payment will remove ads from the timeline (they obviously need to make money!). We were unaware that they were implementing this and some ads showed up one day. I contacted the company to see about options for removing them and they were quick and kind enough to help us out and were very intrigued about our use of their product in a museum setting.

We were fortunate enough to have Zack, one of the founders and CTO, visit us to see it in action. He is very interested in helping make it more museum friendly for uses similar to ours or in an actual kiosk format. You can read about his visit to the San Jose Museum of Art at http://blog.dipity.com/2009/03/11/dipity-kiosk-at-sjma/.

The timeline has been a success and we are already trying to think of future uses. Dipity is an outstanding, easy to use service that will only grow more in its capabilities over the years. I can see it being used in schools, museums and libraries. Our use of the Dipity service is obviously unconventional at this point, however, there are some additional benefits. One being that we are able to embed the timeline into our webpage for the Prints of Andy Warhol exhibition allowing for visitors who visit our website the opportunity to prepare for their visit or reflect on it afterwards. Also, it extends the SJMA brand into another area of the burgeoning social media world we are currently in and allows our users to interact with one another.

Dipity do it!

3 Responses to "Dipity Do It!"

  1. James G. Leventhal

    I was there. I loved it! I was visiting with my dad and my son — ages ranging from 70+ to 2 1/2 and they both loved it! Me right smack in between, on the cusp of 40, found it pleasant, soothing and informative…

    also loved to learn overheardatthemuseum that the Campbell’s Soup Can’s round medal “seal” on the front memorializes the SF World’s Fair:

    “…Campbell’s, a 136-year-old company that still carries the gold award label it won for quality at the 1900 World’s Fair, is the largest manufacturer of soup in the world.”

    source: http://www.walletpop.com/blog/2008/09/30/campbell-soup-mmm-mmm-up/

    …you can see the recently renovated Botanical garden building front and center.

    I think the cell phone trivia game encouraged the overheard and anecdotal sharing amongst visitors. well done on all fronts, chris alexander!

  2. Chris

    Thanks for your kind comments James! I’m glad you had a great experience at the museum. Also, thanks for being a regular commenter here (what is it two now?). Hopefully you will inspire others!

  3. deborah valentine

    I will pass this along to Nancy Roberts, Director of Collections and Exhibitions at the Michael Carlos Museum at Emory University in Atlanta.

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