Create. Consume. Repurpose.

Part of what I do with Toura is work with clients on what content goes into their mobile applications. In some cases they create the content themselves, in other cases they outsource the creation to content producers. But, sometimes they choose to repurpose existing content that they already have on hand. The following is from a presentation that I gave at the Museum and Mobile online conference on March 22, 2011.

Image from Storm Crypt on Flickr

Image from Storm Crypt on Flickr

When planning a mobile app for your museum you have two options for content. On one side you can create content internally, hiring someone to do it for you or do a combination of the two. On the other side, you can repurpose existing content that you already have at your museum. If you choose to repurpose existing content you may need to make adjustments to it or you may have to fill in the gaps that might cause your app to be incongruous.

Museums may not realize it, but they have a lot of content that they create as a natural part of their day-to-day operation. These include:

  • Labels
  • Wall Text
  • Catalogues
  • Brochures
  • Websites
  • Interviews
  • Photographs
  • Audio Tours
  • Videos

All of these items can POTENTIALLY be used for your mobile applications, but you need to be cautious when piecing them together into a mobile experience. Look for consistency with the content – does it work together, are the writing styles similar, is the content for children improperly mixed with complex adult content? It’s instances like this where it might be necessary to do some re-writing or re-editing of the content to fill in the gaps or create fluidity. This also requires you to have a specific audience in mind and tailor the content to that audience.

The other thing to keep in mind when repurposing content is where the content came from. It could be from a number of different departments in your institution including Marketing, Education, Curatorial, etc. Remember that all these departments have different voices because they are creating content for a specific purpose. Marketing will be selling the museum or collection to the general public, education will be focused on the everyday visitor helping them to understand the collection and exhibitions, and curatorial will be shedding light on different viewpoints and newly discovered facts about objects and their creators.

When building your mobile application you should be mindful of whether you intend the app to be used internally at the museum or whether you are trying to reach a global audience who may not be able to visit the physical space. If you do intend it to be internally used you may include directions which take into account the location of the work of art. You may ask in your audio for the visitor to move closer to the work to examine a particular section. If it is intended for external usage, you may include detailed photos to allow the user to focus on particular areas in lieu of being able to move closer to the work. Alternatively, you may wish to construct your app to reach the broadest group possible by making your content work for both groups of people.

Image by mpclemens on Flickr.

Image by mpclemens on Flickr.

Text

Perhaps the most abundant source of material to repurpose will be text based content. Older institutions have years and years of content that were created for audiences at particular periods of time. Not only will these text save time when building an app, they may also offer a different perspective based on social norms at the time the time they were written.

The main thing to keep in mind however is that these texts will also be the most influenced content at your museum. What I mean by this is that specific departments will have written this text for specific purposes other than for use in a mobile tour. It’s important to know when the text will work in a mobile app context and when it won’t.

There are some things to remember when considering text in your museums mobile application. If you are focusing on tablet applications your users are going to expect more text. Users are more inclined to use these devices for longer stretches of time while in the comfort of their home or in coffee shops. Users of phone devices are going to expect smaller selections of text since the use of their devices are typically for shorter amount of time, like standing in line at a store or commuting on public transportation.

Re-purposing text can result in disparity in app focus so it’s important to look at the content from a mobile perspective when piecing it together. Will they work on a Phone? Will they work for an iPad. Will they work for both? Are there any holes that are going to be needed to be filled or are there re-writes that will need to occur?

Some systems may require you to paste the text into a plain text editor to clean off any hidden formatting embedded with it. This is especially important with text taken from Word documents which hides a lot of formatting information that Word uses to render the text. If this hidden formatting is included when pasting text into a mobile platform solution it could wreak havoc with the formatting capabilities of that particular system.

Images

Image from DavyRocket on Flickr.

Image from DavyRocket on Flickr.

Second to Text for most abundant content for re-use are images. Before you start assembling a mobile app or tour, it will be important to track down as many images for potential inclusion. There are many likely sources for these images including: photographs, slides, transparencies and digital images.

As you can see from the list there are several of these that might need to be converted to digital format before they could be used with mobile. Additionally you may need to photograph artwork specifically for your app and to fill in any holes.

While organizing these image assets it might be beneficial to devise a naming structure to help during the app creating process. The structure can be created for internal usage and it will aid in the assembly of all the various components in your application.

There are some things that you should keep in mind when creating images from older source material or pulling from current digital sources. To ensure that your images give the most bang for your buck find ones that will work well for current tablet devices. The size of the iPad screen is 1024 x 768 so you want to shoot for something with a minimum of these dimensions. Even if you do not plan to build out a tablet application, phone screens are becoming more and more higher in resolution. The current iPhone 4 has a screen resolution of 960 x 640 which is not to far off of the current model of iPad previously mentioned. Larger resolutions will allow for better zooming functionality.

With screen resolutions constantly being upgraded on newer devices it’s always a good idea to be forward thinking when it comes to your digital image assets. If you can create large resolution images these can be sized according to current device specifications. But remember, the larger your images are in your app, the larger the app becomes in size. It’s a delicate balance between supporting resolutions of current devices and keeping the download burden of the user to a minimum.

Audio

Image by Matt Blaze on Flickr.

Image by Matt Blaze on Flickr.

It is now easier than ever to create your own audio for mobile applications and other uses in your museum. All you need is a laptop and a decent microphone which can plug into it. Most laptops now come with some type of audio editing software that you can utilize to mix down the audio.

However, some museums may have pre-exisitng audio that they can utilize as well. These can take the form of previous audio tracks created by a content vendor, interviews of artists at public events, interviews with curators and scripted segments created in-house.

With all of these sources it’s important to ensure that you have the rights to use them in your application. The artist or curator may take issue with you using their interviews in a mobile app. Or, if you hired an outside content creator to produce audio segments they may still own the rights to them. In this case, you may actually own the rights to the script that was used and not the actual recordings and you can re-record the audio for use. In any case, do your research and make sure they are OK to use.

Also, is it in a format that is compatible with current mobile standards. Most devices allow the use of either .mp3 files or .wav. If they are not in either one of these formats there are a lot of tools available that will allow you to compress your audio into these formats, such as iTunes or Audacity. However, keep in mind the quality too. If you compress an audio file too many times it will start sounding garbled and incoherent. It’s great if you have access to the original files to do the compression. It also allows you the ability to go in and re-edit the tracks if needed as well.

Another aspect to consider is whether the audio is an appropriate length for mobile consumption. Following the same user rules as with text – users on tablet devices are more inclined to listen to longer segments of audios than those on their phone device. You may consider offer longer tracks for tablets and breaking them down to smaller “consumable” tracks for phone devices.

Some other items to keep in mind:

  • Are there images that you would like to present in association with the audio? Does the system you are using to build your tour allow for this functionality? Or, do you need to create an “enhanced” audio track that displays images as the audio is playing?
  • Does the audio need to be heard in front of the object in the museum or does it work fine for outside users?
  • Does the audio mesh well with the other content that you are re-purposing in your app.

Video

Image by Carbon Arc on Flickr.

Image by Carbon Arc on Flickr.

A lot of the same thoughts around audio also apply to video. Make sure you know the source of existing video and whether or not you have the rights to utilize it or not. Also, make sure it is in a format that is usable on mobile devices. Android and iOS both support .mp4 formats and is currently the easiest way to approach both. If you do not have your videos in this format, like audio there are a lot of tools out there that can help your compress to this particular format. Again, it helps if you have access to the original files to compress them from the source rather than using a source that has been compressed multiple times.

Understanding how old the video is is important. If you are using video that was used on a website 10 years ago chances are this video is highly compressed to ensure that was able to be playable on 56k modems. This video is very likely to appear pixelated on current mobile devices and will compromise the users expectations. In cases like this where you do not have access to the originals it’s probably best not to use them.

Remember to keep your videos under 3 minutes for phone devices. Videos over 3 minutes tend to be abandoned before the viewer reaches the end. Like with audio, it may be necessary to divide longer videos into shorter digestible segments. As with other asset types, tablet users have different expectations when it comes to videos and can tolerate longer files. Remember though that they are probably not going to sit through an hour long video on their tablet device, although with new features like AirPlay available on iOS where the user can shoot the video to watch on their Apple TV this might change.

Another consideration when thinking about video is whether you are going to want it to be streamed over a network connection or whether you want to try and offer it natively on the device. Video tends to be large in size reaching upwards of 50 mb for a good quality 3 minute sample. Having 10 of these stored locally on the device can balloon your app size to 500 mb which is a significant size for the user to download…and this does not even include any images and audio that you have also included! There are ways to circumvent this large file download by offering you video to stream over an available network, but obviously you run into issues if you plan the app to be used onsite and network coverage is limited.

Technical Limitations

As mentioned previously with video assets, deciding on whether your content will be stored natively or streamed over a network is crucial. While text is a negligible hit to the size of your application high resolution image, audio , and video increase in size exponentially. If your museum is fortunate enough to live within a good 3G reception area most of these assets will stream perfectly fine. Some buffeting may be required when streaming the videos, but they will launch after a few seconds of buffering. If your museum has an available WIfi connection you will need to run some tests to see how big of a broadband pipe you will need to accommodate the expected number of devices accessing content.

You may have heard about the war going on between Apple and Adobe regarding the use of Flash on iOS devices. Flash has serious implications with battery life on all mobile devices causing the excessive battery drainage. A lot of museums have their videos tied to the Flash video codec which causes them to unusable with iOS devices. In most cases, these videos can be reformatted to a usable format.

With the proliferation of mobile usage it’s time to start thinking about an Internet solution that works for your museum. This may take the form of an open public network or it maybe a network which requires the user to log into the network for access. It may require you to consider a new broadband line into your museum so that your are not leaving your office network open to attackers.

There is a lot that goes into the creation of a mobile application, and while repurposing content may require some extra work for it to work in the mobile space, in the end it will save you some time and some money. Content is just aspect. There are technical needs to consider as well as a well thought out marketing plan to ensure that your app, and work that went into it, will be appreciated and utilized . Being prepared is the key to it’s success.

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