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Presentation: CAM

On February 27, 2009, I had the distinct honor of presenting with Dave Ashiem from Guide by Cell and Suzanne Isken from MoCA at the California Association of Museums. The title of our session was Reach Out and Touch Your Visitors…with Technology! It was a great crowd with a lot of great questions!

Normally I talk about actual things that I’ve produced, but here I talked more from a hypothetical approach and in the process tried to be a little more philosophical and sociological. A lot of the ideas of this presentation came from a book that I’ve been reading called Grown Up Digital by Don Tapscott combined with discussions happening in blogs, on twitter and via email amongst museum people. In his book Don Tapscott discusses the large shift currently taking place between older baby boomers and the younger “Net Generation”. This younger generation has not known a world without computers and technology. These Net Geners are also going to be museum visitors and hopefully new donors. What are they expecting and what should you be offering them?




Today, technology is pushing us at a rapid pace. The new quickly replaces the “old” in an online world. A younger generation is entering the workforce and has very different ways of thinking and communicating – much different than their elders. They are making advancements to the internet that are slowly bringing an end to many of the things that are comfortable to older generations – museums included! In the past, visitors would passively view artwork and occasional take a docent led tour or an audio tour with an awkwardly designed device. Today , young adults demand more interaction and engagement. They are doing these activities both with their mobile device and through online social media tools.

Is your museum prepared?

iPod Touch Tour Full Screen Mode

iPhone Top Detail

I recently implemented a feature on our tour at the San Jose Museum of Art which I have been wanting to do for quite a while. We are currently only offering a small tour at the museum so I figured it would be a great time to try it out. If you read this site regularly you are familiar with the WiFi driven iPhone/iPod Touch tour that we have been offering since May of 2008. If not, please read the previous link!

The feature I added was full screen mode which has been sporadically mentioned on the web and is not a well known feature. It’s basic purpose is to make a web based application act more like an installed app. It does this by removing the URL and navigation bars from the top and bottom of the Safari Mobile Web Browser window – virtually locking a user to your site. It does come with some quirks which I wish to document here. First here is a demonstration of how it works:


SJMA iPod Touch Tour Full Screen Mode from Chris Alexander on Vimeo.

Apple has documentation of full screen mode (free developer’s account required) available on their developers website. To implement this feature you need the following bit of code in the header of your tour or app:

<meta name="viewport" content="width=320; initial-scale=1.0; maximum-scale=1.0; user-scalable=0;"/>
<meta name="apple-mobile-web-app-capable" content="yes" />
<meta name="apple-mobile-web-app-status-bar-style" content="black" />

Web Clip Icon

So, here are the quirky things about this. In order for it to work the viewer of the site must add a “web clip” icon to their home screen. If the museum is offering iPod Touches for check out or has them tethered to the wall or shelf this can easily be done in-house. Patrons using their own device might like the full screen feature or might not. It’s up to them to add the icon themselves if they would like full screen mode.

Additionally, if there are any links that lead the visitor away from the root URL the full screen mode will revert back to regular mode. This will bring back the URL bar at the top and the navigation bar at the bottom. I have not found any way to eliminate this problem yet.

SJMA iPod Touch Tour full screen mode

SJMA iPod Touch Tour full screen mode

The obvious benefit of full screen mode is that it basically keeps the visitor on your tour and prevents them from surfing the web using a museum device. While a tech savvy visitor could still figure out a way to get into the apps and settings, it puts us one step closer to a type of Notes-Only mode (pdf download from Apple) for the iPod Touch that is only available for the non-touch screen iPods. Also known as “Museum-mode,” Notes-only helps to lock users out of all the settings of the iPod. We are using full screen mode paired with special cases that we had made by Coutour which help prevent access to the Home Button thus preventing users access to other applications on the device or access to the settings. The set-up works extremely well and we have had few incidents of visitors tinkering with settings.

Full screen mode has been implemented for a few weeks now and has been successful and trouble free.

Museums and Twitter: A PC Idea

Every once in a while a great idea comes out of merging unique items – peanut butter and jelly, chocolate and peanut butter, salt water and taffy all come to mind. I recently had a revelation when I crossed Nina Simon’s and Koven Smith’s write ups about institutions using Twitter with a few sites I recently came across.

twitter_logo

A few weeks ago I found myself on a site called F*** You 2008. The site aggregates Twitter messages with the term “f***you2008” by searching for the phrase in recent tweets using what appears to be some fancy Ruby scripting. For the most part these messages include expressive comments about money lost, jobs lost, or any other unfortunate event associated with 2008. While I don’t totally agree with the language used on the site, though it is pretty funny, I was intrigued by how it was able to display comments directed at a specific subject.

Another site I came across recently almost does the same thing! www.dearie6.com asks it’s visitors to follow on Twitter the user profile of DearIE6. Once you are following that profile you can send direct messages to it which in turn will be displayed on the site www.dearie6.com. This site is a place where people can comment on their frustrations with the bug-ridden V.6 Internet Explorer browser.

I came across both sites after I had read the recent Twitter related posts on the Museum 2.0 blog and at www.kovenjsmith.com. Both articles address the institutional voice and how it should be leveraged in an online social space such as Twitter. Nina talks about creating a unique experience in your institution around Twitter by posting funny things overheard, behind the scenes info, or interesting facts about the building. This got me thinking…

Since I have a budget of nill-to-none at the museum I’m always trying to think of ways to use the internet to benefit our programs and collection at a low price point. I’ve recently been thinking about ways of commenting on works of art in the permanent collection and how this could be achieved in an engaging and interactive way.

Enter F***you2008 and DearIE6.

Hung Liu - Chinese Profile (Collection of SJMA)

Hung Liu - Chinese Profile (Collection of SJMA)

Let’s say that I wanted to have a page devoted to Hung Liu’s Chinese Profile in our permanent collection. The museum would sign up for a Twitter account with the username @ChineseProfile or @SJMA_ChineseProfile. Visitors, both onsite and online, could then send comments or thoughts via the direct message feature on Twitter which would show up on the @ChineseProfile user page. This would have to happen after the visitor signed up for the service and then started to follow @ChineseProfile. A museum could create a Twitter page specific to an artwork in the collection where people could actively engage with others around the artwork. The work could even engage them back through a curator, registrar, preparator, or all three!

Example Wireframe

Example Wireframe

I like the idea of taking things a step further by utilizing the APIs or widgets offered by many of these web services to bring the experience to our your own website as well. You could create a page on your institutions site and pull the dialogue to it through some scripting with the Twitter APIs. Additionally on the page you could have a large image of the work, maybe a Wikipedia entry describing the work, etc. To illustrate, I have drawn up a wireframe example which you can view in-full by clicking on the thumbnail.

Obviously one of the biggest challenges with utilizing Twitter is the generational gap and trying to gain the art perspective of the older technology-challenged museum visitor. While they might have heard about Twitter by watching CNN or reading about it in this thing called a newspaper, they might never have signed up for any services on the Internet. Then to try and explain the concept of an “@” message sounds even more difficult.

I’m not sure if this is a truly unique idea. Are any museums doing it or something similar? I’d really like to know. I share this information with the larger museum community with the hopes that someone might attempt it and report back. Unfortunately, in my new limited capacity (half-time due to budget issues) I don’t think I will have the opportunity to attempt it! Let me/us know if it works out!

You can follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cmalexander

Cultural Connections – Road Trip Video

On December 2, 2008 I was fortunate enough to speak to a large Cultural Connections group at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The topic of the night was visitor participation in the museum experience and included myself along with Stephanie Pau, Manager of Interpretation at SFMoMA; Kathleen McLean of Independent Exhibitions; and Catharine King, Vice President of Exhibitions and Programs from the International Museum of Women. We were all asked to speak by Mandy Smith of Cultural Connections who put together an outstanding program that was attended by about 70 people from Bay Area organizations, institutions, and companies. The group was engaged and had a lot of great questions which made for fun and lively discussion.

The topic I spoke on was a recent video that we made for our exhibition Road Trip at the San Jose Museum of Art. The video acted as both a marketing tool to promote the exhibition and a vehicle for gathering postcards for an interpretive component in it.

Thanks to all that attended and to Mandy Smith for asking me to speak! Here are the slides from the talk:




iPod Touch Tour Update

iPod Touch Tour Home Screen

iPod Touch Tour Home Screen

It’s been a while since I posted about the iPod Touch/iPhone prototype tour that I was working on at the San Jose Museum of Art. The last time was in October of 2007. A lot has happened since then including the actual launch of the tour itself. We launched it in May of 2008 in conjunction with a tour we created for Robots: Evolution of a Cultural Icon. For the launch of the tour there were some preparations and changes.

One of the main focuses was to upgrade the wifi in the museum. We were operating with 2 networks. One was used by patrons of the cafe (which was pretty unreliable) and the other was used for exhibitions. For the upgrade we combined the two into one network and added two more access points using HP enterprise grade wireless routers.

The new set-up reaches most parts of the museum. There are a few spotty areas that we will need to focus on should we expand the use of handhelds into galleries other than our two main ones. Another issues that we’ve encountered is the lag time that occurs when you move from the gallery downstairs to the gallery upstairs. This causes a switch from one access point to another. The units pick up the new access point fine, but the lag time occurs when it switches to a different channel. It can take up to a minute for this to happen which you can image could frustrate a visitor. My request to Apple about how the iPod Touch handles channels was unfortunately not answered. Thankfully we have not had a lot of exhibitions where visitors move between access points.

Update: iPod Touch/iPhone Museum Tour from Chris Alexander on Vimeo.

When users select the Robots exhibition from the Exhibitions screen they are presented with a list of artists.

When users select the Robots exhibition from the Exhibitions screen they are presented with a list of artists.

One of the major changes that was made was to the user interface. Basically the tour is a web application similar to what you might see if you navigate to Facebook or Twitter on the iPhone. To construct it I spent a lot of time on the iphonewebdev Google Group reading threads about how to create web apps. One thing that I discovered was a javascript framework that a lot of people were using. The framework called iUI (iPhone User Interface) was developed by Joe Hewitt a developer for Facebook who was working on the iPhone version of the site. The framework mimics the page slide from side to side that the iPhone is so famous for. It also adds AJAX to the mix which helps to speed up the tour by loading only what is requested by the user and nothing extraneous. I downloaded the framework and tweaked the CSS file to make the screens that you currently see above in the video.

The artist page for this particular exhibition included a Curator's Video Label and an Artist's Video Label.

The artist page for this particular exhibition included a Curator's Video Label and an Artist's Video Label.

One other feature that I added was a feedback page.  It has not been very popular usage-wise.  There have only been about 30-40 forms collected and a lot of them are duplicate submissions.  The feature was added more as an experiment than anything else to see if it would be used and to learn from it.  I created the survey using a form creation website called Wufoo.  You can sign up on their website for a variety of different plans ranging from free to $199.99 dollars a month.  The service is great!  You sign-up, create a form and then you are given a snippet of code to embed the form on your site.  You can also adjust the appearance of the form through customized CSS.  While the form works effectively on the iPods, there are some issues with customizing the CSS for it.  There was another iPhone optimized solution that I came a month or two ago which I forgot to bookmark and I have been feverishly trying to find it again.  If I do find it I will post it here.

There are many other updates that I have been trying to experiment with. I will try and share my findings once I have implemented or tested.  I hope to make a post soon about WiFi delivery via web browser vs. locally stored data.