Posts Tagged ‘handheld’

Digital Technologies and the Museum Experience: Handheld Guides and Other Media

I recently started reading a book that was edited by handheld guide expert Loïc Tallon and fellow Londoner Kevin Walker.  The book is a collection of essays by prominent technologists in the museum space writing about mobile guides in museums.  The range of information is extensive ranging from best practices to research in the field.  The book is highly recommended to those with an interest in this area of digital museum interpretation.

Purchase the book here: Digital Technologies and the Museum Experience: Handheld Guides and Other Media

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.

Tate Handheld Conference

Me looking official

Yep - That's me!

In April 2008, at Museums and the Web in Montreal, I was fortunate enough to be involved in the preliminary planning for a conference at the Tate Modern. The focus of the conference was on handheld tours and came to be called Audiotours to iPhones. Jane Burton, Creative Director for Tate Media, searched me out in Montreal to see what the San Jose Museum of Art was doing with the iPod Touch. Thankfully she was impressed and invited me to attend a luncheon centered on the planning of the conference to be held in London. At lunch I found myself in unbelievable company with museums like the Smithsonian, New York MoMA, and Tate. Yes – me in the company of these prestigious museums!

Flash forward to July, I had almost given up on the conference because it was to be in September. That was only 3 months away, but lo and behold an email came from Jane asking me if I was still interested. Uh…yeah!? I was asked to be one of 8 keynote speakers because of our recent forays into handheld tours at the San Jose Museum of Art, particularly the iPod Touch/iPhone.

After attending I can say that it was definitely the best conference that I have been to. This is due in large part to the intense focus on the subject matter. Most conferences offer a wide variety of topics where you can pick and choose, but not this one. It explored many aspects surrounding handheld tours from simple basics to what the future may hold.

The conference was preceded by a full month of active involvement on a Wiki created especially for the event. Invited contributors were asked to provide information and insights relevant to the conference and four predetermined topic points: Handheld Basics, Choosing a Platform, Getting it Done, and Advanced Handhelds. Anyone who is interested can view the Wiki at If you wish to contribute you can request access through the Wiki administrator.

Conference Day 1

Conference Day 1

The conference was a two day event held on September 4 and 5, 2008. The first day was by invitation only, where I joined 30 people selected from museums around the world. The focus of discussion was on the four topics from the Wiki. The new information gathered during each discussion was added to the Wiki and was synthesized into four mind maps. A mind map is a diagram used to represent ideas linked to a central key word or theme.

Conference Day 2

Conference Day 2

The second day was a public symposium attended by 200 people. Each mind map topic from the day prior became a session of one and a half hours with two keynote speakers presenting their own experiences related to their topic. As one of the selected keynote speakers, I co-presented along with Célia Meunier from the Louvre during the “Getting it Done” session. Presenting on SJMA’s in-house content creation and delivery via iPod Touch offered a unique contrast to the Louvre who works closely with Antenna Audio producing large quantities of audio and video content. Following our two presentations, there was a round of questions and answers which provided rich followup discussions about the work at the SJMA and the Louvre. Many of the keynote presentations from day 2 are available via embedded SlideShare players on the Wiki.

I have to say, one of the most pleasurable parts of the conference were the people involved. The mind-power that was there was truly impressive and to be a part of it was an honor I will not soon forget. I must concur with my new friend Daniel Incandela from the Indianapolis Museum of Art where he wrote on their blog, “The conference represented some of the most innovative and brightest minds working in museums today.” I made so many new friends and connections; I cannot wait to talk with them again in person. Everybody made me feel so comfortable with their warmth and kindness.

I want to thank Jane Burton from the Tate and Nancy Proctor from the Smithsonian for inviting me to attend. It was a privilege to learn from the many brilliant people who attended and, in turn, share the accomplishments of the San Jose Museum of Art with the iPod Touch tour.

One of the Mind Maps created

One of the Mind Maps created

There are other mentions of the conference on the Musematic blog by Nik Honeysett; the IMA blog by Daniel Incandela; Buzzeum by Diane Drubay (in French, but page has a translator); and Nina Simon makes a mention of the Wiki usage on her Museum 2.0 blog.

Dave Patten of the Science Museum in London started a Flickr Group with images of the event if you are interested.

San Jose Museum of Art’s iPod Touch/iPhone tour: (best viewed on one of the devices)

Presentation: Tate Handheld Conference

These are the slides for the presentation that I gave at the Tate Handheld Conference From Audiotours to iPhones. The conference was in London on September 4th and 5th, 2008 and there were about 150 people in attendance. The focus of the presentation was the San Jose Museum of Art’s iPod Touch tour. You can read more about the conference or more about the tour. Whatever tickles your fancy!