Posts Tagged ‘tour’

Ch, ch, changes…

Alright – if you haven’t already heard  – I recently ended my 9 1/2 year tenure at the San Jose Museum of Art as the Manager of Interactive Technology. It was a bittersweet event because at one point I felt that it was the greatest job I ever had. It was very fulfilling, creative, art related – it was perfect! I had struggled all my life trying to find a so-called “career” and felt that I had finally found it. Unfortunately, my hours were cut December of 2008 to half-time. This pretty much took the wind out of my sails. 20 hours a week was not enough to do the technology related projects that I wanted to do.

Over the course of the last year, however, a great opportunity presented itself which I couldn’t pass up. During this period of working part-time I started consulting for a mobile start-up called Toura that is changing the way museums create mobile tours (more info forthcoming). After 5 months of fulfilling and exciting work with Toura they offered me a full-time position as Program Director.  The company’s ideas and philosophies align very well with my thoughts on mobile technology and museums so it was a perfect fit.

Since my website is so centered on the work that I did at the San Jose Museum of Art I thought it would be nice to go through and sum up what I feel are some highlights of my time there.

Road Trip Heels Screenshot

First off, I’m extremely proud of winning two MUSE awards. One was for our Artist of the Week podcast that we did in 2006. We were so green at that point it came as a great surprise, but my colleague Lucy and I felt that we were producing a quality product and winning the award validated our efforts. The second MUSE Award, Gold in the category of PR/Development, came recently in 2009 for our Road Trip/Giant Artichoke video that we produced for the exhibition Road Trip at SJMA.  It was the most fun we had on a project. It was a big departure for us from the artist centric audio and video content we had been creating.  The narrative nature of the video required us to storyboard, film on location and really tighten up on our editing.  The results were very rewarding.

Over the years I’ve worked with a variety of mobile delivery methods for audio and video content. Cell phones, Video iPods in Notes-Only Mode, and lastly iPod Touch/iPhone.  The iPod Touch tour we launched in 2008 was one of the first of its kind. While I realized at the time it was an important accomplishment, I didn’t realize how many doors and exciting opportunities it would open.

In London for the Tate Conference

In London for the Tate Conference

Because of the launch or this iPod Touch tour, in September of 2008 I found myself at the Tate Modern in London presenting about SJMA’s mobile experiences to an audience of international museums.  It was one of the most rewarding professional experiences I think that I have had to date.  At the conference I met and befriended the most incredible and creative group of people.  All have helped to shape my knowledge on the subject.

Finally, I think my videography and editing skills hit a high point on one of my last big project for SJMA. For our Ansel Adams exhibition we solicited the general public to submit Ansel Adams inspired photographs to a special Flickr group.  The images collected in that group were displayed in the Adams exhibition on an interactive kiosk.  The main vehicle for this exhibition was a video that I shot in Yosemite. Shot in black and white the video features footage of classic Adams imagery cut with footage of visitors taking photos.  At the end the question, “Are you the next great photographer?” is posed with instructions for submittal.  The video has a sombre feeling and to me is reminiscent of the black and white footage in Woody Allen’s Manhattan (wishful thinking maybe).

Toura Logo

So now I enter the world of museum vendors. I have had nothing but a positive experience with Toura.  It’s rewarding and exciting working with multiple museums to help them get their message and content out to their visitors. Toura is about enabling museums so that they can efficiently create mobile tours in a cost effective way – something that is important these days.  While some vendors have a bad rap, there are some that are conscious of the financial burdens and internal struggles that museums face on a daily basis.  My part at Toura has been and will continue to be the voice of the museum.

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

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.

MuseumMobile

MuseumMobile

Nancy Proctor, from the Smithsonian, is one of the worlds experts in mobile technology.  I was privileged enough to be invited by her and Jane Burton to speak at the handheld conference that they put on at the Tate Modern.  This is definitely a site to bookmark!

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.

Presentation: MCN-Cal SIG 2008

The San Jose Museum of Art hosted the Annual meeting of the Museum Computer Network’s California Special Interest Group (say that fast five times) in August of 2008.  The day long meeting had several presentations from local museums including History|San Jose, the Magnus, the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco and our museum.  For the meeting I spoke about our iPod Touch tour and then invited the 20 participants to check it out for themselves in the gallery.  The day was a success and it was great to meet so many new people and learn about their organizations.