Today I participated in a beta test of a new mobile concept for museums developed by, amongst others, Statens Museum for Kunst in collaboration with Oncotype. This was a follow up from a paper prototype test I took part in back in April, and it was really interesting to see how the concept has developed since then.
Now, I can’t go into too much detail, as the project is still in development, but basically the concept combines QR scanners and Twitter feeds to provide additional information and inspire closer looks as well as allowing interested visitors to ask questions to the curators or submit comments. A more thorough (and approved!) description can be found in the web article Curating and participation via a new mobile platform, which includes an embedded video presentation on the project by project leader at SMK, Merete Sanderhoff, from last years MuseumNext conference. According to @MSanderhoff‘, a new Slideshare presentation should be up soon, too, so watch this space.
And actually, I really like how the concept is turning out. Granted, I experienced some confusion when being sent from one platform to another (twitter, scanner, content sites), and had trouble finding my way back. Also, the primary problem with mobiles in the gallery, namely how they move attention away from the artworks and onto the digital device, again was very apparent – as someone noted in the follow up discussion, we were walking around like zombies, eyes on the screen and only gazing up at the artworks to confirm information or find our way round.
But then, this was a test situation, we had a task to do, and so were fixed on completing that task. When implemented in the gallery, hopefully the usage will be more natural, less intrusive on the overall experience, a supplementary offer that may inspire or satisfy curiosity. At the very least, it’s worth letting that vision be put to the test.
Because I did find that some of the comments and links were very useful, and helped me see things in the artworks or connections to other works of art, that otherwise I would have missed out on. Not that I would have missed them, necessarily, had they not been there, but still, the information added to my experience and my knowledge (even if it subtracted from other parts, hence the above problem). And it really was rather handy to have expert knowledge to hand, getting prompt responses from an art historian when posing a question (but of course, this was a luxury of the test situation, as this swift service would not be available at all times). So I might actually use it, now and again, when it hits a gallery near me in the future.
It was cool to try out a functional beta version, to experience the flow (and lack thereof!) of the mobile experience. But just as important was the developments to the concept for content, which meant that posts by the museum were highlighted, and comments from the public could be filtered out. As Merete Sanderhoff explained, it was with some regret that they had come to realize, through tests and focus groups, that what the users were interested in was the curatorial voice, not vox populi. And, as Morten Schjødt from Oncotype added, expecting something close to the rule-of-thumb 90-9-1ratio of public engagement was more realistic than building for mass participation. Similarly, taking into account the still limited uptake of Twitter in the Danish population, having a twitter profile was no longer a prerequisite for use.
I found this part of the discussion very interesting, for my research as well – this complicated process of aligning ideals, ideas and reality in a constantly evolving media- and cultural landscape. And I was very heartened by experiencing how delicately, and expertly, Sanderhoff et al. seem to be dealing with these issues. This promises well for the future of mobile museum mediation.