It has been relatively quiet, project-wise for the past 2 weeks. Tom has left IWM and the new project leader, Carolyn (Head of New Media at IWM) and project partner Claire have been at Museums and the Web in America. The back end boys, KI and Gooii have been coding back and forth in the north. At the museum myself and Wendy (Digital Projects Manager at IWM) have been picking up snagging issues on the SI kiosks in the A Family in Wartime exhibition.
Those first 6 social interpretation kiosks and QR codes have been live for a couple of weeks now. Hardware and software issues with the ASUS tablets have meant snagging has been a little out of proportion to the small number of kiosks installed. Some of this has been because we built the interface from scratch, and worked up to the day of installation. And some of the issues are with the kiosk housing design – pressure on the touch screens is confusing them and meaning re-sets are needing to happen too often.
Comments are coming through though. Consisting of lots of spam, lots of bad spelling and some genuine social commentary. Nothing properly offensive has been reported yet.
I keep popping down to watch people using the kiosks. Love a bit of unofficial visitor evaluation, I do. But it’ll be good to see what Claire comes up with when she gets back to the business of properly evaluating things.
Overall, it appears visitors are confused with our dual voice interface design, as well they might be. Combining a museum voice (digital label) and visitor voice screen (comments) was only ever going to be a compromise. It was a bit of a triumph of internal stakeholders over true visitor experience. The visitors aren’t fooled. And hopefully we will be able to address that imbalance in the 4 kiosks we’ll install at North soon.
Next up is finding content for the roll-out of QR codes planned. Selection criteria for objects were, quite frankly, a best guess when this project was planned. That fudge is coming home to haunt us now as inconsistencies in the collections database make life difficult. But content (always the King) is usually the rub in digital, indeed any, museum project.
So. The Social Interpretation. She goes live today. The first bit anyway. 6 kiosks for visitors to comment on 6 objects. And 8 QR Codes that resolve to shiny new IWM mobile web pages, for the associated objects. It has taken an inordinate amount of time and effort to get this far. But then exhibition things are never straightforward, seamless, unproblematic or, even, easy.
The A Family in Wartime exhibition, housing this phase of the project, almost overwhelms our beloved social interpretation. Objects, paintings, films and blown-up photographs are your first overriding impression. But, really, that is how an exhibition should be.
Of course, children only have eyes for technology, so they spot the kiosks straight away. A young chap (in the image above) wrote, about an evacuee label: “If Daddy sends me away I’ll call Childline.” His Dad actually marched him around the private view of the exhibition and made him comment on each object. He went and commented willingly enough. We should have got his name and given him a job on the project.
There is not much evidence of people engaging with the QR Codes yet though. They are as small (or rather, as large) as we were allowed to make them. Maybe not large enough. Or maybe people just don’t know what they are. We’ll see.
And although a slight pause from #socialinterp might be nice now, we need to crack on with the presence at IWMN, the mobile app, further rollout of codes and our web presence. I could muster up a comment on the lack of time for a project nap. But it might not be very polite.
I was really very interested to read this post on the success of going mobile in museums lying in the hands of Visitor Services departments. The usual museum visitor neither knows nor cares about the machinations and politications of getting a project like Social Interpretation off the ground. They don’t much care about budgets, stakeholders, design sign-offs, advisory committees, and mobile phone icon debates. Or any of that stuff. They care, or they remember, their experience in the museum – of which mobile is going to become a more and more common part.
For the SI project, we have chatted, involved and erm, groomed, the IWM Visitor Services department from the start. As the people who will ultimately advocate our products on the museum floor it feels only right that we listen to what the Visitor Service Assistants (VSA’s) have to say and in return let them know as much about what we are doing as is possible and practical and useful.
We have some training sessions for IWM’s VSA staff coming up, just prior to the first Social Interpretation roll out of comment kiosks and QR codes in the A Family in Wartime exhibition from 5 April. The training plan is to let the VSA’s loose on the kiosks and codes themselves – to play, comment, ask us questions. We need to let them know as much as possible for them to be able to tell visitors what they, in turn, can do.
The biggie is how to deal with post-moderated commenting. What if an offensive comment ‘sits’ there for all to see? How to explain that the power is in the visitors’ hands to deal with that comment? And that the comments are the visitors and not the museums’ voice? The VSA’s should also be in a position to help any interested but technologically awkward visitors to use the kiosks to comment. Or how to scan a QR code and what content they might get in return. We are printing postcards to tell visitors about the free Wi-Fi and how to scan QR codes. VSA’s will hopefully hand them out and help people interact with the strange bar-cody things.
And finally VSA’s should know how to put inquiring visitors the way of the disclaimers and T&C’s on the kiosks, that might answer their questions about what is going on with comments and what could happen to theirs, should they choose to take part.
The VSA staff are the front line, public face of the Social Interpretation project and success does indeed lie heavily on them knowing whereof we speak. They’ll also have to field, first hand, questions about what all this socially stuff means. So we’ll keep our ear to the ground and check back with the VSA’s to see how they find it all. Good or bad. Annoying, liberating, frustrating or just a no-brainer of a great idea, and why didn’t museums do it sooner? Fingers (and phone lines) crossed it is the latter.
How do you control what information is online? In the case of Twitter and Facebook, with difficulty, as Ryan Giggs found out last summer. But these are huge sites with a lot of organisation behind them, and they will have a fair amount of resources to fight legal claims.
So what about your smaller site? How do you control content? What about the issues of defamation, data protection, and, with public authorities, freedom of information? Or just insults, bullying and heated debates getting out of hand? Read more…
Sharing, at the heart of socialising objects in this project, is under threat from SOPA. Clay Shirky sensibly unpacks the issues in this TED talk. It is scary stuff.
“TimeWarner has called and they want us all back on the couch. Just consuming. Not producing. Not sharing. And we should say no. ”
How to say no: http://americancensorship.org/
This is an interesting use of QR codes and print media in combination. There are a lot of ways this could be adapted to make museum objects really social. And have them, almost literally, talk. And in return have visitors join in that conversation. But you’d need a budget rather bigger than #socialinterp’s.
This Reporters Without Borders advert is a bit gimmicky. But still, fair play, as it’s a hard subject to get people engaged with.