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IWM’s Social Interpretation project: engaging with audiences and taking it forward

January 29, 2013 Leave a comment

Last time we visited IWM’s Social Interpretations project, Jane Audas updated us on how the project was coming along. Check out the video below to see what the project actually implemented, and how they’re using the findings for future projects at the museum…


Carolyn Royston, head of digital media at the Imperial War Museum, explains in the video that the museum wanted to make their objects and artifacts social in the sense that audiences are able to “comment, collect and share.”

In much the same way Facebook or Twitter allows users to comment, respond and interact with each other’s posts and updates, the IWM Social Interpretations project allowed visitors to use kiosks to post comments on certain exhibition objects and read other people’s comments on those same objects.

Mobile was also a big opportunity for audience interaction, with QR codes dotted about the building. Users can scan them, which then takes them to a mobile app, which then displays more information about the object and gives users an opportunity to Tweet and socially share their discovery.

As Jane Audas told me in an interview last year, this kind of social interaction is a big step for museums in general, where live comments without pre-moderation can make them nervous. “A thing called post-moderation is at the crux of our work,” she said. “Instead of looking at every comment a visitor makes before it goes live in the gallery (and later on the web) the project publishes all comments instantly. It is allowing (relying) on users in the visitor community to ‘remove’ offensive comments, thus moderating SI for us.”

Post-moderation and trust were the key lessons, says Royston, who mentioned only “very, very few, single figures” of comments had to be removed. “We are taking this project forward… and embedding it in the museum as part of a major project we’re developing for the First World War. What’s fantastic is that everything we’ve learned from this project is now informing what we do as we embed it as part of the museum.”

IWM’s Social Interpretation project: taking the project North and why tablets are tough

June 29, 2012 2 comments

Jane Audas, a freelance digital producer involved in the Imperial War Museum’s Social Interpretation project (SI) submitted this excellent diary entry updating us on how the project was coming along…

Social Interpretation project

A child using a kiosk at the Imperial War Museum

Social Interpretation moves onward. We are just snagging our app and sorting digital assets for more QR code roll out in the next month or so.

In July we will install 4 SI kiosks and 10 QR codes against objects in Imperial War Museum North. We have scaled up the kiosk size and are using touch screens rather than tablets. Tablets have not been so successful for us, maintenance-wise and usability-wise.

We are also going to change the user interface for the kiosks in the North, to ‘visitor voice’. This is so that they become proper comment kiosks, rather than, as they are in London, digital labels and comment kiosks – we think this will clear any confusion as to the purpose of these things.

So, how engaged have people been with the idea of commenting against our museums objects? We have had quite a few interactions – over 2,700 comments since April 5. They include lots of spam and lots of comments saying the museum is great. But there have also been some rather affecting comments.

From the SI kiosk underneath a 1939 baby’s gas mask we got the following:

Strange to think that this was not so long ago! I can remember the war as a teenager, only seems like yesterday. Tomorrow, I celebrate my 82nd birthday!

And underneath a VE day celebration photograph – with the prompt question: Photographs like this have become well-known as part of the story of the Second World War. Do they give a complete picture of how people felt? – we read:

I just could not think about how sad I would be if me, my mum and my friends were in the war

We hope and expect the level and depth of engagement to increase when the SI web pages go live. If you are sat in the comfort of your own home, browsing objects you are interested in, you are much more likely to think, type, collect and share it. Probably more likely than you are to in a busy gallery, typing on to a small tablet screen.

And the QR Codes? Well, they are another story..