Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Across the Pond

We have been hearing a lot recently about the Museum of London handheld app Streetmuseum that let's users "see" historic views of the city on their smartphone.  Basically, with this app, you use your gps to layer an old photograph on top of the real street you are standing in.  It lets you carry the museum around in your pocket and makes it even more relevant - connecting in real time to your day-to-day life and questions.

Another site called history pin (beta only) is a place where users can upload photos, geotag them to a google earth map, and add stories about them.  Others can download these images and then have access to them on the go.  This app was developed by a group called We Are What We Do. They are explicitly trying to foster intergenerational dialogue with this tool as a way to build community, strengthen connections and create new ways to share knowledge and expertise.

It turns out that this new trend has been well mined by iphone developers and there are lots of great examples out there of ways to use it.  There are apps for finding restaurants, bars and wifi hotspots - some sponsored by corporations.  And then there are apps that help you make sense of the stars such as this planetarium in your pocket.

There are so many cool apps - one interprets the geological landscape, telling you what is an escarpment and what is an uplift, another tells you about the breeze you are feeling, another is a compass.  Then of course there are all sorts of games.

Given all the ways to use this technology on the go, we were curious about the added value IN a museum.  Clearly AR adds a layer of information and interpretation to artifacts and environments: real world elements are augmented by virtual computer-generated imagery.  Because of this, an AR device (handheld, or heads-up display eg) seems like one way to present layers of content in a relatively small space (unlike a graphic). It can also respond to different learning styles dynamically (unlike a graphic), leading to higher retention of the material.  It doesn't have to be a handheld that does this.  We could take this same idea and pull it into another kind of display.

So is there a downside or is this a win-win?  


Terry said...

There was tons of talk about AR and mobile content at the Museums & the Web conference back in April. I think the concepts and possibilities are fascinating -- that's the "win" part. What discourages me is the reality of technology development at small and medium-sized museums -- where the "technology staff" is one person whose time is spread across a wide range of efforts, never mind keeping up with all the new stuff. That's the "recipe for meltdown" part.

So I come back to asking the question that everyone in my museum should be asking about everything that we're doing: why should WE be doing this (app, program, exhibit, whatever)? What's the value-add that my institution brings to this? Just because we *can* do something, does that mean that we should? I guess it's a matter of remembering to be strategic and not just being attracted to bright shiny objects.

But in a perfect world where my "technology staff" has time, resources, budget? I am so there.

Justine Roberts said...

Terry - I think your point about being strategic above all is the key and its why I am so excited about the london museum project in particular. AR is not a magic bullet - I suppose it can be cool and appealing but to be durable it has to be in support of the big picture. I'm completely with you on that.

The example of carrying the museum in your pocket - which is what the London museum is up to - is exciting for exactly that reason: it makes the org. more relevant, usable, and important.

So I think the question that you are raising which is so important to me is defining our priorities and then funding them. In London, the priority seems to me to be relevance.