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crossposted på Formidlingsnettet

Fredagen bød på en hel række af ‘Interactions’; et mix af præsentationer og mini’workshops. Her kunne man vælge mellem en introduktion til det sociale tagging projekt steve.museum og indføring i iTunes U potentiale som distributionskanal for webcasts; instruktioner i hvordan man bygger en API til sit museum (og hvorfor det er en ide at gøre det!) eller deltagelse i ideudvikling af forretningsmodeller for åbne mediearkiver.

Gail Durbin fra V&A fortalte underholdende om hvordan sociale medier og aktiviteter kan skabe engagement med kollektionerne og værdifulde brugeroplevelser, for eksempel ved at hjælpe folk til at producere egne bøger og objekter gennem eksisterende nerservices som Blurp og Qoop, eller ved at opfordre de besøgende til selv at bidrage til museets indsamling som det for eksempel sker i V&As kommende brudekjoleudstilling.

I Handheld Handbook sessionen splittede tilhørerne op i en række diskussionsgupper omkring både praktiske spørgsmål og ideer for vejen frem – hænger vi for fast i traditionenen for audioguides; hvor meget eller hvor lidt – og hvis, hvordan – skal vi guide de besøgende; hvorfor ikke lade mobile applikationer gå ud i det offentlige rum eller på tværs af insitutioner; kunne vi udnytte smartphones potentiale ikke alene som multimedial informationskanal men også som redskab og et legetøj? Hvis du eller din institution har palner om at udvikle dette område er der inspiration at hente i Koven Smith fra The Metroplolitan Museums’ paper, eller på thehandheldconference-wikien.

Brooklyn Museum vandt den overordnede ‘Best of the Web Award’ for deres innovative brug af sociale medier; se også de øvrige vindere og nominerede; der er masser af inspiration at hente.

Lørdagen startede med demonstrationer fra både ‘Best of the Web’ vindere og en række andre interessante projekter.

I sessionerne kunne man blandt andet høre om strategier for og erfaringer med opbygning og brug af online kollektioner, med interessante projekter fra både Finland, New Zealand og Canada.

Vincent Puig fra Centre Pompidou præsenterede en case study rapport om brugerrespons og -bidrag i den – for nogen provokerende – udstilling Traces du sacré og kom blandt andet ind på synliggørelsen af forskellige polemiske positioner i forhold til værkerne.
Darren Peacock præsenterede sit og Andelina Russos akademiske studie af hvad det indebærer for institutionerne at søge at engagere publikum gennem brug af sociale medier. Meget spændende læsning for de, der er interesserede i den problematik.

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Spending Easter by Limfjorden has given me a chance to check out the local Struer Museum and its use of digital media.
Having read about their ‘Byskriver’ (town writer) project online, a project which aims to engage the locals and museum visitors in writing the recent town history, I already knew that they were up to something, and was happy to find that the museum was indeed very focused on using digital technologyin novel ways as part of the museum communication. I was lucky to be able to have a good chat with a project manager who happened to be working, and who was happy to share information on the technology and concepts behind the project (Thank you, Sara!).

Basically, the recent town history is presented to museum visitors on a large touchscreen as well as on the very-soon-to-be-updated website. Its flash-based interface allows for visual browsing in a timeline design where years and images open as articles, and function as entry points to related topics and mediafiles. This visual approach invites exploration; what the system does not support, however, is word based searches, which means that you cannot use it as a reference tool to check out a certain topic of interest.
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Knowing that the project encourages local participation, I had expected for it to make use of new social media technology. Interestingly, this is not the case. Instead, museum visitors are asked to leave comments on the articles as voice recorded messages via a phone hanging next to the touchscreen, or to speak to the ‘byskriver’ whose desk is right next to the display. Online visitors can send their comments in an e-mail. Rather than letting the public loose on its system, the ‘byskriver’ works as a moderator, filtering the inputs and integrating them into the system in writing or as MP3files. This work takes place, through the easy-to-manage Conent Management System, at the desk in the exhibition space. Unfortunately, the museum does not systematically monitor the user participation, so I could not really get any information on how (much) users are actually interacting with the system.

As a bonus to my visit, I was excited to find that Struer Museum also makes use of QR codes as a way of offering information in their art collection. At the reception desk, visitors can borrow a phone (a Nokia E51, highly recommended for the purpose by Sara) with the QR reader installed, and I was able to experience first hand how seamlessly the system worked. The photoshot didn’t have to be more precise than any other snapshot, and the information retrieved from a URL by the reader combined text, images and real-player videos. Very nice.
As I suspected, however, the experience so far shows that most visitors are not familiar with the technology. The museum is therefore working to inform visitors of this option – guiding them on how to download a reader to their own camera phone by simply sending and SMS – and hope for a greater uptake to develop.

Definitely worth a visit

Despite my worries in an earlier post about adopting an all-inclusive approach, at this point in the process at least it seems to make sense. Because the aim of the concept development part of my thesis is not to end up with a final product, i.e. a ready-for-production web exhibition on a given topic, but rather to develop some more generally applicable guidelines or ideas, narrowing the field too much would seem like loosing out of an opportunity to explore the possibilities.

So, the plan now is to work with a modular structure, in which the various themes of the exhibition – both the content that mirrors the onsite exhibition, and some of the related topics that could add to the insight and experience – are explored and communicated through a variety of appropriate media formats. If the online exhibition was to be actually produced, this would allow for a pick’n’mix selection of modules, or perhaps an incremental process where modules were added gradually to the core exhibition. For a small institution like Diamanten, with only temporary exhibits on a wide variety of cultural topics, this continuous development may seem to be overdoing it slightly. On the other hand, since the online iteration of the exhibitions are permanent, it might be worth the effort (and money, I know) developing them as more than just a hyperlinked catalogue.

Although the themes and content of each exhibition will determine how it should be presented and what media formats would best suit the story you wish to tell, I hope to find a format for the core exhibition that would be transferable from one exhibition to the next. A template or CMS system would not only easy the workload when producing a new exhibition, but also provide some user-friendly consistency in the museum website. Also, if this core needed only tweaking, not reinventing every time, it would free up more energy for innovative and experimental approaches to future add-ons to the exhibition.

For the upcoming cartography exhibition (and perhaps as a rule of thumb?) I suggest this core be based on the content of the physical exhibition, i.e. Danmark Ekspeditionen, HJ Rink & Jakobshavn, Lauge Koch, Pearyland & the geological maps. The research done, the images selected and the text produced could be transfered into or altered to fit the online format, and extra layers of information could be added. The result would be something in between a digital catalogue and an online ressource. Seeing these maps on the screen would ofcourse not compare to seeing them in full size and splendour onsite, but putting the stories behind the maps online would allow for visitors a different opportunity to explore them in their own time.

Still, this would be not much different from the information one could find in a book, and what a waste of media potential it would be to stop there – not for media’s sake, but for the sake of allowing visitors alternative ways of engaging with the stories and problems posed by the exhibition theme.

First step could be to include multimedia from DR (Danish public service broadcasting). Already, both DR and KB are part of a trans-institutional network focused on sharing and distributing national cultural heritage, so it would seem obvious to make use of DRs archives and expertise in media production. For this exhibition, an online resource based on a TV series retracing the steps of Danmark Ekspeditionen already exists.

Another way of engaging the audience in the drama of the expeditions that produced the maps we now take for granted could be trough publishing the journals from the participants as part of the online exhibtion. I am currently looking into the potential for publishing the most famous of these diarys, that of Jørgen Brøndlund as a time&space distributed narrative, as I have an idea that the drama and cliffhanger qualities of this real life narrative would work well presented in this format across various media platforms.

Using gameplay quests and conventions to simulate the challenge of mapping a ‘terra incognita’ like North East Greenland could be interesting. However, I am not a digital gameplayer, so that whole field of design and discourse is terra incognita to me, and I fear that there be dragons.

The cartographic problem of map projections could perhaps be explained in text and images online (slong with other cartographic issues), but an interesting addition could be to let visitors get some ‘hands on’ experience with 3D/2D ‘elastic maps’ on an interactive platform, perhaps trying to manipulate a Mercator projection into a Peters projection to get a feel of the implications of the various projections. Some mashup with Google Earth might also be an option. Haven’t quite worked out exactly what or how yet, hence the wooliness of the description (still I managed to namedrop stuff I am trying to get my head around in a superficial way, thanks to great inspiration from Denis Wood’s excellent book The Power of Maps).

Finally, the question of what a map is and what it shows, and why, could be explored through a social media application online inviting visitors to participate in the making of a user generated map of Copenhagen. A handdrawn map made from the wikiprinciple could be good fun, but probably technically tricky to develop, and perhaps a bit daunting for the participants to get into. Instead, a neutral (let’s pretend such a thing exists) map, showing only the the city’s road grid, could be provided, and visitors would be encouraged to start filling in the blanks. Copenhagen already has a usergenerated cityguide, but what of all the other things one could wish to map? Users could start new categories like ‘recycling bins’, ‘beware of dog-poo’ or ‘great places for snogging’, and start tagging away.

Now, all of the above ideas are only at a first sketch stage, and will need screening and developing. I hope to be able to draw together a focusgroup/workshop team to help me with this when I’m ready.
Comments are welcome!


This is the QR code, a two-dimensional barcode readable by camera phones, for this very blog’s URL. Simply typing the URL into a free online service created the image; now I could go and print this out and paste it in a public space, and let people retrieve my postings to their mobile phones by simply photographing the code. In a museum context, codes like this could be integrated into the onsite information, allowing visitors to retrieve additional information about the exhibited objects etc. and thereby costumize their visit as well as establish a connection to the museum’s online ressources for subsequent follow ups.

Still , visitors would need to recognize this graphic image as a QR code and understand how to interact with it. Now this could prove a bit of a challenge. And what’s the point in introducing more gimmicks for the technologically enlightened few?

True, using QR codes as part of the exhibition information system would not work as a standalone at the moment, as the service would simply not register with most visitors. But as the technology holds a lot of advantages when it comes to on demand information and bridging the gap between the onsite and online iterations of an exhibition (this of course requires that there is an online version of or supplement to the exhibition; and that content is produced which is suited to this media format), it could be well worth it for museums to start experimenting with the possibilities. More and more people own phones that could read the code and display the information, and already they are using them in innovative ways to access all sorts of information and entertainment. Why not harness their technophilia by letting them play with their favourite toys in your exhibition?

Reading through the back catalogue of posts from Nina Simon’s Museum 2.0 blog, I came upon an older post on what makes a truly mind-blowing/life-changing/at-least-pretty-darn-good-and-memorable exhibition. Now, that is a pretty tall order, and not one that is of much use as a starting point for my process.
Still, she makes som interesting points and observations about one person visions versus collaborative efforts, about museum professionals versus outsiders, and, most relevant to this context, about the power of selective storytelling and the importance of being passionate about the story that you tell. In Nina Simon’s words So much of what exhibit designers do is hunt for the story within a topic, trying to tease out the life in an artifact or a scientific process or a historical event. […]. But when the designer doesn’t find that magic story, fall in love with it, and feel compelled to share it, the exhibition falls flat. It becomes a recitation written on college-ruled paper in a chalk-filled classroom on a September afternoon.

Again I feel compelled to make reference to Robert Wilson’s Everything You Can Think of is True exhibition at Den Sorte Diamant, CPH (closing on April 4th, so treat yourself to a slice of Wonderland while it’s still there!), as this was, for me, an almost magical experience, and so an example of this kind of life-changing exhibition. What sticks with me is the whole ambience, created by Wilsons scenography including lights, swings, tableaus and a tapestry of sound. The sketches on display, arguably the true ‘content’ of the exhibition, made less of a lasting impression. Yet, thanks to the special atmosphere of the exhibition, I probably spent more time taking in the details than I would have in a more traditional exhibition setting. The point I’m trying to make is that Nina Simon has point when it comes to the power of visionary thinking.

Now, Wilson falls in to the ‘auteur’ category as a scenographer and exhibition designer. Few museum professionals fall in to that category, and as an upstart-museum-professional-wannabe… I guess the thing to do is just to study and marvel at the masterworks, like film- and art students would, take inspiration and carry on with the humble hope of one day mastering just the basics. And then hunt down that story and start falling in love. Even when it’s a case of ‘when you can’t get the one you love, love the one you get’.

(Actually, the blog post I thought I was going to write was about whether an online exhibition connected to an onsite exhibition should strive to be as close as possible to a 1:1 representation of the onsite version (with considerations to the relative strengths of the media, of course) or if exploring and unfolding just a corner or tangent of the physical exhibition online would be a better approach. Guess I got sidetracked. And as this latter topic is still worth mulling over as more than an aside, let me get back to that in a later post.)

What makes an online exhibition an exhibition? Is a digital catalogue an exhibition? A multimedia catalogue? What constitutes an exhibition?
Although my research to date has not been very exhaustive, I have come across quite a few web exhibitions so far. All present a combination of images, text and sometimes multimedia files or interactive games and the like, revolving around a given topic or collection of objects or artworks. So far so good. Too often, the graphic design and/ or the site navigation has been annoyingly clumsy, but enough webexhibition sites are both aesthetically pleasing and boast state of the art (animated) graphics and navigation. Which is great.
Still, I never quite get the feeling that I am experiencing an exhibition as such. Can’t quite put my finger on it, but it still seems more like a digital, hyperlinked and multimedial version of an exhibition catalogue, rather than a digital version of the exhibition itself.
So what makes an exhibition? What makes an exhibition experience? What makes a good exhibition experience? And is it at all possible to transfer this to the world wide web? Or is it the outing, the sociability, the architecture of the physical museum or perhaps the unique objects, complete with aura, that makes a visit to a physical exhibition a cultural experience?
Is it the fact that when visiting a physical exhibition, I make a concious decision to see this particular exhibition, allocate time for the visit, make my way to the museum, and once there I therefore actually go through the whole exhibition (if not the whole museum). I may not study every object in detail, I won’t be reading all the information available, but I will have made enough of an effort to create a lasting memory of my visit.
By contrast, the exhibitions that I find online, I stumble upon. I may be searching out webexhibitions, I may find one that interests or fascinates me, and yet, because of the habitual fast-scanning nature of webbrowsing, I rarely stick with the exhibitions long enough to properly engage. Whereas spending hours in a museums feels like a great pastime, I do not have the same patience with the online medium.
Is this just me, or is it a general problem? And if it is, is it the problem of the users, who must learn to slow down and engage with all the wonderful content avaiable online? Or is it the problem of the exhibition designers, who must find better ways to exhibit this content and help the audience engage?