Archive

mobility

first published in “Museum & Heritage Magazine” (Winter Issue, 2013)

Dirk vom Lehn (King’s College London)

Hannah Lewi & Wally Smith (University of Melbourne)

Museums and Heritage Sites increasingly offer mobile guides and Apps to encourage people to use their smartphones and tablet computers for the exploration of exhibitions, outdoor spaces and buildings. These Mobile Apps provide information in multimedia formats, text, pictures and video-clips. They sometimes also allow people to play games and send emails. In this short article we discuss two examples to highlight some of the opportunities and challenges offered by Mobile Apps.

The information delivered by these apps can draw people’s attention to particular exhibit features, make visible aspects of objects and artifacts that are invisible, hidden or have disappeared over time. Pictures and text shown by mobile guides, such as the ‘Formative Histories Walking App‘, designed by academics at the University of Melbourne, allow people to compare the architectural reality in front of them with information on the device. This juxtaposition of material reality and virtual reality aims to stimulate interest in the architecture and urban history of Melbourne, and provides the basis for people’s sustained engagement with buildings that they might walk past without noticing or appreciating.

The ‘Formative Histories Walking App’ has been designed as part of a project at the University of Melbourne, carried out by the authors, to explore novel ways to engage students with architectural history. In this case, the Mobile App was used as a teaching and learning tool that presented rich visual and oral information on an iPod Touch. Like a human guide, the App takes students on a two-hour walk along Collins Street, a prominent central city axis in Melbourne; the walk involves twenty stops at significant buildings from the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Using a map and menu on the iPod Touch users explore the street and find and examine architectural features in light of the information displayed by the Mobile App. This information is comprised of short text and audio summaries at each stop and a limited number of images that elaborate on aspects such as key buildings set in their historical context, comparative architectural examples from international architects or details of buildings that are not readily visible for the students. In this sense, the information delivered by the app replicates a slideshow similar to those architecture students experience in the classroom; pictures of objects nearby are juxtaposed with objects from different periods or by other architects and designers.

A second exploration of the potentials of the mobile digital guide for heritage, museum and architecture sites has been the design of a prototype iPod guide that provides visitors with information about the Shrine of Remembrance, a significant site and war memorial in Melbourne built in 1934. With this prototype the team aimed to allow people to see the Shrine in relationship to a wealth of currently unseen archival material. The mobile guide encourages visitors to juxtapose images, films and audio-recordings with the reality in front of them. By drawing less on conventional text, and more on visual information presented in innovative formats such as timelines, collages and close-up details the designers were interested in testing how user’s might share the screen with others and discuss the content and their experience of the site. encourage people to share the screen with others and discuss the content. Mobile guides and Apps like the examples briefly described here have great potential to create innovative media in the interpretation of museums and heritage sites that engage people in new ways with exhibits and exhibitions, architecture, gardens etc. They principally replicate two models of guiding visitors through a site that the researchers have found in many new Apps in the cultural and tourism genre :

  • the human guide model: these guide direct people’s exploration of a site with an identifiable guiding voice or presence on a predefined route. A number of stops are planned into the route where visitors are given information about an exhibit, building, plant, etc.
  • the interactive exhibition model: these guides offer a wealth of content in various forms that visitors can use to interpret and features of a site. The route does not have to be preplanned and can be changed, shortened or extended at any point in time.

These models of guiding visitors – which are sometimes mixed together – are often used with a variety of formats of content: chronologies and timelines, spatially-organised information; slideshows offering both highly curated narratives and freedom of choice; archival film; and oral histories.

Our own research in Melbourne and elsewhere suggests that apps designed with the human guide model in mind can be successful in situations with a well-defined visitor route. Elsewhere an interactive exhibition model that offers people the opportunity to self-select what objects and artifacts to examine can be more engaging. In either model, reception is influenced by the way information is structured and presented in the guide, and how this mirrors the physical reality. Text is not very popular with visitors while images, film and oral histories are. Chronologically listed information, for example, does not hold people’s attention when confronted with a rich spatial panorama. A powerful approach is to juxtapose archival images and films with views of the present-day reality; a technique used successfully by the ‘Streetmuseum’ app created by the Museum of London.

For a long time, research in the social sciences has argued that people’s experience and learning in museums and heritage sites can be enhanced when they talk, discuss and interact with each other. Therefore an unresolved problem for designers is to develop mobile guides that facilitate and encourage social interaction and discussion between visitors. Our experiments with different kinds of app show that people tend to treat the use of the device as a private activity and experience talk with others as disruptive. Future experiments, maybe using larger displays, will show how devices such as tablet computers might be more conducive to social interaction and conversation.

Authors

Dirk vom Lehn teaches Marketing, Interaction & Technology and is member of the Work, Interaction & Technology Research Centre (King’s College London). His research focuses on the interweaving of technology with social interaction in museums and galleries, optometric consultation and street-markets. Email: dirk.vom_lehn@kcl.ac.uk (http://www.vom-lehn.net)

Hannah Lewi teaches architecture history, theory and design. Her research areas include modern Australian architecture, new media for history and heritage applications, and theoretical inquiry into heritage and conservation. She is the current Chair of Docomomo Australia, and recent publications include Hannah Lewi and David Nichols (eds) Community: Building Modern Australia (Sydney: UNSW Press), 2010. Email: hlewi@unimelb.edu.au (http://www.findanexpert.unimelb.edu.au/display/person25951#tab-publications)

Wally Smith teaches and researches in the fields of human-computer interaction and knowledge management. Recent publications explore the role of commercial demonstrations of information technology, and the connections between stage magic and the history of informational artefacts. Email: wsmith@unimelb.edu.au (http://www.findanexpert.unimelb.edu.au/display/person18782#tab-publications)

I have just come back from a workshop at a museum where we discussed the use of labels and mobile systems, PDAs, Audioguides, or mobile phones to support or even enhance people’s experience of exhibits and exhibitions. As in other museums, the managers and curators still largely think of abele and electronic systems as information sources for individual visitors. Hence, information is written or recorded for an individual visitor to retrieve. This is somewhat surprising for a number of reasons, including the observation of the same managers and curators that devices and systems like movie phones, touch-screen systems, PDAs and Audioguides encourage people to spend more time with the systems than with with exhibits. When managers and curators report their observations in exhibitions they talk about visitors reading labels and looking at the screens of digital systems for considerable time whilst spending considerably less, sometimes no, time with the works of art hung along the gallery wall.

Research conducted over the past 20 or 30 years confirms the observations by these managers and curators about the distracting impact of information sources in museums. Together with recent research in the learning and cognitive science also suggests that if one wishes to enhance people’s experience of and learning in exhibition that there is not a need for more or more complex information sources and system but for information delivered in a way that encourages social interaction and discussion between people. Quasi-experimental studies and naturalistic, video-based studies of visitors’ interaction in museums suggests that it is not only the design of systems, i.e. the small screens and interfaces that undermine social interaction but also the content and the structure of the content delivered by labels and electronic systems. What would be required are naturalistic experiments with label content and the content of audio-guides that through questions, references to exhibit features and maybe game-like activities that involve more than one visitor in concerted and collaborative forms of looking, examination and experience.

If anybody has seen examples like this, please let me know.

Relevant Literature

Heath, vom Lehn. (2004) Configuring Reception. Theory, Culture and Society Vol21(6): 43-65

Heath, Luff, vom Lehn, Hindmarsh, Cleverly. (2002) Crafting Participation. Visual Communication. Vol1(1): 1-33

Hindmarsh, Heath, vom Lehn, Cleverly. (2002) Creating Assemblies in Public Environment. CSCW Journal Vol.14(1): 1-41

Leinhardt, Crowley, Knutson 2002. Learning Conversations in Museums. Routledge

vom Lehn, Heath 2005. Accounting for Technology in Museums. International Journal of Arts Management Vol7(3): 11-21

In the social sciences as well as media and communication studies there is an increasing interest in everyday technologies, like the cellphone and the webcam. Already in 2004 Paul Levinson, Professor of Communication & Media Studies at Fordham University in NYC, student of Neil Postman, and author of science fiction novels, published his book “Cellphone. The Story of the World’s Most Mobile Medium and How It Has Transformed Everything!“. The book situates the cellphone that in the UK is called “mobile phone” or simply “mobile” and in Germany “handy” within the development of other media before and alongside this highly mobile communication tools. At the centre of this highly readable volume are the new forms of communication and the mobility that the “Cellphone” enables. These characteristics of the mobile phone  have given rise to a number of opportunities and challenges that Levinson discusses, not without comparing them to the emergence of other media, such as the radio and television or the desktop computer.

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Levinson highlights in particular that in the age of the mobile personal communication we have the possibility to reach out to others wherever we are whilst at the same time being reachable by others all the time. In fact, we expect of each other to be reachable at any point in time and have to account for moments in which we do not pick up our cellphone. The further advancement of the cellphone technology that has turned the “handy” into a highly mobile personal computer with access to email and social networking sites has increased the expectation of permanent reachability. Not surprisingly therefore people report that work increasingly interferes in private lives, work email is checked at family dinners and the Internet is being searched for news in sometimes inappropriate situations. Moreover, Levinson discusses the opportunities offered by video-cameras built into cellphones and its potential impact on news reporting, an impact that in recent years, we have seen being played out when news channels increasingly use video-clips shot with cellphone cameras by people present at events such as the  London riots or the London bombings in 2007.

Although Levinson’s ‘Cellphone’ is more than 10 years old it still is very relevant. It could do with an update that reflects the increasingly wide distribution of smart phones, includes research on cellphone use in social situations and discusses some of the solutions that people have developed to deal with the problem of omni-reachability, i.e. the use of multiple-phones for different purposes, phone stacks, digital etiquettes and technology shabbaths.

 

Ilicco Elia, Head of Consumer Mobile, Reuters Media, gave a lecture as part of my module “Marketing and New Technologies” (MSc International Marketing) at King’s College London. Ilicco who has been working at Reuters since 1993 and at Reuters Mobile for the past 6 years, highlighted the increasing difficulty for media companies to retain their integrity whilst reporting news as they emerge.

Reuters are a news agency that over the decades has built up an image and a brand that stands for trust and integrity in news reporting. It now is confronted with the pressure that their customers Reuters to deliver up-to-date accurate information about events as and when they happen. Therefore, Reuters use about 2500 journalists to gather, edit and disseminate news to a global audience. These journalists use mobile technology, including networked high-end cameras, camera phones, mobile phones, laptops, etc, to gather information (pictures, videos, text, …) and immediately send it to the editor in the London office who produces news items that are disseminated across the various Reuters distribution channels. Illico illustrated the process by referring to the Football World Cup 2010 when pictures taken by journalists in South Africa appeared on Reuters mobile seconds after they had been taken. On the next day, the same pictures were published in newspapers around the world.

The immediacy that people increasingly demand from news organisations is driven by the growing pervasiveness of consumer mobile technology, such as mobile telephones, laptops and tablet computers. It is not sufficient anymore that Reuters disseminate news via its website but they have to develop applications, ‘apps’, that run on a range of different mobile devices and systems. Based on the opportunities offered by the iPhone and Blackberry phones Reuters created applications that deliver news through different kinds of mobile device. For example, Reuters New Pro, Reuters Mobile Website and Reuters RSS deliver global news to customers who are on the move; and Reuters Galleries exhibit the best photographs taken by Reuters correspondents around the word.

Ilicco highlighted the profound changes to journalism that have been initated by the wide distribution of mobile technology to consumers. It not only influences the consumption of news, everywhere and at any time but also the organisation of news production, editing and disemination. The scope of these changes is just becoming visible in the editorial offices but little is known of the emerging practices of news consumption.

The new technologies also facilitate new forms of journalism. In recent years, citizen journalism and the contribution of news by consumers in others ways has become more and more popular with many news organisations. This seems to be a dangerous path for organisations like Reuters that have built their brand on the integrity and authenticity of their news. News and information delivered by people other than Reuter’s journalists are difficult to assess in their truthfulness and authenticity. Similar, it can sometimes be difficult for news organisations to hold on and evaluate information before disseminating it, as competitors may push forward with the distribution of an item. Examples of the speedy dissemination of wrongful news are manifold. The Guardian for example pressed forward with repeatedly reporting that Nokia Smartphones would soon be running Google’s Android operating system. As we now know Nokia have entered a close collaboration with Microsoft, rather than Google.

The ease of diseminating news is a tempting for news organisations as for mobile users. By clicking on a few buttons a news item with (maybe incorrect) information, can be shared with friends and followers on social networks. The sharing of wrong news by mobile users can badly reflect on their image in the ‘twitterverse’. As Rob Wilmot highlighted in an earlier guest lecture in the same module in January, ‘trust’ is difficult to gain but easily lost in social media. And this valid for businesses and organisation as well as for individuals.

Ilicco Elia in the News

Media Guardia 100

NMA Portrait (£)

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