Powerhouse Museum websites

500 posts on Powerhouse Photo of the Day! Win a print!

Today our Photo of the Day blog is celebrating 500 posts!

There is a little prize of ‘a print of your choice’ going for the best suggestion or comment on the Photo of the Day for the next 500 posts.

The blog has been a great success for the Museum over the past 500 days and has brought a great deal of exposure to our photographic, digitisation and imaging services as well as a wealth of content and user contributions.

Powerhouse Museum websites

Crosspost – Powerhouse seeks C64!

If you were like me and grew up with a Commodore 64 as your introduction to the world of programming and hacking then this is for you.

Over on our 80s exhibition blog a call has gone out.

We are seeking one or more C64s and games! We are looking for old C64s with an interesting provenance and plenty of good stories.

Can you help us?

For the record, I had (and still have) a Trilogic Expert Cartridge – these were amazing and were invaluable for working out how things worked inside games as well. The Expert Cartridge was especially good because it was reprogrammable, meaning that every few months a 5 1/4″ floppy would arrive in the mail from the UK with updates and patches for it. My parents used EasyScript to write several long academic publications and printed them out for the publisher on a ridiculously slow daisywheel printer; and my first forays with a drum machine were with Simon Pick‘s Microrhythm – a quite excellent C64 drum sequencer.

Of course I am lobbying hard to get the intro sound sample from Epyx’s Impossible Mission into the gallery – “Another visitor . . . stay a while . . . stay forever!”

Tools Web metrics

ROI Revolution’s Google Analytics Report Enhancer

Anyone who attended my double web analytics workshops today at the Transforming Cultural and Scientific Communication conference in Melbourne today saw this lovely little Greasemonkey script in action.

And I thought I better link it for everyone who is not already using this to install.

What GARE does, amongst other things is go some way towards addressing the ‘time on site’ problem that is inherent in most if not all web analytics packages. In short this problem is that single page visits to a website are counted as having zero time spent on them and count this zero figure when creating the ‘average time on site figure. Similarly the time spent on the final page of a visit is left at zero. Blogs are especially susceptible to low time on site figures as most readers visit only one, albeit long, page before leaving.

With GARE installed you are presented with the standard ‘average tiem on site’ as well as a ‘true time on site’ which removes these single page visits from the average calculation. GARE also adds a number of other nifty user interface fixes to make your use of Google Analytics even better.

(My longer paper on web metrics from last year is available at Archimuse and the next web metrics for cultural institutions workshop happens in Indianapolis at MW09 – or on request of course!)

Mobile QR codes

QR codes in the museum – problems and opportunities with extended object labels

I think QR codes have a lot of potential – potential that hitherto has not been realised. The underwhelming uptake of the codes outside of Japan has a lot to do with the poor quality marketing campaigns so far run with them. If I am going to have to install or worse still, find on my phone, a QR code reading application then the reason I am going to all this trouble has to be really really worthwhile.

I am yet to see a commercial campaign that delivers that compelling reason to install the reader.

On the otherhand, quite a few local artists are experimenting with them in interesting ways. If you are a Melbourne reader then maybe you spotted a guerilla art installation at Federation Square by Radical Cross Stitch!

Now QR codes are probably best seen just as mobile-readable URLs. If these URLs are just going to send me to a website that isn’t tailored for my context and device then they are going to be just a gimmick. But if, on the otherhand, they can deliver timely, mobile-formatted content to me that addressed my specific ‘need’ at the time then they might just work. I know there’s no way I am going to bother typing an URL into my phone whilst I stand in front of an advertisement. Even on the iPhone, typing of URLs is more painful than it should be (in fact I’d wager that most iPhone users follow links from other applications – Twitter, email etc – or use their bookmarks – anything to avoid typing URLs). On a standard numeric keypad mobile, forget typing URLs.

Now regular readers will remember our experiment with QR codes in August last year. We learnt a lot from that and now we’ve rolled out an experiment in a new display on the floor of the Museum.

As part of the Gene Sherman Contemporary Japanese fashion display each object label is now augmented with both a QR code and a longform object URL (just in case you can’t use the QR code).

Here’s a quick breakdown of the process.

Generating the codes

Once again we did this in-house – the main reason being that every mistake made internally helps us learn and grow. Sure, we could outsource the mistakes but in so doing we outsource the learning. And that’s not a good long term idea.

Problem #1 – All QR codes are not the same

Perhaps you thought that there was just one standard type of QR code? Well that’s not exactly true. QR codes can be generated at a number of ‘sizes’ (actually more like density than fixed dimension), with different percentages of error correction (in case a scan is blurred or partial), and the content can be stored in a number of ways. The first pass we made at generating codes for each object ended up working on most but not all of the QR code readers we tried. Finally we generated a series of codes that worked on all the readers we could find.

Problem #2 – Inconsistent size

One issue with QR codes is that they do change size as the content the are encoding increases. This is inrrespective of the density that you choose. A medium density encoding of “The Powerhouse Museum” is going to be smaller in size than one that says “The Powerhouse Museum is making QR codes”. Add higher error correction (tolerance) and they get bigger still. Now this isn’t usually a going to be a problem when single codes are going to be printed but when they need to go on object labels then, rightly, the exhibition designers want to have a standard size for the whole exhibit. This meant finding the longest possible code and designing for it.

Getting the content ready

Problem #3 – Making the mobile site

As we found in our initial QR trial last year one of the key failures was that we never built the encoded URL as mobile-friendly. This time we’ve changed large parts of our website and especially the collection database, to which the QR coes point, to be mobile-ready.

Installing the codes

Problem #4 – Perspex

So we now have QR codes that can be read by a variety of readers on a variety of phones with 2 megapixel to 5 megapixel cameras, and we have a website that is going to work on a phone. The next hurdle to be crossed was physical. At the Powerhouse we put our object labels behind 5mm thick perspex. This stops visitors from writing things on our labels (oh, the trust!) and means they last a lot longer in the galleries.

Another round of testing was required to work out the minimum size at which the QR codes could still be scanned with a 2 megapixel phone camera through the 5mm perspex.

Problem #5 – Shadows

And so off the labels went to be printed.

Installation day rolls around and I was in the gallery with my phone looking at the QR codes being installed below the written labels and thinking to myself “finally we have codes in the galleries!”.

Then I noticed the lights. Not just one light but multiple lights shining on the objects from behind where the visitor would stand. With this set up dark shadows were cast over exactly where the QR codes were being placed meaning that although the codes could be photographed, the shadows interfered with the ability to decipher the data in the codes.

Lights have been moved around a bit and now we have a better situation.

We are keeping an eye on usage and will report back once the display ends.

If you are in Sydney, come in and give it a go.

I am recommending free QR code reader application called BeeTagg mainly because it has different versions available for a range of phones – Symbian, Palm, Blackberry and iPhone.

Tools User experience

Readability – reducing clutter with a bookmarklet

I’ve become a fan of a bookmarklet tool called Readability.

What it does is remove the clutter from a content-rich webpage and optimise it for ‘readability’ (which of course, itself can be customised). Now museums tend to be serial offenders on text-heaviness – we love long text and I’m not one to argue that we should shorten it.

So whilst everyone emulates the ‘Print Version’ stylesheets that newspaper websites have these rarely make content more readable on-screen – that’s not their point. What Readability does is leaves the ‘Print Version’ to the end-user’s discretion and re-renders the content in a form that is immediately more readable on-screen.

To check it out install the bookmarklet in your browser bar then visit a content rich page, click the bookmarklet and voila, a more readable version!

It works on most browsers and seems to do a good job on most websites.

Here’s what happens to our very own collection records.