Conceptual User experience

Five rules for museum content (via Amsterdam)

I’m just back from presenting at the New Museum Lab event in Amsterdam run by the Nationaal Historisch Museum. My talk was titled ‘Digital Effects: Content, Communities and the Museum DNA’ and whilst I won’t be publishing the slides, one thing that seemed to be of interest to a lot of people was this simple list of ‘five rules’. So here it is reproduced.

Museum content, not limited to objects, should be:

1. Discoverable – it is where I am and where I look for it. This means putting content where visitors expect to find it which online means good SEO, folksonomies and smart keywords, and onsite in the galleries it means great exhibition design.

2. Meaningful – I can understand it. Plain English contextual notes and label text, scaffolded where needed and definitely with an appropriate cascade.

3. Responsive – to my interests, moods, location. Content should ideally be able to be personalised with tailored recommendations. Mood responsive? Take a look at the Brooklyn’s handheld project.

4. Useable/Shareable – I can pass it on and share. All content should be released under a license that allows at least non-commercial sharing. Museums are entirely in the social objects business – let’s actually encourage sociality.

5. Available in all three locations – online, onsite and offsite. That means on the the museum’s website, on other websites, in the galleries if it is popular, and if it has a relationship to the outside world it should also be discoverable there as well. The later relies on geo-locations marked in the world either physically or virtually.

Nothing too remarkable here for regular readers or people in the field but sometimes lists are useful. You’ve probably noticed that each of these rules revolve around the notion of visitor-centrism.

User behaviour

Visible data and behaviour change – Stockholm

A quick off topic post from the road, having been re-reminded of Dan Hill’s Personal Well-tempered Environment in his presentation at Web Directions South a few weeks back.

My first impressions of Sweden, from arriving in the airport and catching the train into the city, were of a country that pushes its’ ‘green’ credentials upfront. All the transport from the airport to the city was ranked in terms of ‘eco-friendliness’. The public transport brochure for tourists proudly states that “(public transport) is good for the environment”. It then goes on to explain where the funding for public transport comes from (ticket sales, advertising, property rents and 50% from local taxes) and the number of jobs it provides for the community (14,000). This sort of additional information and context struck me as rather unique – certainly back home there isn’t any talk of where the funding comes from, and definitely not in the material produced for the tourist market.

What is striking about this is the use of ‘transparency’ as a means of encouraging certain types of behaviour – encouraging public transport use, and discouraging fare evasion. It also assumes a level of ‘good intent’ amongst readers.

This transparency extends to my hotel room where I am told that only 1/3 of people who stay in my room number reuse their towels more than one night at a time. This pales in comparison to the eco-friendly guests of Room 138 – they reuse at a rate of 87.5%! In defence of my room number – I expect, being a single room, my room gets a lot of single night stays and this skews its’ figures – (or the people who stay here are cleanliness obsessives). Again this is interesting because the hotel plays on the guest’s competitiveness and, again. assumes ‘good intent’ – can you beat Room 138?


Then walking the city today I stumbled upon a piece of public art in Strandvägen that is fed by air and water pollution data. It looks like the work is quite old – and it gives a simple visualisation of pollution levels with a light sequence. Nothing too remarkable there except that it claims a real time data feed – something which I’m sure could/should be repurposed for online visualisations.



Food for thought.

Geotagging & mapping Mobile

Augmented reality update – using Powerhouse geocoded photographs on your iPhone 3GS with BuildAR and Layar

So you read about MOB’s implementation of the Powerhouse historical images in Layar for the Android phones . . . well, Layar is now available for the iPhone!

You’ll need a 3GS as it uses the compass for orientation but the Layar application is free from the App Store.


Once you’ve installed Layar on your iPhone you need to configure it to use BuildAR as a ‘layer’.

To do this just perform a search within Layar for ‘buildar’ then select it.

Search and add the BuildAR layer

You can see here that I’ve added it to my favourite layers for easy reference along with Wikipedia and Flickr layers!


Then head out onto the streets of Sydney and see what you can find.

You can view objects overlaid on ‘reality’ or get a map or list view. Clicking an object presents you with a number of options including visiting the historic photograph on Flickr, on the Powerhouse site or map directions to get closer to the point at which the photograph has been geocoded.

Layar in action



Developer tools User experience

Multi-lingual machine translation from the footer

There’s been a fair bit of chatter about machine translation of late and so when we noticed that the Museum of London team had rolled out the new Google Translate widget on their website we figured we’d give it a try and follow suit.

So lo and behold, now on the Powerhouse Museum main site you can skip to our persistent footer and be presented with a machine translated version of whatever page you are on – menus, titles and all in any of 39 languages from Afrikaans to Yiddish. It is all rather neat and even with the imperfections of the translation the speed and ease of implementation is hard to resist.

English version –

(Traditional) Chinese version –

Geotagging & mapping Imaging Mobile

Augmented reality and the Powerhouse images in the Commons (or interesting things clever people do with your data #7215)

On Saturday night at our (very rainy) Common Ground meetup in Sydney, Rob Manson and Alex Young from BuildAR demonstrated the first version of their augmented reality mobile toolkit using images from the Powerhouse’s geocoded photographs in the Commons on Flickr.

This work riffs around the early mashup from Paul Hagon where he combined the historic photos with Google’s Street View; and the ABC’s Sydney Sidetracks project.

But then makes it mobile – replacing the Street View with the actual view through the camera of your mobile phone.

I asked Rob a few questions –

F&N – What is this Augmented Reality thing you’ve built? What does it do?

The first service is BuildAR and it is a service built upon the Mobile Reality Browser called Layar.

Layar uses the GPS on your mobile to work out where in the world you are, then it uses the digital compass to work out which direction you’re facing (e.g. your orientation). From this it can build a model of the objects and places around you. Then as you hold up your mobile and pan around, it can overlay information on the live video from your camera that you see to highlight where these objects and places are.

BuildAR let’s you quickly and easily add, search and manage your own
collection of Points of Interest (POIs) to create your own Augmented Reality layer. You can do this via a standard PC web browser, or you can do it via your mobile phone. You can create a free personal account and get started straight away creating your own private POIs or you can make public POIs that other people can view too. All it takes is a few clicks and they are shared or published in real-time.

You can also use the service to create fully branded and customised layers.

We’re constantly releasing new features including groups so you can share private POIs with others, rich graphs so you can view when and how people are using your POIs and custom mobile websites that each of the POIs can link to. We can even customise layers to make them really interactive so the POIs you see are based on where you’ve been, other POIs you’ve interacted with, the time of day or any range of options. Treasure hunts are a great example of this.

How did you use the Powerhouse data?

We’re in the process of creating layers for a lot of people at the moment and another great example is with the Powerhouse images that were released into the Flickr Commons. We loaded over 400 of these images as public POIs so now you can wander around Sydney with your phone and see beautiful historic images of the local area around you. You can then just tap on the POI/photo and you get the option to go directly to the Flickr page for that image, or even better straight to the Powerhouse page with all the historic information and the original image.

I spent the afternoon with my son the other day wandering around looking at images of our local area. Neither of us knew that Bondi/Tamarama used to have an Aquarium and it has opened up a whole new world for us to explore.

How easy was it to use Layar? What are the benefits?

It was reasonably straight forward, but it was a very technical process.

That’s largely why we created BuildAR – so other people can create and manage their own POIs by just pointing and clicking, or wandering around and using their mobile.

The benefits are that it is a great system with quite an open API. They’re gaining a lot of traction and I think the “browser with layers” approach is much better than creating dedicated applications.

This is much more along the lines of how the web works.

If you want to create something then you just create a website that uses standards based HTML/CSS. It just wouldn’t make sense for you to also have to create your own browser too. That’s the old model from before the 90’s and we’ve all learned a lot and come a long way since then.

Layar are releasing some great new features soon too, like supporting 3D models and animations and support for more mobile device types. They can focus on that and we can just focus on creating great layers and tools that make it easy to create and manage layers.

What data sets were you looking to use? How easy was it to use etc?

We’re looking for either content that’s compelling or data that’s useful. The Powerhouse images are a great example of compelling information and the team at the Powerhouse made it really easy to integrate into our application (thanks Luke and Paula!).

Very soon we’ll be releasing an option that lets you upload a batch file of POIs or just point it to a GeoRSS feed and you’ll be done. Couldn’t get much easier than that!

Another great example of compelling content we’re currently working on is with Sculpture by the Sea. This is a beautiful outdoor experience and is a perfect fit for mobile Augmented Reality.

We’re also doing quite a bit of work in the Government 2.0 and Open Data movement and we’re currently working on a range of layers that utilise the really useful public data that’s being released. Our goal is to help this data become more “situated” and therefore hopefully more relevant . . . then on top of that we’re opening up layers of social interaction to add even more value.

This is a really interesting time with a lot of social change on the horizon. The combination of Augmented Reality and Open Data is something that is literally changing the way we see our world.

What platforms does it run on? Will it be easy to port to the iPhone?

At the backend BuildAR is simply a relatively open API and we implemented that all on our Linux based servers. On the Layar browser side it currently runs on Android based devices and will be released on the iPhone 3GS and some other platforms soon too. The Layar team are working hard to port and enhance this whole application and the goal is to support any phone that has GPS and a digital compass built-in.

I think in the near term future you’ll see GPS and digital compasses start to spread back onto netbooks and laptops and then the tablet computers that will be released soon.

You were demo-ing another AR application at the Web Week launch party. Tell me about it?

This was a “marker” based AR project, an ARt exhibition collaboration with Yiying Lu who created the “Fail Whale” for twitter. Basically you just hold up an illustration created by Yiying, on a postcard or a t-shirt, in front of a camera connected to an internet connected computer. The application we created then recognises the image and then projects a simple Fail Whale animation over the top of the marker.

This also loads that last 30 tweets with the #wds09 hashtag and randomly displays one of them every 45 seconds. It’s all kinda self-referential and tongue-in-cheek and is a great way to play with and interact with Yiying’s beautiful illustrations.

You can try this on your own computer too. All you need is an internet connected computer, Flash installed on your browser and a working webcam. Just visit the project website and have a play or just watch the video to see how it works.

It is still quite early days with this technology and the light levels can really impact how well it works, but AR is definitely something that has an impact when you experience it.

“You are what you tweet” Augmented Reality exhibition from Rob Manson on Vimeo.

We are obviously in the early days of mobile phone AR. How do you see it developing?

Well, I’m working on a broader research project on Pervasive Computing and I think this is a core part of that evolution. The interfaces are still quite clunky and having to hold up and wave around your phone is still quite a clumsy experience.

I think quite soon we’ll see more immersive display devices start to spread. I’m running a session on this at Web Directions South and we use this underlying theory to inform most of our business/product strategy development.

Basically the distance between the network and the user is collapsing. The distance between the display and the user is collapsing. And the distance between the physical interface (e.g. think of gestures) and the user is also shrinking. This means our overall experience of space and even who we are is changing.

This all seems a bit futuristic, but glasses with displays built-into them should start to spread quite soon, all powered by mobile devices. And there’ll be even more interesting options too. Just think how quickly iPhones and Bluetooth headsets have become common everyday objects.

The opposite side of this is the spread of wireless digital cameras.

Combine the two and you open the door to rich and immersive Augmented Reality where you can shift your perspective constantly and freely.

I think this is the start of something really fascinating!

Conferences and event reports

Upcoming talks update – Stockholm, Amsterdam, London, Wellington

I’m hitting the road again in a few weeks – this time spending a bit of time in Europe working with a range of institutions – before the National Digital Forum in New Zealand at the end of November.

First up is a presentation for ABM-Centrum in Stockholm, Sweden on Friday October 23. This event is a half day presentation with myself and Johan Ronnestam talking about social media and cultural institutions, and how Swedish institutions might experiment and engage.

The following week I am in Amsterdam working with the newly in development Nationaal Historisch Museum. This includes a one day event called New Museum Lab which brings together a good sized group of museum policy makers, academics and outsiders including myself and Jake Barton from Local Projects, StoryCorps and (There’s a good piece on Jake over at City of Sound from the 2007 Postopolis).

Then it is off to run two workshops in London organised by Culture24. The first is a reprise of a sold out workshop I did last year roughly around the notion of ‘Strategic social media’, updated, remixed and with some fresh ideas thrown in. It takes place on Tuesday November 3 at CILIP in Central London. Then on Wednesday November 4 I’m leading a half day workshop on ‘Web metrics and measuring success’ which is very similar to the ones I ran in California last month. This one is being held at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. Both these workshops for Culture24 are focussed on “warts and all” practicalities and require no technical experience.

Following all this I’ll be in Wellington for the National Digital Forum on November 23-24 where I am chairing a session of geodata and the cultural sector, and taking part in the next Culturemondo Roundtable. While I am there I’m also running the Web metrics workshop for the NZ sector at the National Library of NZ on November 26.

If you happen to be a regular reader in Stockholm, Amsterdam or London and would like to catch up whilst I am in the neighbourhood, then drop me an email.

Geotagging & mapping

Suggestify – fixing incorrectly geotagged locations

Flickr has been on fire recently with the addition of ‘Galleries’. Galleries have been put to great use – apparently 25,000 galleries in the first week – including the Royal Observatory Greenwich’s lovely Astrophotography gallery and, of course, those around the Sydney dust storm,

Now Aaron Straup-Cope, also of Flickr, has released an alpha version of Suggestify. Actually, Aaron says “it is still very much in the alpha-beta-disco-disco-danceball-revolution stage” so be gentle with it.

A bunch of us in the Commons and the cultural sector had been hassling Aaron and others at Flickr about letting people ‘suggest’ geolocations for photographs, but this is much trickier than it first sounds. Aaron has been working on solutions to the problems for ages and Suggestify is an attempt at teasing out the issues though real world testing.

There are obvious implications for the photographs in the Commons on Flickr – no longer does there need to be a to-and-fro between someone who thinks they know where a photograph is, instead they can use Suggestify to propose a location.

There’s a little necessary complexity to setting Suggestify up to work with your account – first you have to authorise Suggestify with your Flickr account, then again to allow Suggestify to write suggestions back to your photos. This is a little fiddly but inevitable given the way it operates outside of the Flickr HQ and uses the API.

Go and give it a go with all the un-geocoded photos in the Powerhouse Museum account – help us locate them! You’ll need to have a Flickr account to do it.

Login to Suggestify, authorise your Flickr account, and start tagging for account name “Powerhouse Museum Collection” (with spaces!).

(You’ll be best off trying this with Firefox – it breaks in Safari 4 and, well, you all know better than to use IE)