User behaviour User experience

Prototyping moveME – a location-aware indoor mobile App with tracking

Last week at CeBIT the announcement came through that a project that has been under wraps for a little while now received NSW Government funding to move ahead. It is a collaborative project bringing together commercial partners with the Museum being used, as our Director puts it in the media release, “to directly support the NSW technology industry by being a ‘living laboratory’ for the development of this product”.

A consortium formed by Smarttrack RFID, RAMP RFID, MOB and the Powerhouse Museum is delighted to be selected as one of the first recipients of funding from the NSW Government under the Collaborative Solutions program. Announced on Tuesday 31 May, the NSW Government’s Collaborative Solutions programme aims to help build the digital economy in NSW.

And although there’s two companies involved with RFID in their names, this project is not about RFID at all – but instead is developing and trialling a mobile platform which, combined with indoor location awareness, is able to deliver customised content to visitors and also deliver valuable spatial analytics data back to the museum to assist with future exhibition design and spatial configuration.

Julian Bickersteth and Christopher Ainsley delivered a paper, Mobile Phones & Visitor Tracking, at Museums and the Web 2011 that outlined the broad premise of the project in April.

Discussing the use of tracking applications in the retail sector they wrote,

The museum sector is small and consequently does not have the resources to make use of this opportunity. However, significant components of museum operations have synergies with the retail sector, a part of the economy with deeper pockets for exploring new technologies. The museum sector has a history of piggy backing on the technological developments of its retail cousins, whether in the overt area of streamlining their own retail operations (both in the museum shop and on-line) or more subtly in using retail counting systems to accurately count museum visitors.

Shopping malls in particular share many physical characteristics with museums. They are both likely to be large masonry structures with a limited number of entrances, to contain a series of retail or exhibition spaces along with catering areas, joined by large open spaces. Both shopping mall and museum operators want to know where the more and less popular areas are located, what the dominant paths followed by visitors are, how long they spend in catering outlets and retail stores, and how long they spend in the mall/museum as a whole.

For the retail mall operators (known in the business as RAMs or Retail Asset Managers), critical to their thinking is adjacencies and synergies of the retail and catering mix so as to maximise rental income through more intelligent leasing. This in turn allows them to charge top dollar for shops in prime positions, and also control who gets a lease in the first place.

I sent Julian a number of questions about the project to expand on.

F&N – How did moveMe come about?

MoveMe started as visitor counting project which then expanded into visitor tracking. Visitor tracking works best if the visitors are using an App (giving them a reason to turn their devices on etc), hence the addition of the App. But then the packaging of this offering to include location specific content delivery and way finding clearly became a much more interesting space to be in, hence the evolution into moveMe.

F&N – How effective has this technology been in the shopping mall environment? What sorts of business decision making has this enable or improved?

This is still being trialled, but where it has in US department stores and super-hardware stores, it clearly has the ability to help staffing and also response to promotions. Since both these areas are high cost items, it is data they are very keen to get their hands on. [There’s some expansion on this in the MW paper]

F&N – You’ve seen a lot of mobile projects around the world. How does this differ in potential from what you’ve seen at AMNH and, locally, MONA?

Both AMNH and MONA cost absolutely heaps to design and install. Our solution is going to be much cheaper to deliver because it uses a different technology for tracking. Also it will be designed as a generic rather than a bespoke solution, so can be provided over the Internet for museums to locally self install and use.

F&N – What do you hope will be the key benefits of this system that is being prototyped?

For the visitor, focused delivery of far wider information than they could ever get from a label, plus the removal of having to squint at and possibly queue to see a label before they know what you are looking at. Also way finding. This is a critical issue in any big museum, which actually puts people off exploring as they might get lost. For the museum the ability to provide access to much more information plus also understand visitor patterns and behaviour in a way which up to now has just not been possible in a systematic and regular way

The prototype will be bundled into a cross-platform exhibition App that we are building in-house for the upcoming Love Lace – Powerhouse International Lace Award exhibition that launches with Sydney Design 2011. This will provide the first access to the technologies involved and also demonstrate how it can be potentially plugged into existing mobile tour platforms if required (as well as provide a full service for those without an existing App).

We will keep you posted on the project as it develops.

API Collection databases

Powerhouse Object Name Thesaurus now available via our API!

Luke Dearnley is at LOD-LAM this week and he and Carlos Arroyo are pleased to publicly announce that the Powerhouse Object Name Thesaurus is now available through our API.

The Object Name Thesaurus was developed by the Powerhouse Museum to standardise the terms used to describe its own collection. It was first published in 1995 as the Powerhouse Museum Collection Thesaurus. Since then, many new terms have been added to the thesaurus within the Powerhouse’s collection information and management system. The print version has long been popular with collecting institutions to assist in the documentation of their own collections.

Whilst you have been able to download the thesaurus as a PDF for a fair while, the API now makes it possible to build applications on top of the thesaurus to do things like explain terms or even expand the search on your own website to show results from ‘related or child terms’. And of course, if you’ve built applications using the Powerhouse Collection you can now show related parent and child objects. The thesaurus, like the rest of the API defaults to a CC-BY-NC license although you can approach the Museum for a variation on request.

The hierarchical structure of the thesaurus assists in searching. By organising object names, the relationships between objects can be made explicit. Object names are organised according to their hierarchical, associative or equivalence relationships. The object name thesaurus allows for more than one broader term for each object name. Any term is permitted to have multiple broader terms, for example ‘Bubble pipes’ has the broader terms of ‘Pipes’ and ‘Toys’. There is no single hierarchy in which an object name is located, enabling it to by found by searchers approaching with different concepts in mind.

Here’s an example of the sort of return you can now get from the API.

    "status": 200, 
    "end": 50, 
    "start": 0, 
    "result": 50, 
    "terms": [
            "status": "APPROVED", 
            "scope_notes": "Any of a variety of brushes used to remove dirt and lint from clothing.", 
            "term": "Clothes brushes", 
            "num_items": 4, 
            "num_narrower_items": 0, 
            "relations": {
                "narrower": [
                        "status": "APPROVED", 
                        "scope_notes": null, 
                        "term": "Hat brushes", 
                        "num_items": 2, 
                        "num_narrower_items": 23, 
                        "id": 5104
                "broader": {
                    "status": "APPROVED", 
                    "scope_notes": null, 
                    "term": "Laundry equipment", 
                    "num_items": 11, 
                    "num_narrower_items": 0, 
                    "id": 1189
                "related": {
                    "status": "APPROVED", 
                    "scope_notes": "Used to remove dust and dirt from clothing by beating.", 
                    "term": "Clothes beaters", 
                    "num_items": 0, 
                    "num_narrower_items": 0, 
                    "id": 2802

The code snippet above shows the usage of terms (sometimes a bit like a definition) and the broader/narrower relationships between the terms themselves.

Laundry equipment is a broader term under which Clothes brushes sits. Clothes brushes are used as “Any of a variety of brushes used to remove dirt and lint from clothing.” and they have a single narrower term Hat brushes.

Not only that, but Clothes brushes are related to Clothes beaters which are “Used to remove dust and dirt from clothing by beating”.

If you were, say, running a collection search (or even an ecommerce system) for old washing machines and related equipment your application could use the Thesaurus in the API to make recommendations on your own site using the broader/narrower terms from our system. In that sense a user searching for “hat brushes” on your website could also be expanded to show them results for “clothes brushes” and “clothes beaters”.

And of course, you can also get the Powerhouse objects under each of these categories.

Rough documentation is available (with better documentation coming soon).

We’ll be adding to this over the coming months and we’d love your thoughts on how this might be useful to you in your own applications.


First of our walking tours is in the AppStore

This week the first in a series of walking tour iPhone Apps went live in the AppStore. Here’s the skinny.

This tour has been developed from a printed tour produced by Curator of Astronomy, Dr Nick Lomb, in 2009. It has been expanded to include a tour of the Sydney Observatory precinct, the Observatory, grounds, Signal Station, flagstaff and Fort Phillip. It reveals how central Sydney Observatory was to the development of scientific research in New South Wales. Observatory Hill has been the astronomical hub of Sydney since 1858 when the Observatory commenced operation there, and also played a vital role in the time-keeping, navigational and meteorological life of Sydney. The tour includes not only fascinating historical information but also captivating views of Sydney Harbour from Observatory Hill, Sydney Harbour Bridge and Dawes Point, as well as taking a delightful path through the Rocks.

Online Producer Irma Havlicek started this project by first walking the original printed map tour (PDF). As she walked the tour she found that there was a lot more opportunity to highlight other locations, whilst at the same time removing a few locations that were too far away to comfortably reach in a single walk.

Using the intuitive online tour App maker, MyTours, she pulled together images, dropped pins on the interactive map, wrote a script, and built a demo version. It took several more walks with the demo version on her iPhone to refine the tour to the current version.

After the literal road testing, Irma then recorded the audio track from her script and walked the route again this time with audio in her ears. This continuous in-situ testing was very time consuming but ultimately incredibly worthwhile as we now have a tour that is tightly edited and, depending on the weather, great to walk and enjoy.

When it came to submitting to the AppStore we had a lot of discussions about the pricing. Because the MyTours pricing model charges a monthly fee for free Apps but takes only a cut from charged Apps we were already leaning towards a low-price.

In the end we settled on an initial list price of AU$2.49.

Of this Apple takes its customary 30% and then MyTours 50% of the remainder (35% of the total).

Personally I think this is a very fair price. It is as cheap as can of soft drink and less than a coffee. I hope that the price also indicates that the walking tour has been made with care and we feel is worth at least that much.

We aren’t measuring success by the number of downloads but in the number of completed tours. And I strongly believe that a low price (vs free) will lead to more tour completions relative to total downloads. We will get less ‘speculative downloads’ and more intentional ones – unlike a general informational App that a museum might make, a walking tour App is not something that has a great deal of purpose unless you are intending to walk it. (And we’re keeping the free PDF version available regardless).

We’ve got signage coming at the Observatory so that visitors to the site in the day will be aware of the existence of this ‘visit extension’, and the public wifi at the site will make downloading the App and the tour as painless as we can currently make it.

We are launching a few more walks in the coming weeks with some other models being experimented with – and I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.