Mobile User behaviour

Chickens, eggs & QR codes

Adam Greenfield at Urbanscale just posted some interesting research his team has been doing in NYC on the citizen familiarity of QR codes.

This is especially timely as QR codes are getting a lot of interest (finally) from the cultural sector. The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney has been doing QR codes for a few years – first failing – but now perhaps getting good traction with them now that the code scanner is built into the exhibition catalogue App. Shelley Bernstein’s team at the Brooklyn Museum have also been rolling them out. And Wikipedia’s been promoting the nifty language ‘auto-detect’ QR codes that Derby Museum & Art Gallery have developed (QRpedia).

But there are still very valid concerns about the appropriateness of them – especially now that visual recognition is coming along rapidly (see Google Goggles at the Getty) and maybe even NFC might gain traction (see Museum of London’s Nokia trial). QR codes feel very much like a short term intermediate solution that isn’t quite right.

Here’s Greenfield:

While general awareness of the codes was frankly rather higher than we’d expected, and a majority of our respondents knew more or less what they were for, very few … were successfully able to use QR codes to resolve a URL, even when coached by a knowledgeable researcher.

A strong theme that emerged — which we certainly found entirely unsurprising, but which ought to give genuine pause to the cleverer sort of marketers — is that, even where respondents displayed sufficient awareness and understanding of QR codes to make use of them, virtually no one expressed any interest in actually doing so. As one of our respondents put it, “I’ve already seen the ad, and now I’m going to spend my data plan on watching your commercial? No thanks.”

These findings mirror the anecdotal experience most of us have had with QRs ourselves. The value proposition just isn’t obvious – and the amount of scaffolding required to encourage scanning can, in museums, sometimes take up as much visual space as the content that ends up being displayed (especially for object labels).

Is this just a chicken and egg situation? I’m not sure.

Greenfield’s initial findings do show that even when there is awareness there isn’t interest. And, I’d add, even when there is interest, museums need to be especially careful to consider what visitors actually want/expect to see when they scan vs what museums are able to show/tell. This is a crucial distinction that is often missed in discussions of in-gallery content delivery.


Farewell Powerhouse, Hello Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum

It is official now.

Today I’m leaving the Powerhouse after a long stint to take up a new role as Director of Digital & Emerging Media at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York. I’ll be starting at the Cooper-Hewitt on November 28 (2011).

I’m looking forward to the new challenges and also the opportunities that I hope will flow from being part of the larger Smithsonian Institution whilst being in the cultural epicentre that is New York. I’m especially excited to be working for the Cooper-Hewitt with its high calibre exhibitions, and well established national education projects.

I’m continuing to write Fresh & New so don’t fret about any loss of signal. It will just be from a different timezone – and possibly, over time, a slightly different set of spelling conventions.

I’d like to thank the support of the Powerhouse over many years – the teams I’ve managed and my colleagues are all kinds of awesome. My digital colleagues have made the workplace one where ideas have flourished and everyone has been committed to trying out new things fueled by coffee, sugary treats, and a sense of mirth. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky to have worked with such people.

Of course none of the work that’s been done would have been possible without the rest of the Powerhouse, especially the curatorial, registration, and education staff who’ve been at the frontline of how the ‘new museum’ has adapted to rapid technological change. The IT team at the Powerhouse, where I first began as an employee, has also been instrumental in providing a flexible technology environment in which to test and trial new ideas, and they embody the notion that a real IT department should be ‘enablers’, not just ‘fixers’.

I also need to thank my series of supervisors over the years each of whom has supported experimentation and encouraged the prototyping of many wild ideas. I hope my own management style has learned from them.

Most of all I’ve made some (hopefully) lifelong friendships working at the Powerhouse and I’m going to miss hanging out and making stuff with such great people.

It also needs to be said that the Powerhouse, as a workplace, provided a rare luxury – a job that provided great creative stimulation and opportunity, flexible working hours and work/life balance, even within the constraints of a shrinking public service. The opportunity to do ‘purposeful work’ – not just a job – is a luxury not afforded to many and one that needs to be seized.

And of course, “done is the engine of more”.

Now let’s see how it turns out in “the city that is a goal”.

Fresh and New readers should also keep an eye on a new technology and museology blog from the Powerhouse being coordinated by Paula Bray called Open House. It is going to be broader in focus and draw in contributions form across the Powerhouse so make sure you add it to your RSS reader.

API Collection databases Search

Museum collection meets library catalogue: Powerhouse collection now integrated into Trove

The National Library of Australia’s Trove is one of those projects that it is only after it is built and ‘live in the world’ that you come to understand just how important it is. At its most basic,Trove provides a meta-search of disparate library collections across Australia as well as the cultural collections of the National Library itself. Being an aggregator it brings together a number of different National Library products that used to exist independently under the one Trove banner such as the very popular Picture Australia.

Not only that, Trove,has a lovely (and sizeable) user community of historians, genealogists and enthusiasts that diligently goes about helping transcribe scanned newspapers, connect up catalogue records, and add descriptive tags to them along with extra research.

Last week Trove ingested the entirety of the Powerhouse’s digitised object collection. Trove had the collection of the Museum’s Research Library for a while but now they have the Museum’s objects too.

So this now means that if, in Trove, you are researching Annette Kellerman you also come across all the Powerhouse objects in your search results too – not just books about Kellerman but also her mermaid costume and other objects.

The Powerhouse is the first big museum object collection to have been ingested by Trove. This is important because over the past 12 months Trove has quickly become the first choice of the academic and research communities not to mention those family historians and genealogists. As one of the most popular Australian Government-run websites, Trove has become the default start point for these types of researchers it makes sense that museum collections need to be well represented in it.

The Powerhouse had been talking about integrating with Trove and its predecessor sub-projects for at least the last five years. Back in the early days the talk was mainly about exposing our objects records using OAI, but Trove has used the Powerhouse Collection API to ingest. The benefits of this have been significant – and surprising. Much richer records have been able to be ingested and Trove has been able to merge and adapt fields using the API as well as infer structure to extract additional metadata from the Powerhouse records. Whilst this approach doesn’t scale to other institutions (unless others model their API query structure on that of the Powerhouse), it does give end-users access to much richer records on Trove.

After Trove integration quietly went live last week there was a immediately noticeable flow of new visitors to collection records from Trove. And as Trove has used the API these visitors are able to be accurately attributed to Trove for their origin. The Powerhouse will be keeping an eye on how these numbers grow and what sorts of collection areas Trove is bringing new interest to – and if these interests differ to those arriving at collection records on the Powerhouse site through organic search, onsite search, or from other places that have integrated the Powerhouse collection as well such as Digital NZ.

Stage two of Trove integration – soon – is planned to allow the Powerhouse to ingest any user generated metadata back into the Powerhouse’s own site – much in the way it had ingested Flickr tags for photographs that are also in the Commons on Flickr.

This integration also signals the irreversible blending of museum and library practice in the digital space.

Only time will tell if this delivers more value to end users than expecting researchers to come to institutional websites. But I expect that this sort of merging – much like the expanding operations of Europeana – do suggest that in the near future museum collections will need to start offering far more than a ‘rich catalogue record’ online to pull visitors in from aggregator products (and, ‘communities of practice’) like Trove to individual institutional websites.