Museums and making the ‘digital shift’

I’m mid-way through writing a number of articles that explore the challenges for museums in pulling ‘digital’ into their core operations. As a result I’ve started to formulate this idea –

museums will not be able to properly understand and integrate ‘digital’ into their organisational DNA until they have substantial born-digital collections.

Libraries have had a significant head start, I’m beginning to think, because of their ever increasing digital holdings. Not to mention the acceleration of their shift to being ‘service-oriented’ which had its seeds in the 1980s.


(Regular readers will know that I’ve discussed digital experiences, augmenting physical objects, visitor engagement etc, as well as the organisational change aspects at length before. This idea is additive to those pre-existing conversations. If you are new to this then have a read of my summative post from Web Directions a few months ago).

Conceptual Interactive Media

The museum as a text adventure – Inform7 and TourML/TAP

Today I was sitting at WebWise 2012 listening to Rob Stein talk about TAP/TourML and he started talking about games and stories referencing Marc Reidl’s work.

It reminded me a lot of the world of interactive fiction and it got me thinking about whether it would be possible to use TourML to generate text adventures.

And then, whether long established interactive fiction authoring tools like Inform7 (used as the system behind PlayFic) could be used to author gallery tours.

Being of a generation that has fond memories of playing Infocom adventures (I vividly remember my dad buying Zork II for our Commodore 64) – there’s definitely a lot to learn about how this narrative genre works that could equally be applied to the creation and support of visitor narratives.

So I took 20 minutes to whip up a very very basic ‘playable’ text advennture rendering of the conference experience.

Go play it on PlayFic! (It obviously isn’t finished)

Here’s the source code. (contains spoilers!)

The story headline is "Adventures at WebWise". 

The story description is "A quick journey into interactive fiction inspired by Rob Stein's introduction to TAP presentation and his referencing of Marc Reidl. It raised, in my mind, that there are already robust frameworks for quickly generating interactive fiction of the sort that makes the foundation of a mobile tour - so, could TAP use the Inform7 language for advanced authoring?"

The Main Conference Room is a room. "Rows of tables, each with their own powerstrip stretch endlessly toward the speaker podium. Two projection screens show the wifi login details whilst unfashionably out of date pop music plays softly over the speaker system.

On the table nearest you is a conference pack and an abandoned Samsung Galaxy.

The foyer is to the South."

Projection screens are scenery in the Main Conference Room. Speaker system is scenery in the Main Conference Room.

Samsing Galaxy is a thing. The Samsung Galaxy is in the Main Conference Room. The description is "The Samsung Galaxy is turned off. You cannot figure out how to turn it on, and, turning it over, you realise that the battery has been removed. Helpful isn't it?"

Conference Pack is a thing. Conference pack is in the Main Conference Room. The description is  "The conference pack, like all conference packs, is looking for the recycling bin. You notice that the conference schedule has already been removed, leaving only  the wad of promotional materials."

South of the Main Conference Room is the Foyer. 

The Foyer is a room."The foyer is empty.

Lukewarm coffee drips from a boiler but there are no cups nearby. The crumbs of food that used to be here litter the floor. Obviously these places don't pay their venue staff very well. A faint waft of perfume comes from the East."

East of the Foyer is the Lifts.

Lifts is a room. "As you enter the lift lobby you notice the furthest-most door has just closed.

The whirring of motors comes from behind closed lift doors. 

Strangely, there are no lift buttons and the concierge must have gone on a break."

That doesn’t look like source code does it?

Doesn’t it look exactly like the sort of language that museum educators and curators coud quickly learn and write?

Collection databases Conceptual

Metadata as ‘cultural source code’

A quick thought.

Last week I wrote about collection data being ‘cultural source code’ in the context of the upload of the Cooper-Hewitt collection to GitHub.

As I wrote over there,

Philosophically, too, the public release of collection metadata asserts, clearly, that such metadata is the raw material on which interpretation through exhibitions, catalogues, public programmes, and experiences are built. On its own, unrefined, it is of minimal ‘value’ except as a tool for discovery. It also helps remind us that collection metadata is not the collection itself.

If you look at the software development world, you’ll see plenty of examples of tools for ‘collaborative coding’ and some very robust platforms for supporting communities of practice like Stack Overflow.

Yet where are their equivalents in collection management? Or in our exhibition and publishing management systems?

(I’ll be cross-posting a few ideas over the next little while as I try to figure out ‘what goes where’. But if you haven’t already signed up to the Cooper-Hewitt Labs blog, here’s another reminder to do so).