Collection databases Mobile QR codes User experience

Making Love Lace – a cross device exhibition catalogue & the return of the QR

Estee Wah has been busy bringing Love Lace, our upcoming contemporary art exhibition, online. She’s been wrangling content and ensuring that the website is able to act as a fully fledged (and expanding) catalogue for the show as well as revealing much of the individual artists’ processes in a behind the scenes section.

This exhibition sees the return of QR codes to the Museum (as well as, later, the trial of the tracking pilot).

To solve one of the big problems with QR codes – that people just can’t be bothered downloading a QR code reading application (or firing it up if they do have one), our internal developer Carlos Arroyo has built the exhibition iPhone and Android App with the QR code scanner built in! This means anyone who downloads the exhibition App – itself a full catalogue of the exhibition designed for in-gallery supplementary browsing now also has their QR scanner at their finger tips.

As the QRs are scanned – from within the App – the relevant exhibition object immediately launches in the App. Carlos has also managed to nail down error correction and the scanning is now really good even in low light and on low resolution cameras.

Like for Sydney Design and the Go Play Apps we’re using Flurry to track in-App actions so we can see which objects get scanned and viewed.

(There’s even a mobile website that mimics the App – without the scanner – if you don’t choose to install the App!).

We’ll keep you updated on how it goes and when the automated tracking goes live. Carlos is already working on a v1.1 version of the App to roll out shortly with some new interaction options.

Try out the iOS App in the AppStore. And the Android version of the App is on the Android market also.

Mobile Powerhouse Museum websites User experience

Building Sydney Design 2011 as a cross-platform site

It has been over a month since my last post here and everyone has been flat out working on a slew of projects, most of which have just gone public. The lead up to August is always one of the busiest times of the year at the Powerhouse with both Sydney Design and Ultimo Science Festival taking place each August, and this year these have been joined by a major contemporary art exhibition launch and the Powerhouse’s revitalisation works.

The next couple of posts will look at some of the new things that have gone live.

Nick Earnshaw in the Web Unit has been handling Sydney Design and Revitalisation and both of those sites, running on WordPress, are now live.

Sydney Design was built by Mob Labs using a concept and design by Toko. Mob Labs have built both a web and mobile web version of the Sydney Design site and the iPhone App version is due to go to the AppStore any moment now.

We’re excited about this year’s Sydney Design site because it has been built to be even more decentralised than previous years. The Powerhouse IT team reconfigured an install of our helpdesk/job-tracking system, JIRA, to allow external Sydney Design partners to enter their events remotely and the Powerhouse Contemporary team, who organise Sydney Design, to assess them. Chris Bell in the IT team then exported these into a custom WordPress install where the final event editing took place whilst Mob Labs configured custom themes for the site itself. We’re also indebted to MOMA’s work in creating a very useful JSON API plugin for WordPress which made the resulting site build by Mob Labs considerably easier.

You’ll also notice that the site integrates Facebook using a subset of the Opengraph features to make it clear which parts of Sydney Design your friends like and making rough recommendations. We were inspired by the Sydney Festival site to do this and we’ll be keeping an eye on it to see how effective it is for the more niche audiences of Sydney Design.

The Contemporary team at the Museum have also been busy making sure there’s vox pops and other content going out on Facebook and Twitter as well as embedding them into the relevant events (eg. 1 | 2) on the site itself.

Mob Labs did a great job on the mobile site which has some nifty swipe interface action and geo-location in mobile browsers – give it a go on an iPhone, Android or Blackberry and see. And once the native App goes live we’ll be able to see how many iOS users choose the App over the Mobile Web version of the site.

Maybe this year will be the last time we feel we need both a mobile website and an App.

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.

Tools User experience

That popup survey tool for Fresh & New feedback

One of the nice finds of the past few months has been Kiss Insights. You’ve probably noticed a little pop up survey on this blog – and maybe you’ve even answered it – well, that’s Kiss Insights doing its magic.

Easily deployed to a website, Kiss Insights is a bit of Javascript code that calls a remote survey form which has a maximum of two questions.

There are quite a few of these mini-survey tools around at the moment – all based on the solid user experience notion that surveys work best on the web when they are very very short, and minimally intrusive. Deploying multiple, regular short surveys, the logic goes, will always give you better data and a higher number of respondents than single, lengthy ones – the sort that are traditionally popular in museums and ported from the paper-based world.

There are variables to make the short survey form pop up for only new visitors, or those who spend a certain time on site or look at more than a certain number of pages. You can even tailor it to pop up only when visitors come in from a particular keyword search, and of course you can tailor the parts of your site on which it appears.

Results can be exported as CSV or browsed through online in various ways.

The only missing feature that I’d find really valuable would be the ability to display the survey only to visitors from a particular geographic location. (As it is, you need to do a reverse geo-IP lookup on the results to gather city/country data).

We managed to quickly gather nearly 1000 responses from visitors to our children’s website and on this blog repeat visitors have been answering with a pretty good 10% response rate.

In case you were curious, I’ve discovered that of my repeat visitors –

22.1% have been reading the blog for over 3 years
27.9% between 1 and 3 years
and the rest under 1 year.

I’ve also got some lovely feedback and good suggestions for future posts – including one that asked about the tool I was using that prompted this very post!

Developer tools User experience

Playing with Google’s reading age tool

Google just released a new ‘reading level filter‘ in the Advanced Search section of their search – the part that probably only librarians actually regularly use.

I’ve run it on a few of our domains with interesting results.

Here’s our main

After seeing that I went off and ran it over a slew of other museums to see if I could spot any patterns. It seems that natural history museums have the highest proportion of ‘advanced’ whilst art museums bias towards the ‘intermediate’.

I also tried on of the new ‘events calendar’ sites we’ve been involved in building (behind the scenes post coming soon). Being a calendar site aimed at parents looking for holidays activities we want to make sure that it has the broadest possible appeal. Fortunately we seem to do rather well – 100% Basic!

I’m not sure how valuable this really is in the long run but it is another tool to experiment with. There’s been some fun analysis of different news (and other) sites using the tool over at Virtual Economics.

Mobile User experience

On augmented reality (again) – time with UAR, Layar, Streetmuseum & the CBA

Jasper Visser from the Nationaal Historisch Museum in the Netherlands has nailed some of the problems with augmented reality in his recent blogpost – ‘Charming tour guide vs mobile 3D AR‘.

Jasper compares the analogue world experience of a guided architectural tour with the digital experience of using the Netherlands Architecture Institute’s UAR application to plot a similar ‘tour’. This isn’t really a fair comparison but it does raise some serious questions about appropriateness of technology and the kind of user experience we are trying to adapt/adopt/create.

The Netherlands Architecture Institute’s UAR application, built on Layar, is perhaps the best augmented reality application by (or for) a museum I’ve seen and tried thus far. It narrowly beats out the Museum of London’s Streetmuseum – largely because it looks to the future in terms of content as well as in technology.

As I laboured over my presentation at Picnic ’10, the problem with a lot of these augmented reality and mobile apps that museums are doing is that they face a huge user motivation hurdle – ‘why would you bother’? Further, many of the ‘problems’ they try to solve are more effectively/effortlessly solved in other more analogue ways.

Our very own Powerhouse AR experiment with Layar is clunky and honestly, beyond the technological ‘wow’, it doesn’t have a lot of incentive to boot it up that important second time. That might sound critical but needs to be put into the context of it being a) an experiment, b) and having no budget allocation.

Earlier in the year in London I couldn’t get the MOL’s Streetmuseum to work properly on my iPhone 3GS but on my last visit, now with some updates and an iPhone4, I was able to get some serious time in with it.

Streetmuseum has been a brilliant marketing campaign for the Museum of London. It has generated priceless coverage in global media and in so doing associated the Museum of London with the notions of ‘experimentalism’, ‘innovation’, ‘new technology’. And the incorporation of Streetmuseum into the campaign strategy for the launch of the excellent new galleries has been very effective and synergistic.

It has also, demonstrated that there can be an interest in heritage augmented reality – even if it doesn’t quite work the way you’d hope it would.

However, like all these apps – from a user experience perspective the app is clunky and aligning the historic images with ‘reality’ in the 3D view is an exercise in patience. The promotional screenshots don’t convey the difficulty in real world use. As a result the app 3D view, the most technically innovative part of the app, ends up being a gimmick.

However the 2D map view is far more useful and, for the most part, the 2D is very rewarding. And for the committed, walking around London and revealing the ‘layers of history’ can be compelling.

Compared to our the Powerhouse layer in Layar, though, Streetmuseum is, excuse the pun, streets ahead (not surprising given the investment). Streetmuseum’s eschewing of a platform approach of using Layar and building its own system might not be the most long term sustainable strategy but it certainly delivers a far better experience than Layar. Of course, it is such early days in this space that Layar isn’t exactly a long term strategy either.

Mac Slocum over at O’Reilly raises some similar issues.

That’s the problem with app-based AR: even when the app is interesting and the implementation is notable, it’s hard to get people (like me) to use it consistently. AR ambivalence is also tied to the bigger issue of app inertia. A company that pours resources into a custom app doesn’t get much return if that app is rarely launched; the user doesn’t develop an affinity for the brand, and that same user certainly doesn’t buy associated products. The app and its AR just sit there, waiting to be uninstalled.

In my Picnic ’10 presentation I briefly showed the CBA’s Property Guide app. Although this is far from a novel idea (in fact property prices were one of the first things in Layar), the implementation is rather good and points to several things for the cultural heritage sector to take note of.

First it addresses something with a clear existing demand – Australians’ obsession with property prices. Second, it manages to surpass your expectations of the available data – by providing, free of charge, access to ‘good enough’ data for almost every house in the street.

When I first booted up the CBA app I expected to get patchy data for my chosen area. Properties near me sell reasonably frequently but also many people stay in the same place for a long time. So you can imagine my surprise when I was able to see that the last time a place near me sold was in 1984 and for ‘between $30,000 and $40,000’ – as well as every single property up my street. That sort of data usually isn’t available – even in tabular form for purchase.

So how might that play out for cultural heritage AR?

Well, I think for a start it means cross-institutional applications and cross-institutional data. There is no technical reason why the same level of data that the CBA app has access to isn’t available for heritage.

Just thinking of the existing rudimentary ideas about these kinds of apps – the ‘Then & Now’: the local council archives are probably a good place to start and work up the food chain to the big institutions. ‘A photo and a title deed of every property’ . . . . it is only a matter of time.

But addressing the ‘demand’ issue is another matter altogether.

Mobile User behaviour User experience

Sydney Design has an iPhone app

Everyone is doing apps.

It might not be the decision of choice for us ‘web people’ – our friends at the Brooklyn have recently agonised over similar decisions – but in the end actual user behaviour wins out in the short term over what we might consider best practice. (Of course, modelling on actual user behaviour is best practice!)

So here’s the Powerhouse Museum’s free iPhone app for Sydney Design 2010.

The festival starts on Friday and the App is basically a pocket what’s on calendar and map with the ability to favourite events for your own calendar as well as quick aggregated access to the Sydney Design Twitter and Flickr feeds.

We agonised over whether to just build a mobile version of the website – that would have been the easy choice, especially as the festival site has, for the last 4 years, been built entirely on WordPress (with this year’s theme developed by Boccalatte) and adding a mobile theme would have been comparatively trivial. But in the end we went with the bulk of target users – whose mobile device of choice was overwhelming an iPhone – and whose preferred behaviour was an app over a mobile website for ease of access. There’s also now a sense of ‘expectation’ that these kinds of events ‘should have’ their own app – perhaps grounded in aspirational hype, but an expectation none the less.

MOB Labs built the app which uses the dataset directly from the WordPress backend. This means it can be periodically updated over the air without requiring a full app versioning process – essential given the approval process. This core bit of functionality wasn’t without its own problems and MOB worked hard to make sure that the way that the website uses tags and categories to provide the key navigational elements on the website were sufficiently able to translate to the app without requiring app-specific data.

First releases are never without their bugs and we’re using this time-limited trial as a means to gather the necessary learnings for some exciting upcoming things . . .

Mobile User behaviour User experience

A little mobile data

I’m a last minute addition to an AIMIA forum on Tuesday morning looking at the Digital Customer Experience. The forum is focussing primarily on mobile.

In prepping the slides looking at in-museum and out-museum mobile experiences, I’ve dug up a little data that you may be intrigued by. If anything it reflects the type of online visitor we are attracting.

– 2% of Sydney-based traffic to the Powerhouse site is on a mobile device

– Sydney mobile users spend half the time on our site to their desktop/laptop counterparts

– surprisingly, when compared to other Sydney users they are 30% less likely to arrive via search

– but when they do search they are far more likely to search for specific travel-related information like “powerhouse museum parking” and “powerhouse museum opening times”

– 85% of mobile traffic is from iPhones and, shockingly, there are more iPad visitors than Android and Blackberry!

– as far as telcos go, 37.4% come from Optus, 19.2% from Vodafone, and 12.3% from Telstra

As you may know, we’ve had a mobile-friendly site up for quite a while now. There’s a vanilla version as well as marginally nicer iPhone version. Both have stripped down architectures, reflecting the kind of interaction we’d expect from a mobile user (quick, task-oriented, information-focussed, visit-focussed).

Fortunately the usage data supports the stripped back interface, but it also is showing a willingness for mobile users to delve deeper into the non-mobile-optimised parts of our website too. 18% of Sydney mobile visitors venture into the rich content of The 80s Are Back section (it is also one of the primary exhibitions we have had on since December), 14% into the depths of the exhibition detail pages and 11% into additional detailed visit information. The high proportion of iPhone users means that the experience is not greatly degraded as a result of reaching unoptimised content.

Collection records – driven by our earlier QR and now, shortened URL experiments – represent about 4.1% of Sydney mobile views. Obviously for these to work beyond a core of aware-users they need significant in-gallery promotion and staff encouragement.

I’ll have more to say on Tuesday.

MW2010 User experience Web metrics

Tracking what gets ‘used’

Theres been a fair bit of excitement around the traps today about the revealing of Amazon’s tracking of highlighting on their Kindle devices.

In fact this sort of interaction tracking has been going on on the web for quite a while – but the Kindle example is one of the first where this data is being used to encourage serendipitous discovery and interest.

I started doing some work around this on the Powerhouse collection site in July last year and it forms the basis of the paper I presented at Museums and the Web this year (as well as briefly mentioning it at Webstock in February).

We’ve been trying to figure out alternative ways of measuring the success or otherwise of making large amounts of our content available on the web. Traditional web metrics just don’t cut it – millions of views of your content isn’t really helpful in improving the content you make available. And whilst qualitative research is invaluable it is generally expensive and just doesn’t scale.

So in July last year we started using a tool called Tynt Tracer.

What Tynt does is intercepts cut & paste using Javascript. It records what is copied, and, inserts into the buffer the license information and a unique hyperlink. We chose to use Tynt because it was the least intrusive and most anonymous of the options available to do the same task (there are quite a number of similar solutions out there). Tynt was also the option that made the least mention of ‘enforcement’ – which seems to be the selling point of the other options.

We aren’t interested in ‘enforcement’ or preventing visitors from cutting and pasting content – but we are primarily interested in learning about what parts of our content is the most useful to cut & pasters, and where it ends up so we can improve it and its structure.

Here’s what Tynt says about their service.

Tynt Insight anonymously detects when content is copied from your site, and can help determine what they are doing with it. At Tynt we believe content copying can be beneficial to the site owner. We find that most people copy content innocently because they are your fans. They copy content to either preserve it for themselves or to share it. Half of copied content is still shared by email because it is still the easiest and most familiar way to share content.

My paper explores how we applied this in a fair bit of detail as well as some of the findings of roughly six months’ worth of data. Suffice to say, it isn’t perfect and the paper ended up revealing that there is far less educational use of our collection in schools than we hoped for (education users being the ones we’d expect would most likely cut & paste!) – but that’s another blogpost.

Nearly 3 million words had been cut and pasted during the sample period. That’s possibly a better measure of the success, or ‘usefulness’, of our collection metadata than object views.

During a six-month period, 20,749 copies were made: 5% of these copies were images – predominantly thumbnails and, curiously, the Museum’s corporate logo; 36% (7,601) were copies of 7 words or less in length. Tynt calls these ‘search copies’ and implies that their likely use was for use in search. These search copies do not have licence and linkback text appended to them. The remaining 58% (12,608) were copies of greater than 7 words and thus had license and linkback details added to them. These 12,608 copies contained nearly 3 million copied words (2,906,330 words).

We’ve been looking at the resultant heatmaps that highlight the content that gets most cut and pasted. These offer the opportunity for us to learn and think about how we present and refine content for certain types of users.

Mobile MW2010 User experience

First impression of the iPad (and museum possibilities)

Here’s something I wrote about the iPad on the flight back from Museums and the Web 2010. I promise a full conference rundown later.

I’ve just spent about 24 hours sitting in a confined airline seat playing with an iPad. I picked up one in New York on the day before flying out and here’s some thoughts on the experience.

The iPad is quite a lovely device – it is tactile and, whilst heavier than expected, it is far lighter than the only other device I’d try typing this out on – my laptop which is now “safely stowed in the overhead locker”. Not to mention if the guy in front of me decides to lean his seat back suddenly it won’t get crushed.

I managed to load the iPad up in the hotel with a small selection of iPad apps – Pages which I am using to type this, Scrabble for playing with my seat-mate, Instapaper for offline reading of webpages I’ve bookmarked to read later, and GoodReader for the PDFs of academic and business papers I end up with. It also transferred all my existing iPhone games happily.

As expected there were a few slight difficulties. It took me a little while to figure out how to load documents onto the device – loading them to Pages and GoodReader via the ‘Apps’ tab in iTunes isn’t the most logical place. And, to make sure I could catch up with some videos I had on my laptop I had to do some file conversion to MP4 format using the open source tool Miro.

On one single charge I’ve managed a full flight from New York to Sydney with moderate use and there’s 20% charge left. It wasn’t running all the time but I’ve done a bunch of typing, watched a couple of hours of video, listened to music, played some graphically intensive games on it, as well as about 10 rounds of Scrabble. I even managed to spend an hour on the painfully slow wifi at the LAX lounge.

I’m not a current consumer of ebooks but I do read a lot of long-ish form online content – 3000 word plus articles. Magazine articles, extensive blogposts, opinion pieces – and for this use Instapaper and the iPad is a killer combo. If I find something I want to read during my day I can just mark it as ‘read later’ with a bookmarklet in my laptop browser and then when my iPad connects to wifi it downloads these for me and I can read offline whilst in transit. The iPad version of Instapaper works very well and allows font and flow changes making for a good reading experience on the device.

In many ways the iPad fills an immediate need of mine to have something more portable than my laptop and bigger than my phone for reading this kind of content – I expect there are a fair few people who share a similar need. Does it replace these other devices? No, it simply offers a more convenient context and experience for reading. Is it a ‘lean back’ device – definitely. And there are plenty of times when I need to be able to ‘lean back’ and absorb/consume content before heading off to ‘make and do’ content elsewhere on another device.

There’s a stack of potential for these devices in the museum space. I’m not a fan of the individualizing nature of traditional museum guides and tour devices. I find the small screen and inherently singular experience of a museum guide delivered either on a ‘hired’ device or my own phone, severely compromised.

But here with the iPad (and whatever follows as a result of it changing the tablet marketplace), we finally have a light, portable, and easy to use device that allows museum tours to be enjoyed collectively – even as a family group. In fact, the development work needed to convert an existing iPhone-optimised web content into one that suits the iPad is relatively minimal.

Consider the options for visitors stopping by a showcase or a set of objects wanting to know more about them. They pull out the iPad that they have ‘hired/borrowed’ at the front desk, and flick through to the collection information about those objects, pull up the videos in which the makers are interviewed, and pass the device between family members to show each other. Better yet, if they so wish, all this content is still available online for reference when they get home or back to school.