Friday, September 27, 2013

Futurist Friday: Artifacts of the Future

What artifacts will history museums of the future collect, and how will we interpret them?

Scenarios—fictional stories of potential futures—can help us imagine how we would adapt to alternative outcomes. Often scenarios can be found in popular literature, videos, or movies. One category of scenarios I particularly love is “artifacts of the future”—mock-ups of tangible evidence that dramatize essential characteristics of potential futures. Think, for example, of the artifacts the Pinky Show cats collected during their time travel expedition to future museums, and exhibited at the 2010 AAM annual meeting. Or the great site “History of the Future in 100 Objects” by Adrian Hon.

Your Futurist Friday assignment: watch this 4 minute video, in which an interpreter at a history museum of the future guides visitors through an exhibit documenting the rise and fall of the Invisibility Cloak in the 21st century. (Added incentive: it’s funny.)

As the video and related interview point out, scenarios like this push us to think about the ethical implications of technologies we may be developing now. Getting ahead of the curve on thinking about ethics—that’s a good thing.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Fostering Innovation: Part 1

One of CFM’s assignments is to encourage museums to innovate, the logic being that if the future is going to be significantly different from the present, museums are going to have to adopt new ways of operating. It’s particularly important for the Alliance to tackle this challenge consciously because it is somewhat at odds with our 100-year+ history of fostering consensus on standards and best practices, and then nudging museums to comply. It’s hard to shift from a message of “emulate the best museums, which all behave this way” to a message of “but feel free to try something different, in case it works better!”

Partnering with EmcArts and MetLife for the past three years on Innovation Lab for Museums has given me plenty of fodder for thought on the nature of innovation, and how one can or can’t encourage it. One of the first things I learned is that people have very, very different ideas about what innovation is, or isn't  and about why or when it is good to innovate. So before you wade into a discussion, it’s good to define what you mean by “innovation.”

Here’s an 10-minute screencast of a presentation I gave to the Accreditation Commission last year, when they asked for a brain dump on innovation & lessons learned to date (which was, in turn, based on a presentation I delivered at NEMA via Skype in 2012.)

The talk presents a classification scheme for “innovations” including:

  • Things that are innovative but irrelevant
  • Innovations that are successful and important, but don’t catch on
  • Things that are cool and new, but not innovative
  • Things we think of as innovative, but are not “new”
  • Things that may or may not be innovative, depending on the scale you are looking at (big frog/small pond analogy—innovativeness, like size, is relative).

I presume we want to focus on innovation that is relevant (useful), have a support system that will enable them to catch on, are actually advances in practice (and not just shiny new variations on a theme) and (for the Alliance) are important at a national scale.

Based on three rounds of Innovation Lab for Museums applications, museums seem to be most interested in innovating in the areas of:
Markets: how do get different people to care about what we do
Relationships: new ways of interacting with people, or entirely new kinds of interaction
Economies: how to monetize our work in new ways
Experience: how to deliver content in new ways

The presentation ends with a challenge for you to decide for yourself which of 5 museum examples are innovative, or not, using which criteria:

Bring your Baby to the Museum Program: Danforth Museum of Art No tech, no hype—just dedicated mom/baby time. In an art museum.

MOCATV, LA MOCA’s original content YouTube channel, with its associated business model.

The Museum of Old and New Art approach to interpretation: they’ve banned signage from the building, and instead of exhibit labels, provides interpretation via an location-aware app.

Fashion and the Field Museum Collection: an exhibit for which Field Museum of Natural History invited fashion designer Maria Pinto to select objects from the collection to juxtapose with her fashion designs. (If you don’t think it’s revolutionary for a natural history museum to invite a fashion designer to curate an exhibit—well, perhaps you don’t work in a natural history museum.)

Apocolypse Meow: the First International Cat Video Festival, when the Walker Art Center ran a Crowdsourced video festival & awards competition attracting 10,000 entries and over 10,000 attendees. (There has since been a second iteration of the festival—does that count as innovative, too?)

The fundraising scheme for the Nicholas Tesla Museum (which doesn’t exist yet)—raising over $1,370,511 on IndieGogo, a crowdfunding site, reaching their original $800k goal in under a week.

Please weigh in below with your votes & commentary! And share examples of exemplary museum innovation that we could share via this Blog.

Next up in this series: observations on which kinds of museums are pre-adapted to innovation, and the most effective approach to fostering innovation in the museum community as a whole. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Four Ways of Seeing the Future

Last July, Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the One Laptop Per Child project and co-founder of MIT Media Lab, keynoted at the WorldFuture 2013 conference. In the ten minute extract of his talk embedded below, he offers four ways of looking at potential futures: Extrapolative, Orthogonal, Metaphorical, and Contrarian. This is a useful framework for thinking about what futures fall within the Cone of Plausibility, and it spurred me to try to come up with museum examples for each category.

Extrapolative futures are ones we tend to assume will happen, because our default habit of thought is that the future will be more or less like today (only more so). Negroponte lists as examples industries that assumed the world would be faithful to non-digital formats for photography, music, movies, books. The danger being, of course, that if we bet wrong (like Kodak doubling down on film-based pictures) someone else (like Instagram) is going to eat our lunch.
For museums, the equivalent might be:

Traditional, static, scholarly exhibits. Maybe embellished with a few apps and a accompanied by a digital exhibit catalog, but more or less more of the same. The good news, if true, because museums are already really, really good at creating this kind of experience. Which is fine, if the world continues to be faithful to this format, but what if the market shifts out from under us? Sure there are still fans dedicated to collecting and using large format cameras, but they support a niche market, not a mainstream economy of practice. 

Orthogonal futures come at us from the side—they may be in our peripheral vision, but we underestimate the probability that they will move to front and center. As examples, Negroponte points to the rise of wireless communications, “non-ownership” (aka the sharing economy), Kickstarter (crowdfunding more generally) and Tinder. (I had to look that last one up. It’s an app that helps connect people for anonymous sex. I hope he’s wrong about that being part of a mainstream future.)
For museums, try:

The Museum as Participatory Experience. Some people are very resistant alternate futures, this one in particular. See, for example, the recent snarking about the Santa Cruz MAH under Nina Simon’s leadership. These critics conveniently overlook the fact that before its recent revitalization, that particular “traditional” museum was going broke. Which is a pretty good indication that in that local market, at least, the old business model was moribund, and the extrapolative future is becoming less and less probable. 

Metaphorical futures come about when people’s thinking is so shaped by a figure of speech, that  language inspires us to create a new reality. Negroponte cites the way the analogy of physical “desktops” shaped our computer operating environments.
For this one, I like 

The Museum as Agora. We've heard for decades about the desire for museum to be a “place for dialog.” What if we actually managed to create a future in which museums were widely seen as the “center of athletic, artistic, spiritual and political life” of their cities? What would that look like? (Wait, notice where all those links track back to? Dang.)

Finally he comes to Contrarian futures—futures that are built in the face of popular opposition. Negroponte lists, for examples, nuclear power and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as technologies he thinks are necessary and inevitable for successful human futures, however much some people may feel they are evil and dangerous. (Then he segues to a rant about iPhones and the Internet of Things that I don’t think belongs in this section, but you can bleep over that.) He lists education in his slide, but never gets to the commentary—I wish he had, because I wonder if he was going to mention MOOCs & internet based education more generally, which some people are already slamming as either overblown, underperforming or both, while others hail it as the future of egalitarian, affordable learning. This is an absolute invitation to tick people off (otherwise it won’t be contrarian, right?) So I propose

The Digital Museum: where the majority of the benefit provided to society by museums is in the form of their digital assets—freely and widely shared as raw material including data, images, 3-D scans as well as “value-added” content such as online courses and virtual exhibits. Would physical museums cease to exist in this scenario? No more than windmills would be banished in Negroponte’s nuclear-fueled future—they just would be a minor player in the overall cultural scene.

Your turn. Feel free to build on or challenge my examples, or come up with your own, in the comments section below.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Futurist Friday: Parking Pedals

Today's Futurist Friday is about bicycles. Specifically, where to put them.

 DC's "Sustainable DC" plan calls for bikes and walking to account for 25% of commuting by 2033. Right now that figure is about 16%, including the Washingtonians and tourists who zip (ok, lumber) across the city on red BikeShare bikes, which live in these public "stables." 

(This is DC, where I live)
If we really want to increase bike use by over half again as much, how long before we start to look likeTokyo?

This is Tokyo (picture from Travelogue of An Armchair Traveler)

This is a problem. Right? Maybe not. Your Futurist Friday assignment: watch this video (4 min) sharing a glimpse of the future:

Some museums are already jumping on the public bicycle rental bandwagon, hosting bike share kiosks on their sites. How long before a big museums in a dense urban center includes on of these underground systems in its plans? Keep an eye out. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Blogging about Blogging

I've encouraged folk seeking to start or advance their museum careers to jump in and do interesting work, with or without institutional support. Even as the internet has undermined the economic models for traditional avenues of communication, like newspapers or academic journals, it has provided a way for anyone, regardless of age or status, to share their thoughts with the world. If those are intelligent and creative thoughts, you can develop a professional status and reputation that would have taken years, if not decades, to build under traditional methods of advancement. For example, I bet that Nina Simon’s blog Museum 2.0 was a significant factor in jump starting her career.

Technically, starting a blog is easier than ever. Platforms such as Blogger and WordPress offer free, turnkey operations. But there's no point speaking to an empty auditorium, so how do you build readership? I've gotten that question a lot in the past year, so this post is a brain dump on my experience from 6 years of blogging.

I launched the CFM blog in February, 2009, and the first post I lobbed into the ether was Stone Soup, addressing the role museums can and should play in helping their communities and society at large.  Since CFM barely existed at that time, it’s not surprising that post had a grand total of 96 page views. Now the blog gets about 23,000 – 25,000 hits per month, with a cumulative total of over 550 thousand page views.

Your readership for any given post is going to be partly driven by what you write about, especially if you cover a variety of subjects rather than carving out a specialized niche  like  pop-up museums, or micropaleontology. When I look at the most widely read CFM posts by topic, for example, I notice:
As I look for patterns, I have to remember that the CFM stats are warped by the fact that our base readership has grown dramatically in the last six years. It’s too bad the early posts had limited distribution, due to our newbie status, as they included pieces I think were good introductions to themes CFM has continued to explore—from the effect of the increasing wealth gap on museums and their behavior, to the core purpose of museums, educational or otherwise.

Le't assume that your written on a topic that some number of people are going to want to read. How do you help them find it? Here is some advice on getting the word out and cultivating readership for your blog:
  • Build your social media network. Establish a presence on other communication platforms, such as Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc. Use those accounts to share content from other folks, as well as links to your own blog.
  • Be a reciprocator.  Lend your social media support to projects related to your work (e.g., #askacurator, #futrchat, #musesocial). Demonstrating you are a good digital colleague builds relationships and widens your network.
  • Enlist social media mavens. When you feature, interview or host a guest post by a person who already has a broad social media presence (personally or through their institution), they can help you reach new audiences, some just for that post, some who will become regular readers. Or, drop a note to a widely-followed tweeter about post on a topic they are interested in, and ask them to spread the word.
  • Tap into existing networks. reach out to communities of interest that might be particularly interested in a given topic. When I write a post of interest to natural history museums, I might put a link on the NHColl Listserve. For a post about philanthropy, I might email the leadership of DAM (the Alliance’s Development & Membership Professional Network), and suggest they invite their membership to read and comment.
  • Make strategic use of hashtags, and use them when you tweet about a post. People who have never read your blog before but are passionate about (fill in the blank: #3dprinting, or #accessibility for example) may find you in this way.

If you are a blogger, please contribute your advice in the comments section, below. If you are thinking about starting your own blog, or trying to build your readership, don’t be shy about asking questions there as well—if I can’t answer them, perhaps another reader will weigh in.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

TrendsWatch Update: The Internet of Things

One of the trends we featured in TrendsWatch 2013 was “When Things Talk Back: the rise of networked objects and attentive spaces.” What could happen in a future where the “stuff” that surrounds you collects and shares information about everything you do?  

If you want to brush up on the basics of IoT, here is a nice 4 minute video by Daniel Burrus with an overview of some of the potential applications for intelligent objects. (When he starts talking about security cameras in stores, mentally sub in “museum” for “store,” “visitor” for “customer” and “exhibit” for “display” and think about the applications for visitor studies!)

In the past 9 months there have been more stories on IoT (Internet of Things) than we could fit into Dispatches from the Future of Museums. Here are a few of the highlights:

This article by Alexis Lloyd leaps past the already trite examples of refrigerators noticing when you are out of milk, and ordering more or alarm clocks that start your coffeemaker, and explores how the IoT could affect storytelling and narrative. How, he asks, can “enchanted objects” transform, conjure, invoke? He proposes 3 frameworks for the kinds of stories that may be embedded in objects, to be brought to life via IoT: objects as portals into stories (like the phones in the New Museum’s “1993” exhibit); objects as subjects that interact with the world around them (what would a lamp post say to you if it could speak?); and objects as oracles that peer into the future (also known as “design fiction,” a realm I love to explore. Remember the artifacts the Pinky Show cats brought back from their time travel expedition to future museums?)

In TrendsWatch, we touched on the privacy concerns raised by the prospect of attentive objects watching (and reporting on) our every move. Sure enough, just last month the City of London found it necessary to ban an advertising firm from tracking passers-by and collecting their smartphone id data via sensors hidden in trash cans.

 One “creepy application” we reported was store mannequins use video and demographic profiling software to collect info on the age, gender and race of customers. This technology is evolving at a rapid pace, and now researchers have developed a system that can track customers’ eye movements, and cue content that corresponds to what they were actually looking at—not just proximity. Can you think of any museum applications for that tech, people?

It’s not just retailers exploring the potential of IoT—schools are getting on the bandwagon as well. The “Internet of School Things” project in the UK is prototyping a system that students and teachers can use to measure and share data in order to “improve the next generation of schools.” This is both a STEM learning tool (enabling kids to explore new technologies) and a first step in connecting different school systems, creating the kind of “big data” sets that might support meaningful metrics about learning. Maybe the coming year a coalition of museums will come together to share the information collected by their networked devices--we could use a little big data of our own!

On the museum front, I was pleased to learn of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s work with IBM to wire up the Cloisters with interlinked sensors to monitor temperature, humidity and the art works’ response to climatic conditions, in order to fine tune their conservation. Associate research scientist Paolo Dionisi Vici shares his dream “to have a system where the parameters we adopt are based on the real sensitivity of the objects.”

My ambition, if I can find the right partners, is to orchestrate an IoT demo at the Alliance annual meeting in Seattle next spring, as a worthy successor to last year’s 3-D printing demo, which was well received by attendees. I doubt we can come anywhere near the complexity of the Google’s I/O conference, where they used over 500 sensors to generate over 4,000 data streams tracking attendees and their environment. (Does session attendance have an inverse correlation to room temperature? Do we really need data to prove that hypothesis?) But I am sure with the right help, we can gin up something really cool to show how networked devices can create “smart” and responsive environments. Use the comments section, below, if you have leads or suggestions for companies and individuals I might recruit to help. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Go East, Young Woman

Many people, giving advice to people aiming at museum careers, have pointed out that you have to be willing to relocate. (See, for example, Robert Connolly’s recent Thoughts on How to Get a Museum Job). Today’s post raises the question—how far?

Well, how about the Middle East?

Whether it’s Dubai contracting with major museums (the Louvre, Guggenheim, Zayed National) to open branches in Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia tasking the state oil company with opening a national museum from scratch, or Qatar setting world records for art prices, the Middle East is a growth area for museums and, at least for now, many of the people needed to jump start these projects are being recruited internationally. At the time I’m writing this post, the Alliance Job HQ board has six postings from Saudi Aramco for positions in Dhahran. If the US continues to pump out museum studies graduates at its current rate, as well as generating a cadre of experienced professionals cut loose by layoffs & downsizing, global employment prospects may offer a good bet for staying in the museum field.

But deciding to port your expertise to another country shouldn't be done lightly—there are significant personal concerns to consider, as well as a need to be aware of the ways in which American museum standards and best practices may or may not apply overseas. For these reasons, I invited Alliance Accreditation Commissioner Terrie Rouse to share some words of wisdom based on her recent experiences working in Saudi Arabia.

First—what is it like, as a foreigner, to work in the Middle East? You may have read scary news stories about the general conditions of employment for guest workers in Middle Eastern countries, which some have compared to indentured servitude. As the article in the previous link explains, this isn't just an issue for low-skilled workers—work contracts may make professionals dependent on their employer for basic rights such as travel within the country or (most important) leaving the country. Before you go, be sure you understand what rights and protections you do and do not have, based on your written agreement with your employer.

Here’s Terrie’s thoughts on “negotiating the contract”:

Another legitimate consideration, especially given that the majority of young museum studies graduates in the US are women, is the status and rights of women in the Middle East. Islamic feminism is still an evolving concept, and if you are a woman considering whether to work in an Islamic society, you should consider the option with open eyes.

Terrie Rouse: On being a Woman in the Middle East

Please don’t take this post as being overly negative—its goal is to encourage you to be prudent. I’m not saying that these positions can’t be great opportunities to learn about museums and about other cultures. If you do take one of these jobs, make sure you take full advantage of the experience! After all, it’s not all about work.

Terrie on Key Cultural Experiences

My advice, if you decide to take any job overseas, is to do your research first, and read up on the forces shaping the country you’ll be working in. Before I taught a workshop in Saudi Arabia this spring, I studied a number of useful reports, including this  one from the Wilson Center: Saudi Arabia’s Youth and the Kingdom’s FutureThe Middle East is undergoing rapid evolution as it deals with a population massively skewed towards the young, high youth unemployment, the impact of social media on mores and customs, and the prospect of having to find a new basis for their economies as oil production declines.  I found it very rewarding to get a first-hand look, however brief, at how these forces are shaping the museums being built to serve these societies. 

If you've worked in the Middle East, please share your observations and advice in the comment section below; if you are considering applying for one of these jobs, use this as a forum for connecting with peers who might help you weigh your decision. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Museum Jobs That Didn't Exist in 2003

(& what that says about the evolution of our field.)

A couple weeks ago, I read a post on Coexist called “Eight New Jobs People will have in 2025,” projecting openings for Digital Death Managers, Un-Schooling Counselors, Digital Detox Specialists and Microbial Balancers.

While slightly tongue in cheek, this article is built on solid trends analysis, and reflects many of the forces of change we have been tracking in CFM’s TrendsWatch report. It takes a great approach to forecasting—making potential futures specific and personal by thinking about how they will change our day-to-day lives (not to mention job prospects). 

The article prompted me to look in the other direction—backwards—to chart the emergence of museum positions that didn't exist a decade ago. Some of these may just be catchy new labels for traditional functions (is Jeff Byers, “Storyteller” at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, simply an interpreter in 21st century guise?) Some emerge from the need to wrap our collective heads around the consequences of new technologies (like the Smithsonian’s Director of Web and New Media Strategies, a position filled by the fabulous Michael Peter Edson, or Cincinnati Museum Center’s Informatics Champion, Shawn Mummert).

Many of these new positions, whether or not they are grounded in new technologies, reflect deeper changes in organizational focus and culture. When the Victoria & Albert Museum appoints Sophia George as their first Game Designer in Residence, it acknowledges that gaming has become a new literacy through which people can connect with museum content. (You can hear Sophia talking about her new job in Episode 5 of the Museopunks podcast.) When the Worcester Art Museum hires Adam Rozan as Director of Audience Engagement and the Oakland Museum of California engages Lisa Sasaki as Director of Audience and Civic Engagement, it signals a subtle but profound shift in organizational focus.

Here’s a closer look at two “21st Century museum positions,” with some observations about how they reflect deeper underlying changes in their organizations.

Thanksgiving Point Institute in Utah consists of a working farm, a natural history museum and extensive formal estate gardens. (Next spring they’ll open yet another site, the Museum of Natural Curiosity, a family/children’s museum, which you can get a peek at during the WMA conference this October.) Earlier this year Thanksgiving Point restructured, eliminating directors of the separate venues and creating roles that cut across operations. One of these new positions, Curator of Curiosity and Inquiry, is filled by Lorie Millward.  Lorie explains that she is "charged with ensuring that each venue is an environment where curiosity and inquiry are fostered in meaningful ways for visitors. The Curator actively procures, develops, and evaluates experiences that promote curiosity and critical thinking. That has implications for exhibitry, programming, guest interactions, staff development, partnerships, evaluation, and daily operations.” Lorie sees this reorganization as part of a trend towards dismantling the traditional hierarchical structure of museums, in favor of assigning strategic realms of responsibility to individuals or teams. (Which certainly describes what director Lori Fogarty has done with the Oakland Museum of California’s new org chart.)

My second mini-interview was with Emily Graslie, whose title—Chief Curiosity Officer at the Field Museum of Natural History—was the second inspiration for this post. Emily’s journey to the Field Museum illustrates what I think is the best strategy for landing a job in the museum of the future—get out there and do real work (even before anyone is willing to pay you) and trust that the resulting attention will open doors. Or in this case, create a door, since the position the Field Museum offered her didn't already exist. Emily caught the attention of the Field Museum with The Brain Scoop, a video series she made while volunteering at the University of Montana Zoological Museum. The videos take an irreverent and engaging look at work behind the scenes in a natural history museum, like gutting a wolf and explaining basic such as the difference between horns and antlers (the first Brain Scoop video I stumbled upon, which hooked me on Emily’s work):

Emily explains that she is basically a communications specialist, bringing new skills to a team comprised of staff in marketing, PR and IT (including a social media strategist).  “As Chief Curiosity Correspondent my primary goal is to continue making The Brain Scoop with my producer, Michael Aranda… Our focus is creating online, free and easily accessible educational content that reflects the ongoing research and behind-the-scenes work of natural history museums. I'm also responsible for designing and implementing interactive floor programs, conducting tours to interest groups, and otherwise creating outreach opportunities in order to engage our audience."

Here’s Emily bringing the Brain Scoop vibe to her new digs (and introducing viewers to director Richard Lariviere’s cool hat):

Of course, museums don’t enjoy unlimited growth. New positions often supplant, rather than supplementing, traditional roles. Sometimes this reflects changes in technology (e.g., 3-D printing specialists as successors to model makers who worked marvels in glass, or wax). But sometimes it reflects the economics and business model of museums. As noted in an article in the Chicago Tribune, the Field Museum created the position of “Chief Curiosity Correspondent” at the same time that it is downsizing its staff in collections and research. Chris Norris argued on this blog (in the post No Future) that when faced with constricting resources, museums should double down on collecting, preserving collections, and creating new knowledge rather than “outreach.” But (my commentary, now) we, as a field, have done a lousy job over the last century telling the public about the hidden things we do, such as collections and research, much less cultivating a consensus in society that these functions are vital, and worthy of public support. It’s a chicken/egg dilemma—without collections & research, what is our core value to society? If we don’t put resources into disseminating that content in compelling & addictive ways, why should anyone support our work? Or, in the context of this post, in the current economic climate which comes first, the curator or the vlogger?

Me, I sadly observe that we've given the “curator first” approach a good run for over a century, and in far too many cases it hasn't resulted in sufficient levels of love and support. Maybe Emily and Lorie (and Jeff, Michael, Sophia, Adam and Lisa) are the key to a future in which museums can afford to sustain collecting, preserving and creating knowledge by pulling back the curtain and ensuring that the public shares our boundless enthusiasm for museums.

I will use future posts to interview Adam, Emily and others in more depth about their 21st century jobs. Please us the comments section, below, to nominate other people who are figuring out how to fill museum roles that have only recently emerged. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Museums & the IoT: Innovating With Wayfinding

In TrendsWatch 2013, Phil and I explored the implications of entering a time “When Stuff Talks Back.” The Internet of Things, as this phenomenon is also known, arises from the proliferation of internet connected devices that can collect information (via sensors) and trigger actions (via programming or human commands). Way back then—all of eight months ago—we labored to find examples of museums using IoT in interesting ways, but 2013 has indeed seen blossoming of museological “talking stuff.” Today’s guest post by Kim Gough, Adult Learning Team Lead at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, British Columbia, shares how her museum is using this emerging technology—harnessing the sensors in smartphones to feed information about visitors’ locations to an app, triggering access to appropriate place-based information in return.

In 2011 I was given the opportunity to work on a smartphone app through an innovation grant. Luckily for me, I didn’t have to build the app; instead we worked with Wifarer, a local company.
The innovative part of this app is that it provides indoor wayfinding with location-based content. Not only can you see a map of the inside of the building, you can position yourself on that map and be alerted to content that is near to you. This positioning is accurate to within as little as four feet, depending on what part of the building you are in. Providing adequate Wifi is challenging, as our building has thick walls, so we use 30 to 40 beacons throughout the galleries to boost reception. The content we provide through the app, which is a free download, includes additional text, images, video, audio and web links. 

The indoor map with wayfinding tools is cool, but as a member of the Learning Team, I was excited about being able to give visitors an opportunity to discover more about the objects based on their own interest. If they want to know more about the Woolly Mammoth they can follow the web link. If they are curious about the origin of the chief’s headdress they can consult the archival images. If they wonder what that bird sounds like, they can listen to the audio file. If they want to know how the seashore diorama was created they can “look” behind the scenes.

Working with existing publications, audio guides and our Archival Image Collection, I identified potential areas of interest for visitors throughout the museum. I consulted with our curators and had everything reviewed by our editor. The venue administration tool that comes with the app allowed me to enter all of the text, media, audio and images from my desk and I can make changes, update and add to the information anytime.

When the app was launched in 2012, it was such breakthrough technology it was hard to imagine what else we could do with it, but things move quickly in the world of technology. Some ideas for the future include tapping into the app’s augmented reality (AR) potential. Instead of arrows and a path appearing on your phone’s screen, can we use AR to show the arrows and the path on the floor of the museum itself?  What about that screen? Do visitors have to look at it the whole time they walk through the museum or can they put their phone in their pocket and get a little buzz when they are close to a content hot spot? Speaking of content, can the app learn your preferences and then make suggestions?  Can visitors upload their own comments or rate certain content for other visitors (and the museum) to see? In terms of The Internet of Things, the app could get even better if it can become more personalized, proactive and responsive.

Currently we are evaluating the app before deciding on the next stage in its development. If you have questions you would like to see included in this evaluation let me know. If you are doing something innovative with IoT technology at your museum, I’d like to hear about that too. And of course if you visit Victoria, try out Wifarer, and let me know what you think.