According to the New Media Consortium Horizon Report: 2011, many modern museums face the following problem with advancing technology:
Greater understanding is needed of the relationships, differences, and synergies between technology intended to be used within the museum and public-facing technology such as websites, social media, and mobile apps. Too few in museum administration see the opportunities that virtual museum visitors might be bringing for fundraising, philanthropy, and specialized marketing. The dichotomy between the physical and virtual museum visitor is blurring rapidly, and both audiences have high expectations with regard to online access to services and information. Still, the notion that museums must provide comprehensive information and services online is a genuine challenge, especially for smaller museums. For larger institutions, however, providing such services has risen to an expectation from the visiting public.
When looking at how address the different connections and perspectives of museum pieces, I think of how I reflect on what museum pieces enthrall me most. Usually when examining an exhibit I find myself mentally evaluating it against other pieces I have encountered, either in the same museum or in past experiences. I also usually get feedback or recommendations from people about museums or exhibits that they believe would interest me. Often times I get great recommendations, and other times I find it difficult to follow up on a recommendation either because I have forgotten or had trouble finding the suggested exhibit.
All of these seemingly connected components of my museum experience could be enhanced by a technological ability to expound my museum findings (and look at others’). This led me to imagine a technology platform that could provide the public museum visitor with a very interactive and customized experience. I began to imagine a system that integrated across multiple media platforms, specifically: websites, mobile applications, and social media.
This system would be similar to a Yelp! or Google Maps system; where users could provide feedback on their experience with a particular exhibit (or piece in an exhibit), the feedback would be available to the public, and it could be used to make connections to other exhibits/pieces (or even other museums!). Each user could at any point during an exhibit find a placard associated with the item in question, on it would be a digitally readable identifier (possibly a QR Code) which would access a digital indexing of that item on their mobile device. There others will have posted opinions or related recommendations. The user could add their own feedback on the spot, or they could use the mobile application to find other exhibits in that very museum that are similar or in some way related to what they are examining. The application would give concise directions to the other exhibit so the user could find it. Each step of the way the visitor would be able to leave their own advice and promote advice others had given that helped them. The system can also interface with social media by affording users the ability to ‘share’, ‘tweet’, or ‘check-in’ at an exhibit or piece. This would be visible to their social media connections and could possibly draw outside attention through free social marketing.
For the ‘virtual’ visitor they would see the result of ‘physical’ visitor’s actions. They would be able to look at a specific museum on a webpage and read up on different pieces before visiting the museum. They could plan out a travel path through the museum to make sure they see only the pieces they are interested in. They could plan ahead and purchase tickets in advance (ease of purchase means more visits for museums). Users would also be able to sift through other visitor’s opinions, and follow connections made by visitors to find other pieces of interest. The possibility exists that they may end up visiting a different museum than originally intended based on the recommended connections of a past visitor. And in the typical social media fashion, users could promote other peoples recommendations they found helpful or insightful; further reinforcing high-quality feedback.
There are obvious concerns, as always, with internet interactions and marketing. It needs to be moderated to ensure that users are putting up appropriate and germane information. This is an obvious obstacle that the respective museums would have to evaluate before opting to use this interactive museum system.
This system is an interactive way to voice your opinion of museum content, but also to help others find what they are seeking in a museum. The hope is that you help yourself in the long run by bringing more visitors/friends to museums who can provides solid recommendations that improve your experience. By posting our great experiences on social media we bring attention to a part of society that is being left behind by advancing technology and we refocus a waning interest. This will bring more donations, revenue, visitors, discussion, and (hopefully) progress to the entire museum/gallery community.