M(Apping) Media

I hope everyone is staying safe while working on those final project drafts! I felt very pressured to do these readings well for two reasons: 1. Cameron and Jack are intimidating (in a good way) 2. Mobile apps and mapping is a big part of a lot of people’s projects, except mine. So here we go! (please don’t hate me, I’m just a poor philosophy student stuck with only her thoughts to entertain and torture her).

Okay so first was Mobile for Museums by the Center for History and New Media (CHNM). IMPORTANT: PUBLISHED IN 2009 this means that a lot of the technology is pretty much optimized and the concerns about a mobile device’s ability are null and social media was JUST becoming a thing. The project surveyed a bunch of different museums about mobile content. The project aims to provide suggestions for smaller budget museums that may not have enough resources, training, or personnel trying to provide the mobile content for the widest audience. Through these surveys, the project found that most of museums that have mobile content are reliant on the visitor’s devices rather than the more cumbersome audio tour devices. The most popular format used by museums is podcasts; ones that often talk a visitor through an exhibit. Side note: at the Cleveland Museum of Art (top 3 in the country) I went through a Michelangelo exhibit with an audio tour with a provided device, and it was pretty easy to use, although I would have preferred to use my own device, but the navigation and interface was really user friendly. Also common are apps created by the museum that allow a visitor to go through the exhibit online, some museums have even made QR codes for certain objects that people can scan using their phone to learn more about. There was concern that most devices didn’t have the capacity or ability to scan QR codes, but that is not a problem anymore. Some museums used the mass text option to reach out to patrons; again, this is replaced by the prevalence of social media networks.

After laying the groundwork for what has already been taken on by museums, the project goes on to offer a few recommendations to improve efficiency and increase audience interaction. This is broken up by focusing on Infrastructure and Technology, and Content and Implementation.

First tackling Infrastructure and technology, the main suggestions relate to cross-platform development and open sourced databases. The best mobile content is that that doesn’t rely on a specific type of app or interface. So I don’t really think this is a problem any more. An offered solution is for museums to develop cites that use CSS so different devices could access the same site. The project really pushes for museum website to start “using CSS and XHTML to draw content out of standards-based databases” which would provide institutions with more control over specific mobile content. This leads to importance of open source databases for museums. The project acknowledges that a lot of museums just don’t have to resources to create their own personalized website, so they recommend Omeka more than anything because it reduces the need for high software and technology experience. This is great because we have gone over Omeka, so we at least know the basics.

The next main area of concern comes from content and implementation. Most museums mistakenly focus on in-person gallery experiences that often limits how far the site goes. Museums instead, should interact with things that go beyond the physical walls of the building to reach a greater audience. Also, the project advises against having visitors download a specific app for the museum, although I think this is not a bad idea if the app has been well developed and troubleshooted. Important in content is meaningful engagement; how a museum gets and keeps people interested and involved. This has got to be the hardest part of any project: will people even look at what I’ve spent so much time on? The project suggests that a focus on creating a space for valuable interaction is very important. Providing a space for users to comment, share, and communicate with museum staff and each other opens up new possibilities and ideas. I need to remind y’all that lot of the problems brought up by the project are solved with Twitter and Facebook, it is not difficult to create an online presence.

After the recommendations, the project offers three prototypes, or rather “proof of concept;” that shows what they suggest isn’t impossible. The first prototype is  a variety of Omeka Plugins for mobile devices that any museum can access. The second prototype takes the plugins and makes a mobile-friendly website. This is what they envision for a productive mobile interface:

I have NEVER seen a phone that old in my whole life. The last prototype was a native cross-platform app. This one really thew me with all the old tech language. I don’t know anything about “how code can be shared and licensed” but I only know of one app that iTunes didn’t have but Google Play did. They also mentioned blackberry apps, but I haven’t seen a Blackberry in about seven years so. The project has a link to an open source Google Code that doesn’t exist anymore. Overall, I thought this project was cool for the time but seriously outdated and most of the problems are solved with the advancement of smartphones.

Phew, okay next article, much shorter and easier to read. “A Place for Everything” felt like a coffeehouse chat with a concerned museum curator. The article is concerned with the development of a virtual reality app called Chicago 00 by the Chicago History Museum (also CHM) that “brings historical images of Chicago into the city’s central business district via an augmented reality.” Curator John Russick wants to geo-locate all the objects in the museum to their actual location in a contemporary Chicago. This idea is cool; bringing artifacts from the museum to their real historical ‘home’ which is overlaid on the current city. I was pleasantly surprised when Russick addressed a common theme when recording history: under-representation. Mapping the contents of a well-respected Chicago museum is going to reveal the unfortunate truth that mainstream institutions often neglect the less privileged and affluent people of history. The app would portray areas of Chicago as lacking a history, which is of course not true, but appears as such because they were not included. Russick struggles with a lot of questions and thoughts, that I’m certain we have discussed in class. He wonders if he could make a mapping project that could be edited by community members so under-represented stories could be told. While Russick doesn’t offer many real solutions, so much as tosses out ideas, I’m hopeful to know that curators are beginning to recognize the problematic nature of museums and possible collaborative digital solutions.

Do community additions bring the same level of credibility and authenticity as a museum addition? How if ever can this disparity be reconciled? Hope everyone is practicing responsible social distancing but still keeping good mental health habits! I hope I did these articles justice and made some of you think about your own projects!

2 Replies to “M(Apping) Media”

  1. Hey Caroline! I really liked this post, it’s very interesting to consider the way that historians in the very recent past thought about technology and how to use it. I’m sure that they had no idea that in a few short years all of the problems that they presented would be solved with social media lol, but its also good to see because it informs how we think of what can work even in the present. I found it interesting that they said that institutions were using podcasts back then to give mobile tours since now I feel like most museums have their own apps that do the same thing and more. This goes to show that the observation about people preferring their own devices was taken to heart and used by a lot of these institutions. The Russick article was really interesting as well because it showed the way that a curator thinks through a digital history project, and it reminds me of how projects like Philiaplace probably came to be. Your question towards the end about how credible a community addition is considered within the field really highlights a growing emphasis on shared authority within the field of history, slowly and surely a lot of people are beginning to consider community input just as important (arguably more important) then the input of scholars. Digital history is definitely helping in that growing trend, and it gives the community the ability to connect with scholars on an equal and fair playing field. Once again very well done with the post, stay safe 🙂

  2. Nice exploration of the issues in the Mobile for Museums paper and a Place for Everything.

    I very much enjoyed your reaction on the early smart phone mobile interface. It’s really wild to reflect on just how quick these systems have evolved and developed! While some parts of that report have become dated, I think it’s also fascinating just how much so many of the fundamental ideas in the report resonate. So much of the thinking about mobile in museums continues to be about experiences in the physical space instead of focusing on the potential for connecting with people beyond the walls of the institution.

    In that vein, I think that place for everything piece is so valuable too. That is, there is a geospatial history to nearly everything. Objects move throughout time and space in their history and the potential to be able to interact with those layers is really exciting and compelling.

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