Mobile devices in heritage, why not?

Ages ago I surveyed people about mobile gaming and heritage. The results were not encouraging for my thesis, because interest in mobile gaming seemed low. Just under 200 people completed the survey, and most of them had at least heard of Minecraft (just 5% had not). But when asked about the most popular location-based game… Continue reading Mobile devices in heritage, why not?

Ages ago I surveyed people about mobile gaming and heritage. The results were not encouraging for my thesis, because interest in mobile gaming seemed low. Just under 200 people completed the survey, and most of them had at least heard of Minecraft (just 5% had not). But when asked about the most popular location-based game at the time, Ingress, the vast majority, 178 people (81.3%) hadn’t even heard of it.

Since then of course Pokemon Go happened. It’s by the same company as Ingress, and build on their limited success with that game by adding a globally recognised brand. So I wanted to see how much it had increased awareness of location based mobile gaming. I opened a second, shorter internet survey. Initially the results looked good. Awareness of Pokemon Go pretty much matched Minecraft. Just 2.5% of respondents were unaware of it. compared with 2.4% who were unaware of Minecraft.

There is some evidence that people are more aware of location based games in general. Only 64.6% of respondents were unaware of Ingress. In the both surveys I also asked about Zombies Run!, a mobile game which while not strictly location based, does involve taking your mobile device outside to track you as you move. In the earlier survey, 63.6% were unaware of it. By the second survey that proportion had reduced to 45.1%. So, though I had discounted further developing a location based game for cultural interpretation after the first survey, growing interest in location based games may make it a more fruitful avenue to explore in the future.

There is a another barrier to consider however. I have mentioned a perceived reluctance to use apps and the internet on mobile devices in previous posts. But I haven’t found much research on why people don’t seem to like using their phones. This second survey offered an ideal opportunity to actually ask that question.

Well, not just that question. I asked a few more. I started off asking which ways of learning about the site they used. I offered a list:

  • Just looking at stuff
  • Reading labels panels or gallery fact-sheets
  • Reading a guidebook
  • Talking to a guide, docent or interpreter
  • Talking with the people who came with you
  • Joining a tour (led by a guide)
  • Using an audio-guide or multimedia guide
  • Using an app on a mobile device
  • Using the internet on a mobile device

People could choose as many as they wanted. What I particularly wanted to know was which ones they did not pick. So in order of preference, it turns out that the most popular interpretive media are

  1. Reading labels, panels or gallery fact-sheets (16% did NOT tick this)
  2. Just looking at stuff (28%)
  3. Talking with the people who came with you (47%)
  4. Joining a tour (led by a guide) (61%)
  5. Using an audio-guide or multimedia guide (62%) and Reading a guidebook (62%)
  6. Talking to a guide, docent or interpreter (64%)
  7. Using the internet on a mobile device (74%)
  8. Using an app on a mobile device (78%)

It’s worth pointing out that some people use mobile devices for apps but not the internet, and vice versa, but still, only 11% use mobile devices for either one or both. That said, 11% is about twice as many as as we have observed in the National Trust, and about twice as many as has been identified in other data. This might be a systemic bias of collecting data in an online survey. I would like to try and ask a similar question on site. Partly because it’s thrown up some interesting results – I imagined that talking to guides, docent or interpreters might be more popular than taking a guided tour, but actually it turns out that taking a tour it more popular than conversation.

The sample for these questions is only 85, so its not particularly robust. But actually this question was a preamble to supplementary questions asking for qualitative rather that quantitative data. Respondents who said they did not use mobile devices were asked simply “What are the reasons why you prefer not to use an app on your mobile device?” and/or “What are the reasons why you prefer not to use the internet on your mobile device when visiting heritage sites?” each with a free text field. Some replies were just one simple short statement. Others gave multiple reasons. Analyzing all the responses, I first defined twelve categories of statement. Each reply scored one in each category to which it referred. In order the twelve categories are:

  1. Presence – for example “Want to be present in the place.” or “Detracts from looking at the exhibits and the moment” (33)
  2. Data/signal/battery limits – for example “Not always got data/coverage.” (32)
  3. One-use apps – for example “I have limited memory on my phone, and don’t want to install apps that I’ll only use temporarily” (10)
  4. Pre/post-reading – for example “I do normally read and research about the subject beforehand at home (computer, books…), so I don´t need to use such apps.” (6)
  5. Tech lack – for example “I don’t have that sort of phone” (6)
  6. Tech break – for example “I regard tech’ as a work tool so don’t engage with it for fun.” (5)
  7. Analogue experience preference – for example “I prefer my interaction with heritage to be unmediated by tech!” (5)
  8. Competence – for example “Do not know how to” (4)
  9. Social preference – for example “I generally visit with my family so want to explore with them and feel that using an app could be an experience that potentially minimises our interaction.” (4)
  10. Conversation preference – for example “I like to talk to real people and enjoy their enthusiasm” (4)
  11. Focus – for example “Too many other distractions with an open internet.” (1)
  12. Hassle – the simple statement “Too much hassle” (1)

So, regular readers will guess I might be expecting the presence category to be the overwhelming reason why people didn’t use mobile on site. As so it proves to be, but only just. I wasn’t expecting data/signal/battery limits to be an almost as big (and given the limited sample size – possibly bigger) objection to using mobile devices. The reluctance to download apps with limited or one-time use has been documented elsewhere, but given that 74% of my sample said they didn’t use the internet on their mobile devices when on site, a web-based on-site solution still doesn’t look like an attractive investment proposition. Web-based pre- and post- reading however seems like a reasonably strong impulse among an minority of visitors. As long as web content is made responsive, and easy to look at on small screen, it may help migrate users to on-site use as data/signal/battery issues are resolved (though I note that the latest generation of phones at the end of 2018 seem to have short battery life than their predecessors).

Please take this very short survey

The problem with doing a PhD part-time is that trends change more quickly than my research. It doesn’t mean that my research has been overtaken, but questions I asked three or four years ago might have very different answers. To that end I have a very short survey I’d like to you do two things… Continue reading Please take this very short survey


The problem with doing a PhD part-time is that trends change more quickly than my research. It doesn’t mean that my research has been overtaken, but questions I asked three or four years ago might have very different answers.

To that end I have a very short survey I’d like to you do two things with. First of all, answer it yourselves, and secondly, share the link with as many people (over 16) as you can.

https://www.isurvey.soton.ac.uk/24912

It really won’t take even five minutes to completeime. **Edit 22 Sept: so far the average to complete the survey is three minutes, fifty seconds.** Thank you in advance for your participation.

Ethics approval – a word to the wise

I’m doing my ERGO application today. That’s the University’s Ethics risk and approval system, and they’ve worked hard to make it as simple as possible, but it does take time. And so its time to pass on a useful tip to those starting out on their PhD studies. This is the third approval I will have… Continue reading Ethics approval – a word to the wise

I’m doing my ERGO application today. That’s the University’s Ethics risk and approval system, and they’ve worked hard to make it as simple as possible, but it does take time. And so its time to pass on a useful tip to those starting out on their PhD studies. This is the third approval I will have got (and I’m pretty sure to get it, its low risk ethics-wise), during my time here. I made the mistake of applying for each bit of research that I wanted to do separately, with a relatively short expiry time. Once for some on-line data collection, the results of which which will feature in my thesis. Once for some recorded oral interviews which didn’t really get anywhere, and which probably won’t feature in the end.

But what I should have done is apply for the whole of my research, at the beginning, and set the expiry date for when I expected to finish my PhD. I didn’t realize that I time that I could do so, but as I go through the risk assessment for the third time, I realise that I’m ticking pretty much the same boxes each time. I guess I might have thought, back then, that the nature of my research could drastically change, based on what I had learned in the early years, but it hasn’t. And even if it had, I bet its easier to update the one approval that to do (as I have) three.

Update: Though, when I get to the question “Does the research involve working with: […] Class 3B or 4 lasers?” I’m disappointed that, apart from the “Yes” and “No” options, there isn’t also “I wish!”

 


P.O.R.T.U.S is go!

A week or two back, I had an interesting conversation with my supervisor, which I didn’t think I should mention on-line until, today, he invoked the “inverse fight club rule”. So I can now reveal that P.O.R.T.U.S stands for Portus Open Research Technologies User Study – yes, I know, as Graeme said “recursive-acronym-me-up baby.” This isn’t the Portus… Continue reading P.O.R.T.U.S is go!

A week or two back, I had an interesting conversation with my supervisor, which I didn’t think I should mention on-line until, today, he invoked the “inverse fight club rule”. So I can now reveal that P.O.R.T.U.S stands for Portus Open Research Technologies User Study – yes, I know, as Graeme said “recursive-acronym-me-up baby.” This isn’t the Portus Project, but but it does ride on the back of that work, and (we hope) it will also work to the Portus Project’s benefit.

P.O.R.T.U.S is a small pilot project to explore better signposting to open research, so (for example) people interested in the BBC Documentary Rome’s Lost Empire, (which coincidentally is repeated TONIGHT folks, hence my urgency in getting this post out) might find their way to the Portus Project website, the FutureLearn MOOC,  the plethora of academics papers available free through ePrints (this one for example) or even raw data.

Though the pilot project will use the Portus Project itself as a test bed, we’re keen to apply the learning to Cultural Heritage of all types. To which end I’m looking to organise a workshop bringing together cultural heritage organisations, the commercial companies that build interpretation and learning for them, and open source data providers like universities.

The research questions include:

  • What are the creative digital business (particularly but not exclusively in cultural heritage context) opportunities provided by aligning diverse open scholarship information?
  • What are the challenges?
  • Does the pilot implementation of this for the Portus Project offer anything to creative digital businesses?

The budget for this pilot project is small, and that means the workshop will have limited places, but if you are working with digital engagement, at or for cultural heritage sites and museums,. and would like to attend, drop me a note in the comments.


2016 Fieldwork Plans

This year we will be working on the archives for the previous 100+ years of research at Basing House. We will not be digging, but we will be sharing our research work on the Basing House blog and Facebook page.

The Basing House research team are happy to announce the plans for the 2016 summer fieldwork season.

This year, we are going to be working at the University of Southampton and at Hampshire Cultural Trust on the Basing House site archive. We will therefore not be digging at Basing House this summer. We will be back on site next year, so please do continue to follow the project.

We will be producing the interim report for the work carried out so far, and will be producing some visualisations and audio-visual content from the research findings to date. We will also be planning future excavations at the site, and will share the research questions with you as the 2016 season progresses.
Nicole, Gareth, Jude and Chris will be keeping you up to date on the project blog and Facebook page, so keep an eye out for further posts.
Thanks,
The Basing House project team

Filed under: 2016 Fieldwork, Excavation Plans Tagged: archive, fieldwork, interim report, research, research questions, visualisations

On gamification

It’s about time I addressed the issue of Gamification. It’s a word that gets bandied about a great deal, and one which has inspiring proponents like Jane McGonigal. But what does it actually mean? Nick Pelling lays claim (in this 2011 blog post) to coining the word in 2002 when he “began to wonder whether… Continue reading On gamification

The Walk, which uses game mechanics such as the acquisition of badges and and interactive story, in a (failed) attempt to get me to take more walking exercise.

It’s about time I addressed the issue of Gamification. It’s a word that gets bandied about a great deal, and one which has inspiring proponents like Jane McGonigal. But what does it actually mean?

Nick Pelling lays claim (in this 2011 blog post) to coining the word in 2002 when he “began to wonder whether the kind of games user-interface I had been developing for so long could be used to turbo-charge all manner of transactions and activities on commercial electronic devices [his emphasis]– in-flight video, ATM machines, vending machines, mobile phones, etc.  Unsurprisingly, this was the point when I coined the deliberately ugly word “gamification“, by which I meant applying game-like accelerated user interface design to make electronic transactions both enjoyable and fast.” (I’m glad he calls it “deliberately ugly” – I was ready to rant on about it being a linguistically unnecessary Americanism when I first heard it. I’m over that now). Of passing interest is his 2003 consultancy web page (looking VERY Web 1.0) which announces gamification to the world. That consultancy shut up shop three years later because, broadly, no-one was interested.

Its interesting to note that what he was interested in doing was bringing game-like interfaces to electronic devices. Which, though I’m not sure he would agree, is not what gamification has come to mean. Towards the end of his post, he insists that “the underlying idea of gamification [is] making hard things easy, expressive, near-effortless to use.” Games (and computer games in particular, since this is what Pelling is talking about) may offer interfaces that are apparently easy to pick up and start playing, but they are (mostly) designed to get more difficult, that is part of the challenge of games, the challenge that contributes to (successful) games becoming intrinsically motivating.

And its motivation that is at the centre of the current use of the word. In their 2014 literature review Hamari, Koivisto and Sarsa say “gamification can be seen to have three main parts: 1) the implemented motivational affordances, 2) the resulting psychological outcomes, and 3) the further behavioral outcomes.” Their review covers 24 studies of gamification, and categorizes all the “motivational affordances” mentioned in those studies: Points; Leaderboards; Achievements/Badges; Levels; Story/Theme; Clear goals; Feedback; Rewards; Progress; and, Challenge.

These resonate with (but do not match) some of the emotional models I’ve been reading about elsewhere. Of course Points, Leaderboards, Achievements/Badges, Levels and Rewards can all be summed up with the Acquisition trigger that Sylvester mentions. Challenge exists in both models. Story and Progress fit with Sylvester’s character arc, and Theme (arguably) with his environment trigger. I’m a bit curious about “Feedback”, because, surely everything a system does in response to the user is “feedback” isn’t it?

Anyway, the Hamari et al’s thesis is that badges, a story etc (motivational affordances), should have psychological outcomes (engagement, enjoyment and yup, yer actual motivation) that change the user’s behavior, encouraging them to, for example, take more walking exercise (behavioral outcomes). Their meta-analysis of these 24 studies indicates that “gamification does produce positive effects and benefits.” But “some studies showed that the results of gamification may not be long-term, but instead could be caused due to a novelty effect.” The authors also point out that “As previous works on player motivations suggest, people in fact interact with game-like systems in different manners, and for different reasons. Thus, the experiences created by the gamifying motivational affordances are also likely to vary.”

My personal experience supports all these conclusions. Three years or so back, I took delivery of a new company car, that after a few hundred miles rewarded me with a “cup” to celebrate my fuel-efficient driving. I endeavored there-after not to lose any of the graphic flower petals each indicated things like keeping to legal speeds, not braking heavily etc which had contributed to my cup. You can chalk that up as a “positive benefit”. Other attempts have not been so successful – the insurance company Aviva have recently started to use gamification to sell and reduce the costs of car insurance. I downloaded the app out of curiosity and for the purposes of this study. It was infuriating, and lasted only a week on my phone. The novelty had obviously worn off. And about a year ago I downloaded another app, The Walk (illustrated above), I responded badly to its needless badges and dull story. I used it less and less and eventually deleted it from my phone. It was a recent bout of very high blood pressure and a stern warning from my doctor that worked better to motivate me towards a healthier lifestyle.


Collaboration

Yesterday I attended the kick-off briefing/networking meeting for the University’s Opposites Attract Collaboration Challenge. It is an effort by the university to encourage broader cross-disciplinary collaboration, modeled on something that Bristol University have done. The challenge itself is a bit of an experiment, and we’re all feel our way a little bit. Initially I sat at… Continue reading Collaboration

Yesterday I attended the kick-off briefing/networking meeting for the University’s Opposites Attract Collaboration Challenge. It is an effort by the university to encourage broader cross-disciplinary collaboration, modeled on something that Bristol University have done. The challenge itself is a bit of an experiment, and we’re all feel our way a little bit.

Initially I sat at a table with Daniel and Adam. Adam is an archaeologist, so we didn’t stay together long at the table, as they wanted to mix people from different departments up. But before we join other groups, we worked on Elevator Pitches for our own research, I was very impressed by Adam’s – “Changing Rooms” for Roman Villas he said, with the practiced air of somebody who’d been touting his work around all the museums of the South West (which he had). Daniel was working on European politics, which is a hot topic might now.

Having given each other some feedback on our elevator pitches, and taken away bullet points that each of our listeners had heard us say, we moved to different tables for another challenge. Now I was sat with Anthony, a theoretical physicist, Hang, from the Business School, and Xiaotong from the school of education. First we had to distill the six bullet points that our previous audience had thought our research was about to just two. Then we had work together to propose a collaboration project that address at least one is not both of everyone’s bullet points. Not only that we had to imagine what the output might be: a game; a blog; a poster; a film or podcast; a hands-on display or installation; a live performance; or, an app (or I guess, something else entirely – hovering trampoline shoes was the example they gave from this video).

At first the task seemed impossible. Hang’s interests were about career management and the impact of the choices we make during our working lives. Anthony was working at the most mathematical end of theoretical physics, exploring better mathematical methods to interpret the problem of scale. I’d brought two very simplistic points from my research to the table: digital good and screens bad. Xiaotong was working on a gap analysis of Chinese students expectations of, and the reality of, UK higher education.

But then we had the idea of helping Xiaotong collect data for her project. We talked about the career-planning impacts that might motivate Chinese students to seek UK HE. Just for the purposes of the twenty minutes he had to discuss it, we came up with four examples – Reputation and prestige, experiencing Culture, Global Employability and Money. Then we talked about creating a mini exhibition on careers that had those four motives built into the space in four distinct locations. Rather than (or maybe actually as well as) asking students about their motivations, the exhibition would track their movement around the space, using Anthony’s machine learning algorithms to see which of the four motives they were most interested in, based upon the time they spend lingering in that area of the exhibition.

Admittedly, I feel Anthony was hard-done-by in this proposal. There wasn’t much actual cosmic physics here – he’d sacrificed his research aims, in order to contribute his mathematical expertise. And lets face it the maths wouldn’t even be very hard, not as challenging and exciting as the maths problems he’s already working on. So I think with more time we might have found something for satisfying for him, but the other three of us were pretty pleased that with just twenty minutes discussion, we’d come up with something that might contribute to our own research in different ways.

The intention wasn’t it bring this particular brainstorm to life, just to get us all thinking collaboratively. Though afterwards, Xiaotong indicated she might like to explore it further. So, I wonder if any of these ten reasons to the collaborate that the organisers cribbed from The Collaborative Researcher resource developed by Vitae would be enough to persuade Anthony to join us?

 

  1. It’s fun! Collaboration gives you opportunities to work with interesting people, on research that delivers a clear benefit, on topic that really engage your enthusiasm and interest.
  2. 2. Funding Most major funding providers are keen to promote collaborative research as a means to answer bigger questions. The skills and knowledge you gain will strengthen your position to apply for future funding.
  3. Improve your research vision Developing close ties with other researchers also gives you a community with whom to discuss you current and future plans. Their feedback and suggestions will help you to enhance or redefine your vision
  4. Boost your CV A group of researchers should produce more results than an individual! With a team of people writing on various aspects on interconnected work, there is a greater chance of adding to your publication list.
  5. Connect with many people Collaborations are a good way to work with many people at once – in a few years you could work with more researchers than you would during an entire career pursuing solo projects.
  6. 6. Improve your judgment Working with new people can be risky, so you’ll need to develop your own strategies for being sure you can trust your co-workers. Once you learn how to spot evidence of integrity and trustworthiness, you’ll be well positioned to find future partners.
  7. Publish more widely Each researcher in a collaboration will want to reach their own audiences, broadening your reach if you are publishing with them. Multi-disciplinary projects are also more likely to publish in high-impact, wide readership journals.
  8. 8. Improve communication and project management skills If you are involved in helping to write a project plan and communication strategy to manage the different partners, you’ll have marketable skills for the future.
  9. 9. Learn to manage and minimise risk By having a Plan B ready and a process for monitoring progress, you are increasing the likelihood of a successful project and will learn how to establish future research in the most effective way.
  10. Develop a niche As a specialist on a project you have a chance to showcase your expertise and develop your reputation in a particular field.

Social, Intellectual, Emotional, Spiritual

I took a group of visitor experience managers from the South East’s larger National Trust places to visit the Tower of London yesterday. We had a great discussion with Sally Dixon-Smith and Polly Richards about their year long project to create a core story framework for the Tower which, in the end, has pretty much… Continue reading Social, Intellectual, Emotional, Spiritual

I took a group of visitor experience managers from the South East’s larger National Trust places to visit the Tower of London yesterday. We had a great discussion with Sally Dixon-Smith and Polly Richards about their year long project to create a core story framework for the Tower which, in the end, has pretty much delivered a twenty year plan for the improvement of the visitor experience there.

One name that popped up again and again, especially when talking about audience research was Morris Hargreaves MacIntyre, the consultancy that created the National Trust’s audience segmentation years ago, and which (it seems) every museum and heritage attraction is using right now to better understand their visitors motivations and experiences.

I was interested to hear the same things coming from the Tower people that we’ve been talking about in the National Trust, so I thought it might be worth sharing, with broad brushstrokes MHM’s thinking, without (I hope) revealing any commercially sensitive information. MHM so share a lot of their philosophy on their own website, so do explore their if you are interested.

Recently, MHM have done a lot of work on people’s motivations for visiting museums and cultural heritage. And they’ve divided all those motivations into four broad groups. They are:

  • SOCIAL motivations, for example “to spend time with friends and family”;
  • INTELLECTUAL motivations like “to discover or explore nature or wildlife”;
  • EMOTIONAL motivations – “to see fascinating or awe inspiring things”; and,
  • SPIRITUAL motivations,  such as “to escape and recharge my batteries”.

What lots of places are asking MHM to do is help them ask visitors what their motivations were, before the visit, and then what they actually experienced during the visit. Then they can analyse how well the places are giving people what they want, or even exceeding peoples expectations and giving them something more than they came for.

All of which I’ve become quite familiar with, because this is something the National Trust and MHM have been discussing  for some time. But yesterday I also heard at the Tower a language that I have coincidentally only just heard being discussed within the National Trust. And that is MHM’s classification of “how we provide visitors with the opportunity to construct their own meaning from a visit”. They talk of four (again – they must like fours) categories of “construct devices”:

  • EXPLICIT – More traditional forms of interpretation such as introduction/text panels, object labels, introductory videos, room/gallery  sheets and visitor guides.
  • EMBEDDED – Interpretation which is explicit, but in a format which is in keeping with the room. For example, period designed newspaper articles, radio broadcasts, letters and newsreels.
  • HIDDEN – Interpretation requires discovery. It is hidden inside furniture and within drawers, underneath objects, using directional audio.
  • HUMAN – Guided tours,workshops, living history and costumed interpreters.

The conversation at the Tower was revolving around the HUMAN “devices” – I’d arranged the visit through my old friend Chris Gidlow, head of live interpretation. But what particularly grabs my interest for my own research is the idea of HIDDEN interpretation. In a way, my Responsive Environment ideas are all about places revealing hidden interpretation.


Scalar

Today, I’ve been thinking about a story-telling tool to help me “break” the stories of a site for the experiment I’ve been rethinking. I think I’m looking for something that meets the following criteria: Collaborative – more than one author Handles all sorts of media types Includes tags Allows the author(s) to see and manipulate the… Continue reading Scalar

Today, I’ve been thinking about a story-telling tool to help me “break” the stories of a site for the experiment I’ve been rethinking. I think I’m looking for something that meets the following criteria:

  • Collaborative – more than one author
  • Handles all sorts of media types
  • Includes tags
  • Allows the author(s) to see and manipulate the links between “Natoms” in networks
  • Ability to turn some tags into narrative order (to create my “kernels”)
  • Works with ontologies (eg OWL)
  • Complies with data standards (eg RDF)

(There may be more criteria – can anyone suggest any?).

So, first of all, I thought Twine, which can do the Network thing, and the Kernel order thing, and I’ve even “broken” a story with it. But its not collaborative (well, it may be in version two) and doesn’t handle different media easily – I did get it to handle music (just about), but its not easy.

So then I got into the sort of software academics use to build their data networks. But the learning curve on most of them looks pretty steep. Then I remembered hearing about Scalar. Scalar looks quite interesting. It’s built to make interactive e-book multimedia dissertations really, but it might do the job I need. It works with OWL and RDF, uses, tags, makes narrative paths and does some very pretty network visualisations. Its definitely collaborative and handles lots of media types.

What I haven’t worked out is whether I can make the paths conditional (which I think I need) and wehther it can publish to a stand alone file, or whether it requires a web-connection. If it does require a web connection, then I can’t use it during the experiment, because I’m not likely to have we access anywhere where the experiment takes place.

Anyway its worth a deeper look, and maybe a play-around with.


What PhD supervisors are for

I had a great chat with my supervisor on Thursday, after helping out with a Masters seminar. As regular readers may have worked out, I’ve been having a great deal of trouble trying to get a coherent testable design to test out of my half-formed ideas and lofty ideals. The problem was trying to think of… Continue reading What PhD supervisors are for

I had a great chat with my supervisor on Thursday, after helping out with a Masters seminar. As regular readers may have worked out, I’ve been having a great deal of trouble trying to get a coherent testable design to test out of my half-formed ideas and lofty ideals.

The problem was trying to think of a cheap way to test some of the theory I’ve come up with. I’d got hung up on trying to think of a way to track visitors round a site and test their reactions to that. Until I solved that I was handwaving the issues of breaking the story into natoms, and balancing the conflicting needs of multiple visits in the same space. Those two problems both felt more within my comfort zone. The problem is that I’m not a technologist, that bit is so far out of my comfort zone that I’d need to enlist (or pay for) one. On top of that, the tech itself isn’t that cheap – getting a wifi network into some of the heritage places I know, with their thick stone walls and sheer scale, isn’t about buying just one wifi router.

I’d mentioned the other problems (particularly in the one of negotiating conflicting needs) in the seminar. (The students had been reading about a variety of museum interpretation experiments for their “homework” and we discussed the common issue that many of the experiments focussed on the issue of a visitor in isolation, and hadn’t thought enough about multiple users in the same space). Afterwards I spent twenty minutes with Graeme, my supervisor, in his office. I felt he’d finally got what I’d been trying to say about a “responsive” environment, and his interest was particularly focused on the two issues I’d handwaved. We talked about low-tech ways or exploring both of those, and of course THAT’S what I should be doing, not worrying about the tech. These are both things I can do (I think!) rather than something I can’t .

So by the end of our chat, when Graeme had to return to his students we’d worked out the rudiments of a simple experiment.

  • What I need is a relatively small heritage site, but the possibility of lots of choices about routes, lots of intersections between spaces. What Hiller calls a low depth configuration (that last link is to a fancy new on-line edition of the book, by the way. It’s worth a read).
  • I need to work with the experts/curators of that site to “break” the stories. Break is a script-writing term, but it feels particularly appropriate when thinking about cutting the stories up into the smallest possible narrative atoms. (Although maybe “natomise” is better!)
  • Then I need to set up the site to simulate some of responsiveness that a more complex system might offer. Concealed Bluetooth speakers for example, or  switches like these that can be controlled by Bluetooth.
  • Finally, rather than try and create the digital system that tracks visitors and serves them ephemeral natoms, I can do a limited experiment with two or more humans following visitors around and remotely throwing the switches that might light particular areas of the room, play sounds or what ever other interventions we can come up with. The humans take the place of the server, and when they come together, negotiate which of their visitors gets the priority. Graeme suggested a system of tokens that the human followers could show each other – but the beauty of this concept is that the methods of negotiating could become part of the results of the experiment! The key thing is to explain to the participants that the person following them around isn’t giving them a guided tour, they can ask questions of him/her, but s/he isn’t going to lead their experience.

So, now I have a a thing that it is possible to do, with minimal help and with a minimal budget. And its a thing that I can clearly see has aims that come of the research I’ve done, and results that inform platonic ideal responsive environment I have in my head. If it works, it will hopefully inspire someone else to think about automating it.

That’s what supervisors are for!