Museum And The Web Conference 2011

Nick demonstrating Art Amplified

The conference finally came. It was a lot of work but in the end a success. We were told that our work was the most impressive thing they’ve seen at the conference, which is always great to hear.

Nick, Ben and I have been working on this for over a month. We began with a couple of vague ideas about how to improve the museum experience and over time refined them into two solid projects. The first, Art Amplified, used augmented reality to allow patrons to easily access more contextual information about a piece. The second, Collabritique, was a bit more eccentric. It was essentially an ice-breaker to promote interaction and conversations among patrons.

With Art Amplified, we were initially thinking of trying to essentially project extra information around the art work in digital space. We chose Layars, a free AR app for mobile devices as our platform. It was a pretty simple set up once we understood the concepts. Basically, just build a database with the required information, i.e. gps coordinates, links to images, names, etc., and then write a script to call it. Fortunately, their tutorials helped us with the heavy lifting and we ended up only having to make a few tweaks to get the basics to work. We quickly discovered some limitations of the technology and began our iterations. Civilian GPS is only accurate up to 30′ so placing contextual information with any real accuracy was going to take some trickery. Cross platform compatibility issues, meant that pictures looked blurry on our Android device and were repeated on our Iphone. We ended up with what is arguably a better system anyway. Our final, as of now, prototype included using icons of the art work as place holders and then linking to a variety of information, from artist histories, and related works to even linking in to the phone tours.

Collabritique was built from the ground up. We recognized that often people get into a zone where they shuffle from one piece to the next. Even if they are standing near someone they won’t talk; they may even feel it might be rude. We wanted to get people talking. Art is meant to make people react, but that almost become taboo. Our thought was that if we could try to illuminate the work of the curator and show people that each piece is not an island but just a stroke in a bigger picture, this might incite conversations. After talking with Slavko, one of our professors, we realized this simply would not be enough. We needed to find a way to get strangers together and provoked. After a brainstorm we decided to try to put people together and using provocative statements incite conversation. IF we could get people to stand close enough, it would affect their comfort zones, and with a provocative statement, we felt they would surely talk to each other.

To do this we wanted to have some predetermined markers that would be a little too close for comfort. The markers would imply that they should be stood on to pique curiosity. Once each marker was covered a provocative statement would be projected near the appropriate artwork. Initially Ben’s blob detection was employed to detect when people stepped on a marker, but when the color of people’s clothes started being a consideration we decided to move away from it. Ultimately we hacked some ancient keyboards apart for their keys, and built some platforms around them and ran each one into another keyboard so that the software would simply have to recognize a keystroke. It turns out that a simple provocative statement left more people confused than conversational. In the end we devised a system that would recognize if less than all of the markers were used and request that the current users find more people. Once full a provocative statement was displayed. However it could be adjusted by the users depending on the sequence of platforms being pressed at any given time. This allowed the group to discover their options and then work together to find one that best suited them all. After which it simply faded away leaving a more bonded group and with solid fodder for conversation.

I think I can speak for Nick and Ben when I say we are all excited about the success and potential of these projects. While we’re not sure about the future of Art Amplified, Collabritique is getting another round of revisions. We already have a meeting with a group of Museum Studies grad students to demo Collabritique and give feeback. We also have a few leads on museums that may be interested in atleast letting us test the system in their galleries.

I’ll try to get more and better media up about both of the projects soon.
Here’s a link to a little handout explaining Collabritique.

Me explaining Collabritique