Imperial War Museum Image of Social Interpretation Blog title

The majority of work for SI to date has focused on the in gallery kiosks.  The next iteration of which are currently being installed in IWM North.

What we haven’t really discussed yet, is the mobile and online elements to this project. We’ve been busy behind the scenes, designing, developing and snagging both the android and ios mobile applications as well as the social interpretation elements of the Website, which will go live very shortly.

SI has been ambitious from the start; and combining, and synchronising, in gallery, mobile and online is hard.  But we’re getting there!

The mobile applications work by scanning on of the numerous QR codes in IWM London and IWM North, once scanned visitors can access the objects story, and share stories of their own memories and experiences about War and objects in the IWM collections. Visitors can also create and share their own museum collection.

With the website we have added social interpretation elements to over 750,000 collection objects! That’s quite a big deal (well we think so anyway).   Visitors can curate and annotate your own unique collection of objects and then share them with friends.  Visitors are also able to join the conversation, by adding comments to any item in the collection and read what other people have to say.

We’ll update on the individual elements of the mobile and website once we’ve gone live.

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Floor projection at IWM North

So, we took Social Interpretation (SI) on the road yesterday. Up to Imperial War Museum North (IWMN). We are installing 4 SI kiosks against big objects and 9 QR Codes against smaller objects – one of which is a trunk in a vitrine a good 2 metres off the floor. This meant choosing the placing of the codes took a good bit of pointing and gesturing.

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As we are very much in the delivery of Phase 2 of the SI project (it involves a lot of snagging, running around, and sorting digital assets) we havent had time to blog.

However, all is not lost! There is a blog about us over on NESTA’s blog  instead! Check out the latest post on NESTA’s digitalrnd blog about the next steps for SI  up at IWM North.

NESTA have also created a feature on their website about Social Interpretation.

And, you can access the slides from the Museum Association Joy of Text event where the SI team were talking about the potential (as well as the challenges) of interactive digital labels on slideshare.

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Yesterday we held an advisory board meeting for the Social Interpretation project, and we wanted our advisory panel to work for their tea and biscuits. After giving a good cop/bad cop account of where we were at we let the advisory panel lose on the Family in Wartime exhibition. It was great to get feedback on the work that we have done so far. We know it is a work in progress, and there is still a long way to go. We discussed the ergonomic problems of the placement of the kiosks, institutional differences, bugs in the software, atmosphere in the exhibition, size of the screen, and overall the quality of the comments we are getting.

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Gummed labels, perforated and numbered, found in possession of German spy, used as code

So now that we are well in truly on the road to delivery for phase 2 of social interpretation in July. I have been having fund with lots of data. At the beginning of April 6 Social Interpretation kiosks and 8 QR codes were installed in the Family in Wartime exhibition. We have been recording and tracking interaction with the devices for two months now. Its nice to see some numbers.  We have also been doing some observations and interviews in order to get more juicy qualitative data.  But here are some of the numbers first, from month 1 in gallery. 

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Turner Prize exhibition comment card designed by A2/SW/HK

The preponderance of digital in this digital R&D project has been troubling me a bit. Ever since we installed our social interpretation kiosks in the A Family in War exhibition in early April, I have been remembering the various exhibitions I have worked on over the years and the various lo-fi commenting options that often drew more comments – and more engaged comments – from visitors than our SI technology is so far managing to do.

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A 'Basic Wireless' manual, belonging to SOE agent Mme Cormeau from wireless training.

One of the problems with R&D digital lifecycles and museum exhibition lifecycles is that they are completely different. The pace of technology change is misaligned with the fiscal, creation, development and installation cycles of museums.

In a climate in which new technology platforms emerge on a weekly basis, there is a dramatic mismatch between the cycle of technology and the long planning cycles that exist for most museums exhibitions.  Social Interpretation is no exception.  We came in very late to the build of the Family in Wartime exhibition, and it’s fantastic that we could incorporate SI into the exhibition.  It looks really good with the time and resource we had available. But it does mean due to this lack of time and resources that a few issues are now cropping up.

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While this blog has been keeping you up to date on project development and how social interpretation fits into A Family in Wartime exhibition, we haven’t given you much info on how the project feeds in to the wider marketing campaign for the exhibition.

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A comment was just added on to our Social Interpretation kiosk, against the Gravy Browning box in the A Family in Wartime exhibition.

In answer to the prompt:

How important is it for you to be fashionable during a time of shortages and cutbacks?  During the Second World War there were many shortages, including clothes and make-up Women needed to be very inventive in finding alternatives to remain in fashion. Along with other ‘Make Do and Mend’ ideas, women used gravy powder to stain their legs to look as though they were wearing stockings.

 The comment reads:

“I think it’s a waste of gravy. And you could have dogs around your legs licking.”

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The Crusader by Gerry Judah at Imperial War Museum North

It’s always nice to get back to the north. And it’s always nice to visit the IWM North. We went for our SI team meeting this week. Primarily to sort out the rolling out of SI kiosks and QR codes in to the radically different spaces up there. We get the chance to install bigger comment screens and hopefully bigger QR codes too. Size does matter.

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