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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It has been relatively quiet, project-wise for the past 2 weeks. Tom has left IWM and the new project leader, Carolyn (Head of New Media at IWM) and project partner Claire have been at Museums and the Web in America. The back end boys, KI and Gooii have been coding back and forth in the north. At the museum myself and Wendy (Digital Projects Manager at IWM) have been picking up snagging issues on the SI kiosks in the A Family in Wartime exhibition.

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So. The Social Interpretation. She goes live today. The first bit anyway. 6 kiosks for visitors to comment on 6 objects. And 8 QR Codes that resolve to shiny new IWM mobile web pages, for the associated objects. It has taken an inordinate amount of time and effort to get this far. But then exhibition things are never straightforward, seamless, unproblematic or, even, easy.

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Communication Equipment, S-Phone Type WS 13/Mark 1V, British

Do you know what? Museum mobile app development is hard sometimes.  That is what today has taught me.  Quite a lot of today was taken up with draining discussions about what the primary aim of the Social Interpretation mobile app should be.  Is it a closed in gallery app for commenting?  Should it highlight sharing? Should it focus on collected objects? How/should the app interface with Online?  Just because it has the technical functionality does that mean we should actually implement it? How do you design for all eventualities?

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This week I have been undertaking some visitor behaviour mapping in the main exhibition space up at IWM North. I had reservations about how well I would be able to complete visitor behaviour mapping as the space is intentionally confrontational, with a want of making visitors feel ill at ease. You get lost easily, and are never quite sure where the exit is, or if you have come from the right or the left. There is a chronology, but it isn’t easy to follow, and visitors do get lost and distracted. The museum is really one wonkily-shaped large central dimly lit room with small ‘silos’ focusing on particular themes.   So it was fascinating to see how visitors interact with the space, what behaviours they display, and which objects interest them the most.

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Men of a Territorial Army Anti-Aircraft Battery training on a 3 inch anti-aircraft gun, aircraft height finder and predictor in their drill hall.

I was really very interested to read this post on the success of going mobile in museums lying in the hands of Visitor Services departments.  The usual museum visitor neither knows nor cares about the machinations and politications of getting a project like Social Interpretation off the ground. They don’t much care about budgets, stakeholders, design sign-offs, advisory committees, and mobile phone icon debates. Or any of that stuff. They care, or they remember, their experience in the museum – of which mobile is going to become a more and more common part.

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We both own necklaces, for starters. Necklace, handmade, Turkish. On display at IWM North. EPH 796

So, what else does Claire’s Accessories have to do with Social Interpretation?

Recently, Claire’s Accessories got into a bit of bother. They were apparently caught taking a little too much inspiration in their designs from an independent jewellery designer. This post isn’t about the ethics of design and intellectual property however. Instead, it’s about how Claire’s reacted when their users started to complain / debate / kick-off about their actions.

Or more specifically: how they didn’t react.

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He Talked ... This Happened - Careless Talk Costs Lives Poster

We will be talking at the New Directions in Digital Humanities seminar on 23rd Feb 2012 at 1pm.

The King’s”New Directions in Digital Humanities” seminar presents a series of lectures and demonstrations by leading scholars, postgraduate students, and practitioners from across the disciplines of the humanities and nearby social sciences. The Seminar aims not only to present work at the leading edge of application but also to provide a forum in which this work is subject to critical reflection and thoughtful probing.

So it sounds like we have to be on our best behaviour next week!

We will be talking about the agile and user centred design process we are employing for Social Intrerpretation as well as some of the challenges Social Interpetation in Museums is bringing up.
Hope to see you there.

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Twenty-three sheets of toilet paper, issued to British Far East prisoners of war held by Japanese forces, during the Second World War.

Agile management in part is supposed to be a faster way of delivering projects.  As an aside, I’m not impressed with project management methodologies in general, either you can manage a project or you can’t, you don’t need a methodology to follow.

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QR Codes are the cause of much debate / argument / kitten killing, both in and outside of Social Interpretation. But why do we need them? What are the different options? And if using QR, what can one do to make them as usable as possible?

Which would do you prefer?

Why this debate at all?

To put it simply, because we want to enable people to use objects (or anything physical) as keys into more information. This might be info about an object, a theme, or maybe a discussion or piece of media. To do this, we need some way to bridge the physical/digital divide.

So what’re our options?

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