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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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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Commandos 'stalk the enemy' under cover of a smokescreen during training in Scotland, 28 February 1942.

In December I was let loose in the atrium space, with a clip board and some less than desirable maps of the gallery floor. December was the month I discovered that I cannot draw a tank for toffee. Why was I drawing tanks? Because unfortunately I wasn’t given an accurate floor plan until afterwards so I had to draw my own. Which in a way is a fantastic opportunity to familiarise yourself with a gallery space is by painstakingly drawing each of the objects and there relevant positions to each other. Once I had sorted the map drawing and figured out the difference between a Mark V Tank and a T34 Tank I then commenced stalking. It really isn’t as creepy as it sounds, and in fact can be really useful when you are trying to find out what are the typical behaviours of visitors to a museum space. These maps (with my pitiful drawings of Tanks that looked like ducks) then grew into a complex spiders web of visitor interactions, behaviours and movements throughout the space.

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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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Christmas from our collections - the woman on the left scares me a little. (

I thought that I’d post a quick Merry Christmas (or just happy holidays if you’d like) to everyone.

But then couldn’t resist a quick post. Because while searching for Christmas in our collections, the disturbing image below appeared reasonably high in the results:

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We presented some of the work of the Social Interpretation Project at UK Museums on the Web Conference on the 25th November 2011.

Agile as a starting point: We have taken an agile approach quite naturally, as it fits the New Media team at IWM and UCL’s focus on user centred design, works well with agile principles. Tom then went on to explain, the project.  Social interpretation happens anyway in person, it’s not new, you share stuff with other people all the time, we are  just using new digital platforms to facilitate it.

Project Aims: To increase Engagement with IWM content and Spread of collections and we are going to utilise social media methods to develop three applications, in gallery, mobile and online which hopefully facilitate social interpretation. Tom pointing out that as soon as the idea that visitors will be allowed to voice their opinions in any kind of permanent space (in gallery or online) museums have a tendency to get anxious, Tom framed this conversation quite nicely, with swear words and Nazis.

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Ladies talking

19 year old typist Iris Joyce (left) talks with a recruiting officer as she enrols in the Women's Land Army.

As part of the Social Interpretation project at Imperial War Museums we want to know about your previous experience of digital technology in museums.  The good the bad and the ugly!

We are asking anybody who is interested in or has used digital technology in museum spaces before to take part in one of our focus groups so that we can better understand the positive and negatives of  using digital applications in gallery spaces, whether that be on your own mobile, or an kiosk, or an tablet, or a touch table.  The list is endless.   The results of this work should provide us with further insight into user experiences and will help us to develop user requirements for future Social Interpretation applications which are under development and help to find appropriate methodologies to detect and evaluate their impact.

The focus group will be at Imperial War Museum Lambeth on:

    • 5th December at 11am, 1pm and 3pm
    • 9th December at  3pm
    • 13th December 10.30am and 11.30 am

It will take roughly 30minutes. If you are interested in attending one of the focus groups, please contact Claire Ross

Many thanks — we really do appreciate your time.


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