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QR codes

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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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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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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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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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’re starting to really get into the design of phase-1 of Social Interpretation, and this will the first of a few updates on various aspects of design for the in-gallery technology and signage.

As you may have seen (here, here, here, here and, um,  here) we’re in the middle of wresting with how (or if) to best use QR Codes to facilitate physical/digital interaction. We already know from our research that part of this is to really make clear, in a small space, what the code is and how to use it. Part of that is placement, part is effective written prompt – being looked at by Claire Ross, and part is visual prompting. We’re finding out that visitors are likely to respond well to a clear phone graphic, to indicate what to use the code with. But what phone?

Which do you think it most recognisable as a smartphone?

You see, I have an aversion to using the iPhone as an icon. It’s recognisable, and definitely has a cultural recognition this definitely helps as far as being an icon is concerned.

But, I worry that it does three things:

  • Alienate non iPhone users and imply that it’s an iPhone-only function
  • Contribute to the public perception that Smartphone = iPhone. It doesn’t (it’s denying the antecedent)
  • Contribute to the public perception that you need an Apple device to take advantage of basic smartphone functions

It’s possible that none of these matter – or that I’m just worrying about nothing. And we’ll be evaluating our choice anyway to see how people react.

But what do you think?

From left to right, which phone icon do you prefer?

  • Generic, 3D (not shown) (28%, 11 Votes)
  • iPhone, straight (25%, 10 Votes)
  • iPhone, angled (18%, 7 Votes)
  • iPhone, 3D (15%, 6 Votes)
  • Generic, angled (13%, 5 Votes)
  • Generic, straight (3%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 40

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This is an interesting use of QR codes and print media in combination. There are a lot of ways this could be adapted to make museum objects really social. And have them, almost literally, talk. And in return have visitors join in that conversation. But you’d need a budget rather bigger than #socialinterp’s.

This Reporters Without Borders advert is a bit gimmicky. But still, fair play, as it’s a hard subject to get people engaged with.

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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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Scott Stratten’s UnMarketing Keynote at the NAMP conference. Found via Twitter, this is practically a stand-up comedy routine about QR Codes. Short, watchable and some truisms in there, too.

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