Showing posts with label visitor experience. Show all posts
Showing posts with label visitor experience. Show all posts

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Setting off small fireworks: leaving space for curiosity

Remember when blog posts didn't need titles, didn't need to be long or take ages to write, and had nothing to do with your 'personal brand'? I've realised that while I'm writing up the PhD I'll barely blog at all if I don't blog like it's 2007 and just share interesting stuff when I've got a moment. Here goes...

I've been interested in the role of curiosity in engaging people with museum collections since I evaluated museum 'tagging' crowdsourcing games for my MSc project and learnt that the randomness of the objects presented made players really curious about what would appear next, and in turn that curiosity was one reason they kept playing. It turns out other metadata game designers have noticed the same effect. Flanagan and Carini (2012) wrote: 'Curiosity and doubt are key design opportunities. ... In a number of instances, players became so curious about the images they were tagging that they would tag images with inquiry phrases, such as "want to know more about this culture."'

I returned to 'curiosity' for a talk I gave at the iSay conference in Leicester, where I related it to Raddick et al's (2009) 'Levels of Engagement' in citizen science, where Level 2 participation in community discussion (e.g. forums on crowdsourcing sites) and Level 3 is 'working independently on self-identified research projects'. To me, this suggested you should leave room for curiosity and wonder to develop - it might turn into a new personal journey for the participant or visitor, or even a new research question for a crowdsourcing project.

The reason I'm posting now is that I just came across Langer's definition of 'mindfulness': 'the "state of mind that results from drawing novel distinctions, examining information from new perspectives, and being sensitive to context. It is an open, creative, probabilistic state of mind in which the individual might be led to finding differences among things thought similar and similarities among things thought different" (Langer 1993, p.44).' in Csikszentmihalyi and Hermanson (1995). Further:
'Exhibits that facilitate mindfulness display information in context and present various viewpoints. For example, Langer (1993, p.47) contrasts the statement "The three main reasons for the Civil War were..." with the statement "From the perspective of the white male living in the twentieth century, the main reasons for the Civil War were..." (p.47). The latter approach calls for thoughtful comparisons. For example, How did women feel during the Civil War? the old? the old from the North? the black male today? and so on.'
I don't know about you, but my curiosity was piqued and my mind started going in lots of different directions. The second question carefully creates a gap just big enough to let a hundred new questions through and is a brilliant example of why both museum interpretation and participatory projects should leave room for curiosity...

Works cited:

  • Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly, and Kim Hermanson. 1995. “Intrinsic Motivation in Museums: Why Does One Want to Learn?” In Public Institutions for Personal Learning: Establishing a Research Agenda, edited by John Falk and Lynn D. Dierking, 66 – 77. Washington D.C.: American Association of Museums. [This is seriously ace, track down a copy if you can]
  • Flanagan, Mary, and Peter. 2012. “How Games Can Help Us Access and Understand Archival Images.” American Archivist 75 (2): 514–537.
  • Raddick, M. Jordan, Georgia Bracey, K. Carney, G. Gyuk, K. Borne, J. Wallin, and S Jacoby. 2009. “Citizen Science: Status and Research Directions for the Coming Decade.” In Astro2010: The Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey. Vol. 2010. http://www8.nationalacademies.org/astro2010/DetailFileDisplay.aspx?id=454.


(Ok, so a post with references is not exactly blogging like it's 2006, but you've got to start somewhere...)
(Someone is literally setting off fireworks somewhere nearby. I have no idea why.)
(And yeah, I am working on a Saturday night. Friends don't let friends do PhDs, innit.)

Monday, 5 March 2012

'I see, I feel, hence I notice, I observe, and I think'

More and more open and/or linkable cultural heritage data is becoming available, which means the next big challenge for memory institutions is dealing with 'death by aggregation: creating meaningful, engaging experiences of individual topics or objects within masses of digital data.  With that in mind, I've been wondering about the application of Roland Barthes' concepts of studium and punctum to large online collections.  (I'm in the middle of research interviews for my PhD, and it's amazing what one will think about in order to put off transcribing hours of recordings, but bear with me...)

Studium, in Wikipedia's definition, is the 'cultural, linguistic, and political interpretation of a photograph'.  While Barthes was writing about photography, I suspect studium describes the average, expected audience response to well-described images or objects in most collections sites - a reaction that exists within the bounds of education, liking and politeness.  However, punctum - in Barthes' words, the 'element which rises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow, and pierces me' - describes the moment an accidentally poignant or meaningful detail in an image captures the viewer.  Punctum is often personal to the viewer, but when it occurs it brings with it 'a power of expansion': 'I see, I feel, hence I notice, I observe, and I think'.  You cannot design punctum, but can we design collections interfaces to create the serendipitous experiences that enable punctum?  Is it even possible with images of objects, or is it more likely to occur with photographic collections?

While thinking about this, I came across an excellent post on Understanding Compelling Collections by John Coburn (@j0hncoburn) in which he describes some pilots on 'compelling historic photography' by Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums. The experiment asked two questions: 'Which of our collections best lends themselves to impulse sharing online?' and 'Which of our collections are people most willing to talk about online?'.  It's well worth reading both for their methods and their results, which are firmly grounded in the audiences' experience of their images: a 'key finding from our trial with Flickr Commons was that the mass sharing of images often only became possible when a user defined or redefined the context of the photograph', 'there’s a very real appetite on Facebook for old photography that strongly connects to a person’s past'.

Coming back to Barthes, their quest for images that 'immediately resonated with our audience on an emotional level and without context' is almost an investigation of enabling punctum; their answer: 'anything that How To Be a Retronaut would share', is probably good enough for most of us for now.  To summarise, they're 'era-specific, event-specific, moment-specific' images that 'disrupt people’s model of time', that 'tap into magic and the sublime', and that 'stir your imagination, not demand prior knowledge or interest'.  They're small, tightly-curated, niche-interest sets of images with evocative titles.

That's not how we generally think about or present online collections.  But what if we did?

[Update, May 16, 2012.

This post, from Flickr members co-curating an exhibition with the National Maritime Museum, offers another view - is the public searching for punctum when they view photographic collections, and does the museum/archive way of thinking about collections iron out the quirks that might lead to punctum?
'It is frightening to imagine what treasures will never see the light of day from the collection at the Brass Foundry. I got the sense that the Curators and the National Maritime Museum in general see these images as closely guarded historical documents and as such offer insight location, historical events and people in the image. There seems to be a lack of artistic appreciation for the variety of unusual and standalone images in the collection, raising an important question concerning the value attributed to each photograph when interpreted by an audience with different aesthetic interests. ... In my opinion it is the ‘unknown’ quality of photography that initially inspires engagement and subsequently this process encourages an exploration of our own identity and how we as individuals create meaning.'  Source: 'The Brass Foundary Visit 19/04/2012']

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Play with your customer profiles

It's a bit early for a random Friday fun link, but this Forrester 'Build Your Customers' Social Technographics Profile' interactive counts as work too.

Companies often approach Social Computing as a list of technologies to be deployed as needed — a blog here, a podcast there — to achieve a marketing goal. But a more coherent approach is to start with your target audience and determine what kind of relationship you want to build with them, based on what they are ready for. You can use the tool on this page to get started.

You can pull down menus to change the age group, country and gender of your target audience, and the graph below updates to show you how many are in each 'Social Technographics' group.

The definitions of the 'Social Technographics' groups are given in a slideshow.

Hat tip to Nina Simon. [Update to get Nina's name right, I'm very sorry!]

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Let's help our visitors get lost

In 'Community: From Little Things, Big Things Grow' on ALA, George Oates from Flickr says:

It's easy to get lost on Flickr. You click from here to there, this to that, then suddenly you look up and notice you've lost hours. Allow visitors to cut their own path through the place and they'll curate their own experiences. The idea that every Flickr visitor has an entirely different view of its content is both unsettling, because you can't control it, and liberating, because you’ve given control away. Embrace the idea that the site map might look more like a spider web than a hierarchy. There are natural links in content created by many, many different people. Everyone who uses a site like Flickr has an entirely different picture of it, so the question becomes, what can you do to suggest the next step in the display you design?

I've been thinking about something like this for a while, though the example I've used is Wikipedia. I have friends who've had to ban themselves from Wikipedia because they literally lose hours there after starting with one innocent question, then clicking onto an interesting link, then onto another...

That ability to lose yourself as you click from one interesting thing to another is exactly what I want for our museum sites: our visitor experience should be as seductive and serendipitous as browsing Wikipedia or Flickr.

And hey, if we look at the links visitors are making between our content, we might even learn something new about our content ourselves.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Museums as social spaces - the good, the bad, and the (ugly) conversations of others

I've linked to two articles about museums as social spaces or the behaviour of the public in museums; one refers to virtual and the other to physical space but the issues are related.

In museums, social situations, control and trust, Jennifer Trant says:
as soon as you put museum collections in a public place, the public will do what they do .... search logs show us that many look for 'nude' ... and if you let people comment, they will: they will tell you about your typos; they will tell you that their child could have made that painting; and they will argue about the significance of works. they will also tell you things that you might never have known, and you can learn from that. but what happens when two branches of a family choose your museum's site as the venue for a dispute about what was 'true' family history?
She also makes the point that museums "can't demand control" and have to trust that users will respect their content when they allow users to use their collections in the users' personal space.

This is one issue that probably causes a lot of anxiety within museums at the moment. We'll only really find out whether users will respect our content when we let them respond to it. What kind of visitors have the means and self-motivation to comment on, link to pages or display images, or otherwise respond to cultural heritage content?

On another note, is it worse to be disrespected or ignored?

I'm just quoting one more bit from her post before I go on, because I thought it was worth repeating:
"there are a number of different value propositions for distribution of reproductions of works of in their collections. there may still be some great icons that will sell. but in many cases the value of having a collection known may outweighs worries about lost revenue, particularly when the images being released on the public web really aren't large enough to do that much with."

So from visitors respecting content, to visitors respecting other visitors, and perhaps to whether museums respect the visitor experience...

Giles Waterfield relates his experience of the crowded New York MoMA in The crowds swamping museums must be tackled - soon and makes some good points about "the over-population and over-use of the museum space":
"the predominance and ready availability in our society of visual images can mean that apart from the (sometimes over-exposed) icon, works in a gallery risk becoming another form of rapidly-absorbed consumer fodder. ... visitors at many contemporary art museums now often behave similarly, pausing only to take pictures of celebrity works"
This matters because:
"looking at art is a difficult experience, one that has to be learnt and that requires concentration. Little art was created specifically for the museum or gallery, at least until recently, and the museum is not necessarily the best place to appreciate it. If the museum experience becomes one in which the visitor is regularly concerned with negotiating a way through the crowds and avoiding noise, the status of the museum as a vehicle for displaying art becomes highly questionable.

...the series of subtle, intense and inter-linked experiences that are created require an appropriate environment. The Demoiselles may just about survive, but quieter works of art drown and the carefully considered relationships between them disappear when the pressure of visitors means it is hardly possible to concentrate or to view more than one work at a time, if that."


His article is specific to art galleries, and the types of attention, learning and reflection may well be different for art works and social history objects; but the effect of interactions between the space in which the object is seen and of encounters with other visitors is interesting.

In my own experience, I have to force myself to go see blockbuster exhibitions because I dread the crowds - not only can is be really difficult to have a decent look at the art or objects; the sheer number of people means that tempers are shorter and the atmosphere is slightly more 'Oxford Street on a Saturday' than 'quiet temple of contemplation'.

If you give up waiting for a chance to read the captions or panel text over someone else's shoulder, it's easy for objects to appear only as visual entertainment.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

New ways of experiencing museums

This article presents a lovely perspective on the ways different audiences now engage with museums. It's also interesting to wonder how these changing perspectives affect the online experience of a museum, exhibition or single object.

The idea of a museum visit as a kind of promenade theatre event is a comparatively new one for me. I am typical of my generation, I suspect, in still expecting a trip to a gallery to be improving - with the emphasis on it as a place where one will be educated, and above all, somewhere one will be infused with morally uplifting sentiments.

Younger gallery-goers, by contrast, go in search of a more immediate experience - looking for something emotionally challenging, against which to measure the tide of information that floods us, in our engulfing sea of online information.

Or, in the case of Tate Modern's Turbine Hall or the V&A's Friday Late, they simply go to hang out with similarly inclined others, for the shared sense of occasion.

Last weekend's outing to Tate Modern succeeded in convincing me that the excitement of the encounter is an important part of today's visit to the museum.

...

According to the French intellectual Andre Malraux - Minister for Culture under General de Gaulle for 10 years from 1959 - whereas once the visitor went to a museum to be provided with answers, now, the responsibility lies with us, the visitors.

The museum experience exists most richly in our own imaginations, created out of a collection of images we each carry with us, gleaned from books, magazines, photographs and film. We bring remembered visual material with us into a museum space which has thereby become imaginary. The installation or exhibition merely acts as a catalyst, prompting us to ask our own questions which we look to the artist to answer.


From the BBC, Making contact