Going Mobile: iPod Touch Tours

Audio Tour Tape from 1989 found in IT
This cassette tape is from the era of Museum 1.0 audio tour technology. I dug this out of my treasure trove of floppy discs and zip drives in the IT office.

I have yet to play the tape because I don’t have a tape player.

The mobile age of museum media is forcing us to talk to each other, all of us across departments: education, exhibition design, marketing, curatorial, IT etc. If we didn’t before, we are now forced to re-think the interpretation of our exhibitions and collections as a cross-department effort. With conventional audio tours, usually the domain of the Education Department, you could simply put a curator in a room with a microphone and save the file onto your bulky old handset. Now, the process is a bit more involved, but the ROI is worth it. It’s amazing how function follows form when new technologies are making communication and content more accessible. The ubiquity of mobile media has made this shift in communication an unavoidable imperative. The discussion has moved from the conventional and limiting “let’s make an audio tour about our hand axe collection” to the active and inclusive phrase “we need to go mobile.”

The mobile museum implies all levels of interactivity: integrating social media, collecting and connecting visitor feedback, linking to the collections database, linking to online content, related podcasts and videos, the possibilities are endless and a bit overwhelming.

Phew! I’m glad I got through that whole paragraph without using the word “leverage.”

So where do you start?

We’re starting small.

We will be launching iPod Touch tours later this Fall which will feature our Highlights of the Gallery tours and a tour of the upcoming exhibition Secrets of the Silk Road. This is the only East Coast appearance of this new exhibition featuring the most amazingly preserved mummies from far western China. We expect and hope for a BIG TURN OUT, so we will also be renting 100 iPod Touches from Antenna Audio. Apparently we are the first institution in the US to rent iPod Touches from Antenna Audio. The other day, I was lauded over the phone by their rep for this unlikely honor and I was astounded.

We’re working out the details now sourcing a multiple USB charging/sync station and rugged hardcases with lanyards. In the process I’ve come across the below resources that might be of use to other Museums who are also trying to jump on the Mobile wagon.

Another interpretive project we are working on, which will be repurposed for the iPod tours as well, is the Virtual Curator touch screens in the Mesoamerican Gallery featuring the dashing Maya scholar, Simon Martin. We filmed Simon talking about the six Maya monuments in the Meso Gallery as they related to different major themes of Maya culture: language, the long count, the Maya calendar, Tatiana Proskouriakoff’s revolutionary re-interpretation of Maya hieroglyphs, rulership, and the decline of the great Maya civilization.

The videos will be displayed on touch screens next to each stela, and we made sure to include the “Intro” segment on each of the five touch screens so as not to dictate the visitor’s wayfinding experience. We also realize that the general public is generally interested in the Maya, but know very little about them beyond Mel Gibson’s depiction of noble or bloodthirsty savages who freaked out at solar eclipses.

The screen saver will feature Simon Martin looking at his watch and twiddling his thumbs. I put in a request to post the blooper reel which had us chortling out loud.

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Always edutaining, the Indianapolis Museum of Art:
Tag Tours: A great idea to get buried objects in the collection out there in the open. I especially like the “WTF” Tour.

The IMA also recently took a survey of what visitors are interested in with mobile tours.

The IMA has also generously open sourced their TAP Tour tools for creating mobile tour apps. “Content creation is performed in the content management system, Drupal. TAP tours are exportable into an intermediate format, TourML, which can then be used as pluggable bundles for mobile applications.”

The MuseumMobile wiki is an outgrowth of Tate’s Handheld Conference Wiki, which was initially developed for a September 2008 conference hosted by Tate Modern. This is a very helpful link to several mobile tours and apps at Museums on this side and across the pond.

Museummedia is the product of a Dutch for-profit company Infofilm, but it has a great feed of museum media related projects and ideas.

Ted is the Multimedia Producer for the Dallas Museum of Art. This blog post is about web apps vs. iPhone apps.

Apple’s guide to programming and organizing your tour for iPod.

San Jose Museum of Art’s video with nice captions explaining how to use their ipod touch tour. Nicely done.

Walker Art Center has a great blog about new media initiatives
Here’s a post about building a multiple USB charger

Museum3.0 Forum for new media for museums and cultural institutions. It also has a feed of Nina Simon’s Museum 2.0 blog. I wonder when 4.0 will come out.

List of 2010 MUSE Awards winners for Audio Visual Tours

The Powerhouse Museum does amazing things all the time.

Museum Nerd seems to be on hiatus, but always a good source for what’s going on in the Museum world.

Museum Next: A great resource about social media and museum marketing. This post is about the pros and cons of going mobile.

Why go mobile? The Electronic Museum tries to answer that question.

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