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Technologies emerging in museums

19 March 2009

My learning community for assignment 1 of E-learning Experiences is about museums of the future.

I was interested to look through the first papers for the next Museums and the Web (‘MW2009’) conference, and see which of the technologies identified in the Horizon Report for 2009 were emerging in innovative museums.

1. Mobiles

My first experience of the iPod Touch was earlier this year when I first visited the National Portrait Gallery and watched brief videos about selected artworks on one of the Gallery’s 30 iPods as I walked around the exhibition spaces.

(For a sample of one of these videos, see how artist Ah Xian created Dr John Yu’s portrait bust )

This technology is represented in the MW2009 conference program, for example

Programming the iPhone/iPod touch for your museum

Bert Degenhart Drenth, Adlib Information Systems BV, The Netherlands

where the presenter is to discuss how museums can develop applications to run on iPhones etc., including applications integrated with collection systems.

Another good example can be seen in the project to be presented at MW2009 on a mobile ‘treasure hunt’ through a small but culturally complex Swiss village: in eTreasure:

Students walk the streets in groups, following SMS hints through the city, observing monuments, churches and location.

2. Cloud computing

I use the Cloud every day – as a Gmail user, and to store images of my husband’s artwork on Flickr – and last year’s Museums and the Web conference discussed how museums should make their assets available through the Creative Commons licences.

This year there are several MW2009 papers on the Cloud, including

SaaSy APIs (Openness in the Cloud)

about using online applications instead of desktop apps, and the sceptically titled

Museums and Cloud Computing: Ready for Primetime, or Just Vaporware?

by authors from the Indianopolis Museum of Art, who wonder whether the Cloud is the place to put the very rich media content typical of larger museums.

3. Geo-everything

Museums are well aware of the possibility of supplying location- or object-relevant information, again via mobile devices within the museum, or via the web to the user’s desktop. One whole stream at the conference is to be devoted to ‘Location Aware Services’, and the opportunities for using these technologies in Canada’s national parks is one of the papers in that stream.

GPS-Triggered Location-Based Technologies at Parks Canada: The Explora Project   

Morag Hutcheson, Parks Canada, Canada; Tamara Tarasoff, Parks Canada, Canada; Christophe Rhin, Camineo, France

4. Personal web

Because the focus of the museum industry is public communication, the personal web technology, for personal learning and personal electronic publishing, is not so evident in the MW2009 program – but, see, for example, the Steve project:

Steve in Action: Social Tagging Tools and Methods Applied

Susan Chun, USA; Tiffany Leason, Indianapolis Museum of Art, USA; Rob Stein, Indianapolis Museum of Art, USA

Here the investigators looked how social tagging might make their collections more accessible to the public.

5. Semantic-aware applications

I have been waiting for decades to see an actual application of this idea of the semantic web, and struggled to understand XML because I thought that structured information was the key to this.

I can’t see that this technology is part of the MW2009 program, although there are some enticing immersive environments (a 3D model of a painting sequence by Piero della Francesca, the Legend of the True Cross, for example).

6. Smart objects

This technology, the ‘Internet of things’ ( 
is very relevant to museums and related organisations.

One of the MW2009 papers (from Australia!) describes how visitors can be tracked through the museum with RFID devices: by tracking the visitor, the museum can customise information (based on the visitor’s history and context), or get data for evaluating the visit experience:

Cheap, Accurate RFID Tracking of Museum Visitors for Personalised Content Delivery   

Timothy Baldwin, University of Melbourne, Australia; Lejoe Thomas Kuriakose, University of Melbourne, Australia

In summary

Most of the Horizon Report technologies are already being tested and offered by museum investigators to their peers for evaluation and adoption.

What next?


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