@HeritageJam 2015 diary 2 – MLA

Hmmmm, looks like I might have found myself on two online teams for Heritage Jam 2015. The first looks like being more story based, the second more technological. Were I more stupid I’d try and get the two teams working together, but the scope of the second team’s project seems perfect for the time available, and layering story on top would kick it into the realm of impossibility. Also though I know I have one conspirator on the story project, another who expressed an interest has since been silent, so it may not be a team as much as a duo!

I have a teleconference with the second team this afternoon, so beforehand I’m pulling together a few links I’ve seen recently about the challenge we have set ourselves: Mobile Location Analytics.

All the rage in the world of retail, this is technology that tracks mobile devices around shops and malls (shopping centres), to learn about how the people those devices are attached to, move around the space. A bit creepy, eh? The key thing is that this information is anonymised. The point is not to learn about the behavior of particular individuals, but rather to understand how the spaces work – how long do shoppers have to wait at the tills for example.

(It’s worth pointing out that there are creepier applications. One company, for example, offers to tell brands whether individuals go into their shops after being served an advert for the brand, which implies somewhat less anonymity.)

The (mostly American) companies that provide the anonymised analytics services have grouped together as the Future of Privacy Forum, to agree and promote ethical guidelines for the technology and run a customer facing website that allows users to opt out of tracking.

Most of the systems rely on extant wi-fi networks to do the job, as this white paper from Cisco explains. But of course many museums don’t currently have wi-fi throughout their galleries, so the opportunity to use established services, even the free Euclid Express, is limited.

So we’ve got an idea about using Heritage Jam as an opportunity to hack a cheap, open source solution for museums, without extant Wi-Fi, wanting to track their visitors around their collections. We’ve got a location that wants to try this out, too. One of the challenges (and luckily the one which I think, being a noninexpert-technologist, I’ll be most useful on) will be working out how we make visitors aware of, and (hopefully) comfortable with, the study and/or give them the opportunity to opt out.

If it works, it might even form the basis for a more responsive museum environment, as I described when I was last at York. But we’ll leave that idea until Heritage Jam 2016!

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