Abstract: Digital Personalisation for Heritage Consumers

I’m speaking at the upcoming Academy of Marketing E-Marketing SIG Symposium: ‘Exploring the digital customer experience:  Smart devices, automation and augmentation’ on May 23 2017. This is what I wrote for my abstract:

Relevance to Call: Provocation, Smart Devices. Augmentation of the Customer Experience

Objective: A work-in-progress research development project at Chawton House explores narrative structure, extending the concept of story Kernels and Satellites to imagine the cultural heritage site as a collection of narrative atoms, or Natoms, both physical (spaces, collection) and ephemeral (text, video, music etc.). Can we use story-gaming techniques and digital mobile technology to help physical and ephemeral natoms interact in a way that escapes the confines of the device’s screen?

Overview: This provocation reviews the place of mobile and location technologies in the heritage market. Digital technology and social media are in the process of transforming the way that the days out market is attracted to cultural heritage places. But on site, the transformation is yet to start. New digital interventions in the heritage product have not caught on with the majority of heritage consumers. The presentation will survey the current state of digital heritage interpretation and especially the use location-aware technologies such as Bluetooth LE, NFC, or GPS. Most such systems deliver interpretation media to the device itself, over the air or via a prior app download. We explore some of the barriers to the use of mobile devices in the heritage visit – the reluctance to download proprietary apps, mobile signal and wifi complexities and most importantly, the “presence antithesis” the danger that the screen of the device becomes a window that confines and limits the user’s sensation of being in the place and among the objects that they have come to see. Also, while attempts to harness mobile technology in the heritage visit display interpretation that is both more relevant, and in some cases more personalised to the needs of the user, they also tend towards a “narrative paradox” – the more the media is tailored to the movements of the user around the site, the less coherent and engaging the narrative becomes.

Method: Story-games can show us how to create an experience that balances interactivity and engaging story, giving the user complete freedom of movement around the site while delivering the kernels of the narrative in an emotionally engaging order. At Chawton we plan to “wizard of oz” an adaptive narrative narrative for that place’s visitors.

Findings: Work so far demonstrates that a primary challenge for an automated system will be negotiating the contended needs of different groups and individuals within the same space. The work at Chawton looks to address this.

**

This is the first time I’ve written an abstract in this format, and I found it quite a challenge. What you add in and leave out is always a difficult decision, and this format, which was limited to one side, had me opting to leave out the references which I might have made room for if I had not had to write something under each of the prescribed headings. It’s also the first time I have had formal feedback on an abstract, which I share below:

Relevance to call: Good fit Smart devices, user experience,
augmentation, culture (5)
Objective: A practical case example of augmentation in a
heritage setting (5)
Lit rev: No indication of theory used, as this is a practical
case study (n/a)
Method: A specific case of Chawton House presented. (5)
Results: Interesting findings re barriers to use of mobile
devices in heritage, and the experience evaluation (4)
Generalisations: Interesting and original context of heritage
institution using augmentation, can extend to
other heritage sector applications. (4)
Total 23/25

**

So, not a bad score, but I wonder what I would have got (out of 30?) if I had included the references. Does the bibliography count within the one page limit? Or, could I have included it on a second side?

Still, not time for those questions. I have the write the actual presentation now. 🙂

Heritage managers, you need to be thinking about Pokemon Go

I don’t normally post on Wednesdays, but I am driven to write tonight, because something is happening that seems to be an actual phenomenon. Pokemon Go, the locatative game from Niantic, using IP from Nintendo keeps breaking records. It is apparently already the biggest mobile game ever in the US. Not just the biggest locatative game, this game is bigger than Candy Crush.

Long-time readers may remember the post I wrote introducing some research into attitudes to locatative gaming. I’d run an internet survey pushed towards gamers from all around the world. At the time, the biggest locatative game around was Niantic’s Ingress. I’d asked everyone what they knew of a list of different digital games. I’d got about 220 responses. 178 respondents had never even heard of Ingress, which was at the time “taking the world by storm”. A site called Android Headlines said that. Let me tell you AH (I can call you AH can I?), you don’t know storms.

Another post on that same survey concluded “I can’t yet claim from this research, that the world is ready and waiting for locatative games.”

Well maybe it is now.

What does that mean for heritage sites? Well, I don’t think it means heritage organisations should rush out their own AR scavenger hunts. But it does mean that people are already using your sites to play games. A few weeks ago, a team member from one of the places I’m currently spending time at for work told me about a security alert. In the middle of the night they went to investigate and found three people who had broken into the gardens. The people explained that they were there to take control of an Ingress portal.

Heritage locations are already, without their knowledge, Ingress portals. They are very likely already “Pokestops” too. This may be a problem for some sites’ spirit of place. Its already being seen as an opportunity. [EDIT: This article on what you can do if you find that your place is a Pokestop is also interesting.] I bet there already many more Pokemon Go players in the UK than there are players of Ingress, and it hasn’t even been released in this country yet.

Its happening. Its big, very big. Heritage Managers, you need to be thinking about this.

Walking around looking at stuff

Image from Aalto University, Media Lab Helsinki

A few weeks ago, I was presenting my work to a group of my supervisor’s Masters students. I joined in on the preceding seminar session, during which they talked about a number of experiments in digital interpretation in museums.

One thing that struck me about many of the experiments was that they each required the museum visitor to use a new interface. Some were simpler interfaces that others. One involved shining a torch, another was planned to involve gestures to navigate a reconstruction of a sunken ship. This second interface, a Vrouw Maria exhibit at a Finnish maritime museum, challenged users who “would not understand what they were expected to do or, when they could start the navigation, problems that were accentuated by the tracking system, which was not completely reliable at that point. […] The navigation itself was not error free either: people had difficulty stopping the motion and steering up or down. In addition, it was hard to hit the info spots without running past or through them. Again, tweaking the parameters of the gestural interface was needed. Pointing around for 10 minutes or more with the arm extended started to get tiring—something that cannot be completely solved if the input is so heavily based on pointing.” (REUNANEN et al, 2015). The discussion made me think about, not just these experimental interfaces, but pretty much every museum interactive kiosk or app created since digital technology arrived on the scene.

To a lesser or greater extent all these technologies involve museum visitors having to learn a new interface to access data. Some may prove easier than others to learn, but all of them are different, all of them need to be learned. Which makes accessing the data just one step more difficult. On the other hand there is a generic interface which museum, gallery and heritage site visitors learn (it seems, for most individual) in early childhood. The default museum interface is:

Walking around and looking at stuff

… as I said to a colleague yesterday. (Well actually I said “walking around and looking at shit,” but I meant shit in the most inoffensive way. And though I’d dearly have loved to headline a blog post with this more colloquial version, I’m mindful of my curatorial  and conservation colleagues, and I don’t want them to feel I’m demeaning our collections.)

What prompted me to write about it today was the news yesterday that Dear Esther is to be re-released for  the Playstation 4 and X-Box One. Dear Esther is “credited” with kicking off a genre of games known as “walking simulators” or “first person strollers”, and criticised by many gamers as not being a game because (among other things) there is no challenge (unless you count interpreting the enigmatic story that your simulated walk reveals).

I’m reminded of Gallagher’s (2012) observation (in the brilliantly titled No Sex Please, We Are Finite State Machines) that “Video games are unique in the field of consumer software in that they intentionally resist their users, establishing barriers between the operator and their goal.” This contrasts somewhat with what Nick Pelling (who coined the term Gamification as I discussed last week) said about game interfaces “making hard things easy, expressive, near-effortless to use.” So which is it? Are game interfaces easy or difficult? Juul and Norton give a pretty conclusive answer: its both.

“Games differ from productivity software in that games are free to make easy or difficult the different elements of a game. While much may be learned from usability methods about the design of game interfaces, and while many video games certainly have badly-designed interfaces, it is crucial to remember that games are both efficient and inefficient, both easy and difficult, and that the easiest interface is not necessarily the most entertaining.”

The team behind that Vrouw Maria experiment had considered making users mime swimming for the gestural interface, but they rules it out because it was “engaging but at the same time socially awkward in front of an audience.” What they ended up with was an interface that was neither efficient, nor entertaining. While it may indeed have been socially awkward for many, the swimming gesture control would have been very entertaining. Their final decision indicates that they considered the transmission of data the more important purpose of the exhibit.

Last week I discussed how gamification is most often used as a way of motivating behaviour: drive more efficiently, take more exercise. “Explore more” is something many museums and heritage sites wish for their visitors. An interface that is challenging but entertaining may well motivate more exploration. But there is an alternative.

Dear Esther is arguably not a game, because its interface (basically Walking Around Looking a Shit Stuff) is too easy. Yet it’s designers would argue that it is a game, just that uses story as a motivator rather than challenge. For museums and heritage sites, where Walking Around Looking at Stuff has long been the default interface Dear Esther might offer a model for digital storytelling that motivates more exploration.

This is what I’m trying to achieve with my responsive environment: Digital content., compelling stories, that are accessed by Walking Around and Looking at Stuff.

Cultural Agents

I’ve been reading Eric Champion’s Critical Gaming: Interactive history and virtual heritage. Eric asked his publishers to send me a review copy, but none was forthcoming, and I can’t wait for the library to get hold of a copy – I think I was to quote it in a paper I’m proposing –  so I splashed out on the Kindle edition. I think of it as a late birthday present to myself, and I’m not disappointed.

One thing that has struck me so far is a little thing (its a word Champion uses only three times) but it seems so useful I’m surprised it isn’t used more widely, especially in the heritage interpretation context. That word is “multimodality”. As Wikipedia says (today at least) “Multimodality describes communication practices in terms of the textual, aural, linguistic, spatial, and visual resources – or modes – used to compose messages.” But its not just about multimedia, “mode” involves social and cultural making of meaning as well. Champion says:

Multimodality can help to provide multiple narratives and different types of evidence. Narrative fragments can be threaded and buried through an environment, coaxing people to explore, reflect and integrate their personal exploration into what they have uncovered.

Which is surely what all curated cultural heritage spaces are trying to achieve, isn’t it? (Some with more success than others, I’ll admit.) Champion is referring to the multimodality of games and virtual environments, but it strikes me that museums and heritage sites are inherently multi-modal.

It sent me off looking for specific references to multimodality in museums and heritage sites, and indeed, I found a few, this working paper for example, and this blog, but there are not many.

But I digress. I’ve started Eric’s book with Chapter 8 (all the best readers start in the middle) Intelligent Agents, Drama and Cinematic Narrative, in which he examines various pre-digital theories of drama (Aristotle’s Poetics, Propp’s Formalism (with a nod in the direction of Bartle and Yee) and Campbell’s monomyth), before crunching the gears to explore decidedly-digital intelligent agents as dramatic characters. Along the way, he touches upon “storyspaces” – the virtual worlds of games which are by necessity incomplete, yet create an illusion of completeness.

His argument is that there is a need for what he calls “Cultural Agents” representing, recognising, adding to, or transmitting cultural behaviours. Such agents would be programmed to demonstrate the “correct cultural behaviors given specific event or situations” and recognise correct (and incorrect!) cultural behaviours. For example, I’m imagining here characters in an Elizabethan game that greet you or other agents in the game with a bow of the correct depth for each other’s relative ranks, and admonishes you if (in a virtual reality sim) you don’t bow low enough when the Queen walks by.

Which leads on to what he calls the “Cultural Turing Test […] in order to satisfy the NPCs [non-player characters] that the players is a ‘local’, the player has to satisfy questions and perform like the actual local characters (the scripted NPCs). Hence, the player has to observe and mimic these artificial agents for fear of being discovered.” (As he points out, this is in fact a reversal of the Turing test.)

Then he shifts gear again to look at Machinema (the creation of short films using game engines, which I learned about back in Rochester) as a method for users to reflect on their experience in-game, and edit it into an interpretation of the culture the game was designed to explore. Its a worthy suggestion, and could be excellent practice in formal learning, but I fear it undermines the game-play itself, if it becomes a requirement of the player to edit their virtual experiences before comprehending them as a coherent narrative.

Also in all though, I can already see that the book will be an enjoyable and rewarding read.

 

Heritage Jam 2015 – sign up soon!

Heritage Jam at York University – registration opens on 20th August

I had a great Skype chat today with Neil and Paul from Info-Point. I’d first met them a couple of years back, and wrote about their product here. In fact, I’d put them in touch with one of my client properties at the time, Saddlescombe Farm, that had a problem which I thought Info-point might be the perfect solution for. It was – and Info-point have now supplied solutions to a number of out-of-the-way (and out of signal) National Trust sites across the country.

Their challenge is that they are technologists, not storytellers, but sometimes places come to them hoping they can supply the content, not just the platform. To this end, they are working hard at building a network of interpretation designers and content providers, who they hope will use their technology when heritage sites come calling.

We were chatting idly about setting up a two-day “hacking” event, to bring together heritage custodians, storytellers and technologists. While we were talking I thought “we could call it something like Heritage Jam!”

Afterwards I thought – “Heritage Jam… that too good an idea to be mine. Where have I heard it before?” and a quick Google later, I knew where. York University will be hosting Heritage Jam towards the end of September. I missed it last year, and made a mental not not to miss it this year. OK, so that mental note came back a bit garbled, but it came back in time for me to get myself on the mailing list. Registration opens and closes on the 20th August. So if you want to go, set a reminder in your diary! If you can’t get to York, there’s and on-line participation month kicking on the 20th of August too, so check that out.

GamAR at the National Maritime Museum

Some time ago I read about the GamAR app for mobile devices. Which allows visitors to a number of heritage sites to download a (sometimes free, sometimes paid for) Augmented Reality Game based around the site. Last week I finally got to give it a go, when I visited the National Maritime Museum. The app had been sitting unused on my iPad for months. Now I had the oppurtunity to download a game a take it to the museum.

Here’s a thing – there’s a free game you can download for the Cutty Sark, but we’d been there a year or so ago, before GamAR came out, and didn’t want to repeat that visit yet. Now the Great Explorer game in the NMM itself appeared to be free on my iPad, so I downloaded that. But when my wife tried to download it into her’s she was asked to pay for it (so she didn’t – we took mine).

If I had had to pay, I’d have been cross, because it didn’t work. It started up and wanted access to the iPad’s camera, which I allowed, but the camera images wouldn’t appear on the game screen, so after some fiddling, I gave up and borrowed one of the museum’s Android tablets so my family could try it out.

 

It’s a simple but fun scavenger hunt around a giant map on the mezzanine level of the Museum’s roofed-in courtyard. The kids had to move from port to port, finding out a little about each country and picking up items and crew that allowed them, eventually to level up to Grand Admiral (huzzah). The Android tablet was quite heavy, and my boy gave up after a while with tired arms, so his sister completed the quest.

It was notable that there were few others playing the game, even though the borrowed tablets were free. I saw just one other player while we were there. There were plenty of kids playing on the map, though. But they were just playing, running and rolling around on its soft surface. Of course when they occasionally rolled under where my kids were point the tablet, the image recognition that powers the app failed and we’d have to wait a while for them to roll out of the way.

A regular visitor we were with, wasn’t even aware of the game, despite the massive banners around the map advertising it. This speaks to my continuing (but as yet unmeasured – I wonder how I might go about that?) suspicion that very few people actually want to play games when they are “doing heritage”.

Meanwhile, many more visitors where enjoying another playful intervention at Royal Museums Greenwich. Up the hill, at the Royal Observatory a number of items had been removed from show there, to appear in the Museum’s Longitude exhibition. To take their places in the observatory, the museum had brought in a number of Steampunk writers, artists and makers to create an alternate history of longitude.

The especially made exhibits were fun, but my favourite aspect was the rewriting of labels for items from the museum’s permanent collection. By way of example have a look at this picture:

2015/01/img_5724.jpg

Got it?

Now read the caption and suddenly the picture becomes a lot more frivolous:

2015/01/img_5723.jpg

A lot more fun, for me at least, than GamAR’s efforts.

#GoogleGlass for learning: The National Trust experience

A colleague pointed out this post to me, wherein a Google Glass owner tries a visit to Blickling. Of course he was stymied by a lack of a phone signal – which is common across many of our properties, and by a lack of wifi. Putting public wifi into National Trust buildings, to ensure decent connectivity despite thick stone walls in some places (not at Blickling), and then connecting to a network with enough capacity for tens or hundreds of visitors at a time to have responsive access to the web is a challenge for many, or most National Trust places. But it will become more and more urgent as visitors will expect to learn about places in ways that suit them.

Julian Stodd's Learning Blog

Whilst i enjoy the history, the cream tea is an essential part of the experience. Whether you go jam first, layering your cream on top, or cream first (which, just to be clear, is wrong), there’s nothing quite like sitting in a National Trust cafe, fending off the wasps, to let you know that summer is well and truly here.

Blickling Hall

The National Trust is a charity, set up to preserve landscapes and houses of national importance: originally focused on grand, stately homes, now equally likely to preserve the more humble abodes of writers and musicians. As a member, you can enjoy access to hundreds of properties around the UK, assured of a firmly middle class experience and a nice cup of tea at the end of it. I’m a huge fan.

But it was with some trepidation that, having taken delivery of my GoogleGlass a scant four days earlier, i…

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