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Heritage Presentation and New Media in Cultural Heritage settings

Laia Pujol-Tost (GR)

Information Society is the name given to a new socio-economical phase featured by a major connectivity, access to bigger quantities of information, mobility and individualization. As they have always done, museums try to respond to these transformations by adapting their communication strategies and even their role.
On the other hand, visitors go to Cultural Heritage places looking for a unique experience that they already have in mind. The success of the encounter depends on the coincidence between visitors’ expectations and the museum’s offer. In this context, what is the general contribution of ICT? How can they help museums improve visitors’ experience?

This presentation was given at Zeitgeist meeting in Bellaterra & Sant Llorenç, Catalonia. During a class on new media and reaching / teaching the public.

What can ICT contribute to improve their offer?

The main idea I will try to convey is that ICT are not the ultimate universal solution for museums and that especially in the case of open air museums with reconstructions and experimental demonstrations their added value is very restricted.

Why? ICT are defined by three features: computational virtuality (multimedia, hypertext), interactivity and multiple interfaces.

Because of computer as a basis, ICT is only minds on (/hands on and hearts on) so only intellectual and especially aimed at one sense (vision).
Capacity of reconstruction (VR): you already have it since you have rebuilt the architectural structures (no IVR can equal the sense of presence of reality).
Capacity of interaction: you do it already since visitors are able to manipulate objects and talk to guides or re-enactors (again no VR system can equal direct manipulation of objects and communication with human beings).


So what is left? Two possible applications may be useful: mobile onsite and Internet. Let’s look through to their advantages and disadvantages.

Mobile onsite

1. Pioneering examples: Ename, Archaeoguide, Vilars.

2. Belongs to Augmented Reality: provide information about environment in real time

3. Technology - two possibilities: 

You put the hardware, which breaks and users may not be familiar (usability problems) with but the content design is one.
ou use visitors’ devices: they are familiar with (no usability issues) but very diverse, so you have to focus on providing flexible content and how to deliver it.


4. Usefulness: 

Communication:
• To offer more depth of information (for experts or interested people).
• Other kinds of related information (similar sites, readings of diaries, novels or poems related to the place).
Archaeological:
• To show evolution in time.
• Images of the real reconstruction or excavations.
• Findings at the place.
• Alternative hypotheses (scientific evolution).
Museological:
• Since the number of guides is limited, provide “audiovisual” tour in order to absorb more visitors or accommodate those who prefer individual visit.
• It attracts younger visitors.
• Link with post-visit activities (allow people to take pictures and send them to their e-mail account so that see their visit from home).


5. Drawbacks (according to evaluations):

Isolation: because of the size of screen, visitors tend to feel isolated from
surroundings and from peers (very bad in their kind of CH setting).
People find hard to link reality with digital information about it and therefore visitors
are confused and interpretation is not enhanced.
Technology may attract younger visitors but then elders or usual visitors (who have
an idea in mind of what to expect) may feel “rejected”.
Technology:
• Screen not visible on sunny days.
• Sound not audible if noise around.
• Resistance and security of the hardware if you provide it.
• Usability issues (do not waist your time with help, they don’t use it).


6. Recommendations:

Emphasis on audio format (visual only when adds something to interpretation, when it cannot be conveyed with verbal language). Then keep fragments of information very short and allow additional information on demand. Both in audio and visual formats put a lot of points of reference.
No database format:
• Use game-like style or discovery learning strategy.
• Include a lot of human stories (empathy and challenge are better for engagement and therefore for learning).
Give visitors full control of their digital visit and make environment intuitive (all possibilities visible, indicate machine processing).
Visitors consider it is fair to pay a higher entry for technology (it must be included in the ticket) or to download interpretation into their own devices but it should not exceed 3€.
I would tend to separate technology from guided visit (does not match a guide or re- enactor dressed and holding an iPad, it breaks the magic of the experience).


Internet
1. Uses: 

E-marketing: advertisement (linking to cultural tourist services), ticket selling and other related on-line programs and services (e-learning national curriculum, shopping). Goal is to attract new visitors, diversify target sectors, and make occasional visitors be regular.
E-management: creation of a network of similar sites for management / exchange of information between them thanks to the creation of an intranet with a standard database (future in Semantic Web or Web 3.0).
Digitalization / digital creation: of objects, demonstrations, etc. in audiovisual format so that they can be used in all these applications.
Relationship with visitors before and after the visit: not understood as a substitute but as a complement. Experience has demonstrated that contrary to the first fears, not only the WWW has not threatened museums but it has contributed to increase the number of visitors.
Pre-visit: activities that will prepare visitors for what they are going to see. No demonstrations here but maybe more factual knowledge about the period or specific activity so that they have a basis in which to anchor new knowledge at the site.
Post-visit: activities that will reinforce what they have learnt at the site and keep them engaged, fostering eventually new visits. For example: seeing demonstrations again, repeating their visit with pictures of themselves.
Web 2.0
• Helps to strengthen links with or build community (local or global).
• Precedents: museum websites that allowed visitors leaving comments about visit or exhibition subject.
• Facebook, Twitter, Flickr: visitors participate with comments, by uploading their own material maybe gathered during the visit, by raising subjects and letting them build them.
• RSS subscriptions, the institution that sends news about updates regarding specific subjects.
• Podcasting has a great potential for learning or marketing since it allows the institution to distribute audiovisual content, such as conferences, demonstrations, etc.
• Del.icio.us and other social bookmarks allow both museums and audiences to disseminate specific on-line resources organized by subject tags.
• Foursquare, real time application allows visitors to check in at specific places, upload comments and images about their visit and get rewards that stimulate discovering other places or coming again.


2. Drawbacks: 

You need hardware (including the server) and software which might be difficult to maintain on the site if you don’t have an adequate building. But they can be hosted by another institution (tourism, academy or government).
Technical staff. If you cannot afford hiring someone full time, and aware that museum staff does not necessarily have the requested technological skills, developed CMS (Content Management Systems) such as “Joomla!” = software organized upon databases and containing tools to manage languages, blogs, update contents, etc. within a very user-friendly interface.


Recommendations
1. Try to find a compromise between information contained in a single screen and huge architectures where visitors get lost. Always indicate where they are.

2. Define visitor profiles (expert, student, and tourist) so that the level of information provided and method of exploration suits them.

3. No database format: use game-like style or discovery learning strategy (challenge is better for engagement and therefore for learning).

4. Give visitors full control of their digital visit and make environment intuitive (all possibilities visible, indicate machine processing).

5. Translate the site into different languages (national, English and main used by your visitors).

ICT are just a mediator: good when heritage is not immediately understandable, but not when you already have everything (reconstruction, real interaction) on site.
I would put my efforts in online: 

As a way to disseminate the institution (link with tourist, academic, etc. websites).
In order to attract new visitors.
To enhance the visit with pre/post visit activities
To keep constant contact with usual visitors (schools, local inhabitants)
As a summative resource to evaluate visitors’ experiences and improve your product.


Laia Pujol-Tost, PhD is a Project Officer at the The Acropolis Museum, GR
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