MUSE Awards go Mobile

On May 26th, 2011, posted in: examples, news by

A few months ago we were fortunate enough to be asked to lead the judging panel for one of the American Association of Museum’s MUSE awards. The category was for augmented reality and gaming and on Monday night in Houston I joined the other judges up on stage to announce the winners. I’m thrilled to spread the good news that Tate Trumps by the UK’s very own Tate Modern and Hide & Seek took the gold in our category with Balboa Park’s Online Collaborative and Writerguy’s Giskin Anomaly Survey project picking up the silver.

Its always a pleasure to be involved in these events – a chance to see some great work, get together with other folk in the business and see the world through the lens of their particular expertise. It’s also a chance to do a bit of trend spotting. Last year’s Horizon Report for Museums from MIDEA forecast that within 12 months mobile would “enter into mainstream use for museum education and interpretation”. The report noted “Mobiles represent an untapped resource for reaching visitors and for bridging the gap between the experiences that happen in museums and those that happen out in the world.” Two to three years out they forecast augmented reality going mainstream. If some of the other winners of MUSE awards are anything to go by they were pretty much spot on: 2010/11 is the moment that mobile finally came of age.

In addition to the audio guide category, the fabulous StreetMuseum augmented reality app from the Museum of London & Brothers and Sisters took the Jim Blackaby Ingenuity award whilst another augmented reality multimedia guide – the 9/11 Memorial app – picked up the best mobile application. MOMA picked up a gold for its MoMA AB EX NY iPad app in the application and API category. I could go on but you get the picture.

Mobile is blossoming across the sector and the most interesting applications of the technology are those that bring to bear the innate characteristics of the platform (portable, locative, playful, emotionally engaging, personal, social) on the user’s needs and interests and the organisational mission. These experiences are simple and delightful to use, they surprise us, move us, open our eyes to the world around us. They connect our all to brief moments within a museum to our lives beyond.

Experiences such as Tate Trumps and StreetMuseum are notable in that they have broken free from the old paradigm of the audio tour to open up new ways of using mobile for informal social learning. And where audio is used – the 9/11 Memorial app for example – it is with a freshness and lightness of touch that gives a great medium a new lease of life.

Less visible in projects we’re seeing in the sector right now are locative-based services – services linked explicitly to the users’ current location and often prioritized by the known interests of the user. The Horizon report placed these alongside augmented reality but progress seems to have been slower. We see a huge opportunity here not just for learning applications but for commerce, sponsorship and fund raising.

The 2010 Horizon Report placed gesture based computing and the semantic web on what they call the ‘Far Term’ horizon. I’m looking forward to this year’s report, due out in August, but my best is that gesture based interactions are going to go mainstream far quicker than anticipated. The success of this form of interaction in gaming has been phenomenal and has drawn in individuals who previously had no interest in such activities. We think there remains huge scope to use this same approach to connect visitors more dynamically with exhibits.

A final thought. I was really struck by how much of the talk out on the conference floor and in the exhibitors area was all about QR codes. Here at Frankly, Green + Webb we find ourselves firmly in the skeptics camp for the moment. We have seen few really successful projects out there and little hard data to support their value – so if you have something that you feel can firmly change our mind… drop us a line.

Update: Writerguy has written a guest post on Museum2.0 about the lessons learned from making Giskin Anomaly. Both the post and the comments are definitely worth a read.

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