This Saturday we’ll be running a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon in Brighton Museum. Part of this year’s Brighton Digital Festival, it will be an opportunity for you to learn more about editing Wikipedia from a member of Wikimedia UK, a chance to meet some of our curators, and help improve the online presence of our African fashion collections.
I will also be on hand to ask for your help with a different digital project. I’m looking for volunteers who would be willing to test a new audio tour of Brighton Museum that we’re developing. The tour is still in its early stages, with only a small amount of sample content, but there are several features I’m keen on testing.
Before I explain why we need to test this so early, I’ll talk a little about my experience in developing audio tours.
Linearity and Serendipity
Last weekend I talked to the Fresh Start group in Portslade’s Easthill Park about developing mobile tours. They are working on a community created tour of Portslade Old Village, and I was invited to share a few tips from my experience of working with on these sorts of projects.
While preparing for the talk, I reallised how much time I’ve spent over the last few years working on audio tours of one form or another. These projects have included the revised audio tour for hired handsets in the Royal Pavilion; developing content for the dedicated WW1 military hospital tour of the Royal Pavilion; the Story Drop app the smartphone version of the Royal Pavilion tour; and, most recently, some prototyping with Blast Theory.
Over the years, I’ve learned a few dos and don’ts which I was able to share with the group, but it reminded me that while audio tours all seem to do a similar job, they can be very different in practice. Seemingly small variances in user behaviour, narrative style, and the subject matter can all have a huge bearing on how the tour needs to be developed, and how well it wil work for the audience. In many ways, the technology is the simplest element.
As an example, the Pavilion tour is a relatively straightforward experience: the user listens to a story in a room, walks to the next room, and then listens to the next story. It’s a simple linear progression that was very easy to convert into a website for mobile phones last year.
A tour for Brighton Museum simply can’t work the same way. Once a visitor steps over the threshold, there is no single route they have to follow. We could insist that they follow one for the purposes of the tour, but while that may be helpful for some visitors, for many it will feel like an artifical imposition that’s at odds with the layout of the building.
As a result the tour we’re developing for Brighton Museum can’t be structured around linearity. Instead, it needs to embrace serendipity — how can it aid and provide pleasurable discovery? That is a tougher challenge.
Designing the tour so that it can facilitate a more open form of navigation is one answer to this challenge. Another is to find ways of telling stories about the exhibits that will grab and hold attention.
Brighton Museum contains a variety of galleries that reflect our eclectic collections. There is no single theme or narrative that brings them together, other than the circumstances of those who donated the founding collections to the museum in the 19th century. As such, the stories have to fragment and splinter, usually becoming tales about individual items on display rather than a grand narrative about the museum.
Our tour is built around two potential solutions to these problems of navigation and narrative. But do they work? Only you can tell us.
If you are able to pop in and test the tour, I will be available from 10.30am until 4pm in Brighton Museum’s MuseumLab. Please bring your own phone for the test. The tour runs from a mobile website, so there is no need to download and install an app. Free wifi is available in the museum.
See our Brighton Museum pages for details on admission charges.
If you’re interested in coming along, but would like to learn more, do please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’d like to know more about our Wikipedia Edit-a-thon, please contact my colleague Stephen Kisko at email@example.com.
Kevin Bacon, Digital Manager