Serendipitous and Disposable

July 1, 2010

Old-ish Content Warning!

You are viewing a post that’s more than three years old. There’s a good chance that a lot of the following is seriously out-of-date (or at least not reflective of my current thinking on this topic). Proceed with caution.

I’m becoming more and more interested, lately, in exploring the implications of interacting with museum content outside of the museum building itself. Nancy Proctor , the head of mobile strategy for the Smithsonian, led a great unconference session on the topic at this year’s MW conference, and Chris Ubik recently postulated how the location-based app Gowalla might facilitate interesting tours outside of the museum. We’re starting to see some interesting real-world examples of this kind of thing, whether it’s home-grown stuff like Richard McCoy’s tour of public art in Indianapolis or some of the cool stuff the dudes over at Scvngr are doing. As much as I’m excited about these ideas, they are essentially using location-based services to expand the traditional museum tour model (albeit over a larger geographic area) rather than upend it. These experiences assume that the user has made a deliberate decision to interact with a museum and/or its content, and there’s an assumption that the user will follow through with that decision. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but what excites me about location-based services like Foursquare and Gowalla is that they enable us to pursue an entirely different kind of interaction model, one that substitutes serendipitous and disposable experiences for the more immersive, intentional ones that museums are accustomed to. What might this kind of experience look like? A relatively straightforward example is from the History Channel’s Foursquare profile . If you follow The History Channel, and check into a location for which it has supplied a “tip,” an interesting historical factoid will be displayed to you. So, for instance, if you check in at the Met Life building in Manhattan and you follow the History Channel, you will learn that the building was “originally called the Pan Am Building & was the largest commercial office building in the world when it opened on March 7, 1963.” It’s a short leap to imagine museum content being presented this way. A user who follows the Metropolitan Museum of Art , for instance, could check in at the Black Canyon in Colorado and be presented with this photograph and accompanying data from the Museum’s Timeline of Art History .

In essence, this approach takes content that was originally designed to be experienced as part of a museum visit (whether physical or online), and re-purposed it as a contextual/interpretive layer on a user’s experience out in the world.This approach is interesting to me for a few reasons: