Blogs Media Lab Brent Gustafson

I joined the Walker staff in 2002 as a New Media Designer. Since then I've worked on various parts of the Walker website redesign, kiosk stations for exhibitions, our transition to XSL/XML data ouput, Podcasting, iPod audio tours, and the Walker web admin system. In 2007 I was promoted to the Senior New Media Designer position. I also have a very deep interest in video game history, culture and preservation, as well as the study of alternative gaming concepts as it applies to New Media. I have a BS in Computer Science and Mathematics and a minor in Graphic Design and have been working with New Media technologies both online and off since 1994. In 2010 I left the Walker to start my own independent web design studio. Feel free to contact me about any of the projects I've worked on at the Walker, or anything else you may want to chat about relating to New Media.

Building the 50/50 Voting App

For our upcoming exhibition 50/50: Audience and Experts Curate the Paper Collection, we’re trying something a bit different. As you can probably tell from the title, we’re allowing our audience to help us curate a show. The idea is that our chief curator, Darsie Alexander, will curate 50% of the show, and the audience will […]

50/50 Voting App

For our upcoming exhibition 50/50: Audience and Experts Curate the Paper Collection, we’re trying something a bit different. As you can probably tell from the title, we’re allowing our audience to help us curate a show. The idea is that our chief curator, Darsie Alexander, will curate 50% of the show, and the audience will select from a group of 180 different print works for the other half.

As with most things presented to New Media, the question was posed, “how best do we do this?”. The exhibition is being hung in the same room as Benches and Binoculars, so the obvious answer was to use the kiosk already there as the voting platform for the show. With this in mind I started to think of different ways to present the voting app itself.

My initial idea was to do a “4-up” design. Display four artworks and ask people to choose their favorite. The idea was that this would make people confirm a choice in comparison to others. If you see some of what you’re selecting against, it can make it easier to know whether you want specific works in the show or not. But it also has the same effect in reverse. If you have two artworks that you really like, it can be just as hard to only be able to choose one. The other limitation? After coming up with the 4-up idea, we also decided to add iPhones into the mix as a possible voting platform (as well as iPads, an general internet browsers). The images on the iPhone’s screen were much to small to make decent comparisons on.

Nate suggested instead using a “hot or not” style voting system. One work that you basically vote yes or no on. This had the small downfall of not being able to compare a work against others, but allowed us to negate the “analysis paralysis” of the 4-up model. It also worked much better on mobile devices.

The second big decision we faced was “what do we show”? I had assumed in the beginning that we’d be showing label copy of every work like we do just about everywhere but it was suggested early on that we do no such thing. We didn’t want to influence voters by having a title or artist on every piece. With works by Chuck Close and Andy Warhol mixed into the print selections, it’s much too easy to see their name and vote for them simply because of their name. We wanted people to vote on what work they wanted to see, not what artist they wanted to see.

Both of these decisions proved to be pivotal in the popularity of the voting app. It made the voting app very streamlined and simplified. With 180 works to go through it makes it much easier to get through the entire thing. Choices are quick and easy. The results screen after voting on each artwork shows the current percentage of no to yes votes. This is a bit of a psychological pull. You as a user know what you think of this artwork, but what do others think about it? The only way to find out is to vote.

50/50 Voting App Results Screen

Because of this the voting app has been a success far beyond what we even thought it would be. I thought if we got 5,000-10,000 votes we would be doing pretty well. Half way through the voting process now, we have well over 100,000 votes. We’ve had over 1,500 users voting on the artworks. We’ve collected over 500 email addresses wanting to know who the winners are when all the voting is tallied. We never expected anything this good and we have several weeks of voting yet to come.

One interesting outcome of all of these votes has been the number of yes’s to no’s over all of the works. Since the works are presented randomly (well, pseudo randomly for each user), one might expect that half the works would have more yes than no votes, and vice versa. But that’s not turned out to be the case. About 80% of the works have more no votes than yes’s. Why is this?

There are various theories. Perhaps people are more selective if they know something will be on view in public. Perhaps people in general are just overly negative. Or perhaps people really don’t like any of our artwork!

But one of the more interesting theories of why this is goes back to the language we decided to use. Originally we were going to use the actual words “Yes” and “No” to answer the question “Would you like to see this artwork on view?”. This later got changed to “Definitely” and “Maybe Not”. Notice how the affirmative answer has much more weight behind it: “Yes, most definitely!”, whereas the negative option leaves you a bit of wiggle room “Eh, maybe not”. It’s this differentiation between being sure of a decision and perhaps not so sure that may have contributed to people saying no more often than yes.

Which begs the question, what if it was changed? What if the options instead were “Definitely Not” and “Sure”? Now the definitive answer is on the negative and the positive answer has more room to slush around (“Hell no!” vs “Ahh sure, why not?!”). It would be interesting to see what the results would have been with this simple change in language. Maybe next time. This round, we’re going to keep our metrics the same throughout to keep it consistant.

The voting for 50/50 runs until Sept 15. If you’d like to participate, you still have time!

Building the Benches and Binoculars Touchscreen Kiosk

[flickrvideo]http://www.flickr.com/photos/vitaflo/4119139342/[/flickrvideo] For our exhibition Benches and Binoculars, I was asked to create a touchscreen kiosk. The artwork in Benches and Binoculars is hung salon-style, making it impractical to use wall labels on works that are hanging 20 feet up in the air. Many get around this by having a gallery “map” (and our Design dept […]

[flickrvideo]http://www.flickr.com/photos/vitaflo/4119139342/[/flickrvideo]

For our exhibition Benches and Binoculars, I was asked to create a touchscreen kiosk. The artwork in Benches and Binoculars is hung salon-style, making it impractical to use wall labels on works that are hanging 20 feet up in the air. Many get around this by having a gallery “map” (and our Design dept did create these as well for the exhibit), but much like the exhibition itself, we thought it was a good time to “re-imagine” the gallery map.

I had never worked on a touchscreen app before. Sure, I’ve created kiosks here at the Walker but a touchscreen brings some new challenges, as well as some new opportunities. Input is both easier, and more difficult. You just use your hands, but people aren’t always sure how they are supposed to use their hands to perform actions, or even that they can.

Walker Director Olga Viso using the Benches and Binoculars kiosk

Walker Director Olga Viso using the Benches and Binoculars kiosk

As such my main goal when making the kiosk was to keep it simple. Don’t let the interface get in the way of the information. The interface should help facilitate finding the content you want easily. Too many times I’ve seen these types of devices be more about the technology than about the content on them. This meant making the kiosk less “flashy”, but in turn also made it more useful.

In the end the layout was rather simple. The screen has an exact (to the pixel) representation of the artwork hanging on the walls. Moving your hand right and left on the kiosk moved the walls on it left and right. Tapping on an artwork brought up a modal window with a high res image of the object as well as the label text. There is nothing particularly fancy or new about this idea, and there really shouldn’t have been. Much more would have taken away the experience you were there for, namely viewing the artworks on the walls.

As for the technology involved, we decided to use the HP Touchsmart PC for this particular kiosk. It uses an infrared field above the screen to track “touch”. As such you don’t actually have to make physical contact with the screen to activate a touch event, you just have to break the infrared plane.

We decided on the 22″ version because we wanted the machine to be single use. With the way the computer is set up, it’s not all that great at multi-touch as it is. And wanting to keep the device as simple as possible led to wanting to keep usable by one person at a time. There is a larger version of the Touchsmart but any larger than the 22″ and it felt like you were supposed to have more than one person use it at a time, which we wanted to stay away from.

Since we didn’t have to worry about multi use, we had a few more options on what to build the interface with. Most people would probably go the Flash route but for us Flash is usually the choice of last resort. This is for various reasons, not the least of which for me is lack of experience with Flash. But most of what you can do in Flash these days can also be done in the browser, and given that front end interfaces are my forte, that’s where I went.

The interface is just a simple HTML page that dynamically calls ArtsConnectEd for its data. Thankfully, Nate was able to leverage a lot of the work he did on ACE for this which sped up development drastically. Interaction is just built with some jQuery scripts I wrote. All in all it wasn’t all that difficult to get together except for a few snags (isn’t there always some?).

Using the Kiosk.

Using the Kiosk.

One was that I found very early on that interacting with a touchscreen is a lot different from using a mouse. Hit areas are much different since when you press on a screen your finger tends to “roll”. On the first mousedown event, the tip of your finger is in one spot, but as you press, the mouse position shifts lower on the screen as your finger flattens out from pressing into the screen. This means the mouseup event is in a totally different spot, which can cause issues with trying to register a proper click. A problem exists when trying to register a drag event for the same reason. As such I had to program in some “slush” room to compensate for this.

The second issue I had was that of the computer and browser itself. The Touchsmarts, while having a decent CPU were really slow and sluggish in general. I had from the beginning targeted Firefox for the development platform. Mainly because it has many fullscreen kiosk implementations as add ons. But once I loaded up 98 images with all of the CSS drop shadows, transparencies, etc, the entire browser was very sluggish and choppy.

I had read recently that Google Chrome was pushing v4 to be a lot faster and their new beta had just been released for it. Testing it I found that it was about 3 times faster than Firefox. The issue was it had no true kiosk mode. I was in a bind. I had a nice fullscreen kiosk in Firefox that was choppy, and a decent speed browser in Chrome that had no kiosk mode.

After much searching I found that a kiosk patch was in development on the browser. The only issue was patching it into a build. Unfortunately Google’s requirements for building Chrome on Windows is not trivial and I couldn’t find anyone to do it for me. In desperation, I emailed the creator of the patch, Mohamed Mansour, to see if he could build me a binary with his patch in it. Thankfully he came through and was able to offer up a custom build of Chrome with the kiosk mode built in that I could use for the exhibition. It’s worked wonderfully (note, this patch has since been checked into the Google Chrome nightlies).

In the end it turned out better than I thought it would. Chrome was fast enough for me to go back and add in new features like proper acceleration when “throwing” the walls. And the guys in the Walker carpentry shop, especially David Dick, made a beautiful pedestal to install the kiosk in, complete with a very nice black aluminum bezel. I couldn’t be more happy and from the looks of it our visitors are as well. It goes a long way to my (and New Media’s) goal of taking complex technology and making it simple for users, as well as the Walker’s mission of the active engagement of audiences.

You can see more photos in my Flickr set:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/vitaflo/sets/72157622839288542/

IE6 Must Die (along with 7 and 8)

One of the trending topics on Twitter currently is “IE6 Must Die“, which are mainly retweets to a blog post entitled “IE6 Must Die for the Web to Move On“. This is certainly true, IE6 has many rendering bugs and lacks support for so many things that it is simply a nightmare to work with. […]

iedestroyOne of the trending topics on Twitter currently is “IE6 Must Die“, which are mainly retweets to a blog post entitled “IE6 Must Die for the Web to Move On“. This is certainly true, IE6 has many rendering bugs and lacks support for so many things that it is simply a nightmare to work with. The amount of time and money wasted in supporting this browser across the web is staggering.

In fact a few months ago the New Media department decided to drop support for IE6 on all future websites we create. The last website we built with full IE6 support was the new ArtsConnectEd, mainly because teachers tend to have little say in what browsers they can use on school computers. However, moving forward we’re phasing out support for IE6. It simply costs us too much time and resources for the dwindling number of users it has on our sites (currently under 10%, which is down 45% from last year and falling fast). We’re not alone, many other sites are doing this as well.

However calling for the killing of IE6 ignores a bit of history as well as new problems to come. There was a time not so long ago when all web developers wanted to be using IE6. The goal back then was to kill off IE5. You see, IE5 had an incorrect box model. Padding and margins were included in a boxes width and height instead of adding to it like in standards compliant browsers.

This caused all sorts of layout errors, and meant hacks (like the Simplified Box Model Hack) had to be used to get content to align correctly. These hacks were so widely used that Apple was going to allow them to be used in the first version of Safari until I convinced Dave Hyatt (lead Safari dev) to take out support for it. IE6 fixed this bug and everyone was happy (for a while anyway).

Going back further, IE5, even with its broken box model, was at one time the browser of choice back when IE4 was killing Javascript programmers because it didn’t support document.getElementById(). IE4 only supported the proprietary document.all leading to a horrible fracturing of Javascript, whereas IE5 added in the JS standard we still use today. Before people embraced IE5, cross platform JS on the web was almost non-existent, a fact I attempted to rectify by building my Assembler site in 1999.

The reason I bring this up is because we have a history of this behavior with regards to IE. We yearn for the more modern versions, only to end up hating those same versions later on. This will not change with the death of IE6. Soon, it will be IE7 that we are trashing, and then IE8 will be the bane of our existence.

This only becomes more clear as we move to HTML5. IE8 doesn’t support it, nor does it support any CSS3. While IE8 does support many of the older standards it had been ignoring for so long, having just recently been released it is already out of date. All of the other browsers do support these advanced web technologies, but IE is the lone browser to ignore them. Once again IE is two steps behind where the web is going, and severely limits our ability to push web technology forward to everyone for many years to come.

So while we celebrate the death of IE6, let us not forget that there will be a new thorn in our side to take its place in short order. IE7, you’re next.

MW2008 – Aggregating Museum Data: Use Issues

Exploring Museum COllections On-line: The Quantitative Method Frankie Roberto, Science Museum, United Kingdom Three problems with museum data. 1. Getting it (API’s) – Screen scrape, FOI (Freedom of Information) request 2. Structure (Metadata) – Some logic involved 3. Dodgy Data (Hard work) – Have to assume data is “good enough” Data from FOI requests include […]

Exploring Museum COllections On-line: The Quantitative Method

Frankie Roberto, Science Museum, United Kingdom

Three problems with museum data.

  • 1. Getting it (API’s) – Screen scrape, FOI (Freedom of Information) request
  • 2. Structure (Metadata) – Some logic involved
  • 3. Dodgy Data (Hard work) – Have to assume data is “good enough”
  • Data from FOI requests include curator, object, country, year, and acquisition method. Need a mapping process, as not everything maps, and certain items can be mapped to something simplified, for example, “edged weapon” becomes just “weapon”. Same for countries, etc. However, there are several tricky ones, for example, what country is “asia”? This is when you say “Good enough”.

    Frankie shows off a locally hosted website showing the aggregated data. By putting the data into more generic silos he’s able to parse things much more easily for view and searching.

    Issues – all objects counted equally (small coins all counted separate, so there are many more of them), no photos, user interactions not available. Prototype at museum-collections.org.

    Uniting The Shanty Towns: Data Combining Across Multiple Institutions

    Seb Chan, Powerhouse Museum, Australia

    People like order, but if you look closer you get mess. But mess is good. Yet mess makes mashups hard. Can we agree on standards? Lets start with calendars. Figured can’t be hard, it’s just a calendar. But it was, everyone has different CMS’s or no CMS at all. How do we do it? Could just use people to do it by hand, but that’s too much work. So we scrape, aggregate, have a nice backend and use sites we can trust. Then we can get a nice frontend, RSS and iCal to all these aggregated sites.

    Semantic web, why can’t we use it for collections? We write themes, tags, tracking searches, etc, but there’s gotta be a better way. Use Calais, a text analysis tool, creates dynamically generated meta data tags. It’s work humans can do, but this is automatic, which saves a lot of time. However, it doesn’t always come up with proper tags (but again is “good enough”). Once you have this data, you can then start connecting it to other data. Once you have the data identified, you can use it in mashups of other data (for example, if you have a company pulled out for Google, you can then do auto mashups of stock prices, locations, etc).

    Take it to the next level. If you know where Google is in our example, you can mashup your own location, put it into a search page, and it will show you what things are near your current location (including Google if you happen to be near it for example), as well as all the other data associated with the original record.

    MW2008 – Engaging Museum Audiences

    Where Do We Go From Here? Continuing with Web 2.0 Shelley Bernstein, Brooklyn Museum, USA Year ago worlds worst bloggers (her words, not mine). Everything on the blog back then was just in an institutional voice. Now, the blog is about personal stories, direct from the staff members. Authors are identified by photo and bio. […]

    Where Do We Go From Here? Continuing with Web 2.0

    Shelley Bernstein, Brooklyn Museum, USA

    Year ago worlds worst bloggers (her words, not mine). Everything on the blog back then was just in an institutional voice. Now, the blog is about personal stories, direct from the staff members. Authors are identified by photo and bio. Asked themselves if the blogs were really worth it. Got some comments but not a ton. The answer came in January. Comment came on a blog post about a house in the museum. Gave an incredibly personal comment on information they didn’t even have in this house. Made a connection on their blog they probably never would have had if the blog had not existed.

    Also did a video competition on YouTube. Tons of rules in order to put up a video. Barrier to entry is fairly high. However, one video submission was entitled “art thief”, which reminded people of a person who would walk into the Brooklyn Museum and hang his own artwork (much the chagrin of museum admins). Could have posed a problem because of what happened in the past, but the lesson learned is trust your audience. Not everyone is doing things in a negative light, even if you’ve been burned in the past. Don’t let one rotten apple spoil the bushel.

    Brooklyn has a Flickr group where they let people post photos of the museum and the work. Had the idea of why not invite 10 top photographers on Flickr to come in and shoot the museum objects in their own way. Gives a personalized view of the artwork, which is very different from the normal object photo shot. Allows people to see the artwork in a new way online. Turned it all into one big video showcasing the museum. Visitor created, but showcases the museum really well.

    Art Share. Facebook app, to share artwork on their Facebook profile. If you’re an artist you can upload your own artwork too. What’s interesting is what people put on their profiles. You learn more about people based on what they decide to display on their profiles. (note: Walker Art Center is part of Art Share)

    Click. A crowd curated exhibition. Again, trust your audience, let them have a say in your museum.

    Hat tip to the Walker: In the Q&A, Shelley mentions Robin last year talking about engaging younger members of your museum to blog, as many tend to actually want to be blogging (which is very true).

    Ladders Of Participation, Social Media And Museum Audiences

    Lynda Kelly, Australian Museum & Angelina Russo, Swinburne University, Australia

    Classifying online participants, use Forester research questions to find out how Australians were working online. Compared that to the US. Found people that visit museums participate a lot more in 2-way activities than people who do not visit museums.

    Classifications:

  • Spectators: have a one dimensional relationship with the internet, lack trust and experience.
  • Joiner: two-dimensional relationship with the net (though shallow), motivation online is socializing.
  • Commentator: two dimensional relationship (give and take), it’s a fuel for their passions.
  • Creator: two dimensional relationship, passionate, knowledge = power, importance of being published

    Physical environment engages the senses, online environment engages the mind.

    Social Presence: New value for networked museum audiences

    Brian Dawson, Gabrielle Trepanier & Fraser McDonald, Canada Science and Technology Museum Corporation, Canada

    Using Facebook for their Membership Program. Organic change. Used Facebook not because they love it, but because that’s where everyone is. Enables social networking, marketing, ways to disperse data and actively engage users without large investments (salaries and time). Cross promote their Facebook group in their emails and normal online communication. Was an unofficial experiment, begged for forgiveness, rather than permission. Used their Facebook group to ask members questions about what they want. Example, asked them if it was ok with them to put a live beehive in their museum and let them express their comments and concerns before they did it.

  • Live Blogging Museums and the Web 2008

    We’ll be live blogging Museums and the Web 2008 from Montreal for the next few days. Our thoughts, notes and opinions on each session we attend will be broadcast for those of you who didn’t happen to make it out, or want to catch up afterwards. Stay tuned.

    We’ll be live blogging Museums and the Web 2008 from Montreal for the next few days. Our thoughts, notes and opinions on each session we attend will be broadcast for those of you who didn’t happen to make it out, or want to catch up afterwards. Stay tuned.

    Microsoft and the New Standards Compliance Mode in IE8

    A few days ago Microsoft announced their standards compatibility plans for IE8. It starts off talking about how IE8 passes the Acid 2 test, and then goes on to talk about the viewing “modes” in the various IE browsers. IE handled these modes like most of the other browsers. There was “quirks” mode, which is […]

    A few days ago Microsoft announced their standards compatibility plans for IE8. It starts off talking about how IE8 passes the Acid 2 test, and then goes on to talk about the viewing “modes” in the various IE browsers.

    IE handled these modes like most of the other browsers. There was “quirks” mode, which is invoked if no doctype is set (or a deprecated doctype), and “standards” mode if you used an appropriate doctype. Safari and Firefox work the same way. This gives a bit of flexibility to those who may have some older site with nonstandard or old spec code, and still follows general web standards for new code like you would expect.

    Microsoft however decided to change things again in IE8. One would think the new and better standards that came about through the Acid 2 test would work in “standards” mode in IE8 given they follow the standard. But that is not the case. If you use “standards” mode in IE8, the browser will instead render the page like IE7 did, you will not get the new up to date standards fixes. And “quirks” mode will still render in IE8 like IE6 did.

    Instead, to get the “super standards” mode, web developers will need to add a special meta tag to their sites to tell IE8 to render it in the new mode. This is just short sighted. It’s a band aid fix us web devs will have to live with for another 5 to 10 years.

    The biggest problem here is the fact that standards compliance means “opt in”. Standards compliance should be determined by the doctype of the page, like the standards say, not some random meta tag. Microsoft’s comeback is that adding in standards means many pages build specifically for IE6 or 7 will break, and expecting everyone to rewrite their entire websites to standards compliance is not feasible.

    Which is why I want to know why standards compliance can’t be an “opt out”? The meta tag idea is fine, but it should be the fix for the old, out of date, non-standard content, not new content. Microsoft can (and should) save companies the time and effort in having to rewrite all their sites, but that saving should come at the cost of adding a simple meta tag in the header of your old pages.

    If you look at Microsoft’s OS’s they do similar things. XP broke some of the Windows 2000 programs because the API changed. Same thing happened in Vista. Microsoft rightly gave developers notice of these changes and gave them time to implement fixes for compatibility, so that when the new OS came out, the old programs could already be updated to run on the new OS. I’m not sure why a browser should be any different. Give legacy site devs the meta tag to add now, so that when IE8 comes out it “just works” like it used to. But leave the standards compliance the way it should be, the way the spec says.

    This also has the added benefit of allowing legacy code and this fix to die off faster. If meta tags are only put into old code, as those sites are replaced, we can get rid of this “fix” much quicker. Making developers put it into new code just means we have to deal with this for that much longer, which is a pain.

    I’m happy that Microsoft has finally decided to embrace web standards for a change. But in their quest for legacy support, their decision to slap an ugly band aid onto future code is a bad one. And it opens a slippery slope for future versions of IE that I’m not looking forward to, and that is unfortunate.

    Counting People in Galleries with iPod Touch

    Here’s an interesting problem that came across my desk several weeks ago. Lets say you want to know exactly how many people are in a gallery at any given time. How do you do it? There are expensive people counters available, with all sorts of technology, right down to thermal imaging. There are also cheap […]

    Here’s an interesting problem that came across my desk several weeks ago. Lets say you want to know exactly how many people are in a gallery at any given time. How do you do it?

    There are expensive people counters available, with all sorts of technology, right down to thermal imaging. There are also cheap hand held counters, with plus and minus buttons to add and subtract people as they come and go to keep a consistent count of people in a gallery.

    These cheap hand held versions are great…if you only have one entrance and exit point. What if you have multiple entrances and exits? Suddenly the hand held version falls apart, and putting cameras all over is way too expensive.

    This is the issue that was put forth to me. We have an upcoming exhibition for Frida Kahlo. The gallery that the exhibition is in can only support 200 visitors at any one time. We expect more than that, especially on busy days. The kicker of course is that the gallery it’s in has two entrances, so we needed to find a way to accurately count how many people are in the gallery at any given time, and if that number goes over 200, the gallery guards would have to hold people from entering until the number dropped below 200.

    I thought for sure something like this must have been made before. Surely we aren’t the only people who have ever had this problem? But in looking online I couldn’t find anything that was cost effective and would “just work”. We kept saying “if we only had two clickers that could talk to each other”.

    Something interesting happened the same day I was presented with this problem. Apple announced the iPod Touch. As soon as I saw the Touch, my first thought was Art on Call and the Walker Channel. I could see all sorts of uses for both in the galleries. But after a couple hours wrestling with this given problem it hit me, why not use the iPod Touch?

    The iPod Touch is handheld, has touch input, and a browser with wifi built in. All we had to do was make a simple web app for it that counted up or down. Two people could have the Touch’s, check off how many people are entering and leaving, and both be up to date on exactly how many people are in the gallery. So that’s what we did.

    Here are some screen grabs of what I built. The left image is the typical display of the app. Options are simply to add or subtract a certain amount of people as they enter or leave. You’re able to reset the counter to zero in the upper right (it has a confirmation before doing so). The right image shows what happens when you go over the gallery maximum. The app also auto updates the number every 10 seconds, so the guard who has people waiting will know when the the number drops below the max value right away without needing to manually refresh.

    Walker Counter Walker Counter Maxed

    iPod Touch CounterMaking a web app specifically for the iPod Touch (or iPhone) turns out to be really easy. It’s just a webpage. You pretty much can do anything that is available in Safari (though there are a few inconstancies to watch out for), and there are also several special meta tags you can add specifically for these apps (for example, I turned off scaling for our web app). Apple has written up a very nice development doc on their website that I used when making this app. It includes things like screen size, font size, color, meta tags, basically everything you need to make something look nice and stylish on these devices. I’d recommend it to anyone working on apps like this. The screenshot to the left is how the iPod Touch looks with the rest of the UI around it, to give you an idea.

    As far as the iPod Touch/iPhone goes, I’m very impressed. I really do think these devices are the future of museum audio tours. Well, not just audio, but video as well! There are things that need to be fixed (like the fact that you can’t get podcasts on them via wifi yet), but overall there is so much potential here, simply by having a real browser with wifi on it and supporting rich media, as well as the UI and multi-touch interface. It could very well be the Rosetta Stone of digital museum tours.

    Picasso iPod Audio Tour Post Mortem

    So the Picasso exhibition is over and we learned a lot about mass iPod audio tours. The first lesson, they’re very popular! We’ve had iPods for our permanent collection for a while now, but we never really had the push behind it like we had for Picasso. The difference I noticed here is that if […]

    So the Picasso exhibition is over and we learned a lot about mass iPod audio tours. The first lesson, they’re very popular! We’ve had iPods for our permanent collection for a while now, but we never really had the push behind it like we had for Picasso. The difference I noticed here is that if you advertise it, people will use it.

    We did a lot better job for the Picasso show in getting the word out that the iPods as well as Art on Call were available. People used them. There were very often waiting lists for people to check out an iPod. I had honestly thought at the beginning that 25 iPods was overkill, but after a short time it was obvious we could have probably had twice that and still had all of them in use at any given time. A lot of this was because of the show itself. A ton of people came to see Picasso. I’ve never seen that many people in our galleries before, outside of After Hours. And this was day in, day out. But like anything, word gets out, people in the galleries see others on their cell phones or with iPods and learn they can do the same (for free) and people really ate up the content. We will post more on our numbers when the final data comes in.

    So that’s great, people dug the content, but what were the caveats? For us there were several things that came up that we had to work around. One is what I already mentioned, the iPods being checked out constantly. Because of this, none of the iPods during the day got a chance to recharge. Most made it through an 8 hour day fine, but what we didn’t expect was having to charge them over night. Because they needed to be locked up somewhere safe when the building was closed we had to find a secure place to take the charging station each night, and thankfully we were able to.

    Also, at first we were going to use one of the computers at the front desk to dock the iPods on, but given the traffic, that didn’t go over well as that computer needed to be used off and on all day for ticketing, etc. But we still needed a dedicated computer there just for the iPods. We thankfully had a spare Sony laptop that sufficed for this and did a good job.

    There was also something that came up that I never had even thought about. I originally put the iPods down in a floor cabinet which could be closed. This was partially to be neat and tidy and partially for security. Problem was, we were so busy and swapping out so many iPods that the Visitor Services staff started to really strain having to bend over again and again to swap out iPods all day. Thankfully our carpentry shop rectified this by making a pedestal that the iPods could go in to make it easier on everyone’s backs.

    And what about dead and abused iPods? Several notes here. One, Notes mode works better now than it did when I first used it and dismissed it and then instead hacked the iPod firmware. But there are still major issues with Notes mode. While better, it’s still not ready for prime time and there are still ways for users to change settings even when locked into Notes mode (which I’m still trying to figure out, but given the number of iPods I got that I had to reset, it’s certainly an issue). That said, we will probably use Notes mode for exhibition-only tours in the future.

    Secondly, when your audio tour is this popular bad things happen. We had a few iPods die on us. Three were hard drive failures, and one had a screen fail from abuse. The good news is Apple will replace iPods for free if there is a hard drive failure and the iPod is under warranty. The bad news is the same can’t be said for screen abuse (or any other kind of user created problem). Most of the iPods survived just fine, some had to be reset with a hard reset (getting into the hidden firmware setting to do so), but in the end most survived the ordeal.

    The other big challenge was getting people to understand how to use the iPods. Believe it or not there are a lot of people who have never used one before. The Picasso show skewed a bit older as well which added to this. We had a stop on our tour (the first stop) that was all about how to use the iPod and the tour menu itself was as simple as possible (just one list, no submenus), but as with any technology there is still a learning curve involved, regardless of how simple it may seem. Someone will always struggle. It’s important everyone in your museum knows how they work, because anyone, even security guards, may be asked to help someone who’s stuck. This is the most important part to me, because if people can’t figure out how to use your device, there’s no point in having it!

    Lastly, as Robin guessed before the show started, ditch the earbuds and get over-the-ear headphones for your iPods. This was a very good move. Nobody wants to stick earbuds in their ears after 20 people before you have!

    In related iPod news, we’re getting a few of the new iPod Touch’s in at the end of the month, and I’m currently building an app for it. I think these could have a real impact on audio (and video) tours because of the built in WiFi and browser. I’m pretty excited at the possibilities. More on this soon.

    Web Stats: Using Multiple Metrics

    I came across this story online about how Nielsen/NetRatings is going to drop its normal website rankings that use page views as a metric, and change to user session length instead. Much of this has to do with the advent of AJAX, with content loading on the same “page” and thus not being counted in […]

    I came across this story online about how Nielsen/NetRatings is going to drop its normal website rankings that use page views as a metric, and change to user session length instead. Much of this has to do with the advent of AJAX, with content loading on the same “page” and thus not being counted in the page views statistic Nielsen/NetRatings currently uses.

    Forget how this impacts the current online leaders (the article says it will hurt Google, and in the same breath says it will help YouTube, go figure), I just found it interesting that they were still using page views as their main metric. While we certainly keep track of them here, we tend to put much more weight into user sessions. Take for example this comparison of page views vs. user sessions on our website, from Feb. ’07:

    tickets.walkerart.org

    Page Views: 347,258

    User Sessions: 2,581

    blogs.walkerart.org

    Page Views: 305,609

    User Sessions: 105,387

    Notice the difference? Our tickets website had more page views than our blogs did, but only 2% of the user sessions. Why? Well, it’s mainly because there are many more pages in our ticketing system to go through to place an order, as well as a few iframes here and there that just inflates the page count. By itself, one would think looking at the page views that tickets was the more popular site, but in reality many more people visit our blogs.

    Like any statistic it’s important to look at multiple sets of data to come to a conclusion. With these two metrics we can not only find the depth of our visitors but also the breadth. Blog users don’t seem to dig as much, perhaps because they don’t have to compared to what’s required in a ticketing system checkout process, or perhaps because they haven’t found anything interesting to read and leave!

    This is where Nielsen has made their change. Instead of just looking at simple page numbers (which is important to advertisers to count “impressions” of ads), they’re now wanting to see how long someone has spent on a website. This means the trend has changed from the number of impressions, to the overall impression length.

    We also keep track of user session length on our websites. And again when combined with the other metrics, it adds another layer of info we can use to determine the relative success and weakness of our sites. Here are the user session lengths of the above sites for the same time period, in seconds:

    tickets.walkerart.org

    Session Length (secs): 589

    blogs.walkerart.org

    Session Length (secs): 281

    Probably what you would expect. It took a lot longer for those users on tickets to weed through all those pages to place their order. However if you look at the ratio of users to page views for each site, and then look at the session length, you’ll notice that blog readers spend more time on each page during their sessions.

    tickets.walkerart.org

    Ave. Secs./Page: 4.4

    blogs.walkerart.org

    Ave. Secs./Page: 96.9

    Obviously the tickets time is a bit skewed, because of iframes, robots and the like, but this shows that people do spend much more time on average on each page on our blog website than on tickets, even though the overall session length on blogs is less. This is good, it means people are getting through the ticketing software quickly, even with all the pages to load, and it also means people are actually staying on our blogs and (hopefully) reading.

    Session length can also show us popular sites we may have otherwise missed. Take our Walker Channel from the same period:

    channel.walkerart.org

    Page Views: 21,596

    User Sessions: 6,732

    Session Length (secs): 574

    Ave Secs/Page: 179

    The user sessions on our channel aren’t super high, at least not in comparison to some of our other sites, and neither are the page views. However, the session length, and more importantly, the number of secs users spent per page is very high. Those people who do visit the Walker Channel like to spend a lot of time there. Perhaps this is something we should put more time into, to drive more users to this content? In fact, that’s exactly what we are starting to work on.

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