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1. Introduction.............................................................................................................

2. Mobile media ........................................................................................................... 3

a. Barcodes / uploading ................................................................................................ 3

b. Augmented reality..................................................................................................... 4

c. Bluetooth................................................................................................................... 4

d. GPS.......................................................................................................................... 5

e. Geo / Eco caching .................................................................................................... 5

f. Smartphone applications (‘apps’)............................................................................... 6

3. The world wide web & computers ......................................................................... 7

a. Google Maps & Google Earth ................................................................................... 7

b. Mashups ................................................................................................................... 8

c. Widgets..................................................................................................................... 8

d. User generated content & crowd sourcing ................................................................ 9

e. Virtual tours ............................................................................................................ 10

4. Visual projection / touchscreens ......................................................................... 10

a. Touchtables ............................................................................................................ 10

b. Fogscreens & Holoscreens ..................................................................................... 11

c. Gesture sensing...................................................................................................... 11

d. Virtual mirrors ......................................................................................................... 12

e. Digital pen and paper.............................................................................................. 12

5. Other useful media ............................................................................................... 13

a. Directional speakers ............................................................................................... 13

b. Audio labels ............................................................................................................ 13

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1. Introduction

This short paper provides a brief overview of the exciting opportunities offered to
heritage interpretation by new media and emerging digital technologies and appraises
a variety of options for possible inclusion within future interpretive schemes. Its aim can
only be to ‘scratch the surface’ of each medium within such a broad remit but it is
hoped that the document will grow and expand as industry research continues.

Using new technology is now a key facet of communicating effectively with our
audiences, particularly younger demographics who see the internet and mobile
technology as an expected part of their daily lives and their primary means of
accessing interpretive and informational content.

Organisations and funding bodies are also now looking toward new media based
solutions to interpret their sites – not only are they, generally, much more versatile in
terms of their updateability and thus perceived ‘value’, but generally provide an
unobtrusive, environmentally friendly means by which to interpret both landscape and
object. The massive increase in internet based social media has been another key
driver to this exciting new direction –it is not now our job to so much define ‘sense of
place’ but to provide a structure within which this ‘sense’ can be formulated,
commented upon and discussed by a wide range of individuals.

As a paper exploring the ‘cutting edge’ of the new media field, technology that is
already widely accepted, proven and deployed within the interpretation industry (MP3
trails, touchscreens etc) has been excluded from examination.

2. Mobile media

a. Barcodes / uploading

This process involves the visitor using their (internet and camera enabled) mobile
device to ‘scan’ special barcodes mounted on panels / countryside furniture /
sculptures with the device’s inbuilt barcode reader. Upon the device recognising a
barcode, it launches its internet browser and directs the user to a specific website /
image / video or piece of internet hosted interpretive copy.

Pros:

• Encourages direct user interaction and discovery.


• Relatively cost effective to setup.

Cons:

• Few devices are fitted with barcode readers as standard.

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• Good quality mobile phone data signal required.
• Technology still unproven in an interpretive setting.

b. Augmented reality

Utilising the inbuilt GPS and directional compass functions of the latest generation of
smartphones and PDAs, it is possible to geographically ‘tag’ landscapes to present an
enhanced or ‘augmented’ view of reality. Users view this augmentation through the
device’s camera viewfinder and an augmented reality browser.

Tags can be as (relatively!) simple as interpretive text, images and video which ‘popup’
when a viewer looks at a feature (see www.layar.com), or as complex as a fully
rendered 3-D object / representation which the viewer is able to view seamlessly from
multiple angles.

Augmented reality can also be utilised with a webcam and computer software, allowing
simple objects to be manipulated virtually to appear as something different. This was
used effectively in a recent marketing effort for Transformers 2 (http://bit.ly/2h8vih).

Pros:

• Can effectively ‘recreate’ lost buildings or landscapes.


• A seamless user experience – interacting directly with the landscape.
• Can support also wide range of multimedia content (audio, video, text etc)

Cons:

• A new cutting edge technology – unproven and difficult to cost accurately.


• Multiple browsers and programming languages – no agreed standard as of yet.

c. Bluetooth

‘Bluetooth’ is a means of exchanging data between fixed and mobile devices wirelessly
over short distances. It is particularly useful in allowing users (with bluetooth enabled
mobile devices) to access interpretive content where there is little or no mobile phone
or internet data signal. Images, audio, video, text and small interpretive Java
applications can be transferred over bluetooth connections. It can also work the ‘other
way round’ with users able to send text messages or images (photographs) wirelessly
to a central server for distribution to a linked screen or website. This offers exciting
possibilities for both evaluation and visitor interaction (quizzes, photo competitions etc).

Pros:

• Versatile (interior / exterior) data transfer mechanism.

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• Can be used to transfer virtually any file type.
• No end cost for user.

Cons:

• Fixed bluetooth data dispersal device relatively expensive to establish.


• Requires a degree of user familiarity with using bluetooth.
• Dispersal devices require mains / solar power or batteries.

d. GPS

GPS is becoming increasingly standard on mobile phones and GPS specific handheld
devices can now be purchased from as little as £15.00. This presents opportunities for
using GPS interpretively, both as a means to access location activated ‘trig points’ for
the playback of relevant multimedia based material and for the transformation of a
landscape into a gaming arena to encourage outdoor interaction and discovery.

In car satellite based navigation systems can also be utilised to host GPS triggered
audio trails over a large geographic area, though compatibility issues can arise when
attempting to develop material for different brands.

Pros:

• Provokes discovery / direct user engagement.


• Content can be triggered seamlessly – no need for location codes etc.
• Technology now available at a very accessible cost.
• Can be combined with multiple other mobile media options.

Cons:

• GPS tagging can, at times, be accurate to only around 20 metres.


• Developing for broad range of in car satellite navigation systems problematic.

e. Geo / Eco caching

A ‘high tech treasure hunt’ in which users utilise GPS enabled devices to find ‘caches’
(metal ammunition boxes containing a ‘treasure’ item) hidden at specific GPS co-
ordinates. Once located, the user signs a logbook to confirm their ‘discovery’ of the
cache and takes their ‘treasure’, replacing it with a new item of their own. Interpretively,
this technology has interesting possibilities – caches could contain interpretive
materials, or a number of caches could be linked to form a themed discovery trail
(questions, cracking codes etc), a leaflet for which could be downloadable from a
website or available as a hard copy in a Visitor Centre.

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‘Eco caching’ (also known as ‘earth caching’) is an extension of this and involves
interpreting the geology and physical processes of the earth’s landscape. Caches are
physical places or viewpoints where geology can be experienced directly, not a
physical box – for instance, a gorge in a rock formation caused by an ice age glacier.
Users leave no physical trace of their ‘find’, instead downloading a number of questions
when attaining co-ordinates to be answered onsite. These are then sent to a specific
person (ranger, park staff etc) and, if answered correctly, the user can ‘log’ their find.

Pros:

• Increasingly popular pastime.


• Encourages self-discovery.
• Ranges of new smartphones now contain GPS, making pastime more accessible.
• Encourages interaction between users.

Cons:

• Still an ‘unknown’ pastime to many.


• Requires confidence with GPS co-ordinates, time and physical fitness.

f. Smartphone applications (‘apps’)

The arrival of the iphone and other rival ‘smartphones’ heralds a new age. Mobile
phones and PDA’s will not now be separate devices, but will be integrated as one.
People will be able to enjoy the immense lifestyle benefits of a ‘mini PC’ in their
pockets

The exponential growth in the popularity of these devices over the last year has been
significantly boosted by the development of independent applications or ‘apps’. These
programmes (downloadable from the operators ‘store’, itunes for example, for free or
for a small fee) are developed independently from the manufacturer / operator by
individual developers or small development companies. Content is incredibly diverse
(over 100,000 ‘apps’ currently exist on Apple’s app store) and ranges from games to
educational material, social networking tools and productivity utilities.

The raft of features standard on smartphones presents an almost overwhelming raft of


interpretive potential:

• A large, high quality touchscreen. This enables smartphones to display touch


sensitive applications and high quality imagery and video integrated with audio
content (playable through a speaker or earphones).
• Wi-fi compatibility. The devices can be linked to any visible wireless network and
use the Internet in the same manner as a PC. This includes streaming video and
playing audio files.

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• An accelerometer. The devices can tell whether they are being used in the
landscape or portrait position.
• GPS tracking. They are fitted with a GPS location device, meaning users can
pinpoint their exact position in relation in the surrounding environment. The latest
incarnation of smartphones are also fitted with a compass, meaning the device can
pinpoint the direction in which it is pointing (or its user is facing), in addition to its
more general GPS position.

Interpretive applications can be created / programmed to make use of this suite of


features to produce truly innovative interpretive experiences. No mobile phone signal
or wireless connection is necessary – the device simply needs to be installed with the
application prior to use on site.

Pros:

• Applications, or ‘apps’, are a huge growth market.


• Advanced and versatile features as standard.
• Users will use their own devices (smartphones will become much more common
over the next two years).
• Massive interpretive potential – ability to utilise high quality audio, imagery and
video with GPS, mobile internet etc.

Cons:

• Rival manufacturers / operators (Apple, Google Android etc) means more


expensive development costs.
• Majority of people don’t yet own smartphones.

3. The World Wide Web & computers

a. Google Maps & Google Earth

As open source platforms, Google Maps and Google Earth can be developed to create
exciting interpretive experiences. This could include, for example, their use as the basis
for exploring urban development and growth, rural change and historic geographic
processes. See http://bit.ly/3oFQv9 and http://www.mibazaar.com/ushistory/ for
examples.

Accurate 3D buildings, structures and landscapes can also be recreated in Google


Earth, making them accessible to a multitude of users and placing them in the context
of the world around them.

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Users could use a specifically created map to geographically ‘tag’ (geotag) species
sightings and oral histories, leave ‘oral tags’ of places they’ve discovered or use the
service to orientate themselves on a onsite trail.

Pros:

• Cost effective – involves utilising pre created ‘building blocks’, mostly free.
• Can be embedded in websites and used in onsite installations (touchscreens etc)
and mobile devices.
• Useful to interpret eclectic range of topics.
• Familiar user interface.

Cons:

• As a pre created ‘base system’, does contain certain development limitations.

b. Mashups

‘Mashups’ are applications that combine data from two (or more) separate ‘open
sources’ and turns them into a single integrated and distinct user interface.

For example, Google Maps can even be used alongside other programmes to
geographically tag (‘geotag’) images on Flickr, video on Youtube and even blog entries
to create exciting integrated social experiences (see http://gowalla.com/ and
http://www.geoimpress.com/). A museum’s collections database could also be
combined with the programme to display the geographic origin of its objects.

Pros:

• Enables multiple data streams to be displayed holistically and in an accessible


fashion.
• Cost effective (if using existing data sources).
• Can be used to create integrated, innovative and visually exciting interpretative
experiences.

Cons:

• Depending on complexity of programming can be challenging (and therefore more


costly).
• Making data ‘open source’ can lead to a loss of control over its use.

c. Widgets

Widgets are small (often internet linked) applications that sit on a computer desktop or
internet browser and fulfil a specific function (clock, computer data usage display,
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calendar etc). They provide some exciting interpretive opportunities however, and can
be used as a direct line of visitor communication and engagement.

For example, a themed calendar could be created for users to download (complete
with pre programmed events schedule), or a relevant painting / object / quote / tip / fact
could be sent to each user’s computer desktop each day (from a pre programmed
database).

Pros:

• Direct communication with users.


• Versatile tool with many creative uses.

Cons:

• Direct communication, but one-way communication. Little opportunity for


interaction.

d. User generated content & crowd sourcing

Websites and social media tools (facebook, flickr, twitter etc) can be used to reach out
and engage with existing and potential visitors to provoke discussion, opinion and
debate. The content created from this inclusive and open process can then be used
and integrated directly within exhibitions and intepretation schemes (see separate IM
white paper).

‘Crowd sourcing’ takes this concept a step further – instead of a curator, exhibition /
intepretation manager ‘defining’ the content, themes and message of an interpretation
scheme, it is instead ‘outsourced’ to a ‘crowd’ (or community) through the internet to
create or vote on and choose the content they would like to see themselves (see
www.createdemocracy.com).

Pros:

• Wonderful form of direct audience engagement and empowerment.


• Encourages interaction and debate.
• Promotes transparency and openness.
• Builds online (and subsequent onsite) communities.
• Creates true ‘audience focussed’ content.

Cons:

• Requires a relaxation of control, meaning potential for user abuse, as well as


positive contribution.
• Audience views may differ, making an inclusive resolution difficult.

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e. Virtual tours

Virtual tours of a site, or specific building or part of a site, that can be used to provide a
high degree of virtual access to users unable to interact with them physically.
Particularly useful in historic buildings in which new physical provision (lifts, stairs etc)
cannot be installed, tours allow users complete 360° views of a room or landscape with
zoom functionality and can be further enhanced with text, audio and video based
interpretive provision, thereby providing an experience as close as possible to the ‘real
thing’.

Tours can be made available at onsite touchscreen terminals and via the internet,
ensuring maximum accessibility.

Pros:

• Greatly enhances intellectual and physical accessibility.


• Can be combined with audio, visual and even aroma-based content to create
engaging experiences.
• Deployable across multiple platforms.

Cons:

• Never quite as evocative as the ‘real thing’.


• Depending on the depth and range of content, can be expensive.

4. Visual projection / touchscreens

a. Touchtables

We now have opportunities to offer touch-based experiences to visitors not merely on


touchscreen-mounted plinths, but also tables and even walls. These devices offer 'multi
touch' capabilities, meaning users can engage with both hands, and multiple visitors
can play / learn at once. Touchtables are individual installations containing a powerful
computer and mounted with a tabletop touchscreen, meaning they act as a natural
gathering point and can be accessed comfortably by a range of users.

This offers a multitude of appealing interpretive benefits - being capable of supporting


multiple users means we can devise multiplayer interpretive games that offer a number
of players (a family, or even total strangers) an immersive and, perhaps, even
competitive social interpretive experience. Whilst provoking interaction, if designed
successfully, the game / program can also act as a direct catalyst for discussion,
debate and engagement with the interpretive material / information provided.

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Pros:

• Encourages visitor-to-visitor interaction.


• Can host multiple users
• Can be used to host a range of innovative programmes, games and ‘mashups’ (see
above).
• An appealing interpretive ‘feature’.

Cons:

• Significantly more expensive than a traditional touchscreen.

b. Fogscreens & Holoscreens

Exciting and innovative means of projecting digital film based content, fogscreens and
holoscreens allow users to ‘interact’ directly with the screen itself.

Fogscreens produce a thin curtain of “dry” fog that serves as a translucent projection
screen, displaying images that literally float in the air. Users can touch and jump
through the screen (without getting wet).

Similarly. holoscreens are incredibly thin (yet ‘physical’), translucent screens that, when
projected upon, appear to the viewer to float in the air, creating an ethereal and ghostly
experience.

Pros:

• Encourages multiple user attention, engagement and interaction.


• Can host truly innovative large-scale interpretive content.

Cons:

• Relatively expensive to purchase specialist equipment.


• Limited to interior use.

c. Gesture sensing

Using a finger/hand/head/foot etc to control and interact with a digital interface, instead
of a mouse, tracker ball or touchscreen.

Has a variety of exciting and innovative uses and can, for example, be combined with a
ceiling mounted projector to enable visitors to ‘kick’ dry leaves to reveal insects etc
living underneath.

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Pros:

• Very natural means of interacting with digital media.


• Innovative and flexible methods of deployment.

Cons:

• Relative to more traditional means of interaction is expensive to set up.


• Not suitable for all digital interpretive experiences.

d. Virtual mirrors

Similar to augmented reality in concept, this technology uses a myriad of gesture-


based sensors to make it appear that, when users look in a mirror, they are wearing
different clothes. Perhaps most easily explained as virtual ‘dressing up’, users can see
how they would look in contemporary Elizabethan, Victorian or early 20th century
clothing, for example.

Pros:

• Exciting, interactive technology.


• Direct user participation within interpretation.

Cons:

• Relatively expensive.
• Still an unproven prototype.

e. Digital pen and paper

Users write an answer to a provocative question (e.g. why care about climate change,
what will you do to fight genocide?) on a digital paper, using a digital pen. This is then
popped into a special ‘box’ containing a scanner and computer, and the answer is
displayed on a large digital screen for all the other exhibition visitors to see, comment
on and discuss. Answers can also be saved onto a database and displayed on a
website, or emailed to the user upon leaving the exhibition.

Pros:

• Encourages visitor-to-visitor debate and interaction.


• Makes post visit behavioural objectives tangible and meaningful.
• Exciting and innovative form of evaluation.

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Cons:

• Needs to be on a large scale to function properly, meaning expensive setup costs.


• Only really necessary within specific interpretive circumstances.

5. Other useful media

a. Directional speakers

Specialist speakers that produce a small directed and concentrated ‘burst’ of sound.
Unlike ‘normal’ speakers that ‘throw’ sound all across a room, directional speakers emit
sound in controllable fields that users can only hear when they enter its specified
parameters.

Using this technology, it is possible to create engaging and exciting ‘soundscapes’


(whisperings, overheard conversations etc) that users experience as they walk across
a room / exhibition.

Pros:

• Enables sound to be used to create more engaging experiences than is possible


through traditional speakers / mobile audio devices.
• Relatively cost effective to setup.
• Can be hidden behind panels / walls and under floors etc.

Cons:

• Only truly effective in carefully controlled environments.


• Can ‘bottleneck’ visitor flow.

b. Audio labels

A device developed in partnership with the RNIB that allows blind people to attach
audio labels (minute barcodes) to everyday objects (food items etc) and scan them with
a special pen to launch playback of specific MP3 audio files. For example, a specific
label attached to a tin of baked beans may trigger audio playback of nutritional
information, ingredients and cooking instructions.

Pens can hold up to 70 hours of audio recordings and can also be used as a standard
MP3 player, presenting wonderful opportunities to make traditional interpretive media
much more accessible to the visually impaired. Labels could be attached to interpretive
panels and publications to enable the playback of audio readings or walking directions,
with a ‘bank’ of pens available to borrow onsite.

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Pros:

• Cost effective (and more accessible?) alternative to Braille.


• Makes traditional ‘written’ interpretive media much more accessible to visually
impaired visitors.

Cons:

• Devices only recently launched, so not a mainstream product as of yet. ‘Bank’ of


devices would need to be made available to borrow onsite.

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