I’ve just read Shelley Bernstein’s response to the NY Times “From Picassos to Sarcophagi, Guided by Phone Apps” article over on the Brooklyn Museum blog and she brings up some great points about the use of emergent technology and experimentation.
Edward Rothstein at the Times didn’t seem to be too impressed by any of the apps he tried, and from a contextual or information standpoint, he may have a point. If you are looking for an extended, interactive version of the wall plaques that detail the artist’s life, history, and context, these apps may fall short. But in our work designing interactive exhibits, we’ve found that it is the social component that can make or break an exhibit, and the Brooklyn Museum is pushing how mobile technologies connect people through the art they’re viewing as well as inform them about that art.
If used well, these new technologies can change the museum from a place where people connect with exhibits in solitude (audio tour headphones on, reading quietly to themselves, or quietly tapping a single computer screen) to a place where people are able to actively connect, recommend and participate with other visitors and the exhibit. Enabling a “like” or similar feature, as the Brooklyn Museum has done, allows visitors to connect long after they leave the museum floor. And such connections aren’t just wishful thinking; as Ms. Bernstein points out, the app statistics show that people are actually using the Like feature to find and recommend objects to other visitors.
Such connections may add to the “scarcely literate cybergraffiti” for Mr. Rothstein, but to us, they’re what make facebook, twitter, and a new crop of interactive museum technologies exciting: the ability to share with and learn from people you know personally and the opportunity to forge new personal connections over shared exhibit interests.
Of course there’s always room to grow, especially when working with new and largely untried technologies. Even if the concept is perfect, technological, networking, and financial limitations often frustrate the creation of that ur-application or exhibit. The perfect museum app might well act as Wikipedia, Share This!, FourSquare and a brilliant curator all in one. But we’d like to give a thumbs up to the Brooklyn Museum for having the guts to experiment with these technologies in a thoughtful and interesting way.