The Museum of the Future – Interactive Mobile Drama

Mobile DevelopmentA research project at the Hecht Museum in Israel highlights new techniques to increase visitor interaction and engagement. Presented in the paper, “Mobile Drama in an Instrumented Museum,” University of Haifa researchers developed a mobile app that augments museum exhibits, taking the concept of the audio tour to a completely new level.

Instead of providing traditional audio tours for the exhibits in the museum, the researchers developed short, one to three minute skits at each exhibit. Voice actors reenact the events, such as the commotion and arguments between a captain and carpenter while a ship sinks. Instead of providing visitors with a lecture about the history of the exhibit, the participants listen to a fun play, turning the museum experience into a real-life YouTube, with each exhibit triggering a clip.

The researchers weren’t satisfied, however, with simply entertaining visitors. They also wanted to stimulate conversion. To that end, instead of playing the full skit to each visitor, each person in the group hears only a part of the script. The group members then need to talk to each other to understand what actually happened.

Although the paper points out that the full experiment is currently in progress, preliminary studies showed a 65% increase in conversion through a technique called “Blurring”, where certain voices would be blurred by sound effects, such as the sound of seagulls. By implementing location-sensing devices and sound recognition, the researchers developed a “Drama Manager” that automatically detects the dominant members of the group, and changes the script to better distribute group participation.

Overall, the new concept of bringing an interactive drama to the museum is a fun and exciting idea. Turning the museum experience into a character-based drama, where certain group members have the key answers, is almost reminiscent of Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre. The new mobile app would likely increase visitor curiosity, which hopefully would also translate to the exhibits themselves.

There are a few important concerns, however, with the fundamental premise on which the authors base their study. Is more talking at the museum really a good thing? Perhaps not. Talking does not necessarily correlate with learning, thinking, or understanding. Instead of bringing visitors to gain a deeper appreciation of art or history, the new app might simply turn the museum into a place to be entertained. Without giving visitors a chance to dive into the subtle nuances of a work or exhibit, there is not much of a reason for a return visit.

Still, the app does seem that it will make group visits to the museum more fun. Perhaps a way to reconcile both the entertaining and academic aspects of a museum would be to let the visitor choose how they want to explore. The app could provide both the educational lectures and the entertaining skits. Perhaps even video games or drawing apps could teach visitors how to reproduce parts of the painting. Even Facebook could be integrated, allowing visitors to post amusing or satiric comments on a virtual “Wall” when they are within 5 or 10 feet of the exhibit. With all the possibilities for a more engaging museum experience through mobile integration, it will truly be exciting when the Interactive Museum finally becomes reality.

Written by Andrew Palczewski

About the Author
Andrew Palczewski is CEO of apHarmony, a Chicago software development company. He holds a Master's degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and has over ten years' experience in managing development of software projects.

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