Museums have a growing online presence and managing this well can help engage with audiences beyond their physical visit, says Silvia Filippini Fantoni.
Fulfilling their mission to reach new and broader audiences, many museums now receive more visitors online than in person. One of the most effective tools in the digital museum has proven to be bookmarking, the moniker given to a range of technologies that allow visitors to save information of personal interest from the museum website, kiosks or handheld tour for later use. The bookmarked information can then be accessed via a series of links in an email sent to the visitor or via a personal page created on the museums website. Some of the worlds leading art museums now incorporate bookmarking facilities into their websites including the J. Paul Getty Museum (Getty Bookmarks), Metropolitan Museum of Art (My Met Museum), Tate Online (My selection), and the Seattle Art Museum (My Art Gallery). Visitors can bookmark sets of favourite artworks from the online collection, accompanied by images and personal comments that they can later access and update or send to friends and family. These tools are particularly useful for people using online digital collection information for research and educational purposes. Teachers, for example, can select and print out a list of artefacts for the visit, set up study sets, provide personalised recommendations and/or test the knowledge acquired during the visit by asking their students to create personal exhibitions.
At the museum, dedicated computer kiosks can also offer bookmarking facilities. The GettyGuide multimedia kiosks, for example, allow visitors to save content of interest (videos, descriptions of artworks, artist biographies). The visitor can then either send the saved information to his/her email address, or access it on a personal page created on the museums website. Similarly, the National Gallerys Art Start kiosks include an Add It to My Tour feature, which allows visitors to bookmark objects of interest and then either email them or print them out on site as an instant guide. Similar applications are also available in different science museums, where the use of interactive kiosks in the exhibition space is more common. The Tech museum in San Jose, for example, successfully uses Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)-tagged tickets to allow its visitors to save images, videos, lab tests and games results. Using radio waves to identify objects automatically, the system identifies visitors who wear the RFID-tagged ticket as a wristband and use it as an identifier every time they need to bookmark information from one of the kiosks. The content saved by the visitors during their interaction with the museums numerous kiosks can then be accessed on the museum website after the visit via the number that is indicated on the RFID tickets. The success of this application is quite extraordinary: more than 76% of the museum visitors use their RFID tickets to save the results of their interactions with the kiosk while 22% of them go online to follow up on what they have saved.
But bookmarking can equally accompany visitors through the galleries, capturing spontaneous interests and bursts of curiosity so that visitors can follow up on what caught their eye. Increasingly, handheld devices including bookmarking facilities are now used in museums to provide visitors with audiovisual information about exhibits. The Multimedia Tour for the permanent collection at Tate Modern, developed in co-operation with Antenna Audio, provides audio-visual information about the collection, allowing the visitor to email links to the museum website for more detailed information on artworks of interest. Results of an evaluation carried out in the summer of 2005 at Tate Modern, showed that more that 40% of the Multimedia Tour users bookmarked at least one artwork, while a total of 20% clicked through the email to access more information, making it an effective way to bring people back to the museum website and, potentially, the museum as well.
As the Tate Modern and Tech Museum examples show, when bookmarking is well integrated into the visitor experience, it becomes a powerful tool for supporting the learning experience in museums and creating a stronger relationship between the institution and the visitor. The ability to save an important part of the content encountered during the museum visit and access it at home or in another context allows the visitor to focus more on discovery and the aesthetic experience while in the museum and to leave the more traditional didactic aspects for later. Research also indicates that repetition is a major mechanism for retaining memories over time, so bookmarking can play an important role in increasing visitors knowledge about a collection or exhibition as well as stimulating a positive response to their visit and the intrinsic desire to learn more. In a culture of information on demand, bookmarking has become a major bridge between the real and the virtual museum visit.
Silvia Filippini Fantoni is Product Manager Multimedia, Market Researcher & Product Evaluator at Antenna Audio.