28 July, 2017
Technological Advances for the Service of the ¨Museum´s User¨ and its Relationship with CrossCult
On June 12th, 2016, the scientific #Socialmus meeting was held in the National Archaeological Museum, in which various cultural institutions that represented national territories gathered, with their respective differences in size, structure, and digital strategies. The objective was to become familiar with their technological projects, their views regarding CrossCult, and their thoughts as to how the research and innovation project could benefit them. All were in agreement with the focus suggested by the director of the National Archeological Museum, Andrés Carretero: he spoke of ¨users of the museums,¨ those who access an exhibition or collection and make use of specific services under constant review, and who, therefore, are not passive visitors, but new actors.
This focus reveals the importance of multidisciplinary teams and the exchange of knowledge between distinct areas, a need that is addressed by 100% of the participants at the round table.
Repositories of Collections and Open Data: Past, Present and Future
A basic guideline of CrossCult is to interconnect places, content, and databases, and to ¨open¨ the content to distinct possibilities of interaction with other pieces of content, including those generated by the users themselves. It is an axis explored large, medium, and small museums of both Spain and Europe, with varying levels of profoundness. Ana Álvarez, the Director of Web and New Mediums in the Thyssen-Bornemisz Museum confirms this shift in orientation towards open data: ¨In the past on the web we had a replication of the works, but now we bring information from internal sources [from internal repositories.]. In turn, it renews the importance of preserving this information.
From a perspective on the national level, as shared by Héctor del Barrio, Director of Dissemination of the General Management of State Museums of the Ministry of Culture, there are ¨accepted standards and established criteria at the national level in order to catalogue information. For example, CERES.¨ CERES is a repository of collections, born in 2010, which continues to incorporate new museums to its network, in addition to information from EUROPEANA, the largest digital library with open access, which started its journey in 2008.
The Semantic Web and Recommendations: Beyond the ¨Favs¨
Once the information of collections is catalogued, a set of rules must be followed that permit including and relating semantic metadata and ontology in order to generate new connections between content. These future connections, and therefore hidden connections, will be ¨disentangled¨ in a smart way by processing machines (if the metadata has been integrated correctly). This, in the end, is the theory of the semantic web.
In practice, as Albert Sierra suggests, ¨when we talk about the semantic web we always are talking at a very elevated level.¨ That is to say, with our feet far from the ground. However, from his perspective as the Head of New Technologies and Innovative Projects in the Catalan Agency of Cultural Heritage, he sees in the application that Crosscult proposes ¨a grounded strategy that could provide results¨¨. Applicable, in summary, to projects such as ¨Catalan Photography¨ (http://www.fotografiacatalunya.cat)
At this point in the development of the CrossCult project, and in the current state of technological innovation in museums, it is understandable that the possibility of generating smart recommendations based on semantic results became the bulk of the conversation and a large subject of debate during #SocialMus.
¨Clearly, we have large opportunities in semantic technology that targets segmentation¨, Martín suggests, invoking the opportunity that the technology yields in terms of providing visibility to museums and cultural environments that are more unknown. For example, a visitor that uses the application of the National Gallery in London (one of the pilots of CrossCult), could find an interesting connection that will prompt the user to visit or interact with the lesser known Tripoli Museum in Greece (another pilot). CrossCult attempts to study and evaluate these possibilities, through the analysis of 4 actual cases occurring within the borders of Europe.
Likewise, museums such as the Prado see themselves directly affected by a larger, or smaller amount of tourists that the city of Madrid receives (as recounted by Noelia Ibañez), whereas another series of museums could see themselves benefiting from the ¨personalised narratives¨ that link interests. In turn, the ¨curators¨ of content can create new interpretations of heritage based on connections that were previously invisible.
Until now, one could only evaluate the utility of recommendations based on the segmentation of profiles, in simple searches, or in popularity rankings, the areas in which our formulas have worked on or are currently working on. Ana Álvarez shares that in the Thyssen Museum, they have added a series of tags to their works that permit the user to find content that could be of interest as a result of what they have previously visited.
Albert Sierra affirms that in the absence greater technological development, the heritage sites managed by the Catalan Agency find that person-to-person recommendation, through tourism points of information, works well. He adds that ¨technology allows us to improve and achieve a much greater scale¨. The difficulty of finding recommendations for all of us that are 100% effective or valid should not be forgotten: ¨The data about this person does not respond only to what they do in the museum. The user can be not only an Art Lover, but also may enjoy football.¨
With regards to the previous note, Martín López observes the following: ¨one of the aspects currently being researched [in particular with CrossCult] is to provide recommendations with greater diversity.¨ In essence, to move beyond criteria based on popularity and to create relationships between diverse environments, not just museums, through the crossing of data with other data bases (such as Facebook) and profiling tools.
From the perspective of customer service, Noelia Ibañez indicates that the concept of a unique entry that applies to the Prado is based primarily on the saying ¨let them be¨, which does not eliminate the need to understand your audience, only that ¨there are specific profiles of the public that require assistance.¨
In conclusion, with regards to addressing the new phenomenon of recommendations of content, these four Spanish institutions believe: the decision making made by museums has always been linked to the study of the public. Now, such decision making can be aided by technological innovations..
Apps as Means, not Ends
Prompted regarding the exponential growth in the number of museum apps over the past several years (in which distinct typologies were analysed during #digitalmus in 2016), Ana Álvarez raises the following question: Are these applications a trend that is here to stay? The head of the Web and New Mediums of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum foresees a better future for content that is accessible through free WIFI, as well as for beacon technologies, tools which do not require the download of data in the device of the user. It is true that in the present, a high percentage of museums in our country still lack WIFI connection, as recounted by Héctor del Barrio. Thus, although applications for a visit can be considered a ¨use and toss¨ service, they remain necessary at this time.
Martín López introduced a new thought: ¨The app is only a support block, a format in which to reach specific benefits of technology¨. Thus, it seems logical that in the next few years we will observe a change in format based on the preferences and needs of the public, in addition to the technology capacity of museums. It is interesting to consider that which is behind these support blocks, that is, what technology permits us to do, independently of the ways in which we reach our content. ¨It is not well known what path applications will follow, nor what type of applications will work in the future¨, concluded Héctor del Barrio, ¨however, projects such as CrossCult help us to reflect with regards to the direction that technological development is following.¨
If you want to see the full round table and make your own conclusions, visit our channel on Youtube!