A day out at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall
My longstanding interest in the Vikings whether historical or in miniature meant the Vikings exhibition at the NMMC in Falmouth was a must see! Because of the distance it meant little time to see the rest of the museum although we found time for the cafe funnily enough. Walking through the museum I did like the Viking inspired decoration of the learning area.
The Vikings in Cornwall
Most people think of the raids on the North East coast, York and Alfred burning the cakes when Vikings are mentioned. However, they really got around and that included Devon and Cornwall. The Great Army burnt down Exmouth in Devon where I live and some residents think they should do so again! In Cornwall there is evidence of settlement and trading which the exhibition included. The combination of interpretation, reconstruction and objects really brought this out clearly I thought.
Vikings – raiders or traders?
This argument has a long history and I’ve encountered it since university days in the late 1970s. Coincidently this same argument applies to the Homeric world of the Iliad and Odyssey which I studied in the context of ancient banditry but that’s one for another blog.
I liked the way the exhibition clearly brought out both sides of Viking life. The combination of the large clear interpretation panels and related objects was excellent. Being able to handle objects was good too. My mother was amazed at the weight of a mail shirt and said being able to touch it really helped imagine it in use.
Including weapons and slave fetters illustrated the dark side of Viking life. Backed up with DNA research showing how many Icelanders are descended from Irish women taken as slaves. The Irish connection was well documented in the exhibition too.
Trading ship Walrus
My favourite part of the exhibition was the recreated Viking trader the Walrus. Visitors are allowed on this boat which was both fun and informative. Moving about on the deckspace really made both of us appreciate the skill and courage needed for sailing shallow draft ships on the high seas.
Speaking with a well informed volunteer about how the ship was made at the NMMC and finding out more about some of the recreated objects was really interesting. I didn’t know that the Vikings used hazel as barrel hoops which makes perfect sense in terms of time and resources. After all splitting hazel is quicker and cheaper than making iron hoops.
How the Vikings made things was a really strong theme in the exhibition. From nails for ships to rigging from intestines there was enough information to appreciate how preindustrial societies relied on skills, crafts, time and effort. I also learnt that saws were not used but a broad headed axe provided a means of splitting wood into planks.
No, not some form of dark undead from the Sagas but women and children. Another strength of the exhibition was including women and children in the interpretation and the objects on display. A lovely object was a child’s toy boat and imaging it being played with really brought the past closer. Having a reconstructed trader’s booth with a female mannequin was a nice bit of trading interpretation. The clothes worn were plainer than often shown which seems sensible as the cost of fine clothes with tablet stitch decoration would make plainer working clothes more practical.
As you leave the exhibition
I enjoyed the display of modern items inspired by the Vikings. Everything from films to comics, toys to the Rover badge. A good assortment of souvenirs were in the shop although I didn’t buy anything. Most of the items were very reasonably priced as well which is always good to see.
Three men and a Viking boat
By odd coincidence a week after visiting the exhibition I was at Legionary, the Exeter Games Show, talking to a friend and a trader about Viking ships.
What is Museum Next?
Museum Next is a well established two day conference looking at innovation, technology and emerging trends in museums. It’s the largest conference of its kind in Europe and attracts delegates and speakers from around the world. This year they invited me to speak!
Generally digital technology is maturing in museums although lack of resources is a growing barrier. The problem of digital being put in a compartment and ticked job done is still present for many people. The problem of management appointing digital staff and then not supporting them in implementing change in their organization is also still widespread.
Innovation is still present and different people have different takes on it. A presentation from a commercial development company on Bluetooth LE was very different to the approach being taken by us and Cambridge University Museums.
What was two days of museum innovation technology like?
In a word it was great! Meeting so many enthusiastic people with considered ideas on museums and their relationship with technology really restored my own enthusiasm. Catching up with friends and colleagues was a pleasure as usual. Jim and the team at Sumo did a great job of keeping us thinking and listening not to mention fed and watered. And being in Newcastle is always a pleasure.
My talk was at the end of day one so I kept a light tone to keep people engaged but ensuring I got my key points across. My talk is on my Slideshare page and was all about how we got collections online where I work.
Some notes on sessions and speakers
Opening Keynote – Defining Digital Koven J Smith http://www.kineticmuseums.com/
- Koven’s talk around are museums still reinventing themselves online produced the problems mentioned above. His main point is we should no long produce websites that are skeuomorphs of our museums. We should create authentically digital experiences based on usability, agility and focus.
- Suggested way forward is: make usable products; focus on real needed; structure for agility; eliminate skeuomorphs. That last one is very pervasive and hard to stop people doing in my experience.
Design Thinking and Digital Challenges – Tijana Tasich Tate
- Tate website’s relaunch was based on analytics and part of knowing audience inside and outside Tate. The workflow was established and documented to support its introduction.
- Key issue is digital needs to be part of museum strategy not separated, and museum staff need to work as a network to deliver effective digital content.
- Be prepared to make things obvious – analogy of change from gas to electric lighting meant saying no matches needed for electric.
- Business has seen a 26% increase in value through using digital technologies. There is potential for museums, especially using their own big data (CRM, analytics, collections and knowledge data).
- Example of good design thinking in practice is Government Digital Service https://gds.blog.gov.uk/
Design Thinking and Digital Challenges – Dana Mitroff Silvers http://designinginsights.com/
- Dana worked at SFMOMA before becoming a Design Thinking guru and is a museum consultant.
- Start with real visitors and use paper prototypes instead of wireframes. Find how visitors want to explore by capturing what they do in the museum, and make sure website helps them do this.
- Talk to visitors, question your assumptions and define problems before looking at solutions.
- Design thinking five steps Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test.
From Augmented Reality to Minecraft in Museums Ferry Piekart http://twnkls.com/portfolio/outdoor-augmented-reality-museum-at-the-market/
- A small Dutch village was levelled to make a new town. The position of the houses was marked out in brick in the new plaza. An augmented reality (AR) version of the old buildings was created from photos and memories. An app was created to enable users to view the old village in the square.
- The app has a built in height adjuster and the first thing the user does is enter their height so the AR displays in the right place for them. Activation was through a photo of the building embedded in the square. This also ensured the building displayed at the correct height as GPS is not always reliable and items may float if using GPS alone!
- Finally an AR telescope was created for people without smartphones. Thinking beyond apps like this cropped up a few times.
From Augmented Reality to Minecraft in Museums Adam Clarke http://thecommonpeople.tv/index.html
- Minecraft is a game played mainly by 5 to 11 year olds and late teens early 20s. For museums a bespoke landscape can be created from Google Satellite or from OS digital maps. Equally a scanned item even a body can be made into a map!
- Learning involves from reality to model, download to make YouTube video, print in 3D (cad for kids).
- Adam has used Minecraft in workshops and specific museum projects. Tullie House Museum wetlands project http://thecommonpeople.tv/page8/page5/index.html and walk into paintings at The Tate http://thecommonpeople.tv/page6/index.html .
Keynote Digital and physical communication in museums Colleen Dilenschneider http://colleendilen.com/
- This was a very information rich talk and the slides are well worth looking through. http://colleendilen.com/touch-love-and-museum-data-slides-shared-at-museumnext/ I think this was the best combination of content and speaker of the conference.
- Colleen had a simple definition of big data: an organisation’s digital footprint across providers
- and services. She used the term High Propensity Visitor to describe someone really engaged with the museum and with digital connections to enable them to share your message.
- Trends of the moment included continued growth and increasing trust in social media; importance of reputation in persuading people to visit; paid media is beneficial; reviews from trusted resources (Trip Adviser); email still significant but slowly reducing (Tate has found ticket sales via email have increased recently).
- Connection is essential, whether speaking to a member of staff in the museum or connecting online via social media converts a visitor to High Propensity Visitor. Then keep in touch and grow affinity through digital channels. With commercial offers reputation translates to revenue.
Creating Conversations Around Art and Science Jackie Antig http://vimeo.com/78519309
- Jackie spoke about their app called Float. This relies on movement tracking and asking questions about how the visitor feels to elicit a response. You can then share your thoughts with other visitors.
- This was definitely not a skeuomorphic product
Creating Conversations Around Art and Science Sebastien Cursan Cap Sciences https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oW7Lifzr06Y
- The development of the C You app showed how the challenge of engaging young people was addressed. It focused on fun, learning and sharing. A linked exhibition allowed sharing via the user’s in app ID.
Getting Your Collections Online William Trossell & Daniel Evans SCANlab/Science Museum
- This was a very practical review of the challenge of scanning a gallery full of model boats and ships. Prior to clearing the model ship gallery in the science museum it was 3D scanned to archive it and provide a virtual gallery.
- Architectural scanning techniques and equipment were used. Scanning models meant the under camera blind spot was not such a problem as in scanning a building.
- Challenges included the volume of data, knowing it was a unique opportunity and making sure the technique worked with the models. http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/about_us/history/shipping.aspx
- I enjoyed this partly becuase the ship gallery was one my favourites when a small boy in the late 1960s!
Getting Your Collections Online Rick Lawrence
- I gave a talk about our latest venture – see above
Keynote: Visitor Experiences Outside the Museum – Jessica Taylor and Sam Billington Antenna International http://antennalab.org/access-everywhere/
- Starting inside the museum they discussed the possibility of the museum as a third space and technology enabling this (home is the first space and work the second space).
- Museum and non-museum examples were used to illustrate the possibilities of digital delivering content and interaction beyond the museum. Emphasis was on content to start engagement.
- Their key points for creating an app (they only spoke about apps) were: content; discovery and choice; serendipity; location specific; emotional connection.
- Other approaches could work for museums. An example given is The Silent History (novel as app) http://thesilenthistory.com/ and Smart City Santander http://www.smartsantander.eu/
- Looking forwards included two Google products. One used their API enabling Marseilles Night Walks https://nightwalk.withgoogle.com/incompatible?l=en and the other being Project Tango aiming to bring a human like understanding of space and motion giving depth perception to apps for example.
- From a question I asked it seems wifi and 3/4G signal act as limits on how far outside the museum we can get.
Masterclass: Search Marketing Marty Hayes Venture Stream http://www.slideshare.net/MartyVentureStream/an-integrated-approach-to-search-marketing-marty-hayes-museumnext-2014
- Marty used his talk to give a very practical guide to using SEO and search to promote your website. Search marketing is the link between the website user and your website. If you want website visits get that bit right!
- From the basics of writing good page titles and meta descriptions to news jacking he included everything. This included discussing whether paid searches are worth investing in from a brand protection point of view.
- He included a recap of Google releases, from simple crawling of websites to today’s sophisticated content evaluation algorithms.
Reaching Out with Social Media – Experiences from Doha and Moscow Mikolai Napieralki Qatar Museums
- Mikolai came to museums from a marketing background and started social media from scratch. He used memes, themes and competitions to generate a buzz. http://ow.ly/i/5YdX0
- He also connected different platforms to achieve his goals. For example taking an aspect of the collection and creating a competition around it. He used a set of Orientalist paintings depicting travels through the Middle East to launch a travel themed competition. The process was simple – ask visitors to put a photo of their travels on Instagram with #artoftravel. This was pulled into Pinterest and a public vote took place. 6,000 entries and 400,000 views were the result. And the winners got two flights anywhere in the world.
- Another example was to put a100 paintings on Pinterest then ask people to create their own board of ten and have a public vote. The winning board was made into a temporary exhibition.
- Key points were: immediacy; personalization; ease of entry; viral element; reward
Reaching Out with Social Media – Experiences from Doha and Moscow Anna Mikhaylova
- State Historical Museum Moscow http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/museumstudies/research-degrees/Current%20PhD%20Students/Anna%20Mikhaylova
- Anna had a similar experience of starting from scratch to ours at RAMM and had to get the organization behind her. After three years she wrote a strategy based on Tate’s and had more people working with her across seven platforms and four Moscow museums.
- Like us at RAMM they find more followers and interaction on Twitter than on Facebook.
- Content is created on a Monday and a publishing schedule completed to ensure everything is coordinated across the four museums. This does reduce spontaneity but allows a planned approach. Recently a Twitter campaign with real postcards via #museumpostcard proved successful with recipients sharing photos of the real postcards the museum sent to them. The cards included QR codes for easy linking!
My favourite session?
Hard to choose but the first keynote for its aspirations to make digital part of the whole, and to stop recreating the museum online and in apps is just ahead of a crowded field! I think Adam Clarke and his work with Minecraft and collections is a worthy runner up!