Downloads and Downing Street

The Future Cemetery goes to London.

Last week I went on a field trip visit to London to try out some museum apps in situ, pick the brains of cemetery professionals at one the largest working cemeteries in London and to find out how Culture 24 were going to interpret the historic site of 11 Downing Street in a special evening event.

There was lots to take in so this blog will appear in steps.

So, stop no. 1 was the Museum of London, where they offer several digital app experiences to their users., the new Dickens exhibition has the latest of these, a graphic novel app that follows Dickens on his nighttime walks through the city. Unfortunately, the app only works on ipads and iphones - no good for an Android user like me.

Museum of London have thought of that, though, with their award-winning Streetmuseum and now Streetmuseum Londinium which overlays historic images on the locative view of city streets. All well and good, but frustratingly, the webpage was down when I tried to download it. But it is working now and looks great so maybe something to try on my next visit.

More old-school were the exhibition's highly effective use of animated maps and film of actors using historic artefacts on screens beside the static objects themselves. Most compelling was some amazing footage of early Suffragette protests on a screen in a showcase, with audio conversation overhead extracted from Suffragette pamphlets. Some of the exhibitions also used mobile phone labels for the curators' selection of interesting objects, where Nokia phone users could find out more by pressing a button. A fine example of technology before the coming of the app and smartphone.

All in all a fascinating museum but a frustrating experience. The technical obstacles did drive home a major point for me - Technology changes and dates rapidly - This was neatly but unintentionally summarised in one of the object showcases: a London Mayor’s Blackberry on display beside the ancient chain of office.

I've set up a discussion about this with Museum professionals on Linked In - you can follow along by joining the group: Museums in the Digital Age

Another point picked up from both Museum of London and the National Gallery, is that your technology is only as good as your staff's understanding of it. The very friendly front-of-house staff at reception and in galleries were not aware of the visitor offers available on handsets, or how to support their use. This needs to change in order to get any visitor experience off to a good start.