A new approach to Mobile Guides
Mobile phones provide Museums and other curated spaces with the opportunity to provide visitors with information and entertainment. The mobile platform is new (only 8 years since the first iPhone) and capabilities are increasing at a huge rate and the possibilities seem limitless.
Our new approach is to work as if that the mobile phone is old tech, with the role of our guides being to function as discreet augmentation to the physical signs in a collection. Our guides are designed to provide information as discreetly as possible while a visitor is physically roaming the collection.
This is by no means all a mobile phone can, or could, provide. There is a virtue in a limited role, and of course, other apps can also be available. We believe that a good quality mobile guide providing information should be a bread-and-butter requirement for collections today.
We start from a few basic principles, which determine the the guide infrastructure.
Discovery -- visitors finding the guide -- is critically important.
Navigation in the guide must support physical navigation in the space of the collection.
Open data, open source, no programming.
Relatively few people visit a collection with the explicit aim of being informed, or indeed believing that they need a guide. The need for information occurs when a visitor sees something that raises a question. At this point we want the visitor to see that the guide is available and use it. This can be done by adding pointers to physically available signs -- which may be wireless beacons or written labels.
If visitors see an object of interest they can find a URL from a written sign in the form of a short URL or QR code, or from a wireless beacon.
Given the URL visitors can link directly to the information about the object of interest. They can link directly as guides are web sites not apps. At this point in time deep linking to Apps is not generally available.
Guides incorporate several mechanisms to make navigation simpler for users.
When looking at an individual item in a room or defined area, the page for the item can contain a link to a page listing all the other items in that area. By following the link visitors can scroll the list to find other items in the immediate area.
In order to provide this feature without requiring programming we use
- The user adds a specific tag to each item in a particular area or room.
- The user requests a listing for that tag by creating a listing specification, or by using the online editor to generate the specification.
- When the guide is compiled the link to the listing is injected into each page with the tag, and the listing page is created. Listings have a name which are used to generate URLs for the listings.
This same mechanism can be used to generate lists by theme rather than by location, so that all works of a given artist in the collection can be listed for example.
Guides support maps, which can be linked to Geo locations if required. Any number of maps can be used. We provide a graphical interface to create maps, and they can also be described in plain text (JSON format).
Any page referenced in a map will automatically have a link to the map injected at compile time, so that its possible to move from the item to its location on the map. This form of navigation is particularly useful when following a tour.
A tour is an ordered sequence of stops, with each stop being a page. There is a simple (JSON) specification for tours as well as an online editor for creating them. If a page is part of a tour then a link to the tour is injected at compile-time.
Tours have names, which are used to generate URLs.
Open source, open data, no programming
The data formats used by guides are public and text-lone. Pages can be written either in Markdown, or in JSON format. The online editor outputs pages as JSON.
Guides can be created online, using Cilogi's online editor, or on the local file-system. If stored locally guides can be shared using Dropbox or Git.
The simple JSON specification of guides allows guides to be created from another data source, such as a database for example.
To create a guide from the source material requires that it be compiled into a static web site. The compiler is open source and anyone can run their own compiler.
Cilogi offers online access to a copy of the compiler, available via the online editor.
Guides are Wikis. They can be created without programming, creating text files on a desktop or laptop. The compiled guide is a static web site which can run offline if required using the HTML5 Application Cache.
A Wiki is a collaborative creation. There are several ways in which we encourage community.
- Guides are designed to be written by a small team. The online editor allows multiple users to work on a guide. Dropbox and Git, which are the alternative ways of creating guides, both provide tools for sharing.
- Each page has a discussion page associated with it which can be used both by authors and by the general public. The discussion pages are hosted centrally by Cilogi but can be downloaded as required.
- Each page, listing, tour, map and other page in a guide has a URL can be accessed externally.
- The raw data for guides can be accessed by API (if creators decide to share). Just as with the compiled guide every resource has a URL.
- Anyone can, with permission, create their own tours for a collection. Tours can use pages from the collection, annotated with the tour creator's text, images, audio and video if they so desire. Pages can be replaced and new pages added to the tour. Tours can extend over more than one guide. Tours can be shared with friends on social media.