I think this is a very exciting time for museums who are willing to be experimental. Yesterday I whiled away an hour in the Brooklyn Museum‘s galleries, trying out a new version of BklynMuse, to access their online collection, on their newly upgraded mobile website.
Here’s how it works: once you’ve joined their public wi-fi network, you stand in front of an object, type in its number on your phone and, presto! you can pull up the image, “like” it, a la Facebook, leave your own comment, see other visitors’ comments and learn more about it from experts.
You can also play Gallery Tag, where you collect points for every item you tag, and extra points for doing this on more than one floor.
I wanted to try out BklynMuse because I was curious to see how disruptive the social media activity would be to my experience. Normally when I go to a museum it’s to see a specific show, or just wander with a friend through the galleries. I couldn’t really imagine wanting to interact on my phone.
There’s a piece that I’ve always loved in the Arts of the Pacific Islands gallery, so I went there first. Here he is, a little figure from the Nicobar Islands.
To me he looks like kind of a crazy, happy guy, and maybe he’s surfing.
I typed in his number and, to my surprise, this is where it got to be fun. Thanks to BklynMuse I saw right away that five other people have also “liked” the Nicobar Island man so I know I’m not the only one. I happily left a comment, and am eager to see what future visitors think of him, and how that might give me fresh ways of looking at him.
I tried the tagging game too, and racked up 25 points, which put me in 3rd place! BklynMuse just launched this week so very few people are using it yet. Gallery Tag reminded me of a home made version of FourSquare.
What’s unique about BklynMuse is that it’s entirely visitor driven. It’s not a tour or guide to the collection designed by Brooklyn Museum. It’s a vehicle for visitors who are motivated to feed their curiosity about particular artworks; it encourages them to voice their reactions to the works, and validates what they have to say by publishing their comments.
Tagging too can have its serious purpose; even as a kid just playing a game, you have to look at the object you’ve chosen, look at the tags that are offered, think about which is most appropriate, and if there isn’t one, create a new one to use. It’s empowering in its way!
We’ve been members of the Brooklyn Museum since we moved here from Manhattan 20 years ago. I took my son to more Arty Facts sessions than I can recall. In 1997 I produced a big, beautiful 24 screen video wall program for the exhibition Monet and the Mediterranean, in their old, cavernous lobby. That was large cutting edge technology for its day, and the Museum used it to make the space more friendly for visitors waiting on line to see the show.
Today they’re carrying on that tradition of being out in front in using technology, with imaginative, experimental efforts in social media and mobile, to make the Museum friendly to new audiences. As a visitor I really feel that they’re trying to give me a wonderful experience and I’m willing to try it. In the process, I learn from them and they learn from me.