Constructing a public around social object labels

In their report on the Imperial War Museum’s Social Interpretation project, Giannachi and Tolmie (2012) suggest that QR codes need suitable framing that gives visitors a clear reason why to scan the code and why to share their thoughts. They point out that this requires a comprehensive organisational effort to promote an active and social visitor experience.

A theoretical grounding for this idea is provided by DiSalvo, Maki and Martin (2007), who offer the concept of “constructed public” based on John Dewey’s (1927) idea that a public does not exist a priory but is brought together around a meaningful social condition.

Accordingly, designers should acknowledge the limited scope of any public and carefully consider who the public is and how it came together. This move away from “the public” as a general population towards “a public” as a selective subset of that population primed for engagement has important implications for the design and evaluation of interactive public systems.

In a design context, it presumes awareness of the system’s existence and interest in, or even agreement with, its purpose and aims, shifting part of the responsibility for these aspects from system design to the wider user experience design.

In an evaluation context, it takes into account whether and how a public was created around the system as an important factor in its adoption, going beyond classic aspects such as perceived usefulness, perceived ease of use (Davis, 1989) and perceived social norms (Venkatesh and Davis, 2000) as the main factors for technology acceptance.

How can we construct a public around social object labels?

Davis, F.D. (1989). Perceived Usefulness, Perceived Ease of Use, and User Acceptance of Information Technology. MIS Quarterly, 13(3), pp. 319-339.

Dewey, J. (1927). The public and its problems: An essay in political inquiry. Penn State Press, 2012.

Disalvo, C. and Ave, S. H. (2007). MapMover : A Case Study of Design-Oriented Research into Collective Expression and Constructed Publics. In Proc. CHI 2007, pp. 1249–1252.

Giannachi, G. and Tolmie, P. (2012). Info-Objects: Embedding objects with audience interpretation. Project report. Digital R&D Fund for the Arts. 

Venkatesh, V. and Davis, F.D. (2000). A Theoretical Extension of the Technology Acceptance Model: Four Longitudinal Field Studies. Management Science, 45(2), pp. 186-204.

NFC tags at Savina Museum of Contemporary Art

An exhibition at Seoul’s Savina Museum of Contemporary Artis to use NFC to allow visitors to download high definition images, delve into the stories behind each photograph and write and share reviews on Facebook.  … “We applied [a] minimal and intuitive user interface and user experience so that our NFC service doesn’t interfere with the artworks and harm the identity of the place”

Full story at NFC World

Museum Next

12 – 14 May 2013, Beurs van Berlage, Amsterdam

Another interesting conference I’m going to miss :(

Understanding the Mobile V&A Visitor

Very useful statistics about technology use in the V&A (download PDF)

Some highlights (many more in the report):

  • Almost two thirds of visitors to the V&A own a smartphone and carry it with them in the museum
  • Two thirds of smartphone owners visiting the V&A are already using their phones to enhance their cultural visits
  • Visitors are enthusiastic about the free WiFi service provided by the V&A and the idea of accessing museum content (however, low awareness levels)
  • Younger visitors express a preference for using their own device (over museums audio guides)

Here’s an interesting blog post by Andrew Lewis, digital content delivery manager at the V&A, comparing the findings with a yet-to-be-published survey across Tate, the National Gallery and IWM.

Center for the Future of Museums: The Fractal Taxonomy of Museums

Have been looking for a taxonomy of museums, galleries, etc. but no luck. Even formulating a suitable search query on Google, which nowadays is so powerful that it finds me almost anything with just a few tries, seems a tricky business. However, in the process I stumbled upon the Fractal Taxonomy of Museums, which at least gives a long list of different types and aspects of organisations.

Understanding Sharing Habits in Museum Visits

Interesting study by Galena Kostoska, Beatrice Valeri, Marcos Baez and Denise Fezzi presented at Museums and the Web 2013:

“…initial attempts to facilitate the sharing and experiencing of the content and emotions originated by an exhibition have met limited success. To address this problem, we did several studies to understand if and how people share, and which technologies can help increase sharing.

…results tell us that, although the technology is there, we are missing the opportunity to increase participation and enjoyment. We argue that the reason is the lack of interaction design that makes it easy and fun for people to share content and emotions during the visits (but having the opportunity to enjoy the visit without spending all the time looking at their phones), the lack of simple ways to easily consume shared information.”

Overview of results available at

Artwork-centred sociality in museums and galleries

Poster at The Shape of Things: New and emerging technology-enabled models of participation through VGC. Notes on the workshop available from Claire Ross and Mia Ridge.


The concept of object-centred sociality (Engeström, 2005) is well established on the Web and has been transferred to physical museums and galleries to explain how visitors engage with each other around social objects (Simon, 2010). While designers of Web-based museum experiences have a wide range of well-established tools at their disposal to support object centred sociality and user generated content, curators of physical exhibitions typically rely on feedback boards and visitor books to foster engagement and encourage interpretation.

Ubiquitous annotation, described by Hansen (2006) as attaching digital information to physical objects and places, offers a way to go beyond the limitations of physical feedback boards. It enables unobtrusive, in-situ annotation of specific artworks and results in digital content that can be readily re-used and re-mediated. Recent efforts to employ ubiquitous annotation in museums include a bespoke system by Hsu & Liao (2011), iPad based object labels by Gray et al. (2012) and a platform involving custom mobile devices by Seirafi & Seirafi (2012). Adoption of these systems requires substantial commitment from host organisations in the form of financial investment, custom development and change of work practices. Furthermore, visitor interaction with these systems is problematic due to usability problems with static touchpoints that cannot display state information or interaction feedback.

The project is developing a light-weight, generic ubiquitous annotation platform that makes artwork-centred commenting and rating feasible even for smaller, low-budget arts organisations. It enables visitors to browse and create comments and ratings using their mobile phone. The project is developing novel dynamic touchpoints that address many of the usability problems associated with static touchpoints. For curators, the system provides an analytics backend to maintain editorial control, re-use contributed content and analyse engagement levels with a view to enhancing the visitor experience. The project is at an early stage and seeks discussions with researchers and museums professionals to inform the design and research.


Engeström, J. (2005). Why some social network services work and others don’t – Or: the case for object-centered sociality. Blog post 13 April 2005. Available: Accessed 7 December 2012.

Gray, S., Ross, C., Hudson-Smith, A. & Warwick, C. (2012). Enhancing Museum Narratives with the QRator Project: a Tasmanian devil, a Platypus and a Dead Man in a Box. Proceedings of Museums and the Web.

Hansen, F. (2006). Ubiquitous annotation systems: technologies and challenges. Proceedings of the seventeenth conference on Hypertext and hypermedia HYPERTEXT’06, pp. 121–132.

Hsu, H. & Liao, H. (2011). A mobile RFID-based tour system with instant microblogging. Journal of Computer and System Sciences, 77(4), pp. 720–727.

Seirafi , A. & Seirafi, M.K. (2012). FLUXGUIDE: Mobile Computing, Social-Web & Participation @ the Museum. Institut fuer Creative, Media, Technologies. Available: Accessed 26 March 2012.

Simon, N. (2010). The Participatory Museum. Santa Cruz, California: Museum 2.0, 2010. Available: Accessed 7 December 2012.